It was the swinging 30s. The big bands of the 40s. It was San Francisco night life – Baghdad by the Bay. And the crowds were packing the nation’s premiere all-Chinese nightclub, Forbidden City. Like the Cotton Club of Harlem which featured America’s finest African American entertainers, Forbidden City gained an international reputation with its unique showcase of Chinese American performers in eye-popping all-American extravaganzas.
Part That’s Entertainment and part PBS, Forbidden City, U.S.A. captures this little-known chapter of entertainment history and takes it center stage, featuring a cast of original nightclub performers. “The Chinese Sinatra”, “the Chinese Sophie Tucker”, and the “Chinese Sally Rand” are just some of the spirited personalities that strut their stuff and share triumphant and often side-splitting tales of adventures in the cabarets of yesteryear.
Everyone knew about Chinese laundries and cooks. But a Chinese tap dancer? A Chinese jazz crooner? And for a Chinese girl to bare her legs in public? It was considered immoral by elders in the culturally isolated Chinatowns of the 1930s-40s.
Forbidden City, U.S.A. looks beyond the cartoon characters of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical, Flower Drum Song (which was loosely based on the Forbidden City nightclub), to show a generation of Asian American pioneers who fought cultural barriers and racism to pursue their love of American song and dance. For the first time ever, original recordings and film performances long buried in studio vaults and private collections are highlighted alongside real life stories in this groundbreaking film.
From ballroom dancers to bubble dancers, from “Some of These Days” to “How High the Moon,” it’s all here…with a new slant!
Forbidden City, USA DVD
- Performance Outtakes shot in the 1940s and narrated by Forbidden City owner Charlie Low before his death in 1989
- 1940s Promotional Film where Charlie Low beckons: “If you come to San Francisco, you must come to Forbidden City – I’ll be looking for you!”
- Full Color 1940s Featurette shot on location at Charlie’s Low’s ranch and the Forbidden City Nightclub
- Forbidden City Souvenir Program: flip through all 28 pages of a rare original copy.
- Additional Interviews with Walton Biggerstaff, early producer and choreographer, Ivy Tam, Mrs. Charlie Low #4, and Jade Ling, glamorous dancer who reminisces dating Orson Welles
- 1940s Soundies featurettes with dancers Noel Toy and Mara Kim
- Digitally re-mastered by UCLA Film & TV Archive from original film elements
Educational-Institutional editions include a 23-page illustrated study guide.