VISITING DUCKY LOUIE, “CHINA’S LITTLE DEVIL”

By Henry Sakaida

Duckie Louie in the purple shirt next to Paul Kelly. The only girl in the photo is Gloria Ann Chew, Ducky’s cousin. She is still living and never made Hollywood a career.

In September 2016, I made a road trip up to the San Francisco Bay Area with friends to meet and interview Dr. Lawrence Louie, a retired dentist. As Baby Boomer kids growing up in the 1950s and 60s, boys of our era grew up watching old WWII themed movies on TV. A favorite Saturday staple was China’s Little Devils, an anti-Japanese war flick produced in 1945 by Monogram Pictures. It had taken me two years to track down the former child star.

Dr. Louie graciously received us at his home. He was puzzled why anyone would even remember him from so long ago. “You were a hero to us kids!” we told him. He was actually surprised and embarrassed!

I saw China’s Little Devils when I was ten years old. You can still get poor quality copies on DVD if you search hard enough. It is the story of an orphaned Chinese boy who was adopted by members of the Flying Tigers. The evil Japanese invaders had wiped out his village and he was the only survivor. “Little Butch Dooley” wanted revenge but his pilot mentors told him that war wasn’t for kids, and he was shipped off to a Catholic missionary school out in the country. Little Butch was a stubborn feisty kid, just like us!

The character of “Doc Temple,” a Catholic priest and headmaster of the tiny school, was played by Harry Carey, a popular movie cowboy star of the 1930s, as well as a director and producer. The peace loving pacifist missionary attempted to mold his wayward pupil with kindness and empathy but failed miserably.

Little Butch organized his younger classmates into saboteurs  and blew up enemy supply depots and killed Japanese soldiers!  The enemy shot down several of his AVG comrades, but he rescued them. In the end, with the Japanese in hot pursuit, Butch put his wounded buddies on a sampan while he and his classmates fought a delaying action until the boat made it across the river. Then Butch was hit by a bullet. He gives a patriotically mushy farewell, as the gunfire fades and then stops entirely until Butch finishes and dies. Miraculously the gun fire picks up again! Sure it’s cheesy, but it still brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it!

The best part of the ending was when Doc Temple, the kindly old headmaster, who would never harm a fly, finally sees the light. He’s had it with the Japs! They’re killing his kids!! Screw turning the other cheek! The old man picks up a Thompson submachine gun, cocks it, and walks fearlessly forward, firing from the hip. “Eat lead,  you lousy bastards!” I used to yell when I was a kid. The good guys die in a glaze of glory.

The movie was well receive all across the country, and Ducky went on fun promotional tours. He received thousands of fan mail; he had saved one and I read it. It was from a 17 year old high school kid in Honolulu. WOW!!!

ducky louie china's little devils

Ducky Louie with his squadron buddies. Third from the right is Jimmie Dodd, better known to us Baby Boomers as the chief Mouseketeer from the Mickey Mouse Show; he wrote the memorable club theme song. He died in Honolulu, Hawaii in November 1964 at age 54 of cancer,  and is buried at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles.

ducky louie china's little devils

A publicity still with Paul Kelly, who started acting at age 7, the ninth of ten children. Kelly made his first silent movie in 1911 and went on to become a stage, movie, and TV actor. He died in November 1956 at age 57.

ducky louie china's little devils

Little Butch Dooley on the wing of a P-40 before Big Butch Dooley (Paul Kelly) drops him by parachute to attend a Catholic missionary school run by Doc Temple, an old friend of his.

ducky louie china's little devils

A publicity still from the movie. Ducky is holding a German Luger. How I wished I had one when I was his age!

ducky louie china's little devils

Ducky Louie (left) remembered: “They used real guns on the set, loaded with blanks.” Here, the boys are holding German 9mm Lugers. I wonder where these guns are today?!

ducky louie china's little devils

The little devils get ready to ambush two enemy soldiers. Strangely, the soldiers are armed with pre -WWI era Mannlicher rifles which the Japanese Army never used.

ducky louie china's little devils

Gloria Ann Chew played “Betty Lou.” She had a major role in the film.

ducky louie china's little devils

Ducky Louie with his cousin Gloria Ann Chew (back row). The two girls on the left are unidentified, Hayward Soo Hoo on the right. Hayward played Little Joe Doakes, a comic relief character in the movie. He was one of the three Soo Hoo brothers who participated in the film (Hayward, Howard, and Walter), along with their sister Betty. Hayward worked as a stuntman in the campy 1986 movie, Big Trouble in Little China which starred Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall. Hayward is still active and resides in Los Angeles.

ducky louie china's little devils

Filming at the 110-acre Monogram Movie Ranch in what is now Placerito Canyon in Santa Clarita, California. It has long since been developed into a beautiful residential community.

 

I asked Dr. Louie how he got his moniker “Ducky.” Said the good doctor, “Well, everybody called me ‘Ducky,’ even my teachers!’ My Chinese name is Duk Lum. Ducky!”

I asked Dr. Louie how he got into the movie business, and this is what he said: “My aunt in San Francisco Chinatown saw an ad in a Chinese newspaper. She said  that there was a producer from Hollywood up here, looking for a Chinese boy to star in this movie they were planning to produce. So they coaxed me into trying out and there were lots of kids. They had looked in the Los Angeles area and couldn’t find anyone. So they had me read some scripts and called  me down to Hollywood for a screen test…I was 12 years old. And I got the part!”

Ducky did not need much coaching; he was a natural born actor and never had problems memorizing his lines. He took direction well and everyone on the set loved the kid. “They signed me to a 7 year contract with Monogram Pictures. It started off at $50 a week. Every six months, it went up $50, Ducky remembered.  “By the time I didn’t renew my contract, I was making $350 a week. There were no residual payments back then.”

It wasn’t all grueling work at the film studio.  The producers and film crew surprised Ducky with  a big birthday party on the set while filming. It was one of the great moments in his life.

ducky louie china's little devils

“Happy Birthday, Ducky!” The date was 22 July 1945. Ducky celebrated his 14th birthday, surrounded by cast, crew, family, and friends.

ducky louie china's little devils

The last scene from the movie was filmed on the sound stage at Monogram Pictures in Hollywood. The film studio was active from 1931 until 1953. The small studio was well known for low budget action/adventure films.

ducky louie china's little devils

Newspaper advertisement for the hit movie. It was also shown in France, Portugal, and England. It was released in the US on 27 May 1945.

ducky louie china's little devils

Harry Carey played “Doc Temple” in the film. Born in 1878, he was a superstar in the era of silent films, playing cowboy heroes. Two years after China’s Little Devils came out, Carey died at age 69 of illness.

ducky louie china's little devils

These movies are available on DVD and you can find them on Amazon and eBay sometimes.

ducky louie china's little devils

Back to Bataan was another kiddie favorite. Here, Korean-American actor Philip Ahn, plays a ruthless Japanese officer. Ducky played “Maximo,” a feisty Filipino kid, much like Little Butch Dooley in China’s Little Devils. The film starred John Wayne and Anthony Quinn and was released in June 1945.

Ducky made 5 films in his career (China’s Little Devils, China Sky, Back to Bataan, Black Gold, and Smuggler’s Gold.) The first three movies were about the war.  The last movie was his least favorite. Although the money was good, Ducky grew tired of commuting between his home in Berkeley and Hollywood. After his last movie in 1951, Burt Lancaster called him. “He offered me $5,000 a week for 6 weeks of work, on a film to be done in the Fiji Islands,” Ducky remembered. (That 5 grand is equivalent to $46,000 in today’s dollar!) “I turned it down.”

Ducky never succumbed to Hollywood’s glamor, fame, and money. He had great parents. They never pressured him and left him alone to make his own decisions. “I wanted to go to dental school!” he told me. So Ducky quit Hollywood and never looked back. His parents were very supportive of his decision.

I was curious about the Louie Family. He told me that his dad tried to be a businessman but was unsuccessful; he had a grocery store, then a butcher shop in Berkeley. Later he went to work at the naval base in Oakland as a packer. His mom took care of 8 children! It was a close-knit family. All the kids attended college and all became successful professionals.

ducky louie china's little devils

This newspaper clipping shows the Louie Family in 1945. While working in Hollywood, the studio did not neglect his education and hired tutors.

ducky louie china's little devils

Dr. Louie with an old 1945 still photo. A very modest man, he was asked for years to give a talk at his church about his days as a Hollywood child actor and finally relented.

ducky louie china's little devils

Dr. Lawrence “Ducky” Louie with his fans, Gary Nila (left) and Henry Sakaida (right). The movie China’s Little Devils impressed us as kids.

 

I asked Ducky if any of his dental patients ever recognized him from his old movies. “Never!” he chuckled. “Once, in the 1960s, they showed China’s Little Devils on TV and my wife called to our kids who were playing outside. They came in, watched a bit, then ran out to play. Well, so much for their interest in daddy’s Hollywood career!”

After our interview, my two buddies and I took Dr. Louie out to lunch. It was a real treat for us. He loves golf and told us that he has scored 5 holes-in-one after he turned 70! He and his wife have travelled around the world. This quiet, unassuming gentleman is still our role model!

 

For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Heroes of the Soviet Union 1941–45

Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45

I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal

Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai

Aces of the Rising Sun 1937–1945

B-29 Hunters of the JAAF


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