Today is the birthday of Dorothy Takahashi, better known as Dorothy Toy. With Paul Wing Jew (a.k.a “Wing”) she formed the team of Wing and Toy, the premier Asian American dance team of the 3os, 40s and 50s. Wing (a Chinese-American) had taught himself to tap as a child growing up in San Francisco. His first dates were at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in L.A. He met the Takahashi sisters Dorothy and Helen at an audition and they formed the act The Three Mahjongs — Kicking the Gong Around. They studied with the great Willie Covan, sharpening their skills, and worked the western circuits, notably Fanchon and Marco theatres, in the vaudeville-and-film-combination days of the early 1930s. After 3 years, Helen left the act to pursue a solo career, leaving just Toy and Wing (they changed their names because “Takahashi and Jew” carried too much negative freight in the tumultuous lead-up to World War II.)
By the late 30s, Toy and Wing were hugely successful in theatres and nightclubs both in the U.S. and abroad. The war brought a major disruption, however; Wing was drafted. The Toy sisters toured together, untouched by the authorities despite the fact that their Japanese American parents were interred in a domestic prison camp. (The Chinese sounding name “Toy” threw them off the scent). After the war, tastes changed but Wing and Toy continued to work the so called “chop suey circuit” as well as the lucrative post-war Europe scene, for as long as they could.And guess what? Dorothy Toy is still with us! Check out this cool documentary piece on her here. And NBC did this excellent piece on the team in December 2016.
To find out more about acts like Toy and Wing and the whole durn history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever invaluable books are sold.