Remembering Keye Luke
Keye Luke, the comically caustic herbalist who makes Mia Farrow invisible in Woody Allen’s new movie, Alice, was 86 or 87 when he died of a stroke on Jan. 12 in Whittier, Calif. When asked his age a few days before his death, he said, ”I can’t remember.” Luke, born in Canton, China, grew up in Seattle with his eye on Hollywood and broke in as an adman at RKO Pictures.
With no formal training, he originated the role of Number One Son in Charlie Chan in Paris in 1935 and stayed Number One through a dozen sequels; in the ’60s he took up TV where, aside from some 200 guest spots ranging from The Golden Girls to Gunsmoke, he was best known as the blind but all-seeing Master Po on the ABC series Kung Fu. Luke, who lived with his stepdaughter after his wife died 11 years ago, recited Shakespeare — Hamlet, Lear, Othello — in the mornings ”as an exercise,” he said. ”I have a little of the old ham in me.”
The actor, who made his screen debut as the physician in 1934’s The Painted Veil with Greta Garbo, ended his career as he began it, playing a doctor and being a gentleman. As Alice‘s Dr. Yang, he was required to be ”gruff and irascible,” and it almost threw him. When the director ordered him to tell Mia off, Luke related, ”I said, ‘Woody, I’m not used to yelling at women.’ He said, ‘Well, do it now.’ So I apologized to Mia, and it came out very well.” He admired Allen’s ”quiet unconventionalism” and had a wonderful time on the movie, and the feeling was mutual. ”It was a privilege to work with him,” Allen says. ”The whole cast and crew were entranced.”