Nancy Kwan came to fame co-starring with William Holden in The World of Suzy Wong and then with James Shigeta in Flower Drum Song. She's appeared in 36 movies and numerous TV shows, as well as producing commercials in Hong Kong.
In my audio-book McKnight's Memory, Robert Culp plays a CIA agent that is obsessed with, who he thinks is, the ultimate woman. For that part I needed an actress to match Culp's star power, as well as performance power. Plus she would need a voice that lived up to the role of being sensuous, strong, and independent.
And, even though not a movie, it wouldn't hurt to have an actress that could visually live up to the role in the minds of the listener as well, not to mention her photo on the cover that would also add to the realism of the story. Well, Miss Kwan filled the bill beyond imagination.
At almost four hours long, and with numerous scenes with Robert Culp as well as with David Hedison, Miss Kwan had a demanding day's work lined up for her. She arrived full of energy and a hello for all the actors and sound mixers. I had already discussed the part with her in person a few weeks before, so there nothing more to do, but record with her and Mr. Culp.
Unlike a movie, we had the luxury of being able to record the story in continuity. It was great to hear the relationships of the characters grow as the mystery of the story is revealed.
For most scenes Miss Kwan and Mr. Culp, looked over what was coming up in that scene for a few minutes, talked about what they would do with overlapping dialogue and interpretation, and then did the scene in one take.
We had recorded for an hour and I didn't have to give any of the actors any direction, but I felt I had to say something to Miss Kwan beside what the next scene was and 'action'. So I pushed the talk button and said, "Miss Kwan. You are doing a perfect blend of voice and performance." She said, "Thank you", and Mr. Culp added, "Yes, you really are."
There was one scene that went on for a full seven minutes with the two characters, arguing and yelling at each other. Even though there were difficult long speeches in it, they made it through perfectly in one take. When they finished that scene, I pushed the talk button from the control room and everyone in there applauded their performance.
I only gave Miss Kwan one piece of directing. That was during a scene where she was to call on the phone and pretend to be a business woman, so as to get information from someone. She started a light rehearsal and then I interrupted her to tell her to make her voice sound a little more 'officious', so it sounded as she was trying to fool the other person. She hit it perfectly as she continued her rehearsal without missing a beat.
During the breaks we talked about the various movies that they both worked on as well as how great it was for the two of them to act together for the first time.
It was a long and productive day. When the last scene came, which was the last scene in the story as well, I felt a big sense of accomplishment, yet a little sad that it was over. But there was still work to do in the days ahead with Frank Sinatra Jr. recording the narration and tons of sound effects and music to put in.
When Miss Kwan heard the final product she told me in person what a great story and production it turned out to be. Even bigger than when she had read it.
When I was in the Air Force making $150 a month, I happened to see the LIfe magazine issue with Nancy Kwan on the cover as the character of Suzy Wong. It was displayed by itself in the window of a movie art store in LA's Westwood Village. I wanted to buy it badly, but since the $30 price tag was a week's pay for me, I sadly had to let it go and merely looked at it through the window.
After working with her, I bought that magazine on Ebay and had Miss Kwan sign it.
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