One of the most famous Asian American dancers during the 1930s and 1940s has passed away. Dorothy Toy was best known as one half of the dancing duo “Toy & Wing.” She was nicknamed the “Asian Ginger Rogers” during her prime dancing years. She passed away on July 10 at the age of 102, reports Rafu.
Dorothy Toy was born Dorothy Takashi on May 28, 1917, to Japanese immigrants in San Francisco. The family moved to Los Angeles where her parents opened a restaurant across the street from the Regent, a small vaudeville theater. Both Dorothy and her sister Helen learned how to tap dance but Dorothy shined. Her parents agreed to feed a Russian ballet dancer food from their restaurant in exchange for dance lessons.
In 1932, Dorothy and her sister Helen met Paul Wing Jew and the three became known as “The Three Maj Jongs.” Helen quit the group and started her solo singing career. Meanwhile, Dorothy and Wing started “Toy & Wing” which became the most famous dance duo at the time. They worked nightclubs and Chinese restaurants for white people which was known as the “Chop Suey Circuit.” But soon they performed at Broadway becoming the first Asian American dance duo to perform there. Not only that, they became the first Asian Americans to perform at the Palladium in London. Furthermore, they appeared in several Hollywood movies and television shows such as “Deviled Ham” and “The Morey Amsterdam Show.” They were nicknamed the “Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers” even though Toy was Japanese.
The two got married in 1940 not out of love, but rather convenience. It was easier to avoid racism at establishments such as hotels. “I was Japanese and he was Chinese, we just said we were Asians that way a lot of nonsense, we didn’t have to go through,” she told NBC.
But with World War II and Pearl Harbour on the horizon, her ethnicity was not something she could avoid much longer.
Toy escaped to New York so that she could continue her work as a performer during World War II. Unfortunately, her parents were sent to the Japanese internment camps. She lost roles in movies, including one with Chico Marx, when another dancer who was jealous of her outed her as Japanese. Soon, Wing was drafted into the army and returned with PTSD. The war changed him and he was never the same again. The two divorced shortly after but continued to work together.
Toy met her second husband Les Fong a businessman in 1952. She had two children with Fong. Dorothy Toy formed a dance troupe the Oriental Girls Revue and toured throughout the United States, Canda, Europe, and Japan. By 1971, she retired from performing and began working as a pharmacy technician in Oakland. She still taught dancing into her 90s.
Dorothy Toy loved dancing and performing for people. In an interview with NBC, she said she preferred the live stage to movies because she could see the people’s expressions. “When people are watching you and they’re really..you see their faces and they make you feel good,” she said. “Movies they’re just taking a movie. It’s not you. They can make you look good.
“It makes you happy when you have a live audience. They say, ‘That’s great,’ and you feel like a million dollars, that’s the kind of feel you get. But you don’t want the million, you just want the applause.”
Check out her documentary below.