Tag Archives: May Day Lo

The Power of the Press, Part 2 — Roy Cummings

A blog in sup­port of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

How was the pio­neer­ing female reporter May Day Lo con­nect­ed to KUKANs co-pro­duc­er Li Ling-Ai? Leads to that ques­tion had dried up for me a long time ago. Then last Novem­ber Hon­olu­lu Star-Adver­tis­er reporter Mike Gor­don wrote a big fea­ture arti­cle about FINDING KUKAN. I received a num­ber of enthu­si­as­tic emails about the arti­cle and one strange phone call.

I’m so mad!” Those were the first words Susan Cum­mings said to me. “I’m sure he knew her. If only he were still here, he could tell you.” She was refer­ring to her hus­band who was no longer alive. To tell you the truth, I thought Susan might be a rav­ing lunatic. But as we talked longer I real­ized that Susan’s late hus­band was Roy Cum­mings. He’d been a reporter at the Hon­olu­lu Adver­tis­er in 1937, the same year KUKAN’s direc­tor Rey Scott start­ed work­ing there. Like Rey Scott, he had roots in Mis­souri. Roy was also notable for try­ing to union­ize the Adver­tis­er at that time. Susan told me he was fired for doing so, was almost run over in a park­ing lot, and black­balled by the Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin too. It would take Roy Cum­mings anoth­er 12 years to estab­lish the Hawaii News­pa­per Guild in 1949. He seemed just like the kind of guy that Rey Scott would grav­i­tate to.

Roy Cummings

Roy Cum­mings found­ed the Hawaii News­pa­per Guild in 1949 (pho­to cour­tesy of Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin)

 

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly Roy’s first wife Mar­garet Kam had been a “per­son of inter­est” to me when I was try­ing to hunt down the real life inspi­ra­tions for the detec­tive Lily Wu. Because Mar­garet was a col­or­ful char­ac­ter too – a Chi­nese actress and reporter in Hawaii who had the gump­tion to mar­ry a white guy at a time when tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese fam­i­lies still frowned upon those things.

Margaret Kam (center) mans the all female copy desk at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin during WWII (courtesy Susan Cummings)

Mar­garet Kam (cen­ter) mans the all female copy desk at the Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin dur­ing WWII (cour­tesy Susan Cum­mings)

 

Once I made the con­nec­tion, the con­ver­sa­tion with Susan start­ed spark­ing with names and sit­u­a­tions from Roy Cummings’s past. I men­tioned that I had been try­ing to find infor­ma­tion on the Star Bul­letin reporter May Day Lo, and Susan exclaimed, “May Day Lo was Roy’s first love!” It turns out that Roy and May Day went to jour­nal­ism school togeth­er in Mis­souri. Roy fell in love with May Day and fol­lowed her out to Hawaii.

May Day Lo and Roy Cummings (center) gather with fellow University of Missouri journalism students in downtown Columbia

May Day Lo and Roy Cum­mings (cen­ter) gath­er with fel­low Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri jour­nal­ism stu­dents in down­town Colum­bia

 

Now I was the one who was mad that Roy was no longer alive. I felt sure that he’d been acquaint­ed with Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott in one way or anoth­er. He prob­a­bly could have pro­vid­ed some inter­est­ing sto­ries about the two of them and the mak­ing of KUKAN. Susan gra­cious­ly invit­ed me over to her house in Lanikai to look at Roy’s pho­to­graph from the time peri­od – the next best thing to meet­ing the man in per­son.

Susan Cummings with portrait

Susan Cum­mings with Wyeth por­trait

 

Susan Cummings hunts for clues her husband's photo albums

Susan Cum­mings hunts for clues in her hus­band’s pho­to albums

Roy’s pho­tos put more flesh and blood on what had pre­vi­ous­ly been mere­ly names on a page. They also gave me some insight into the lifestyle Rey Scott must have expe­ri­enced when he first arrived here.

Aloha Tower in the mid 1930s (photo courtesy Susan Cummings)

Alo­ha Tow­er in the mid 1930s (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cum­mings)

 

Roy Cummings's Waikiki Shack

Like Roy Cum­mings, Rey Scott holed up in Waiki­ki when he first got to Hawaii. Could his room have looked like this? (pho­to cour­tesy of Susan Cum­mings)

 

But the pho­tos didn’t do much to fill in the gaps of the KUKAN sto­ry. In fact they brought up more ques­tions than answers. Susan her­self was mys­ti­fied as to what hap­pened between May Day Lo and Roy. Why had he mar­ried Mar­garet Kam instead of May Day? She’d nev­er thought to ask Roy about it when he was alive. I want­ed to know if any­one had saved May Day’s papers and if Ling-Ai’s let­ters or clues to KUKAN were amongst them.

Roy Cummings and May Day Lo in downtown Honolulu

Roy Cum­mings and May Day Lo in down­town Hon­olu­lu (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cum­mings)

 

Egged on by mutu­al curios­i­ty Susan and I exchanged a flur­ry of emails and research find­ings in the next few weeks. Susan proved to be a will­ing and able sleuth, and togeth­er we found out some very inter­est­ing things which I’ll share in future posts. For now I want to pay trib­ute to the “father of the Hawaii News­pa­per Guild” and thank the ghost of Roy Cum­mings for putting Susan and I togeth­er. Of course the “pow­er of the press” had a lot to do with it too.

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The Power of the Press: Part 1– May Day Lo

A blog in support of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

In the Lily Wu detec­tive nov­els by Juani­ta Sheri­dan one of the col­or­ful side­kicks is a female reporter named Steve (Stephanie Dugan) who fun­nels infor­ma­tion to her two ama­teur detec­tive friends Lily and Jan­ice. Since many of her fic­tion­al char­ac­ters are based on real life peo­ple, I won­dered if Sheri­dan based Steve on some of the ball­sy female reporters who were break­ing into news­rooms in the 1930s. So my ears pricked when I heard that Li Ling-Ai had a jour­nal­ist friend in the 30s and 40s named May Day Lo. Yes, that is her real name, and no she was not even born in May.

May Day Lo at the University of Missouri (photo courtesy Susan Cummings)

May Day Lo at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cum­mings)

 

In the mid 1930s May Day Lo made his­to­ry by being one of the first Asian Amer­i­can women hired to report for a major dai­ly news­pa­per. The pro­gres­sive Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin hired Lo and Ah Jook Ku after they grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri Jour­nal­ism School. May Day Lo also broke ground at Jour­nal­ism School by being the first “exchange stu­dent” accept­ed there (remem­ber, Hawaii was still a ter­ri­to­ry and not offi­cial­ly part of the Unit­ed States).

May Day Lo Exchange Student at University of Missouri

How does a girl from Hilo get to Mis­souri in 1933?

 

Notably, in 2010 when the Asian Amer­i­can Jour­nal­ists Asso­ci­a­tion put togeth­er a list of pio­neer­ing Asian jour­nal­ists, a major­i­ty of them were from Hawaii. AAJA his­to­ri­an Chris Chow com­ment­ed, “Hawaii was more open to mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. There was recog­ni­tion that this is an impor­tant mar­ket and you’d bet­ter well serve them (Asian-Amer­i­cans) if you want to make any mon­ey.”

Back in the 30’s, the Star Bul­letin seemed to cov­er sto­ries about local Asians more com­pre­hen­sive­ly than the rival Hon­olu­lu Adver­tis­er.  And May Day Lo’s byline was on sev­er­al ear­ly arti­cles writ­ten about Li Ling-Ai, includ­ing the one that prob­a­bly prompt­ed Adver­tis­er reporter Rey Scott to call Li Ling-Ai into his office for an inter­view on that fate­ful night in 1937 when plans for mak­ing KUKAN were first hatched.

 

Li Ling-Ai appears on the front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1937

Reporter May Day Lo gives front page cov­er­age to fel­low Chi­nese Amer­i­can pio­neer — Li Ling-Ai (aka Gladys Li)

 

I love know­ing that a petite Chi­nese woman who was raised by a rev­erend in Hilo was the first exchange stu­dent at the pres­ti­gious Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri School of Jour­nal­ism and that the pow­er of her pen brought atten­tion to anoth­er pio­neer­ing Chi­nese young woman in a way that changed her life for­ev­er. I want­ed to find out more about May Day Lo, espe­cial­ly when I found an intrigu­ing let­ter from her to Li Ling-Ai:

July 31, 1941,
Dear Li Ling Ai,
Now that I am home again, it all seems like a dream that I met you and all the oth­ers in New York and had such a won­der­ful time…. Please give my Alo­ha to Mrs. James Young, Rey Scott and Mr. Rip­ley when you see them.

May Day Lo had been in New York right around the time when KUKAN pre­miered at the World The­ater just off Broad­way! She had met both Rey Scott and Robert Rip­ley – two key play­ers in Li Ling-Ai’s life at the time. Could May Day hold clues to some of the unsolved mys­ter­ies sur­round­ing KUKAN?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly May Day had died in a trag­ic car acci­dent in 1986. May Lee Chung, edi­tor of the ACUW pub­li­ca­tion that doc­u­ments so many pio­neer­ing Chi­nese women’s lives (see oth­er posts about this “Orange Bible”), could remem­ber clear­ly the cir­cum­stances of May Day’s death. But she did not know what had become of May Day’s only child David, some­one who might be able to tell me more. The trail remained cold until the Pow­er of the Press struck again in 2011. Stay tuned…

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August 10, 2012 — Li Ling-Ai 75 Years Ago

When I was invit­ed recent­ly to par­tic­i­pate in a con­fer­ence to com­mem­o­rate the 75th anniver­sary of the Nanking Mas­sacre this com­ing Decem­ber, I real­ized that the film KUKAN also cel­e­brates a whole string of 75th year anniver­saries.  Today hap­pens to be the day that Li Ling-Ai (aka Gladys Li) appeared on the front page of the Hon­olu­lu Star Bul­letin news­pa­per, laud­ed for her desire to fly a plane to sup­port Chi­na’s resis­tance to Japan­ese inva­sion.

Li Ling-Ai (aka Gladys Li) on the front page of the Star Bulletin.  August 10, 1937

Li Ling-Ai (aka Gladys Li) appeared on the front page of the Star Bul­letin. August 10, 1937

A month before this Amelia Earhart’s plane dis­ap­peared.  It’s a reminder that in 1937 air­plane flight was still rel­a­tive­ly new and few women were under­tak­ing the risky hob­by.

News­reel still announc­ing Earhart’s plight.

Fly­ing a plane is just one of the pio­neer­ing feats of Li Ling-Ai and what brought her to the atten­tion of the Adver­tis­er reporter Rey Scott who would even­tu­aly become her film­mak­ing part­ner on Kukan.

Also note­wor­thy is that the author of the Star Bul­letin arti­cle, May Day Lo, was one of the first Asian Amer­i­can female reporters on a major city news­pa­per.

Have any oth­er 75th anniver­saries to share?  Feel free to com­ment.

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