The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir

by ANN MARIE FLEMING

In the late ’90s, filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming discovered a 16 mm film in her grandmother’s basement that included footage of her great-grandfather’s name in lights on marquees throughout the world. Why had Long Tack Sam, a famed vaudevillian and friend of luminaries from Orson Welles to Charlie Chaplin, been forgotten both in the West and in his native China? Her pursuit of the answer culminated in a documentary film; the fascinating story continues in this memoir of the same title, written and illustrated by Fleming, with additional drawings by Julian Lawrence in a suitably retrospective style, and archival photographs and playbills from the era.

Fleming chronicles not only Sam’s Western career but his work in China, where he learned acrobatics and opened four theaters; and the life of his family, including Fleming’s grandmother, once a world-famous beauty. The result is an old-fashioned mystery, a poignant meditation on the ephemeral nature of fame, and an instructive history, tracing four generations of a polyglot, truly multicultural family, surviving and sometimes thriving as artists and citizens through a century’s excitements. –