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Fu Manchu(pop culture)
Sax Rohmer's Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu (1913) introduced what was to become one of the most famous fictional characters of all time, and perhaps the first villain to serve as a series protagonist. His desire was to take over the world and, in a way, he did: “Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government— which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu- Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man,” remarks Denis Nayland Smith to Dr. Petrie in chapter 2 of the novel. Though he seems to be the personification of the dreaded “Yellow Peril,” to attempt to describe the threat Dr. Fu Manchu presents to the world in terms of race hatred is insufficient to sum up his menace. The Devil Doctor will destroy any who stand between him and his goal of destroying the Western world and remake it as an extension of his beloved East … with himself as its absolute ruler. Beginning with The Insidious Fu Manchu, the creation of Sax Rohmer (pseudonym of Arthur Sarsfield Ward, 1883–1959—“Sax Rohmer” is loosely translated as “wandering blade,” or “freelance”) launched plot after plot at Western civilization, but found his schemes thwarted time and again by Sir Denis Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard and his friend Dr. Petrie. Fu Manchu is aided in his campaigns by the blind loyalty of the Si-Fan cult, by his daughter, Fah Lo Suee, and his own matchless intellect. The Devil Doctor has even conquered age by his Elixir Vitae, which retards the aging process, granting him perpetual life. Twelve other Fu Manchu novels appeared—The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1916), The Hand of Fu Manchu (1917), The Daughter of Fu Manchu (1931), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), The Bride of Fu Manchu (1933), The Trail of Fu Manchu (1934), President Fu Manchu (1936), The Drums of Fu Manchu, (1939), The Island of Fu Manchu (1941), The Shadow of Fu Manchu (1948), Re-Enter Fu Manchu (1957) and Emperor Fu Manchu (1959)—and though the Devil Doctor never took over the world, it was not for any lack of imagination. His schemes included falsifying the deaths of scientists, then forcing them to work for him; instilling the murderous skills of Jack the Ripper into his Si-Fan cultists; and installing a puppet candidate into the office of president of the United States. The burgeoning medium of radio offered a frequent haven for the Devil Doctor. Fu Manchu first appeared on radio on The Collier Hour with adaptations of at least three Rohmer novels (1929–1931). Fu Manchu was first broadcast as a series of twelve shows from 1929 to 1930, then from 1932 to 1934 with John C. Daly, then Harold Huber, as the voice of Fu Manchu. A Manchu series starring Frank Cochrane was produced for Radio Luxembourg to compete with the British Broadcasting Company (1936–1937). The Shadow of Fu Manchu was syndicated from 1939 to 1940, and starred Ted Osborne as the Devil Doctor. In 1944 NBC Molle Mystery Theatre ran a thirty-minute adaptation of The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu in 1944. The Celestial One has also proven a great favorite of the movies, first appearing on the screen in the fifteen-chapter serial, The Mystery of Fu Manchu (1923), with Harry Agar Lyons as Manchu. Agar returned to the role for eight episodes of The Further Mysteries of Fu Manchu (1924). In general, the older the production, the more likely it is to rely on Western fear of the “Yellow Peril” and techniques bordering on racism to instill fear for Fu Manchu in the audience. Later productions tend to emphasize the Devil Doctor's scientific accomplishments and his utter ruthlessness in using them to obtain his goals. Warner Oland stepped into the role for The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929), and The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1930). Daughter of the Dragon (1931) was Oland's last movie as the Devil Doctor. In 1940 a fifteen-chapter serial, Drums of Fu Manchu, was released; it which was edited to movie length in 1943. A sequel, Fu Manchu Strikes Back, was planned, but quashed by the U.S. State Department, reportedly because it would feature the Chinese, America's allies in World War II, in a bad light, though it is certain that many viewers thought of Manchu as Japanese. The Devil Doctor took a long hiatus from the silver screen, possibly due to worried producers fearing any film treatment would be characterized as “racist,” but returned in 1965 in The Face of Fu Manchu, the first of a series of five films starring Christopher Lee, whose facial features were certainly perfect for depicting an Asian mastermind. Peter Sellers was Manchu in Orion's “hilarious comedy” The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu (1980), the character's most recent film appearance as of 2006. Television, which entered virtually every American home in the 1950s, seemed an ideal medium for the Celestial One to disseminate his schemes. Fu Manchu appeared on television in 1952 with The Zayat Kiss, starring John Carradine as Fu Manchu. The Adventures of Fu Manchu, starring Glen Gordon, lasted thirteen episodes from 1955 to 1956. These shows suffered from low budgets and poor production values, though John Carradine was certainly an inspired casting choice. Comic books have also proved a popular medium for the Celestial One and his illegitimate offspring, beginning with Wow, What a Magazine! in 1936. DC Comics' Detective Comics #18 (1938) began the serialization of The Mysterious Fu Manchu drawn by Leo O'Mealia. This feature was originally distributed by the Bell Syndicate from 1930 to 1932. Avon released The Mask of Fu Manchu in 1951, with art by future great Wally Wood. The Devil Doctor was doubtless the inspiration for such pulp-magazine villains as The Mysterious Wu Fang and Dr. Yen Sin. Comic-book villains such as Flash Gordon's Ming the Merciless, the Claw (from the Golden Age Daredevil series), the Yellow Claw, and Batman villains such as Dr. Tzin-Tzin and Ra's al Ghul (brought to feature film in 2005's Batman Begins) were heavily influenced by Fu Manchu, but his most enduring contribution to comics may be as the father of the Master of Kung Fu. Marvel Comics, deciding to launch a new character to capitalize on the 1970s kung fu craze, also added Fu Manchu to the mix to prevent rival publisher DC Comics from tying up those rights. In Marvel Special Edition #15 (1973), Shang-Chi, the son of Fu Manchu, raised to become a martial arts master and Fu Manchu's chief assassin, would realize his father's evil and turn against him. Created by Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, and Al Milgrom, the series ran 125 issues, lasting until 1983, with occasional revivals since then. Additional adventures of Shang-Chi, with occasional appearances by his father, appeared in the black-and- white magazine The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (1974–1977). These are his most recent official appearances as of 2006, but it is clearly implied that Fu Manchu is the villain behind the first comic story arc of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (America's Best Comics, 1999), though not the 2003 film. Ironically, what is perhaps Fu Manchu's most enduring contribution to the English language was made erroneously. To this day a long, thin mustache is referred to as “a Fu Manchu mustache”— but unlike his depiction in virtually all visual media, Rohmer invariably described the Celestial One as clean-shaven.
The Supervillain Book: The Evil Side of Comics and Hollywood © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.