Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Very Belated In Memorium: Wesley Lau

This is two months overdue. I felt very bad when I realized that I had completely, inadvertently missed the date of Wesley’s death. I decided to post it now both because it is the 30th (Wesley passed away on August 30th, 1984) and because this coming week is when we think a great deal about the dead. It seems an appropriate time to remember another dear friend long gone.

Quite a few of the cast members died far younger than they should have—both Williams were also cut down in their prime. More information is available on them; by contrast, it is almost impossible to discover anything about Wesley Lau’s death—and his life, for that matter.

I am not happy with changes, particularly changes in the cast of a beloved show. I had long been leery of these other detectives who came in when Ray Collins’ decreasing health forced him to slowly begin to back out. But at the same time I was curious, especially since I knew that at least one of them, Andy, was supposed to be more permissive and genuinely friendly. (I love Tragg so very dearly, but sometimes it’s hard to know when he’s being friendly for real and when it’s just a façade.)

I believe I saw both Andy and Drumm years ago, but the memories had not stayed with me. Recently I “re-met” Andy in, I believe, The Golden Oranges. Aside from being quite an awesome episode in and of itself, I found I liked Andy. It was interesting to see a younger detective, more contemporary with Perry and company. And I was surprised and amused to see him admire a pretty girl with Paul.

While I liked Andy, however, and continued to do so, I had not fully accepted him as one of the regulars. Strangely enough, it was when I saw Wesley Lau portray the troubled Amory Fallon in The Impatient Partner that I realized I liked him and Andy very much, more than I had previously thought. I welcomed Andy with open arms at last and began looking up some of Wesley’s other roles.

It seems that, aside from Perry, he often played villains. I watched an episode of Bonanza entitled Desert Justice, in which he fools the Cartwrights into thinking he is a good person when in actuality he deliberately caused the death of a federal marshal’s wife and quietly taunts him about it when they are alone. It was a very different performance, but very chilling and very effective.

Wesley played other good guys too, however. Twice he played law enforcement officers on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. And he starred as a World War II pilot possessed by an Egyptian pharaoh in an episode of One Step Beyond. There are others as well. From all that I’ve seen, he played both good and bad guys marvelously.

Wesley’s Perry character was originally not conceived as being his own person so much as he was a replacement for, or at least assistant to, Lieutenant Tragg. By Wesley’s own admission, many of his early episodes had him speaking dialogue that was written for Tragg. It definitely shows. In The Left-Handed Liar, he has an extended conversation with David in which he parrots Tragg’s speech pattern and words. And at the end of The Melancholy Marksman, when he walks in on Della and Paul role-playing what happened during the murder and Paul says that now Della’s dead, Andy comments, “Aww, what a pity.” I can just hear Tragg saying that. It is not a Lieutenant Anderson statement. Nevertheless, Wesley handled these early episodes well, delivering the material he was given in a professional and realistic way.

By season 6, commonly pinpointed as beginning in The Hateful Hero, Andy is finally being written as his own person, not as Tragg’s surrogate mouthpiece. Though hints of his unique personality came through before, now he is truly allowed to shine. But while perhaps more permissive in some ways, he is still not going to tolerate any bending or breaking of the law. And though the writers were eventually worried that he was too friendly and they needed someone more by-the-book, Lieutenant Drumm in season 9 is honestly just as friendly (even though yes, he’s by-the-book). So with that in mind, I can’t understand why they kicked Wesley Lau off the show. I miss him in season 9, although I’m fond of Drumm too.

According to one article I read, Wesley was married with a small child when he first began playing Andy. He was grateful for the steady work, as the money was certainly needed. He and his wife felt he looked terrible in hats, and he tried to wear one as little as possible. I disagree with them; I think he looked awesome and dashing in that fedora. But then, I'm probably biased. I think everyone looks good in them!

I don’t even know how or why Wesley Lau passed on so young, in his early sixties, in 1984. His gravestone has a beautiful epitaph that reads “Beloved husband, father, actor, writer, friend, soldier, reader of books, and believer in the human race.” And to that, all I can really add is that he is loved and missed by many, including fans old and young.

44 comments:

  1. It's nice to see that there are some people who have an interest in Wesley Lau. He is a distant relitive of mine. He was my Grandmothers first cousin! (My great Grandmother was a Lau) My dad said he only met him once back in the 50's, they went swimming in lake Michigan. I understand he really wanted to be a writer, but found it was acting that paid the bills.

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    1. Oh, that's very interesting! Thank you so much for sharing.

      Yes, I heard that he didn't really want to be an actor. He did get to do a bit of script-writing during his career, so if he wanted to be a writer I'm glad he got to do something of it.

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    2. I am Graham, Wesleys son. I am on Facebook. Graham James Lau. Thanks for caring. We miss him very much.

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    3. Hello! Thank you so much for joining in. I looked you up on Facebook and there's two profiles for someone with that name. One has a lot of pictures, while the other one's page is pretty blank. Which one is you?

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    4. Two sons, Graham and Adam who was married....
      name is Germanic, Father was Albert.


      http://m.legacy.com/obituaries/latimes/obituary.aspx?n=mary-louise-m-lau&pid=14518753&referrer=0&preview=false

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    5. Lau is a Chinese last name was Wesley half Chinese?

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    6. It's also a Germanic name, as stated in this very message thread you replied to. :)

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  2. Wesley Lau died due to a heart attack.

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    1. I see. How sad. If you don't mind my asking, how do you have that information? It's so difficult to learn much of anything about him.

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    2. I understand it was cancer due to smoking.

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    3. Very sad if true. Oddly enough, I've rarely seen him smoke on TV. Of course, that wouldn't mean he didn't in real-life.

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    4. Wesley Lau's cause of death was listed in a book called The Portable Obituary.

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    5. Hmm, interesting. That must be some book. Thanks for commenting!

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  3. I also wondered how he died. I hate he did not finish Perry Mason until the end and wonder why he was replaced.

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    1. That's definitely another of the mysteries surrounding him. No one seems to know the answer, from what I've seen; there's only various speculations as to why he disappeared from the cast.

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    2. There were writers on the show who thought his character was ":too nice" and wanted to create a character more like Tragg. Wesley was perfect. It was a mistake to replace him.

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    3. I've heard that, and used to report it as the truth here, but I'm no longer sure that was the reason. I've also heard that Wesley himself wanted to leave because he thought he was going to have a steady role on The Time Tunnel. Instead they only used him about five times. Ugh, those people were crazy not to make better use of him. In fact, the Perry writers were crazy not to make better use of him. It still really bugs me how they underused him and only gave him one spotlight episode, in season 6. Wesley was so amazing. He deserved much more than that.

      If they were trying to make Steve more like Tragg, however, they failed on that. He's definitely his own person, and, as I started to discover when I really paid attention to him, he's friendlier than Andy.

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    4. I totally agree with you on that. Tragg was a crab ass.

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  4. I can probably answer some of your questions, if you're interested. I'm Wesley's son.

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    1. Oh my goodness, hello! :) I would be happy to know whatever you can tell me, such as why he disappeared from Perry Mason, how he enjoyed being part of the show, etc. I remember reading one lone interview where he was frustrated with the way his character Andy wasn't ever given much to do.

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    2. Hello Mr Lau.

      I'm trying to establish part of your father's war biography. For a while he 'walked out' with my late mother in London during WW2 (ages before she married my father and before I was born - don't worry about any paternity issues!). If you have any information about your father's time in the UK and London perhaps you'd be willing to share it with me?

      I have a portrait of her said to have been drawn by an American artist, and I wonder if it was someone your father knew?

      Please let me know if you have any information about this time that you'd be willing to share.

      Regards,

      M. Bloomfield

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    3. I'm so pleased that you, his son, have joined our discussion! So many people loved his character and became interested in Lesley Lau the person as a result. Always wondered about his family. ..his parents, wife, children, etc. Anything you are willing to share would be greatly appreciated.

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  5. Just recently we got a brand new TV that allows us access to some channels that our old one didn't. As a result, my parents and I have gotten back into watching some of the old Perry Mason episodes. As far as Mr. Lau was concerned, I was always struck by how much he resembled William Hopper....at least that was the first thought that struck my mind. I always thought that they were both so very handsome. I have only seen a few episodes with Wesley Lau in them so far, but I have grown to like him in his role rather quickly.

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    1. (I'm really intrigued by how many interesting comments this particular post is picking up.)

      That's great that you have access to Perry now! And how very interesting. I don't think I ever thought that William Hopper and Wesley bore a resemblance. I'll have to study them the next time I watch an episode they're both in. :)

      I'm glad you like Wesley! His Andy character is a lot of fun.

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  6. I'm curious as to what nationality 'Lau' is and about Wesley Lau's parents.

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    1. I think I read that "Lau" is a Germanic surname (when it isn't the more Oriental version).

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    2. I am curious about the actor's nationality. Lau is usually a Chinese name. It would be interesting to learn about Asian, Black, Native American actors and actresses in tv series and movies

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    3. As mentioned, it can also be Germanic, so I would imagine that's where Wesley's roots are. It would be interesting to know for sure, though!

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  7. I am watching an episode of the Virginian starring James Drury and Wesley Lau is portraying a sheriff - the town law if you will!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFHu0ebmkwE

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    1. Good episode! Although my favorite of Wesley's Virginian episodes is season 6's The Gentle Tamers. He delivers quite an amazing dramatic performance.

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  8. Hi, I'm Elizabeth GABBER, born in 1944, I live in California. My Grandaddy broke down and bought a TV just to see Perry Mason. I've been watching the daily reruns and a marathon yesterday, and I grown quite attached to Wesley Lau. I wanted to put in my two cents' worth-- Wesley Lau seems like a very kind man. I read he was in another show soon after he left? Anyway, I'm sorry he died at 63. And I'm a big fan too! I'm almost 70 but watching these shows makes me feel I'm back in 1960 in high school, watching Perry Mason

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    1. Hi there! Thanks for checking in. Ha, that's awesome that your granddad bought a TV just for Perry!

      Wesley does indeed seem like he was a very kind man. He appeared occasionally on The Time Tunnel after leaving Perry, but they underused him. He should have been a regular on The Time Tunnel! Playing the head of security of a secret government installation, it would have been the perfect role in which to see him a lot.

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    2. Thanks for the information Lucky Ladybug! Elizabeth

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  9. Someone chimed in saying he was Wesley's son but then just left.What's up with that? I have always been a huge fan of his. He did some of the Jane Wyman presents shows too. You can see the things he die and episodes at his Wikipedia page. They list all roles and the names of the characters he played.

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    1. Yeah, I've definitely been wondering about that! I also went to his blog and left a comment there. No response there, either. I'm always a little skeptical of people claiming to be related to a celebrity, particularly if they then clam up and don't continue the conversation.

      Thanks for the tips! I don't think I've tracked down the Jane Wyman episodes yet.

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  10. Hello, I came across these entries while searching for information on Wesley Lau. I am from his home town of Sheboygan, Wisconsin and came across a photo of his 1939 HS graduation at Vollrath Bowl in Sheboygan in a old photo album that my father had.

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    1. Hello! Wow, how awesome! So your father attended high school with him?

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  11. I love perry m.also and wondered about lau's surname. I Google a lot of actors from the. Show to find out info. I also was shocked that so many men from the show died young such as William hopper

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    1. Yes, it's very sad that both Williams and Wesley died young. Some of the guest-stars too, I believe.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  12. I started watching Perry Mason when the series started, and have been a lifelong fan. I have learned interesting information just by reading all these comments.

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    1. Wonderful! Welcome! Yes, there are certainly interesting comments.

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  13. Wesley Lau had a very big role in "I Want To Live!" starring Susan Hayward. He played her husband, a drug addict.

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    1. Yep, and he was awesome in the part, as always! Thanks for commenting!

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