Philip Ahn was a Korean American actor. He was the first Asian American film actor to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Ahn was born Pil Lip Ahn in Highland Park, California. His parents emigrated to the United States in 1902 and were the first Korean married couple admitted; his mother, Helen Lee, was the second Korean woman in the country. Anh’s father, Dosan Ahn Chang-ho, was an educator and an activist for Korean independence during the Japanese occupation. Philip Ahn is believed to be the first American citizen born in the United States of Korean parents.
When he was a high school, Ahn visited the set of the film The Thief of Bagdad, where he met Douglas Fairbanks. Fairbanks offered him a screen test, followed by a part in the movie. However, his mother told him, “No son of mine is going to get mixed up with those awful people.”
Ahn graduated from high school in 1923, and went to work in the rice fields around Colusa, California. The land was owned by the Hung Sa Dan, or Young Korean Academy, a Korean independence movement which trained Koreans to become leaders of their country once it was free from Japanese rule. Since Koreans could not own land in California, the Academy put the property in Ahn’s name. Unfortunately, the rice crops failed because of heavy rains, and Ahn found himself deeply in debt. He went to work as an elevator operator in Los Angeles, to pay back the debt and help support his family.