Kintaro Hayakawa (早川 金太郎 ; June 10, 1886 – November 23, 1973), known professionally as Sessue Hayakawa (早川 雪洲), was a Japanese actor and a matinée idol. He was one of the most popular stars in Hollywood during the silent film era of the 1910s and early 1920s. Hayakawa was the first actor of Asian descent to achieve stardom as a leading man in the United States and Europe. His "broodingly handsome" good looks and typecasting as a sexually dominant villain made him a heartthrob among American women during a time of racial discrimination, and he became one of the first male sex symbols of Hollywood.
He made his breakthrough in The Cheat (1915), and thereafter became famous for his roles as a forbidden lover. Hayakawa was a highly paid star of his time, earning $3,500 a week in 1919 and $2 million through his own production company from 1918 to 1920. Because of rising anti-Japanese sentiment and business difficulties, Hayakawa left Hollywood in 1922 and performed on Broadway and in Japan and Europe for many years before making his Hollywood comeback in Daughter of the Dragon (1931).
Of his talkies, Hayakawa is probably best known for his role as Kuala, the pirate captain in Swiss Family Robinson (1960 film) and Colonel Saito in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for which he earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Hayakawa starred in over 80 feature films, and three of his films (The Cheat, The Dragon Painter, and The Bridge on the River Kwai) stand in the United States National Film Registry.
Sessue Hayakawa was the first and one of the few Asian American/Asian actors to find stardom in the United States and Europe and was also the first leading Asian male actor in the United States. He became the first male sex symbol of Hollywood long before and the precursor to Rudolph Valentino. His fame rivaled that of Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. His fame began during the silent film era, leading into sound pictures in his later life. He became a film actor in a somewhat reluctant and accidental manner when the famous producer Thomas Ince saw his theatre play The Typhoon and wanted to turn it into a silent film and when it was released the film was an instant hit. With rising stardom he was eventually offered film contract by Famous Players-Lasky now Paramount Pictures. His second film with the production company, The Cheat (1915), was a success and made him a romantic hit with U.S. female audiences. He became a leading man of romance films, considered a heartthrob and a sex symbol; many actresses wanted to work with him in films, in which he was often cast as the exotic male Asian lover that women desired. After years of being typecast as a villain and exotic Asian lover that white women could not have, he decided to start his own production company, where he eventually made 23 films; he produced, starred in, and directed them, and contributed to their design, writing and editing. His films also influenced the way the United States viewed Asians. He personally chose American actress Marin Sais to appear opposite him in his films such as The City of Dim Faces and His Birthright. Hayakawa's collaboration with Sais ended with the film Bonds of Honor (1919). In 1919, Hayakawa made what is generally considered one of his best films, The Dragon Painter. After some bad business, he left the United States and for the next 15 years he worked in Europe and Japan where he made many popular films and plays such as the films The Great Prince Chan and the play Samurai which he performed for the king and queen of the United Kingdom at that time King George V and Queen Mary and a stage play version of The Three Musketeers. His fame in France came from France's fascination with anything Asian. In the 1930s with the rise of Talkies and growing Anti-Japanese sentiment due to World War II. During the war, he tried to perform in Europe but eventually became trapped by the Germans and for years was not able to work as an actor until Humphrey Bogart tracked him and down and offered him a role in his film Tokyo Joe (1949) which became a hit and afterwards he did another successful film Three Came Home (1950). After the war his image in films this time was as the honorable villain which he became typecasted as and from it he starred in what is considered to be his most famous film of his entire career The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) for which he was nominated for both an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award. On February 8, 1960, in a joint ceremony with Anna May Wong, Hayakawa became the first Asian American actor to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.