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Forrest J Ackerman
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Philson Ahn
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AHN, PHILSON
(1912–2001). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: Buck Rogers (serial) (Ford BEEBE and Saul A. Goodkind 1937); reedited as feature film Destination Saturn (1966).
 
No, you have never heard of him, and his meager filmography does not really justify an entry for him in a science fiction film encyclopedia, or in any film encyclopedia. And yet, believing that this actor does deserve to be remembered, I feel compelled today to discuss his brief career. The giants of science fiction film I have so far neglected, amply celebrated elsewhere, will have to wait for another day.

Thanks to a recent message from his son, I can now provide more detailed information about his life. The son of Korean diplomat Dosan Ahn Chang Ho, Philson Ahn belonged to a family of overachievers, including his older brother, actor Philip Ahn (with whom he is often confused), who enjoyed a forty-year career of mostly minor roles until succumbing to lung cancer in 1978; younger brother Ralph Ahn, also an actor; and his younger sister, Susan Ahn Cuddy, the first woman to serve as a gunnery officer in the U.S. Navy and later a prominent community leader in Los Angeles. Upon enrolling at UC Berkeley, Philson originally wished to become an architect, but he was persuaded to major in chemistry in order to better assist the Koreans in resisting the Japanese. To earn extra money to finance his college education (his son suspects), he then drifted in small, uncredited film performances, undoubtedly with the assistance of older brother Philip, already established in the industry; if the Internet Movie Database is to be believed (and one cannot uncritically believe it, since they too at times seem to be confusing Philson and Philip), Philson had precisely one credited role, as the Saturnian Prince Tallen in the Buck Rogers serial.

Granted, this was not a prestigious venue (indeed, one suspects that Philip was first offered the part, but turned it down and suggested his brother instead), and granted, the producers were undoubtedly casting an Asian-American in the part solely because they prejudicially thought that an Asian face would seem more alien to their young audiences than a Caucasian face. Still, this represented a rare opportunity for an Asian-American actor of that era to portray a figure with authority and dignity, and Philson, I think, acquitted himself rather well. While not entirely unable to overcome the tendency in these serials to deliver lines in the stilted manner of performers in a high school play, he persuasively conveyed that he was a man who expected and deserved respect; he was genuinely likable, so that one could readily believe that he was a beloved figure among his people; he made his improbable friendship with visiting Earthman Buck Rogers seem sincere and heartfelt; and since Rogers spent much of his time rescuing Prince Tallen, instead of female lead Wilma Deering, Tallen effectively functioned as the emotional centerpiece of the drama. Audiences came to care about his fate, and that was a major reason why they were rooting for Buck Rogers to save him and his people from the insidious schemes of Killer Kane. If not a remarkable performance, one can say that it was a memorable one.

This role might have jumpstarted Philson's career, since there were plans for a second Buck Rogers serial that surely would have included the reappearance of Prince Tallen; however, the relatively unenthusiastic response to Buck Rogers inspired producers to instead film a third Flash Gordon serial, and Philson returned to the obscurity of tiny, uncredited roles. Finally, feeling no genuine desire to stand in the spotlight, Philson retired from acting to work as an engineer at Hughes Aircraft, where he enjoyed a long career and reportedly had encounters with Wernher von Braun and Howard Hughes himself. He lived long enough that he could have earned a modest income and basked in the admiration of fans by coming to science fiction conventions and reminiscing about Buck Rogers, but he carried on with his private life until he died in 2001, succumbing to pneumonia after hip surgery, clearly preferring the obscurity that he had achieved. However, it is the task of science fiction film historians to retrieve certain figures from obscurity, and whether he would have enjoyed it or not, Philson Ahn does merit some attention for his one impressive contribution to the history of science fiction film.

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