Luke was born in Guangzhou, China to a father who owned an art shop, but grew up in Seattle. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1944. Before becoming an actor he was a local artist in Hollywood, and worked on several of the murals inside Grauman's Chinese Theater. He did some of the original artwork for the 1933 King Kong pressbook. Luke also painted the casino's mural in The Shanghai Gesture.
Luke made his film debut in The Painted Veil (1934), and the following year gained his first big role, as Charlie Chan's eldest son in Charlie Chan in Paris. He worked so well with Warner Oland, the actor playing Chan, that "Number One Son" became a regular character in the series, alternately helping and distracting 'Pop' Chan in each of his murder cases.
Keye Luke left the Charlie Chan series in 1938, shortly after Oland died. The unfinished Oland-Luke film Charlie Chan at the Ringside was completed as Mr. Moto's Gamble, with Luke now opposite Peter Lorre.
Unlike some performers who failed to establish themselves beyond a single role, Keye Luke continued to work prolifically in Hollywood, at several studios. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cast him in a recurring role in its Dr. Kildare film series, and Monogram Pictures featured him in its Frankie Darro comedies and starred him as Mr. Wong in Phantom of Chinatown. RKO Radio Pictures used him in its popular adventures of The Falcon and Mexican Spitfire. Luke also worked at Universal Pictures, where he played two-fisted valet/chauffeur Kato in its Green Hornet serials. In 1946 Universal mounted a low-budget serial consisting largely of action footage from older films; Keye Luke was hired to match old footage of Sabu in the serial Lost City of the Jungle.
In 1948, Keye Luke returned to the Chan mysteries, which were now being produced by Monogram and starred Roland Winters as Chan. "Number One Son" appeared in the last two Chan features, The Feathered Serpent (film) and The Sky Dragon; in both films, Luke was older than the actor playing his father.
Luke continued to play character parts in motion pictures; he provided the voice of the evil Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon (1973) starring Bruce Lee. Luke played the mysterious old Chinatown shopowner Mr. Wing in the two Gremlins movies, he had a significant role in Woody Allen's 1990 movie Alice, and was the voice of Zoltar and Colonel Cronus in Battle of the Planets. His diverse experience was such that he was initially considered for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars IV: A New Hope, which would eventually go to Alec Guinness.
Keye Luke also worked in television. In 1955, he played Li Wong, a laundryman and property owner in the episode "Annie and the Chinese Puzzle" of the syndicated western series, Annie Oakley. In 1972, "Number One Son" ascended to the role of Charlie Chan himself, thus becoming the first actor of Chinese descent to play the role: he supplied the voice of "Mr. Chan" in the animated television series The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. He was also known for his role of Master Po in the television series, Kung Fu. He appeared in a few episodes of Dragnet, including roles as a restaurant owner in "The Big Amateur" and a jade dealer in "The Jade Story." He appeared also in episodes of M*A*S*H; most memorably "Patent 4077," in which he was an itinerant metalsmith who made a surgical clamp the surgeons needed for a critical operation. In the mid 1980's Luke played 'The Ancient One' on the soap opera, General Hospital.
Luke voiced Brak on the original 1966 Hanna Barbara series Space Ghost and all of the villains on the Scooby Doo, Where Are You? episode "Mystery Mask Mixup". He played Governor Donald Cory in a 1969 episode of Star Trek entitled "Whom Gods Destroy", and was going to play Doctor Noonien Soong in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Brothers" but illness prevented him from doing so; Brent Spiner ultimately took over the role.
In the Fractured Fairy Tales episode "The Enchanted Fly," one of the rewards offered to the man who would rescue and marry the princess is "an autographed picture of Keye Luke."
For his contribution to show business, Luke was honored by having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on the sidewalk in front of 7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Luke died of a stroke on January 12, 1991. His interment is at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.
- The Painted Veil (1934) (uncredited)
- Charlie Chan in Paris (1935)
- Oil for the Lamps of China (1935)
- Mad Love (1935)
- Shanghai (1935)
- Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)
- Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)
- Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)
- The Good Earth (1937)
- Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937)
- International Settlement (1938)
- Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938)
- Barricade (1939)
- The Green Hornet (1940 serial)
- Phantom of Chinatown (1940)
- The Green Hornet Strikes Again! (1941 serial)
- The Gang's All Here (1941)
- Bowery Blitzkrieg (1941)
- Let's Go Collegiate (1941)
- Mr. and Mrs. North (1942)
- Across the Pacific (1942)
- The Falcon's Brother (1942)
- The Adventures of Smilin' Jack (1943 serial)
- Salute to the Marines (1943)
- Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble (1944)
- Secret Agent X-9 (1945 serial)
- First Yank into Tokyo (1945)
- Lost City of the Jungle (1946 serial)
- Sleep, My Love (1948)
- The Feathered Serpent (1948)
- The Sky Dragon (1949)
- Fair Wind to Java (1953)
- Hell's Half Acre (1954)
- Rodan (1956) (uncredited narrator)
- Yangtse Incident (1957)
- The Chairman (1969)
- The Hawaiians (1970)
- The Amsterdam Kill (1977)
- Just You and Me, Kid (1979)
- Gremlins (1984)
- Dead Heat (1988)
- The Mighty Quinn (1989)
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
- Alice (1990)
- Flint, Peter B. (January 16, 1991). "Keye Luke, Actor, Is Dead at 86; 'No. 1 Son' and 'Kung Fu' Master". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-17.
- Obituary Variety, January 21, 1991.
- Ken Hanke, Charlie Chan at the Movies Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989. ISBN 0-7864-1921-0. (Examination of the Charlie Chan feature films, with firsthand commentary by Keye Luke)
- Herbie J. Pilato, The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western. Boston: Charles A. Tuttle, 1993. ISBN 0-8048-1826-6
- REDIRECT Template:IMDb name
- Keye Luke at the Internet Broadway Database
- "Keye Luke: What the Doctor Called For"; Aljean Harmetz, The New York Times (December 23, 1990)
- Obituary in the New York Times (January 16, 1991)
- Keye Luke at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- Keye Luke at Find a Grave
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