Toonarific Interview – Kingman Hui

Originally posted: 5-17-2004

The ‘asian kid’ in the Vegetable Soup II segments, Long Ago.

Another great Vegetable Soup interview. This time, Jude managed to talk with one of the guys from the ‘Long Ago’ segment, the sequence with the skateboarders who skate back into time!

It’s great to meet you Kingman! You contacted me to try and find episodes of ‘Long Ago’ which appeared in Vegetable Soup series II, you were the youngest skateboarder, the asian boy. What made you contact me out of the blue?
Well it was because I was thinking about “Vegetable Soup” the other night, so I decided to do a Google search and see what would happen. Not a whole lot, though I did find that discussion board, and saw your name come up rather frequently. Since some of those messages are going back a couple of years, I figured the matter of getting the tapes was resolved by now, and the next logical conclusion for me was to see if something was being offered on Ebay. Sure enough, it would turn out to be the same Jude Barnes I’d been reading about. The last time I ever remember “Vegetable Soup” airing (in the NYC area anyway) was in the early 80’s, and so arguably I’ve been waiting more than 20 years to view them again. I knew that the tapes (or prints) had to exist in somebody’s hands, but I never knew where to begin to search for something as obscure as this.
How did you get involved with Vegetable Soup’s ‘Long Ago’ segments?
Let’s see then. It’s Summer of 1977. I was 10 years old, and Star Wars had just come out in theaters. My sister who would have been 25 at the time was very interested in show business, and heard somehow that they were looking to cast an Asian boy for a TV show I’d never heard of. I came down (to Manhattan) to be auditioned, and I remember their initial impressions that I might’ve been a little too young for what they had in mind. Ultimately though, there was something they liked about me, and so I was aboard. I think I was already starting to get into skateboarding by that time, so maybe that could have been an extra factor that helped me get the part. Some of my recollections about doing the show are a little sketchy now. Some memories still stand out very clearly to me, and other parts I’m sure have been forgotten. Seems like “Long Ago” wasn’t a part of every VS installment, and I don’t think they began airing until 1978. I remember a thank you letter from the studio at the end of the summer (of ’77), and a listing of air dates at the bottom, with my episodes circled in pen. I remember my sixth grade teacher proudly announcing that somebody in class was going to be on TV, and all of her students were encouraged to watch. It was funny because even back then, people had largely never heard of “Vegetable Soup”. It came on quite early in the morning, and in those days of course, to miss it was to never see it again. Some people (classmates) did make it a point to tune in, which relieved me because otherwise you’re full of crap, and there is no one to back you up.
What do you remember about the other people you were working with?
All of the cast and crew who worked on that were from the NYC area, and I was the youngest member of the cast. If I was turning 11 that summer, the other kids were probably 13 or 14. A big difference to me, because they were all teenagers now, and I was still yet a kid. There were days when I’d see the other cast members, and other days where I was the only kid around. By the end of that summer, I grew really close to the other kids, and remember feeling very attracted to the two girls in the cast.
How about the sets?
The studio where most of the interior shots were done, was in an old office building on Broadway, just north of Times Square. Since the kids got separated by the time travel, consider that I was only called in to work on days where I would actually be needed. I do remember seeing the model for the Outerscope ship, as well as the puppets laying about in an open storage container, though I never got to see that stuff in use. Perhaps “Long Ago” was scheduled to use the studio on certain days, and “Outerscope II” on others. I do remember filming an episode there involving me and this black kid ending up meeting this magician, and being put into this wicker basket and made to vanish. The wicker basket would appear again in another episode, where I am supposed to be rescued from off the side of a cliff. That episode was done on location in the woods somewhere, and I remember a scene where I am helping another character haul the basket down a slope. That was really a tough one for me, as the basket was nearly as large as I was, and I was helping an adult haul it downhill. The opening shot you see of the kids skateboarding back through time was shot in a corridor of a museum up in Albany. That was a fun day, I remember. There were no lines to remember, and no pressure to act, just shots of us kids skateboarding down this slick hallway. Some of the voice over work (the narration you hear in the episodes) was also recorded in that museum for some reason. At 11 years old, I remember having a hard time with that, because something was funny to me the whole day, and I couldn’t stop laughing.
Any memories with any cast members who were/are well known?
There was another day I remember doing an episode with Larry Hama, who would later be better known for writing Marvel Comics like “GI Joe”, and “Punisher: War Zone”. This was an episode having to do with the Chinese being used for (under slave-like conditions) to build the trans-continental railroad. A scene I remember doing was inside a train tunnel (of an old factory or warehouse somewhere), where Chinese laborers are conspiring to strike. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen that episode for myself, though I do remember being down on those tracks. It was spooky in there.
After watching the sequences I sent you, what memories came back to you?
I think I had completely forgotten all about the episode where we met Hiawatha in the woods. I remember having a serious crush on my co-star during our scenes together, and seeing the footage again makes me wish I could go back and live forever in the Summer of 1977. The actor who played Hiawatha (I didn’t hang out with the adults really) was quite good, and I have a feeling I’m seeing that particular episode for the very first time. Overall though, the acting and production values on “Long Ago” really varied. Some mildly engaging, others God-awful. Even when “Vegetable Soup” first aired here in the 70’s, I remember looking forward to seeing the adventures of the “Outerscope” kids, as much as I did my own “Long Ago” segments. Seeing “lost” footage of myself 26 years later got me very emotional, I must say. You can’t imagine what it means to me to have a document of this memorable moment of my life. There was one particular shot of me turning my head in profile, and I look exactly like my father, who passed away 9 years ago this week. I want to express my deepest thanks for putting this tape together for me. There is one more little thing you could do for me though. At the very end of each episode in Series 2 are the names of the “Long Ago” kids, including me. I wonder if you could make a note of their names, because I would love to follow up on what they’re all up to now. I’ve long since forgotten the names, but would love to find out where those kids are right now. How funny would that be to reunite the cast of that show, eh?
What do you think about Vegetable Soup now that you’re seeing it again as an adult?
To some, the show might seem dated, or bizarre, creepy, or kitschy, but it had an important lesson for young people about what’s so important about having cultural diversity. I was already a huge Star Trek fan at the time “Long Ago” was being made, so I “got” the cultural, moralistic, and idealistic messages being conveyed in VS, as well as “Big Blue Marble”. I would actually be interested in what the creator of the show had to say.