California-born Linda Masson moved to Hong Kong in the early 1960s and quickly joined her then-husband Ted Thomas in the dubbing business at his company, Axis International. Ms. Masson’s voice can be heard in a variety of tokusatsu productions dubbed in Hong Kong, including Matango (1963) as Akiko Soma (played by Miki Yashiro), The War of the Gargantuas (1966) as Akemi Togawa (played by Kumi Mizuno), Yog Monster from Space (1970) as Saki (played by Yukiko Kobayashi), Lake of Dracula (1971) as Akiko Kashiwagi (played by Midori Fujita), Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) as Miki Fujinomiya (played by Keiko Mari), Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) as Tomoko Tomoe (played by Yuriko Hishimi), Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) as Rokuro Ibuki (played by Hiroyuki Kawase), and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) as Saeko Kanagusuku (played by Reiko Tajima). In March 2023, Ms. Masson spoke to Brett Homenick about her voice-acting days in Hong Kong.
Brett Homenick: The first question I have for you is, where were you born?
Linda Masson: I was born in California. I was born in Hollywood, as a matter of fact, in the [hospital] room right next to Barbara Hutton. But I left the States when I was young. My father was French, so we went off to Europe when I was quite young. And then South America, and finally Hong Kong. So there we are.
BH: Of course, I know that sometimes people don’t like to give out their ages, but would you like to…
LM: I’m in my 70s. I won’t be more precise than that. That gives you a range, right?
BH: Certainly. Yes, it does.
LM: (laughs) I arrived in Hong Kong in the ‘60s, and I should explain to you that I was married to Ted Thomas, which was the reason I went out there. So that was my introduction to dubbing.
BH: Well, we’ll get to that in a moment. We’ll build up to the move to Hong Kong. Growing up, what kinds of hobbies and interests did you have?
LM: Oh, I think they were the normal ones. Because we traveled a lot, I loved swimming and sports, I adored reading, I had lots of friends, I loved animals. A pretty ordinary kid, really.
BH: So tell me about your parents. You mentioned them a little bit. What exactly did they do?
LM: My father was French; my mother American. My father was a gem dealer, precious stones. So he had a good reason to travel. Since he loved traveling, we never stayed in one place for very long. It was ideal for him. So that’s why we ended up in a Swiss boarding school when I was about 11, which was a bit difficult when coming from Hawaii. I must say, it was an incredible change, you can imagine. (laughs)
But I grew to love it, and from there we went to South America. We were in Montevideo [the capital of Uruguay] for three years. So it was an interesting life. I mean, in that sense, it wasn’t ordinary. But I think we were fairly normal kids. I have an older brother, and we grew up [in] a very happy family.
BH: Well, you lived in these exotic places like Hawaii and South America and so forth, so what were some of the highlights of living in these areas?
LM: (laughs) Well, you have to make the adjustment. Going to boarding school in Switzerland was a huge adjustment because I was still very young, and I didn’t speak French, although my father was French. Suddenly, you’re away from home, it’s the first time, and it’s a different culture. It took a few months, and then, of course, I loved it.
The snow was fabulous, and we’d ski. And you become a sort of family at boarding school with all the other kids. It was very enjoyable. So, at the end of the summer, because my parents came back, and we would go to France for the summer, I was really anxious to get back to boarding school. So it made me independent, and I enjoyed it.
The move to South America — because we’d already traveled quite a lot, it was less daunting. Again, it was so different. It was really, really different, and I enjoyed it. In fact, I think I’ve enjoyed every place I’ve ever lived in because I’ve been very lucky. To me, I still think of Hong Kong as home, even though I left in ‘97, because I lived there the longest. But I’ve loved every place I’ve lived in. I’ve always made good friends and so on and so on. I’d work in the summer holidays, and there we are.
BH: What kinds of jobs did you have in the summer?
LM: Well, I tended to do secretarial work because it was the easiest thing for me to do. I learned to type when I was at school in Hawaii. For some reason, they [taught] us typing — I don’t know why — as well as everything else. Actually, it was very useful in those days, so I could always do some sort of secretarial work or typing or whatever. So I went to work for travel agents, I worked at a bank, I did all sorts of odds and ends, just anything, because I liked it. We had a very strong work ethic. So I always enjoyed that.
BH: Let’s do a deep dive on why you moved to Hong Kong. Please talk about the circumstances that led you there.
LM: Well, I’d do my father’s mail, which was useful for him. As a gem dealer, he would travel to India — all these places where he’d buy precious stones. So I was allowed to go on a trip. I was still a teenager; I was in my late teens. And I met Ted on the ship, and shipboard romances — I can tell you right now they do not last. It’s very, very true! (laughs) Anyway, I was on the ship, and that’s how I ended up in Hong Kong. We got off in India; he carried on to Hong Kong, and traveled through India and Thailand — all that sort of thing.
He was courting me when I left. We went off, and I decided, “Yeah, that’s what I want.” My parents were very liberal, so I went back to Hong Kong. We got married, and that’s where I lived. And I was working for the Uruguayan consulate when I first went there because they’d just started one. So I thought I was ideally placed. I wrote to the chap and said, “Look, you can’t have a consulate without me.” So I worked there for a while.
And I used to type up the dubbing scripts, and I’d go to the studios and bring sandwiches or whatever. So Ted said, “Well, look, why don’t you have a go?” And I found I was quite good at it because, more than anything else, it’s your reflexes. The studios, they weren’t as sophisticated. Now it’s much more sophisticated, but in those days you just had your script, you had the loop you had to dub, and that was it. You went at it. So that’s how I started.
The scripts by Ron Oliphant or Ted were handwritten, and then I would type them up. We did alterations while we were dubbing in the event that it didn’t fit exactly right. A bit of a cowboy outfit! Having said that, we worked very hard and, on the whole, were good.
When Ted and I separated, I went to work for Matthew Oram at Golden Harvest. There was another dubbing studio we went to. It wasn’t Barry Haigh’s. Anyway, Matthew found[ed] this other studio we used to go to, which was in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong, and it was really rough. I mean, for the acoustics, they had egg cartons stapled all over the wall. It was just for the soundproofing and so on.
And they used to add all the sound effects by hand. So, if it was a horse going, they literally had two coconut shells, which they’d clap. I mean, it was really not sophisticated at all. It was enormous fun, I have to say. And I met Bruce Lee, of course, when we were working at — I think it was Golden Harvest.
BH: Well, I would like to go back to Ted Thomas and your initial meeting with him. So what kind of initial impressions did you have of him? Obviously, you ended up marrying him.
LM: Oh, I wanted to avoid him at all costs. My initial reactions were, “Ooh, don’t like the looks of him.” (laughs) That was the very first thing I thought when I saw him. But, since I was going off with my father doing his mail, my mother became friendly with Ted and a with-it [trendy] group of people, so we were sort of forced to go along.
I still remember Ted coming up to me — I was reading on deck — and he invited me for a steak tartare lunch on the ship. And I said, “Wow, do you have the wrong person! I’m a vegetarian.” (laughs) So we didn’t get off to the greatest start. But he was very charming, very attractive, and there you go. I was very young, so that was it.
We were together for 11 years, I think. After we separated, we were friends. So I spoke to him literally just a month or so before he died. I sort of stayed friends with everyone. That was it.
BH: Around what year did you move to Hong Kong?
LM: I moved in ‘62.
BH: Originally, you were typing up the [dubbing] scripts, is that correct?
LM: Yeah, that’s right.
BH: Could you talk about that process? Could you tell us about what that was like?
LM: For me, it was straightforward. The idea was that they would watch the film, and then they’d cut it into loops, and so they would get dialogue that fit the story and that fit the syllables of the mouth so that it would work. So I would just literally type it up. And I’d get interested in the films and all the rest of it. We did all sorts of strange films.
The [YouTube] clip that you sent me [of Ms. Masson’s voice-acting roles] — I don’t recognize them; [it’s] just been an awfully long time. But we did a lot. I was the Blind Swordswoman for years and years at Shaw Brothers or wherever it was, and we did a lot of Japanese ones with Toshiro Mifune.
Oddly enough, I can remember — Ted and I were in France. We were at a restaurant, and I kept looking across at a table. And I said, “You know, I know that man.” And he said, “Do you?” I said, “Yeah, and I don’t know how, but I know him really, really well.” And it clicked in my mind later — I had played his wife in a French film that we dubbed. (laughs) So I recognized the actor. I mean, I didn’t recognize him as an actor; I just recognized the person.
But we did all sorts of weird films, I must say. But mostly we did a lot of Shaw Brothers, and then we did a lot of Japanese films. But I don’t remember all the films that we did. I played the heroine, I played the sweet young thing, and I played the children. That was the sort of roles that I got.
BH: Do you remember around what year the dubbing started, like ‘64, ‘65, something like that?
LM: Oh, no. I think it was before that. You know, I can’t remember. I would have thought it was ‘63 or something, but possibly ‘64. And then it just went on, and somebody would leave. I remember Bob Toole used to do our scripts at one point. I don’t know if they had a disagreement or whatever, and he started up his own company. And that’s what would happen; there’d be different factions.
Barry used to work with Matthew when we were doing it, and then I think he went off on his own. But not for long — he moved to Canada. So there we are. It was predominantly Ted with another chap called Ron Oliphant — they were partners — and then Matthew Oram.
So I spent a lot of time with Matthew after Ted and I separated. Matthew asked me if I’d come and dub for them, and I did. So that was that.
BH: Just to go back to your life in Hong Kong after you moved there, was there much of a culture shock for you?
LM: Oh, no, you fell in love with Hong Kong, especially in the ‘60s. It’s a very beautiful place, but it wasn’t as crowded. You could go to the beach, and I could park my car in the middle of town. I mean, I just loved it. I loved all the aspirational people, and I loved the food. I loved everything about it.
And then I thought, because I obviously speak French and Spanish, I’d better learn the language. So I went to the Chinese University to learn Cantonese, thinking, “Oh, yeah, it’ll be like French and Spanish. It’ll be a couple of months, and I’ll be all right.” No, no, it’s not like that at all! (laughs) But it did give me a very good grounding so that I could speak to people.
Later, everyone spoke English, but in those days not everyone did, and I don’t like not understanding people. But the thing is, when I was at the university, it was predominantly American missionaries learning Cantonese. So, at the end of the year, I could have given a sermon. (laughs) It was an odd selection of vocabulary, I have to say.
No, Hong Kong was wonderful in those days, really wonderful. It may have been a colony, but people were very free. They could do what they wanted, and they’d get a lot of help, too, from the government and everything else. It was a great place, just great.
BH: When it came to Ted’s dubbing company — I believe it was called Axis International.
LM: That’s right, yeah.
BH: What were the conditions like? What was the recording studio like?
LM: (laughs) They were very crummy; they really were. I mean, Shaw Brothers was obviously very professional, so that was different. Golden Harvest wasn’t too bad, but some of the other ones we went to — I remember we went to one in Diamond Hill. It was a really scruffy, rough area. And the studio itself was just crummy, is the only way to describe it. Very primitive.
You never felt nervous. I would come out at 1:00 in the morning and go walking; it never bothered me at all. But it was very primitive. You’d just keep doing the loops over until you had it. The frustrating thing was, when you got it absolutely perfect, you never knew if they were going to screw it up when they put it together.
Because sometimes I’d go to a film and see it, and I’d say, “Uh-uh, I was spot-on; it’s not like that!” It just wasn’t sophisticated at all, but it did what it was supposed to do. I used to do voice-over commercials and so on, and all that sort of thing, as well.
BH: Do you remember how long it would take to do a single movie?
LM: Yeah. We’d work from about 6:00 in the evening till about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. That was the normal with Matthew, and it would take us two to three nights, depending on how long the film was. If it was out at Shaw Brothers, we’d work all day, say, Saturday, Sunday. But mostly [for] the others we’d work at night.
We’d plow through. It was OK. I think we did it in order. It’s not as if you did the ending first and so on. We’d literally do it in the order of the film, and all the fight scenes and all the rest of it.
BH: Do you remember how many takes there would be? Would there be just one take, or maybe two sometimes?
LM: No, no. It was very rare to [do] just one take. It was usually a few, just a couple. I mean, if it was a crowd scene, yeah, it’s one take. But, if it’s just two people speaking, it was usually two or three takes.
BH: Do you know anything about Ted’s relationship with Toho Studios, which was the Japanese company that supplied…
LM: Well, I l know we did a lot of films for Toho Studios. I don’t think there was any contract or anything. I think it went through the studios rather than directly with Ted, whoever was doing it. No, I don’t know.
BH: You mentioned Ron Oliphant, who helped Ted run Axis. What do you remember about him?
LM: Well, he used to work for the government. I mean, he’s dead now, but he used to do most of the scripts. And he was very good, I must say. You could really tell the quality of something by who did the scripts. It was terribly important. You know, there’s an intelligent way of doing it so that it all makes sense, etc., or you just literally try to fit words, which is obviously not very good.
He and Ted were partners at Axis until Ron left Hong Kong, and then he died. He had been a schoolteacher when he was young, so he was very precise. He was good.
BH: Do you remember the other people you worked with at Axis, some of the other voice actors?
LM: Let me think. There was Peter Gilchrist, [who] was a bit later, [as well as] Caroline Levine. Funnily enough, Peter Gilchrist was a child psychologist. I think I took him to dubbing. But he became an actor; he lives in South Africa.
Matthew would sometimes get his now-wife [Elizabeth] to do the odd bit. Caroline was very good at women. We had Penny Wolf. Names will just come to me later, but it was usually just people, expats, who lived in Hong Kong. Some were broadcasters; some were teachers or whatever.
The women tended to be better than the men. Not the voice quality, but their reactions. I don’t know why that is, but they were quicker on the reactions.
BH: Did you have a chance to see the other video I sent about the other female voice actress [who, among many other roles, voiced Katsura Mafune, played by Tomoko Ai, in Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)]? Did you recognize her?
LM: No, I didn’t. I didn’t. It’s very hard after all this time to recognize [voices]. (laughs)
Barbara was terrific. It was obviously not Barbara Walters, but something very similar. Her husband was in the U.S. military, and I think she worked for Radio Hong Kong. She did a lot of the dubbing; it could have been her. Her name was Barbara, but I don’t remember her surname.
She was an American, and she was very good. It would depend on the year, though. Barbara was there probably in the ‘60s, so I don’t know who was there in the ‘70s, etc.
BH: Being married to Ted Thomas, who among dubbing fans is this sort of iconic person — we all grew up listening to his voice — what was he like day-to-day to live with?
LM: (laughs) He was very charming, very funny. Very talented — I mean, he was a very good broadcaster. And I always thought that, if he had gone seriously into acting, he would have been very successful. He used to write very well; he did some terrific scripts for radio, which is [the medium] he was predominantly known for.
All that was very positive. Not an easy person to be married to, but that’s a different quality, obviously. Otherwise, very good company. He was lots of fun.
BH: You mention that, in the early ‘70s, you broke up with Ted. Is that correct?
LM: That’s right. But we were fine. Once we weren’t married, that was OK. I mean, we have a daughter and grandchildren [and] so on. It was all very civilized. And then he did marry again and has more children, etc.
BH: Let’s talk about going to Matthew Oram and Barry Haigh and switching over to Golden Harvest. Could you talk about that?
LM: For me, it was always the same. I’m just trying to think — Saul Lockhart was there as a dubber. Who else was with Matthew? Chris something — I can’t remember his name. Names will suddenly come to me.
Matthew was enormous fun. There again, very talented — he was a broadcaster. And then he started a motoring school and a racing magazine in Hong Kong. He was very successful. And he was very good at dubbing; he was good at acting. He looked just like Stewart Granger.
He was very passionate about it. When you’re in the studios in Hong Kong, you were very unhealthy. Everybody was smoking in those days. There was no window; it’d get thick with smoke. Everybody’s nibbling on chocolate. It may have shortened my life — God knows how much. But it was fun. And at times we wouldn’t take it very seriously; we’d be just enjoying ourselves. Matthew — he said he had to train himself to lose his temper. I said, “Well, you do it so well!”
It was a lot of fun. Different studios around town we worked at, and they were always good evenings. We’d all go for supper afterwards at around 2:00 in the morning. And, being Hong Kong, there’d always be a restaurant open.
BH: Was there much of a rivalry between Ted and Matthew and Barry in terms of their two studios?
LM: Not really. The one that Ted was upset with was Bob Toole when he left. He felt he was being disloyal. But, with Matthew, no, he didn’t have anything to do with Matthew, so there wasn’t really a rivalry. I mean, there was room enough for both companies. That was no problem.
BH: You mentioned meeting Bruce Lee. Could you talk about that?
LM: Well, that was with Ted, and we went to the studio. God, he was so cute. And he came up to me: “Your name is Linda; my wife’s name is Linda.” And then he said, “Go on. Hit me!” I thought that was an interesting introduction, so I sort of tapped his stomach. “No, no, hit me hard!” And then he said to Ted, “Go on. Hit me in the stomach,” and I went, “Oh, my God!” because Ted used to be a boxer when he was young. I thought, “Please, God, don’t let Ted do something stupid!” But, no, all was well.
He was very cute. He was just there because we were dubbing one of his films — I don’t know, Enter the Dragon (1973) or one of those things — for Raymond Chow. So we had to come and do the voice-overs, and he did his own voice because obviously his English was extremely good, and he lived in the States.
Well, he was iconic, obviously, in Hong Kong; they adored him. He was very friendly and easygoing, I must say. It was tragic.
BH: During the time that you were dubbing, did you have any other responsibilities at the studio? You talked about typing, but was there anything else that you did?
LM: No, absolutely not. We’d bring some food in or something, but, no, no, I didn’t have any responsibilities at all. Ted would just invite the various dubbers, gave them dates to come in and times to come in, and that was it. No, it was all very casual in that way, I must say.
BH: Was the work during that time basically every week, or would there be dry spells where no work would come in? How was it?
LM: It was fairly often. It was certainly every month. It was exhausting because we’d all have our jobs and work in the day and then go after work and work until late.
Being young, you can do it for a few nights — go to bed at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, and then get up for work. But it was tiring, no question; it was exhausting.
Occasionally, we would have one a week, but mostly it was just one or two a month.
BH: I did want to bring up a couple of specific incidents in films that you dubbed. Obviously, you probably don’t remember these, but I just wanted to get your take on them. There’s a scene in a movie called Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) where the scientist character is explaining to his family how the Smog Monster works, and then your character speaks, and you say, “What a beautiful house it is!”
BH: The other characters move on and just talk as if you didn’t say that. How did that happen?
LM: (laughs) No recollection whatsoever! Absolutely none. I really don’t remember. (laughs) Good heavens, that makes me think of Woody Allen. Do you know the film that he did [What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)]? It was a Japanese film, and they dubbed everything so that the words had nothing whatsoever to do with the action.
BH: Yes, I do. (laughs)
LM: No, I don’t remember [that scene]. In the ‘70s or something, I was on holiday in Hawaii, and I went to a drive-in to see one of the films I dubbed, which was a monster film. It amused me to no end, but I can’t remember them now. I really can’t.
BH: In another Godzilla movie, the main character is named Keisuke, and most of the characters refer to him that way. When your character speaks, you call him something similar to Kazuki. Would they ever explain to you, “OK, this is how to say this character[’s name]”?
LM: No, absolutely not. No direction whatsoever. That’s why I say it was pretty rough. No direction. I mean, if you made an absolute cock-up, then they’d say something, but otherwise no. So you just did your best.
BH: In terms of direction, as a general question, would they ever coach you and say, “Bring it up a little bit,” or, “Bring it down a little bit”? Would they ever coach you?
LM: Well, they would occasionally, but not really. In that sense, we became fairly professional. We knew what we were doing. In fact, I remember acting with Chris Mitchum, Robert Mitchum’s son. God, what was the film? [It was made] in the Philippines.
A director came out from Hollywood to direct us. That must have been in Golden Harvest — I’m not 100% sure. So we worked with Chris for a few days, and then he went on to Thailand to do a film with Olivia Hussey because I met up with him there. These memories suddenly come back.
So we did briefly have a director. I don’t know that he did a lot or that he would sort of give you a little talk: “Well, this is a moving scene,” or, “Let’s have more emotion.” But I think he was the only one.
BH: What can you tell me about some of the on-camera work that you did?
LM: Oh, no, no, I just did commercials and things. Just the odd commercial. Ted and I did a few commercials. Nothing much. It was essentially modeling, really. So modeling, or else I’d do voice-overs. I don’t have a particularly nice voice, but obviously it was better when I was younger. But I could still do them, so there you go.
BH: Around when did you stop doing the voice-overs?
LM: It would have been in 1983 because I got a job for a big company in Hong Kong, and it was a very demanding company where I’d be traveling a lot, etc. So I stopped, and I can’t remember exactly when Matthew left Hong Kong. So that would have been the end of that, anyway. I don’t know who took over after he left. But I definitely [stopped dubbing]; it was the end of ‘83.
BH: That was for Matthew?
LM: Yeah, I’d been working for Matthew for years.
[Matthew’s company was] just a small company. I think he was the sole person, as it were. But he was very good. He did good scripts, and he was very well organized. I don’t remember if it had any particular name or anything, his company, but he would just ring up and say, “Right, Friday night, blah, blah blah.” And that was that.
BH: After dubbing, what kind of pursuits did you have?
LM: Well, I was working for a group of department stores, and I was the jewelry buyer. So, as I say, I did a lot of traveling, etc. And I was with them until I left [Hong Kong] in ‘97. In fact, I carried on working for them as a consultant for two years. It took me traveling a lot, which was kind of nice. Interestingly enough, most of the people that I was dealing with, I knew them because of my father. So that was kind of fun.
And then I left Hong Kong in 1997. A lot of my friends had gone, and I thought, “Well, it’s time.” So there we go. But I’d go back every year, anyway, just for a visit at least once.
BH: Did you leave in ‘97 because that was the year that the decision was made to give it back to China, or was that unrelated?
LM: No, it was related, also. I knew, at some point, I wanted to leave before I was too old so that I could have another life. And ‘97 was a natural; it was the handover period. I knew Hong Kong would be OK for a certain amount of time, but I thought, “Well, how long is it going to be OK? It’s time for me to go.” And I’m glad I did.
BH: As we start to wrap up here, did you have any other standout memories of your dubbing work or the people that you worked with — anything else that you would like to share?
LM: The people were all utterly delightful. They really were. It was a real sort of camaraderie. It was fun. People became very friendly. We became really good friends, which was lovely. It was really, really nice.
And the funny thing was, I was at the hairdresser here in London, and there was an American woman with this little, tiny voice. She lived in Singapore, and I asked her what she did. She said, “Well, I was a film dubber.” And I said, “What sort of roles did you do?” She said, “I did cartoons.” And you knew exactly — she had the right voice for cartoons, I must say. (laughs)
Obviously, cartoons are a hell of a lot easier [than live-action films] because you don’t have to sync the words to the face in the same way.