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Hollywood Celebrity Gamblers

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In gambling there are winners and losers. Some know how to bear the loss; others don't. Sessue Hayakawa was one of the former. Hayakawa was one of the biggest celebrities of Hollywood's silent-screen era. As a matinee idol, he was second only to Rudolph Valentino in popularity. Hayakawa was also a gambler.

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Although a devout Zen Buddhist, Hayakawa did not shun worldly pleasures like an ascetic. When he and his wife Tsuru were vacationing in Monte Carlo, he spent many nights gambling in a casino. Then he went to The Sporting Club where he played baccarat. Hayakawa's stakes went higher and higher as his fascination with the game increased.

One night, Hayakawa found himself gambling against the Duke of Westminster and four other high rollers. The duke was not a very nice person. He sat like a rock, cold and expressionless as they played. Hayakawa, used to the polite manners of the Japanese people, was annoyed. His anger got the better of him and he tried to beat the duke. But the naïve actor was no match for Westminster, or perhaps luck was on the latter's side. Hayakawa kept losing to him and the stakes kept rising higher.

Unknown to Hayakawa, another Japanese millionaire had also lost a fortune in a casino in Italy at that time. The man killed himself in despair. A rumor spread that it was Sessue Hayakawa who had committed suicide after losing a million dollars from gambling. A startled Hayakawa denied the rumor, of course. But news spread slowly in those days. It took many months for even the media to correct their erroneous reports. Even years later, an amused Hayakawa would still meet people who never heard the whole story.

"I have a taste for the finer things, and since my profession has abundantly rewarded me, I have catered to my tastes. I see nothing wrong with this. There is only wrongness in attaching too much importance to the ephemeral, all that cannot and does not last.

"I took up playing such games as poker and golf I have partaken but not with the attitude of the materialist or the hedonist. I am detached through Zen."

So Hayakawa shrugged off one of the biggest gambling losses incurred by a Hollywood star. Hayakawa later became an ordained Zen priest. He is best remembered as the Japanese colonel in The Bridge on the River Kwai.

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