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Monday, April 23, 2018

Japanese Actress Umeki Miyoshi

Last week, when I wrote about the Japan Sumo Association requesting a sumo event organizer ban young girls from taking part in a promotional event, I ended it with a clip from the second Bad News Bears movie.

And down the rabbit hole I went.

I then decided to do a search to see where cast members from that first The Bad News Bears movie were today, and found a 2016 article describing just such that on the movie’s 40th anniversary. You can read that HERE.

Anyhow… the article mentioned that—aside from my pre-teen crush on Tatum O’Neal (though I had a larger crush on Jodie Foster)—there were a couple of other kids who had acting experience before this, namely: Jackie Earle Haley (still love this guy’s work, such as The Human Target and Preacher - on TV, and Breaking Away - the most underrated movie ever, and other things), and a kid named Brandon Cruz.

Okay… I didn’t know who Brandon Cruz was… he played the poor Yankees pitcher in the original The Bad News Bears movie… you know the kid… 

And then I found out he was Eddie.

Eddie… as in the kid from the old Bill Bixby television show, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (before he was David Banner in The Incredible Hulk), an ABC television show I watched from September of 1969 thru March of 1972.

I never watched a rerun, but dammit, I can still sing the show's theme song to this very day! I just love the complexities of this phrase:

People let me tell you 'bout my best friend,
He’s a one boy cuddly toy — my up, my down, my pride and joy.

Ha. Brought a tear to my eye just there. Hang on… back in a moment.

Okay… Did you know that Cruz was the lead vocalist for The Dead Kennedys (my favorite punk group) from 2001-2003? I didn’t. Holy crap!!!!

Anyhow, on The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father television show (not the earlier (movie), the boy Eddie and his Father (mom had died), they had a housekeeper, a woman named Mrs. Livingstone, who was played by an actress named Umeki Miyoshi (surname first, 梅木 美代志), a Japanese woman.

Here’s a clip of the show, with special guest star Jodie Foster… who wasn’t as cute here as she would be later (in the Disney flicks, like Freaky Friday). I know she’s gay, but I still have a crush on her.

What’s interesting, is that even at this stage of the 20th century, Mrs. Livingstone is teaching Joey (Jodie Foster) the subservient Japanese woman’s way.


And, if the lesson is to be learned, Eddie finally earns Joey’s respect after he hits her.


Okay… I used to watch this show, and they weren’t all like this… I think. It has been 50 years…

By the way... when I looked for a clip of this show, I picked the first one I saw, and was pleasantly surprised to find Jodie Foster appearing in it, proving that even though I don't know what I'm going to write about, it all makes sense. 

Anyhow, the point is that while Mrs. Livingstone was Japanese on the show, her Japaneseness wasn’t always at the forefront… she was simply a valuable member of the family who helped resolve conflict the best way 1960s television could offer.
Cast of The Courtship Of Eddie's Father: Bill Bixby, Brandon Cruz and Umeki Miyoshi. 
Born on May 8, 1929, in Otaru, Hokkaido as the youngest of nine kids, she went through WWII, and began working as a nightclub singer using the name Nancy Umeki… probably because it sounded American.

Even though the US-led Allied Forces had just defeated Japan, and exploded for the first two and only two times a nuclear bomb meant to annihilate people in a war… Americans were generally held in high regard, as Japan could actually respect someone who was smart enough and strong enough to defeat it in battle.

She began recording for RCA Victor Japan from 1954-1954, doing mostly jazz, singing in both English and Japanese… something almost every modern Japanese singer does to this day, regardless of genre… but she did like American pop songs, too.

By 1955, she had crossed the Atlantic and was singing for her supper in the U.S., as a series regular on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts, but continued to put out singles and albums from 1959 thru about 1961.

Because of her appearances on the Arthur Godfrey show, film director Joshua Logan decided to cast her in the 1957 movie, Sayonara… which was about an US ace fighter pilot during the Korean War (1950-1953)… now I haven’t seen the movie, but since I’m pretty sure Sayanora is “Goodbye” in Japan, and Japan is not in Korea, I would assume that the pilot, played by Marlon Brando, was stationed at an air force base in Japan.     

Strangely, our gal Umeki Miyoshi was NOT the love interest of Brando’s character―that was Taka Miiko (surname first), still critics thought Umeki was great, awarding her the Academy Award For Best Supporting Actress for her role of Katsumi Kelly (surname LAST).
Here is Umeki Miyoshi hugging fellow Oscar Award winner Red Buttons at The Academy Awards in 1958.
 Umeki Miyoshi was the very first Asian―male or female―to win an Academy Award for acting.

In fact, she is STILL the only Asian to have won an Academy Award for acting. As of 2018.

In 1958, she played Mei-Li in the Broadway musical production of Flower Drum Song, which not only ran for two years, but earned her a Tony award nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.   

December 22, 1958 cover of Time magazine, with Umeki Miyoshi on the left.
In 1961 she reprised her roll as Mei-Li for the movie adaption, and also appeared in these movies:  Cry for Happy (1961), The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962) and A Girl Named Tamiko (1963).

Then, from 1969-1972, she appeared in the television adaption of the movie, The Courtship of Eddie's Father as Mrs. Livingston, the housekeeper, for which she was again nominated for a Golden Globe Award.

But, when the show ended in 1972, Miyoshi-san retired from acting.

She had been married to television director Frederick Winfield "Wynn" Opie in 1958 until their divorce in 1967, and had one son, Michael H. Opie, born in 1964.

Following her divorce, she married Randall Hood in 1968, who adopted her son, who then became Michael Randall Hood.

She and Hood ran a Los Angeles, California-based company renting editing equipment to film studios and university film programs, until her husband’s death in 1976.

While Miyoshi lived in California for most of her post-retirement years, she did move to a place called Licking, Missouri to be near her son and his family.

I had to know, and found out that Licking, Missouri—with a 2010 census of 3,124 people—was named in pre-1880 as Buffalo Lick, before just Licking… and refers to a mineral lick near the town’s original site.

And if you don’t know what a mineral lick is, it’s a “salt lick”, where animals go and lick the ground to take in needed elements such as phosphorus, sodium, calcium iron, zine, etc.—something critters do often in the Spring to enhance growth of bone and muscle.    

As for Miyoshi Umeki… she lived in Licking, Missouri until her death at the age of 78 on August 28, 2007 from cancer complications.

In her honor, here’s Miyoshi Umeki singing Sayonora (1954):

Andrew Joseph

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