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Miyoshi Umeki

Miyoshi Umeki

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Also Known As: Nancy Umeki Died: August 28, 2007
Born: May 8, 1929 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: Japan Profession: actor, singer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

As a teenager in her native Japan, Miyoshi Umeki began her show business career as a singer and dancer. She often performed on radio programs and in nightclubs. In the 1950s, she attempted to translate that success in the USA, landing a spot on "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends," one of the many music-variety series then in vogue. In 1957, Umeki was cast as the Japanese woman who falls in love with an American soldier (Red Buttons) despite the US government's policy banning interracial marriage in "Sayonara." As the doomed bride, the beautiful actress offered a heart-breaking turn that earned her that year's Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress.As the studio system was in the beginnings of its decline, actresses in general were beginning to have a difficult time finding good roles. For an Asian woman, the problems were further compounded. Despite winning an Oscar, Umeki was unable to land a suitable follow-up and instead turned to Broadway where she starred in the 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Flower Drum Song," playing Mei Li, an illegal Chinese immigrant who arrives in the USA searching for a husband. While not on par with the best of the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue, "Flower Drum...

As a teenager in her native Japan, Miyoshi Umeki began her show business career as a singer and dancer. She often performed on radio programs and in nightclubs. In the 1950s, she attempted to translate that success in the USA, landing a spot on "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends," one of the many music-variety series then in vogue. In 1957, Umeki was cast as the Japanese woman who falls in love with an American soldier (Red Buttons) despite the US government's policy banning interracial marriage in "Sayonara." As the doomed bride, the beautiful actress offered a heart-breaking turn that earned her that year's Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress.

As the studio system was in the beginnings of its decline, actresses in general were beginning to have a difficult time finding good roles. For an Asian woman, the problems were further compounded. Despite winning an Oscar, Umeki was unable to land a suitable follow-up and instead turned to Broadway where she starred in the 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Flower Drum Song," playing Mei Li, an illegal Chinese immigrant who arrives in the USA searching for a husband. While not on par with the best of the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue, "Flower Drum Song" was pleasant and popular, earning several Tony Award nominations, including one for its leading lady. When Universal adapted the material for the big screen, the studio took the rather unusual step of hiring Umeki to recreate her stage role. (Often those who appeared on Broadway were replaced by more bankable stars.)

Although she acquitted herself in the 1961 film version of "Flower Drum Song," Umeki still found additional roles scarce. In fact, the actress was to appear in only three additional movies, "Cry for Happy" (1961), "The Horizontal Lieutenant" (1962) and "A Girl Named Tamiko" (1963). Taking time off for motherhood, Umeki moved back to the small screen, garnering legions of fans among baby boomers as the wise and dependable housekeeper Mrs. Livingston on the ABC sitcom "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1969-72). After the series ran its course, she operated a dance studio in North Hollywood for close to 20 years. In 1999, there was a flurry of misinformation about the actress when author Donald Reuter claimed he had tried to track her down without success for a book he was working on. Convinced she had "vanished," his comments reprinted in tabloid newspapers -- and the fact Umeki was one of the few living Oscar winners not present at a tribute on an annual telecast of the awards -- fueled speculation about her whereabouts. The reality, though, was hardly a mystery; Umeki had retired to Hawaii.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962) Akiko
2.
 A Girl Named Tamiko (1962) Eiko
3.
 Cry for Happy (1961) Harue
4.
 Flower Drum Song (1961) Mei Li
5.
 Sayonara (1957) Katsumi
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
As a teenager, performed on Japanese radio shows and as a singer in nightclubs; performed with the Tusnoda Sextet; billed as Nancy Umeki
:
Moved to USA in the 1950s
1957:
Made feature debut in "Sayonara"; won Oscar as Best Supporting Actress
1958:
Starred on Broadway in "Flower Drum Song"; earned Tony Award nomination as Best Actress in a Musical
1961:
Recreated stage role in film version of "Flower Drum Song"
1963:
Last feature film appearance, "A Girl Named Tamiko"
:
Took time away from career to raise her son
:
Co-starred as Mrs. Livingston on "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (ABC)
:
Operated a school of dance in North Hollywood in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s
:
Retired to Hawaii
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

Some sources give April 3 as Ms. Umeki's date of birth.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Winfield Opie. Director, producer, screenwriter. Married in the 1960s; divorced.

Family close complete family listing

son:
Michael Opie. Born in February 1964.

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