Miyoshi Umeki, Oscar-winning actress, dies at 78
By Stuart Lavietes
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Miyoshi Umeki, an expressive actress of innocent charm who in 1957 was the first Asian performer to win an Oscar, as best supporting actress in her first Hollywood film, "Sayonara," died on Aug. 28 in Licking, Missouri. She was 78.
The cause was complications of cancer, said her son, Michael Hood.
A versatile performer who also had major roles on Broadway and on television, Umeki played Katsumi in "Sayonara," a tragic drama, based on the novel by James Michener, about American servicemen who fall in love with women they meet while stationed in occupied Japan.
In the film, which starred Marlon Brando, Umeki's character marries Airman Joe Kelly, played by Red Buttons, against the wishes of the military authorities and local citizens. When Kelly is transferred back to the United States and prevented from taking Katsumi with him, both characters commit suicide.
Buttons also won the best supporting actor award for his performance in the film.
Born on May 8, 1929, in Otaru, Hokkaido, Umeki began her career as a nightclub singer in Japan, billing herself as Nancy Umeki. After making a couple of records there, she attracted the attention of a talent scout, who persuaded her to move to New York City in 1955. Within a year, she had a recording contract and a regular spot on the television variety show "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends." It was her appearances on that show that led to her role in "Sayonara."
Umeki turned to Broadway in December 1958 to star as a young Chinese immigrant in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Flower Drum Song." She received a Tony nomination in 1959 for best actress and then reprised the role two years later in the film adaptation of the play. Umeki's other films were "Cry for Happy" (1961), "The Horizontal Lieutenant" (1962) and "A Girl Named Tamiko" (1963).
On television, she was best known as Mrs. Livingston on the situation comedy "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," starring Bill Bixby, which ran from 1969 through 1972. She appeared as a guest in numerous other series in the 1960s, including "The Donna Reed Show," "Dr. Kildare," "Rawhide" and "Mister Ed."
In addition to her son, who lives in Licking, Missouri, she is survived by two grandchildren. Her husband, Randall Hood, died in 1976. Her first marriage ended in divorce.
She retired from show business in 1972 when "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" finished its run. Her son said she lived for a time in Hawaii but moved to Missouri about four years ago.
Her son said she had never liked talking about her career, which she left because she wanted to live as a wife and mother.