Japanese-American actress Miyoshi Umeki (1929-2007) poses with her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She is the only Asian actress to have won an Oscar in a major category. She is best known for the role as “Katsumi” the wife of an American soldier (Red Button) in the 1957 film Sayanora. Pop Culture addicts know her better as “Mrs Livingston”! Aging baby boomers and American television historians are all familiar with “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” . It starred Bill Bixby (before he became The Incredible Hulk), Brandon Cruz, and the beautiful Miyoshi Umeki.
The show was about a widowed father Tom Corbett, played by Bixby. Brandon Cruz was his son Eddie, and Miyoshi Umeki who played their Japanese housekeeper “Mrs. Livingston.” We might assume that Mrs. Livingston is a widow who had been married to a Brit (and maybe an explorer? … ha ha). The series mostly was about Eddie, who wanted his father to remarry so he could have a mother. Eddie would try to manipulate his father’s relationships with women, sometimes even trying to set his father up, or to get him to fall for women Eddie knows and liked first. (Boomers will remember the famous theme song by Harry Nilson linked here.)
Mrs. Livingston was a serene woman, full of wisdom, and (arguably) took on the role as surrogate parent. One of Mrs, Livingston’s most endearing ways was her habit of always addressing Tom Corbett– her employer — as “Mr. Eddie’s Father”! This was her way of expressing who she considered to be the most important member of the family under her care.
The show always had an opening scene where Eddie and his father would be having these simple, yet deep conversations along a beach or a playground. The conversations between father and son reminded us of our own interactions with our fathers. Once, when Eddie broached the subject of Mrs. Livingston, Eddie made this Zen-like observation: “Mrs. Livingston has a nice face. It is very smooth. She has a smooth face because she thinks smooth thoughts”.
Ms. Umeki-san was also a respected singer of American standards. She played Asian roles of course: She was notable for her role as “Mei Li” in the 1958 Broadway musical and subsequent 1961 film “Flower Drum Song”. Here is a clip of Miyoshi-san singing “My Ship” on the old Andy Williams show. Beautiful. Sorry for the low quality video. but now I’m melting …
I will also include this playlist from YouTube. There are many moments of interesting American television history here. I like how she accepted her Oscar wearing a kimono (see the second video in the playlist). She is the only one in Academy Awards history to ever do so! I loved seeing her come down the isle in kimono!!!
I raise my glass, and drink a toast to remember you dear lady.