Her career in Hollywood was not a long one — just about 20 film credits largely in the 1950s.

She did a ton of tv in sympathetic supporting roles, and even managed a Golden Globe nomination for her work.  She was also a smooth pop vocalist in her native Japan (born in the northern island of Hokkaido in 1929) and even sang in the U.S. on Arthur Godfrey’s variety program (remember him?).

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Ok, why the headline? The fact is that Miyoshi Umeki is the first Asian actress to win an Oscar. And thus far the only one to do.

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It was for her performance as Red Button’s love interest in 1957’s Sayonara, a big budget examination (based on a James Michener novel) of prejudice in the Far  East starring Marlon Brando as as a semi-bigoted fighter pilot in the Korean War who gets stationed in Japan and embroiled in romantic affairs — both Buttons’ and his own. (At one point, Brando’s character employs a racial slur in reference to Umeki’s.)

Image result for images from sayonara in 1957Things sort themselves out in the end, and the Buttons and Umeki characterizations  earned them supporting actor/actress Oscars in 1958.

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Curiously, given Sayonara’s subject matter, Mexico City-born actor Ricardo Montalban turns up playing a Japanese kabuki performer. This may be the oddest casting choice outside of Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of  buck-toothed ‘Mr. Yunioshi’ in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

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Anyway, less than a dozen Asians have been nominated for Oscars to date.  Umeki is only actress to win — so far.

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