Flower Drum Song Musical 1961
Flower Drum Song
The film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway hit, Flower Drum Song is a musical comedy set in San Francisco's Chinatown, concerning old-fashioned Chinese and modern Chinese-Americans clashing over tradition and trying to find romance. Mei Li(Miyoshi Umeki), a Hong Kong picture bride, arrives in San Francisco to meet her husband Sammy Fong(Jack Soo), an Americanized Chinese night-club owner. However, Sammy is already romantically involved with the star attraction of his nightclub show, the sultry singer/dancer Linda Low (Nancy Kwan). He tries to assign his marriage contract to Wang Ta(James Shigeta), a handsome college student living in Chinatown. Ta, however, has his sights set on Linda as well, while Linda's seamstress Helen Chow(Reiko Sato) secretly pines for Ta. Romantic complications result, but nothing that a little singing and dancing can't resolve to the satisfaction of nearly everyone. The film has a great brassy, jazzy score and the best choreography of any of R&H's musicals. Some of the more memorable songs include I Enjoy Being a Girl (with Nancy's famous three way mirror scene), Love, Look Away and Don't Marry Me. The film was unusual not only for being the first Hollywood production with an (almost) all-Asian cast, but also for portraying Chinese-Americans as Americans. James Shigeta is a real heart-throb, Jack Soo has a hilarious deadpan humor, and Miyoshi Umeki is as sweet as can be. Nancy Kwan has great fun in the role of the Chinese-American showgirl with a decidedly modern attitude, and the film is a tremendous showcase for her dance skills.
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The Stars
Nancy Kwan as Linda Low
Just as Linda Low was the big star of Sammy Fong's mythical Chinatown nightclub, so Hong Kong born actress Nancy Kwan was also the big star of Flower Drum Song. According to the producer Ross Hunter, "Nancy Kwan is gorgeous. I'm sold on the glamour approach. After all, if you really want the girl next door, all you have to do is go over and ring the bell." Promoted as "that bewitching Suzie Wong Girl", her sassy and brassy performance as the thoroughly Americanized showgirl was a big change from that famous earlier film role, and her nightclub dance numbers were certainly a departure from the classical ballet she had performed before her big break in Hollywood.
Linda Low
Nancy Kwan
James Shigeta as Wang Ta
A rare example of an Asian-American romantic leading man, James Shigeta plays the handsome clean cut fraternity boy Wang Ta, who competes with Sammy Fong for Linda Low's affections. As a Hawaiian born American of Japanese descent, James Shigeta studied drama in New York, but took time off to serve his country in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. Moving to Japan, he appeared in four Japanese musicals films and one of his recordings became the best selling record in Japan. Upon moving back to the US, he had several more successful recordings and made dramatic appearances in films such as "Walk Like a Dragon" and "Bridge to the Sun", prior to his big hit with "Flower Drum Song". He handles the musicals numbers with his baritone voice especially well.
Wang Ta
James Shigeta
Miyoshi Umeki as Mei Li
Recreating the role she played on the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song, Miyoshi Umeki starred as Mei Li, the picture bride arriving for Sammy Fong but destined for Wang Ta. Born in Hokkaido, Japan, Miyoshi Umeki's career began singing jazz standards on the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Network in that country. She made numerous recordings with RCA and had several Japanese film credits, but her first hit in America was in the 1957 film Sayonara, which won her an Oscar for best supporting actress. Her sweet, naive portrayal of Mei Li is affecting but not without a bit of backbone.
Mei Li
Miyoshi Umeki
Jack Soo as Sammy Fong
Jack Soo, a Japanese-American born in San Francisco, got his acting start as a nightclub emcee and comedian. Born Goro Suzuki, he changed his stage name during World War II, but resumed work, performing in clubs throughout the US for several years. His career included a stint as straight man for comedian Joey Bishop and performances at the Chinese nightclub Forbidden City in San Francisco. He understudied the role of Sammy Fong in the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song, and took over the role in the national touring company. His performance as the gambling and womanizing operator Sammy Fong shows a great comic timing and a sly wit that is match for Linda Low's scheming.
Sammy Fong
Jack Soo
photos © Universal Pictures/MCA

The Music
Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were among the greatest songwriters of the twentienth century, and America's most innovative producers of musical theatre. Both growing up in upper Manhattan, and both attending Columbia University, they nevertheless pursued their careers on Broadway separately. Rodgers was noted for his long successful collaboration with Lorenz Hart whereas Hammerstein earned fame for his work with a variety of composers, including Jerome Kern, Sigmund Romberg, Vincent Youmans, and Rudolf Friml. Their partnership began with the groundbreaking show Oklahoma!, and continued with musicals such as State Fair, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and Cinderella. Flower Drum Song, their penultimate production, had a popular run on both Broadway and the West End from 1958 to 1960, prior to its successful 1961 film adaptation. Their final work together prior to Oscar Hammerstein's passing would be The Sound of Music.
Rodgers & Hammerstein
Rodgers &
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The lovely Linda Low has just made plans for a date with her new boyfriend Wang Ta, and she joyfully sings of the many advantages of being a very female female.
I Enjoy Being a Girl
I Enjoy Being a Girl
Helen Chao dreams she dances with Wang Ta and wins him for herself, but realizes their love will remain unrequited.
Love, Look Away
Love, Look Away
Having broken up with Linda, Wang Ta comes to realize that Mei Li is beautiful in her own way too, and that it is she who he wants to be his bride.
You Are Beautiful
You Are Beautiful
songs © Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II
arranged and performed by Glenn Whelan

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© Universal Pictures/MCA