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In passing

Miyoshi Umeki and Red Buttons both won Academy Awards in 1958 for their performances in
Miyoshi Umeki and Red Buttons both won Academy Awards in 1958 for their performances in "Sayonara." Associated Press (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Licking, Mo.

Miyoshi Umeki, Oscar winner

Miyoshi Umeki, the Japanese-born singer and actress who became the first Asian performer to win an Academy Award, for her touching role as Red Buttons’ wife in the 1957 film “Sayanora,” has died.

Umeki, 78, who also was known for playing the housekeeper, Mrs. Livingston, on the TV series “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” died of complications of cancer Aug. 28 at a nursing home in Licking, Mo.

Umeki had been a singer and nightclub performer in postwar Japan, where she recorded popular American tunes for RCA Japan under the name Nancy Umeki, before moving to the United States in 1955.

She was a regular on the musical-variety show “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends” before she was cast in the role of Katsumi, the young Japanese woman who becomes the bride of a U.S. Air Force sergeant played by Buttons in the film version of James A. Michener’s best-selling novel of romance and racial prejudice in postwar Japan. Both Umeki and Buttons won supporting actor Oscars for their roles as the doomed newlyweds.

Umeki also gained acclaim – and a Tony Award nomination as best actress in a musical – playing Mei Li in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song,” which ran on Broadway from 1958 to 1960.

Castries, St. Lucia

John Compton, Caribbean leader

Prime Minister John Compton, who guided his tiny Caribbean island to independence from Britain, has died. He was 82.

Compton, a three-time leader of St. Lucia who became prime minister most recently in December, did not resume leadership duties after suffering a series of mild strokes in late April. He died Friday at the private Tapion Hospital in Castries.

The farmer and attorney became chief minister of the then-colony in 1964, negotiated for more autonomy from Britain three years later and became the first prime minister upon independence in 1979. Voted out of power later that year, he returned to govern the verdant, mountainous island from 1982 to 1996.

He gained a reputation for fearlessness during the 1950s as a union leader directing a strike against the sugar-growing elite for better labor conditions, getting arrested after a confrontation in which he dared a white planter to run him over with a tractor. Like roughly 90 percent of his fellow islanders, Compton was black.


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