James Shigeta, who starred in ‘Flower Drum Song,’ dies

James Shigeta, who starred in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical movie “Flower Drum Song,” died July 28, 2014 in the Los Angeles area, the Hollywood Reporter reported. He was 85.

Once an aspiring song-and-dance man, Hawai‘i-born Shigeta first came to national attention when he won a talent contest on “The Ted Mack Amateur Hour,” which led to a Las Vegas singing career. 

It was there that he was discovered to play the lead role of Wang Ta in the 1961 movie musical “Flower Drum Song,” which co-starred Jack Soo (Goro Suzuki), Nancy Kwan and Miyoshi Umeki. 

At a time when interracial relationships were rare, Shigeta romanced leading ladies, who also happened to be Caucasian. He starred in the groundbreaking films “The Crimson Kimono” (1959), playing a young detective, and “Bridge to the Sun” (1961), where he portrayed a Japanese diplomat married to an American (Carroll Baker) at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor..

In 1960, the Golden Globes named Shigeta — along with Barry Coe, Troy Donahue and George Hamilton — as “most promising male newcomer,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Shigeta played a prominent role as the CEO of a Japanese corporation in the first installment of the “Die Hard” franchise, the 1988 film starring Bruce Willis. 

His film credits also include “Walk Like a Dragon” (1960) and “Mulan” (1998).

Born in Honolulu on June 17, 1929, Shigeta moved to New York and studied at New York University, said the Hollywood Reporter. He then joined the U.S. Marine Corps and fought during the Korean War.

He moved to Japan and became a star on radio and television in that country, the Hollywood Reporter noted, and returned to the U.S. to sing on “The Dinah Shore Show” in 1959. 

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