linda m. beach reporter chicago daily news .Tokyo . 東京都 United States USA Japan For Sale
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linda m. beach reporter chicago daily news .Tokyo . 東京都 United States USA Japan :
Linda Beech went from being the most famous American in Japan after
World War II, to living in one of the world’s most famous treehouses in
Waipio Valley, her Hawaii home of over 40 years from which she pursued
her passions until the end of her life in January of this year.
I first met Linda Beech in the late 1980s, in Waipio Valley, on the Big Island of Hawaii, while video taping ethnography interviews. It was to be a friendship that spanned decades. The last time I visited with Linda Beech was a year ago, when she asked me to capture her recollections of the morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor for the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. Sixteen years old at the time, she rushed outside moments after the attack of Pearl Harbor. From her vantage point overlooking Honolulu, she described how the planes overhead were flying so low that she could see the faces of the Japanese pilots.
Fast forward to a little over a decade after the war and Linda Beech was undeniably the most famous and adored American in Japan as the star of a situational comedy called Blue Eyes Tokyo Diary.
I can’t help being struck by the rather extraordinary fate that lie ahead for a young Linda Beech and her unique place in history as an American cultural icon to the Japanese public in the late 1950s and early 1960s. as famous as Marilyn Monroe, as exotic as Lady Gaga, gossip columnists of the era in Tokyo describe her as “stopping traffic,” yet she was unknown to American audiences.
Linda Beech came to fame in the late 1950s in Japan, about 5 years after the American occupation ended, as Japan’s first mega sitcom star on Blue Eyes Tokyo Diary. “Blue Eyes” was Japanese slang for “Caucasian.” Playing the wife of an American magazine correspondent, Linda became the Lucile Ball of Japan in a show that spoofed both Americans and Japanese.
In Tokyo, a director for the Japanese broadcast service, NHK, spotted Linda ordering from the menu in Japanese at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Tokyo. The pair created a television show, Blue Eyes Tokyo Diary. As a child, Linda spoke the language with ease, having learned Japanese from a Nisei maid in Hawaii as a child. (“Nisei” is a Japanese term to specify the second generation of children born in another country).
Purportedly, General Douglas MacArthur once said that Ms. Beech had done more to promote peace than the entire occupying American army. Although that quote is not attributable, it clearly seems true. Blue Eyes Tokyo Diary went on to become a runaway success between 1958 until 1960, making Linda the most famous American in Japan. In fact, Linda was the “only foreigner appearing on Japanese television, speaking Japanese” at the time, according to an article that appeared in the Chicago Daily News on August 1, 1960, entitled “One Yank All Japan Loves.”
After World War II, Linda followed George MacArthur’s occupation forces to Japan, serving as an Industrial Labor Relations Analyst. It was there that she met her equally famous husband to be, Keyes Beech, a war correspondent for the Chicago Daily News who is best remembered for his riveting coverage of raising the flag at Iwo Jima during the Second World War, which won him the Pulitzer Prize. His incisive and his live reportage of being cut off and trapped behind enemy lines in the Battle of Inchonin in the Korean War, and his depiction of the rooftop evacuation of the U.S. Embassy after the fall of Saigon in Vietnam. What Linda would want the world to remember most about Keyes Beech is that in addition to being an internationally respected journalist, he was a fearless, totally self made writer who never even graduated from high school and only typed with two fingers. According to Linda, it was also notable that he and John Wayne were drinking buddies.
Her fame also gave Linda unique access, uncommon for foreigners. One of Linda’s best friends in Japan was Princess Higashikuni, Hirohito’s elder sister, who couldn’t be Empress because of Japan’s male primogeniture. According to Linda, she was against the war and thought it was a huge mistake. Linda described her as the saddest, wisest woman she ever met, and said “you can see it in her eyes in her photographs.”
Not unlike Lucile Ball & Desi Arnez, Linda’s two young sons were also in the show, Paki and Kimo. In a phone interview from at his home in Honolulu, Linda’s son Barnaby Beech (Paki) reflected about the enormity of his mother’s fame in post war Japan. He described his mother’s unique position in representing American society, her almost myth like persona in Japanese culture, which was ultimately isolating for her, influencing her decision to leave the show at the height of its popularity. Decades after returning to Hawaii and making her home in Waipio Valley, she would be still be recognized and mobbed by Japanese tourists for her autograph, encountering the occasional bus full of Japanese tourists on her trips to town.
Fittingly enough, Linda led last year’s peace parade in Honokak’a, Hawaii, which is still sadly; the only US city to honor the UN sanctioned International Day of Peace. Linda claimed it was an honor to follow in the footsteps of those who’d led the parade before, including President Obama’s sister, Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng. It was Linda’s last public appearance.
Linda was a cultural American icon who promoted peace in a unique way in the wake of American occupied Japan through a comedy sitcom that poked fun at both cultures. To the extent we study how media affects society, the effect of Linda Beech on Japanese society seems to have had a great leveling effect, it is the stuff of a thesis. During anti American rioting in Tokyo in August of 1960, Linda drove to the scene of the unrest for a firsthand look. The Chicago Daily News reporter, Terry Turner, dubbed Linda as the “best Ambassador this country has in that beleaguered city.”
The same article describes the protestors, as turning away from their rioting, rushing towards Linda, attempting to touch her outstretched hands, chanting, “Linda-San, Linda-San.” The crowd then returned to their “snake dances, chanting down with America.” As Linda’s car passed trucks with loud speakers, a protester momentarily interrupted his Anti-American vitriol, with an enthusiastic “Hello Linda-San” During the same period of anti-American unrest, the American Press Secretary had to be rescued by helicopter when his car was intercepted by rioters in Tokyo.
Linda embodied the spirit of peaceful transition. I found myself wondering if her influence would ever be fully appreciated, would historians ever consider the impact ofBlue Eyes Tokyo Diary and the blond, blue-eyed American, so beloved by the Japanese, that Americans never knew. I can’t find anything written about Linda’s a social or historical impact, but clearly she was able to make a cultural connection with Japanese society, at a time when anti American sentiment was high.
Linda Beech always felt her fame was due to an accident of birth which came from being raised in a multicultural microcosm called Hawaii, the crossroads of the Pacific, the island chain furthest removed from any continental land mass in the world. A place, which relishes its rich tradition of having a deadly, politically incorrect, totally leveling, hothouse sense of humor. No matter who you are, young/old, rich/poor, no matter what your religion is, your ethnicity, your color, gender or orientation, Hawaii is proud to be the home of equal prejudice for all. As Linda used to say, “It’s what keeps the lid from blowing off.”
Linda always claimed she couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag and she was right — but she knew slapstick. Thanks to Linda’s upbringing she was already quite in tune with what the Japanese considered funny. Also there was the newness of television, the new mass media the show appeared in. I’m not sure anyone knows why the magic worked; I suspect it was through a culturally intelligent, culturally sensitive, sense of humor. The secret sauce was Linda’s innate cultural competency. In this case, thankfully it did work, for whichever side of the boat you were on. As Linda used to point out about the Pearl Harbor visitors’ situation, we’re all really trapped in the same boat here.
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