“I’m Mickey Rooney.”
When I saw this handsome, talented Asian actor saying that opening line, I thought, “He truly lost his mind!” J. Elijah Cho said it with such conviction with a nice smile and wide eyes. He honestly made the audience believe, maybe for a nano-second, that late the Golden Globe, Emmy awarding actor Mickey Rooney (born Joseph Yule Jr. on September 23, 1920 – April 6, 2014) was Asian. Of course, the stereotypical “Asian” features are with prominent bucked teeth and English so broken down, it would be too heavy to pick back up. Rooney played Audrey Hephurn’s landlord in the 1961 Blake Edward’s movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Why would Hollywood, in this case Paramount Pictures, choose a Scottish-American actor to play a Japanese character? That’s stupid and makes no sense! That’s like my favorite actress, Oscar-winner Meryl Streep, playing Rosa Parks. Never gonna happen. In 2018, the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” became hit. So there is an interest to see more people of color on the screen. Cho made two boss moves by writing and directing his grand opus, both amusing and respectful. He doesn’t let his Mickey Rooney persona drop, not even for a minute. He breaks down his story in vignettes providing a small peek into his world. As Rooney he demonstrates perfecting different accents to showcase his many talents, like Italian and Scottish, however even that is broken down into gibberish.
As Rooney, the character knew he was talented. He kept boasting about it every chance he got. He married the beautiful Ava Gardener (1942–1943). Made 10 films with best friend, Judy Garland. He was able to dive into drama, “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962) “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962) and comedy, “The Great Race,” (1965) and “It’ a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963) with ease. He did it all. But can he do this? Can a Scottish-American man with an impeccable pedigree play a Japanese man without turning him into another caricature?
I would have liked Cho to dive deeper into that nugget. Rooney is a white man. What does he, better yet Paramount Pictures, believe that the Oscar honorary recipient would be believable as a Japanese man? What made all these components add up to Mickey Rooney as an Asian man and doing it in a disparaging manner? What was he thinking? Why didn’t he refuse? How would this role affect him in future ones? That would have been an interesting bridge to cross. Performance was both enlightening and great.
When Cho asked the audience to name an Asians actor the most popular one is Jackie Chang. Let me add my two cents, Jet Li and Russell Wong. As “Mickey Rooney,” he said Goshiro Mfuemi and another yelled out Chow Yun-Fat. No one mentioned silent movie actress leading lady, Anna May Wong. Sessue Hayakawa often played the leading man, and of course Bruce Lee. Come on! That was a no-brainer! Cho proves that we all wear a mask (both literally and figuratively).
Mr. Yunioshi plays at the Sierra Madre Playhouse located at 87 West Sierra Madre Blvd., plays Saturday, February 4th at 8 p.m. For ticket information visit www.sierramadreplayhouse.org or call (623) 355 4318. It is the second in four of solo shows.
At press time, this thoroughly entertaining show is completely sold out.
What I discovered!
• In 1972, actor Sen Yung, known as Victor Seng professionally, played housekeeper Hop Sing from the television western “Bonanza” (NBC from September 13, 1959, to January 16, 1973) boarded the Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 710, was hijacked. The FBI rushed inside the plane, opened fire and hit Young in the lower back. He survived but died on November 9th 1960, poisoning from a gas leak. He was 66.
• Hawaiian detective television character Charlie Chan, out of eight actors who betrayed the role, two were Japanese, one Swede, one Latino, one British, and three were Caucasians.