Sessue Hayakawa: Actor and Mazda

Several people in their 20’s who ride in my car ask “Who is Sessue Hayakawa?”

No, it’s not because they recently watched “The Cheat” (1915), but because that is the name of my 2008 Mazda 3.

My car, named for actor Sessue Hayakawa. It lives outside of the Tribune office for 80% of its time.

When I got my car in October, the car needed a Japanese name that was either World War II or old Hollywood related.

Names like Tokyo Rose and Kamakazi didn’t fit and Anna Mae Wong is Chinese, so the great Sessue Hayakawa, who was born on June 10, 1889, seemed like a good name for my new sedan.

Though several of movie goers mainly know Hayakawa from his most famous role in “Bridge Over the River Kwai;” Hayakawa’s roles in the late 1940s to the early 1960s marked a comeback for the actor.

Hayakawa during silent film stardom in “His Birthright” (1918)

Born in Japan to wealthy parents, Hayakawa was the first Asian-American film star in the United States; starting his acting career in 1914.

He became a celebrity after playing an Asian who has an affair with a white aristocrat woman in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Cheat” (1915). After this film Hayakawa was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood.

However, by the 1920s, Hayakawa’s career started to decline as Anti-Asian sentiments began to rise in the United States.

Hayakawa and Alec Guiness in “Bridge Over the River Kwai.” Hayakawa was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

He was in a handful of films from 1932 to 1947, but made a comeback in Hollywood after World War II. Most of his roles were as a Japanese officer in post-war World War II films such as “Three Came Home” (1950) and “Bridge Over the River Kwai” (1957).

From a pirate in “Swiss Family Robinson” (1960) to romancing the silent era’s leading actresses, Hayakawa could do it all. Though his early, prolific career may be forgotten by most, he still left his mark on contemporary film.

Though the name might be a mouthful, I hope to teach passengers in Sessue the Mazda a little bit of film history while they are along for the ride.

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Classic film in music videos: Material Girl by Madonna

This is June’s edition of Comet Over Hollywood’s classic film references in music videos.

In honor of Marilyn Monroe’s 86th birthday on Friday, June 1,  Comet is spotlighting a Madonna’s 1985 music video “Material Girl.” I remember seeing this music video when I was little and loving the glamour, and Madonna’s wardrobe.

Madonna and Marilyn

It wasn’t until much later that I realized she was recreating Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” musical number from the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

Madonna was a fan of Marilyn Monroe and wanted to pay homage to her in the music video:

“My favorite scene in all of Monroe’s movies is when she does that dance sequence for ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’. And when it came time to do the video for the song [Material Girl], I said, I can just redo that whole scene and it will be perfect,” Madonna said in 1987 to the New York Daily News.  “Marilyn was made into something not human in a way, and I can relate to that. Her sexuality was something everyone was obsessed with and that I can relate to. There were certain things about her vulnerability that I’m curious about and attracted to.”

Here are “Material Girl” (1985) and “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” for comparison:



Notice the similarities in the red stage, the male dancer’s costumes and the pink dresses both women wear.

-When Marilyn is singing “No no no,” singer Marnie Nixon was dubbing her.
-You can see George Chakiris, who later won Best Supporting Actor for “West Side Story,” as a back-up singer.
-Jessica Pickens (me) is not a Marilyn Monroe fan.

Who hasn’t tried to look like Marilyn? Here is a link I came across with other actresses who dressed up as Marilyn Monroe. Pretty interesting, most of them are terrible.

My apologies for not having classic film references in April or May, guys.  McCrea in May contest winners will be announced soon!

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