Conrad Yama

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Conrad Yama born Kiyoshi Conrad Hamanaka, (October 8, 1919 - March 10, 2010), was an Asian American theatre, film and television actor.

Born and raised in Fresno, California, Hamanaka was interned in Jerome, Arkansas during World War II, where he worked on camp newspapers.[1][2] Despite being accepted to study psychology at the University of Chicago, Hamanaka took the stage name Conrad Yama, and pursued an acting career. Yama's first major credits were television appearances in Asian specific roles. Following tours of Auntie Mame and Teahouse of the August Moon, Yama made his first appearance on Broadway in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song as Dr. Li, and understudying Keye Luke in the character of Wang Chi Yang. Flower Drum Song was a significant musical due to being one of the first instances of Asian characters being played by Asians, whereas white actors in yellowface makeup was the norm, such as in The King and I. Later Broadway credits included the musicals I Had a Ball and Pacific Overtures where he played a trio of roles, as well as the dramatic play "Plenty". Off-Broadway, Yama originated roles in Plenty during its pre-Broadway run, and in Frank Chin's The Year of the Dragon. The made for TV version of Year of the Dragon, broadcast by PBS as a part of the series Great Performances in 1975, Yama returned as Pa Eng, the father of the protagonist, played by George Takei, who replaced Randall Duk Kim. Yama's performance in Pacific Overtures was recorded when the entire production was taped and broadcast on Japanese TV in 1976.

Due to his resemblance to Mao Zedong, Yama played Mao several times. Yama originated the part of Chairman Mao in Edward Albee's "Box-Mao-Box", delivering authentic Mao quotations from the Little Red Book. The role was played by Wyman Pendleton during its brief Broadway run in 1968. Yama's largest movie part was playing the title role, an unnamed Chairman Mao opposite Gregory Peck in The Chairman, also known as "The Most Dangerous Man in the World". The New York Times review stated, "In the best scene of all, as the story moves into Chinese headquarters, Mr. Peck has an ideological Ping-Pong match, swatting it out verbally over a table with an incisive actor named Conrad Yama".[3] In a parody of this scene, Yama appeared as a Mao like figure for a Van Heusen shirt commercial, playing table tennis with a Van Huesen wearing American diplomat. Yama had another role similar to Chairman Mao when he portrayed the Chinese Prime Minister in "The Virgin President"

Yama's other onscreen acting included a number of small and supporting roles in film and made for TV movies. Highlights include The King of Marvin Gardens, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and Midway as Admiral Nobutake Kondō. In The Godfather, Yama played the fruit-seller during the Don Corleone shooting scene,.[4] Yama's last onscreen role was a small part in "See China and Die", a made for TV movie movie starring Esther Rolle in 1981.

When Yama acted in The Virgin President, his daughter L'nelle Hamanaka appeared with him onscreen in the part of the Prime Minister's daughter. Yama is also the father of renowned children's author Sheila Hamanaka. Yama died on March 10, 2010. His professional name "Yama" means "mountain" in Japanese.


  1. ^ Robinson, Greg (May 29, 2008), "The ‘Double Life’ of Journalist-Turned-Actor Conrad Yama (Hamanaka)", Nichi Bei Times 
  2. ^ "National Archives: Kiyoshi Hamanaka". Retrieved 2015-04-15. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ See page 6.

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