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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 in Fresno California, Yama's first major credits were television appearances in Asian specific roles. In New York, he 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's character of Wang Chi Yang. It was a significant musical due to being one of the first instances of Asian characters being played by Asians, whereas white actors in Asian 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 play "Plenty". Yama auditioned for the role of Mr. Oshira, an elderly English speaking Okinawan craftsman in the musical Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen. The part eventually went to David Thomas, a white actor. Off-Broadway, Yama originated roles in Plenty during its pre-Broadway run, and in Frank Chin's Year of the Dragon.
Due to his resemblance to Mao Zedong, Yama played Mao several times. His 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". 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 also originated the part of Chairman Mao in Edward Albee's "Box-Mao-Box", delivering authentic Mao quotations. The role was played by Wyman Pendleton during its brief Broadway run in 1968.
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, the made for TV version of Year of the Dragon as Pa Eng, the father of George Takei's character, and Midway as Admiral Nobutake Kondō. In The Godfather, Yama played the fruit-seller during the Don Corleone shooting scene. His performance in Pacific Overtures was recorded when the entire production was broadcast on Japanese TV in 1976. Yama died on March 10, 2010.
His professional name "Yama" means "mountain" in Japanese.
- Herman Levin Papers, Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen Box 198, Folder 11: Casting.
- http://www.playbillvault.com/Show/Detail/Whos_who/11540/23088/Pacific-Overtures See page 6.