My Geisha

For whom the laughs roll

By William Wetherall

First posted 1 September 2006
Last updated 1 September 2006

My Geisha, 1961
Novelization of movie script
Films in Review, June-July 1962
featuring Paramount's "My Geisha"

Saul Cooper
My Geisha
New York: Dell Publications, 1961
191 pages, paperback (K106)
Plus four pages of stills from movie
Novelization of script by Norman Krasna for
Paramount Pictures movie starring
Yves Montand, Shirley MacLaine, Edward G.
Robinson, Bob Cummings, and Yoko Tani
Cover painting by Bob McGinnis
[Also Sydney: Horwitz, 1962, PB114]

Madame MacLaine

The novelization adds verbal insult to the movie's visual injury. The "He and She" in story are explained on the back cover.

They live in a run-of-the-millionaire mansion in Bel Air. She, Lucy Dell, the greatest box-office attraction in Hollywood. He, Paul Robaix, motion picture director, known affectionately as Mr. Lucy.

Paul's latest idea for a movie is a great one: MADAME BUTTERFLY in its natural setting -- Japan. It doesn't include Lucy. Instead, the star will be a "discovery" -- a real live, native Geisha. Anyhow, that's what Paul thinks.

Little Lucy still has a trick or three up the sleeve of her imported silk kimono.

Some redeeming humor

Come to think of it, My Geisha the novel and "My Geisha" the movie have a few redeeming qualities: the most notable being the parody of Shirley MacLaine passing in yellowface for "a real live, native Geisha".

Here is one of the highlight scenes, as narrated in the novelization (pages 144-147, with numerous cuts)


"I have a most Jealous nature," Kazumi explained. "You are most fortunate that you are not troubled when another woman looks at your husband and says -- or worse -- thinks what I think."

Lucy turned to her and snapped, "I tell you, Kazumi, no one's more jealous than I am. No one!" It was clear she meant what she said -- intensely.

"Then you hide it well."

"Kazumi, believe it or not, I'm even jealous of my husband liking Yoko," she declared

"But you're Yoko!"

"How's that for being jealous? And don't think I'm not going to run down that Yoko first chance I get. That geisha's getting too darn cute for her own good!"


"Ugh . . ." Paul groaned.

"Yes?" she provoked him.

"You know, Yoko," he began speculatively, "my friend Bob is a very nice person."

"I have found him most agreeable."

"He thinks you are, too."

"I am most flattered he returns my feelings."

"Well, I guess it's difficult to know how Bob really stands . . . he's so shy."

"I am surprised."

"We were discussing you. In his opinion, and in mine, the Western woman is no match for the Japanese woman."

"You are trying to be kind, but I think you are unfair. Many of the new generation of Japanese find their model in the emancipated independent American woman."

"No, no, I think you're the one trying to be polite. The Western woman can learn a lot from you. For example -- and this is an area overlooked nowadays -- in the observance of the homely virtues."

"Nevertheless, there are many more important areas where we can learn," she sweetly persisted.

"There's nothing more important than the art of pleasing a man!" he declared.

If that's the way he wanted to play . . . if that's the way he really felt about her and their marriage, she could also throw a few spit balls. Yoko appeared to consider Paul's statement and to agree. "Perhaps that is so. Our upbringing is to please men."

"Absolutely right!"

She placed a forefinger against her temple and came to a conclusion. "Does Mister Bob find me sympathy?"

"Oh, yes," Paul assured.

"Perhaps he would like to make love to me?"

"What?" Paul gasped.

Yoko bowed low to the director. "I would be happy to please him."

"Now hold on. Wait a minute! I think we've got a problem in semantics here."

Out-of-focus butts of vacuous jokes

It takes five pages for Yoko and Paul to explore the significance of what Yoko is proposing she do in the name of being a good geisha who feels obliged to please even the friends of a patron (page 147).

Sumo champion Morti Kamikaze

Among the numerous inanities in this insane story is a sumo champion named Morti Kamikaze, who has just lost a match (pages 101-102).

The spectators began to get to their feet, somewhat stunned by the abrupt end to the sumo match. The wrestler who had landed on his head was being hustled up the aisle by his handlers, trying to beat the crowed through the exit that led to his private temple and dressing room under the stadium. He rubbed the crown of his head vigorously, then pressed his skull with his fingers, apparently trying to restore all the elements to their former positions.

Suddenly he spied Kazumi and let fly a stream of Japanese at her, and she answered in kind.

Kazumi turned to introduce him to her group of Americans. "May I present one of our sumo champions, Morti Kamikaze?"

Kamikaze did not understand English and he bowed politely at the assemblage.

Bob grabbed his hand enthusiastically. "How do you do? Good fight, Kamikaze. You would have won in any other ring."

Kamikaze was somewhat startled by this show of physical contact and almost doubled-back Bob's arm before his trainer banged on him to release the grip.

Paul contented himself with a smile and a salute of his hand to forehead.

Kamikaze turned suddenly to Yoko, apparently with some jovial comment on her beautiful self serving to inspire his performance in the wrestling ring. Kazumi shielded her laugh with the palm of her hand. Taking her response as cue, Yoko let out a long complex string of Japanese words and phrases that included portions of the numerical and alphabetical tables plus a list of typical menu items and barnyard animals.

Shaking his head vigorously, Kamikaze stared at Yoko with a worried expression and started backing away. She paused dramatically to punctuate her sentences and paragraphs at appropriate points. Kamikaze pointed to the crown of his head and motioned for his trainer to take a closer look. Finally the huge sumo-tori was led uncertainly up the aisle.

"Poor man," Kazumi said sadly.

Honjin non Takarazuka Takashimaya San Nagasaki ronin setsu Mitsubishi Maru miyasama manju et cetera and so forth," Yoko glibly added her condolences for the fallen warrior.

The people who made this movie were having fun, but at whose expense is not always clear.