1961 Motion Picture
On November 9, 1961, the musical event of the season took place at New York’s historic Radio City Musical Hall: the highly anticipated big-screen premiere of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song starring Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta. A week later, a three-day festival in the film’s honor was held in San Francisco’s Chinatown. At the festival, San Francisco Mayor George Christopher unveiled a plaque marking the significance of local sites featured in the motion picture.
The New York Daily News described the Flower Drum Song screen adaptation as “a big, elaborate spectacle” with “lush settings, stunning costumes, lovely music, imaginative choreography and amusing characters.” The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and two Golden Globes, including Best Musical.
Shortly after the original motion picture premiered in New York City, the film’s soundtrack was released with new, rousing orchestrations by Alfred Newman and Ken Darby. In this era of movie musicals, screen actors were often dubbed with professional singers, which is why the songs were credited to the characters rather than the actors. On this soundtrack, American opera star Marilyn Horne sang “Love, Look Away,” for the character of Helen Chao (portrayed by Reiko Sato on screen) and B.J. Baker sang for the character of Linda Low, though she was played by the glamorous Nancy Kwan in the film. The soundtrack, originally released on monaural and stereo by Decca Records, was listed as a “National Breakout,” and charted among Billboard‘s Top LPs at the beginning of 1962.