Nobu McCarthy

Name Nobu McCarthy
Born November 13 1934
Died April 6 2002
Birth Location Canada
Generational Identifier


Actress and artistic director of East West Players. Born Nobu Atsumi in Canada, the daughter of a Japanese diplomat, she went to Japan as a baby and was raised there, training in ballet and as a singer. She became a model and beauty queen and married an American army sergeant named David McCarthy in 1955, moving to the United States.

She was "discovered" on a Little Tokyo street in Los Angeles and won a role in the 1958 movie The Geisha Boy starring Jerry Lewis, even though she barely spoke English. This led to a succession of Hollywood roles over the next decade, most of them in stereotypical "Oriental" roles.

After a 1970 divorce, she became active in the Asian American theater scene, appearing in the first production of Momoko Iko's pioneering play on the Japanese American incarceration, [ Gold Watch] , in 1972 and many productions at East West Players. She also played one of the lead roles in the landmark television movie Farewell to Manzanar in 1976. She also appeared as Miyagi's love interest in The Karate Kid, Part II in 1986 and in the 1988 film version of Philip Kan Gotanda 's The Wash .

In 1989, she took over as artistic director of East West Players after founding artistic director Mako 's resignation, serving in that capacity until 1993. She remained active in the Japanese American community and continued with her acting career, while also teaching drama at California State University, Los Angeles and UCLA. She died of an aortal aneurysm while on location for a movie in Brazil in 2002.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Hwang, David Henry. "Nobu McCarthy: 1934–2002." American Theatre September 2002, pp. 15–16.

Kurahashi, Yuko. Asian American Culture on Stage: The History of the East West Players . New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999.

Morioka-Steffens, Tamayo Irene. "Asian Pacific American Identities: An Historical Perspective Through the Theatre Productions of the East West Players, 1965 to 2000. Ph.D. dissertation, Claremont Graduate School, 2003.

Nobu McCarthy, 67, Artistic Director and Actress, Dies." New York Times , April 10, 2002, .

Shirley, Don. "Nobu McCarthy, 67; Actress on Stage and Film." Los Angeles Times , April 9, 2002, .

Last updated April 17, 2024, 5:18 a.m..