CY Lee-author of Flower Drum Song which was adapted into the first Asian-American Hollywood film-dies in LA at 102!
He was 102! Yes, CY Lee or Chin Yang Lee was 102 when he died in November 2018. He had authored the best-selling novel titled The Flower Drum Song in 1957, which later became the basis of the first Asian American Hollywood movie.
CY Lee and his death in November 2018
CY Lee’s son, Jay Lee disclosed to The Associated Press that his father CY Lee died on 8 November 2018 in Lo Angeles. He also revealed that the family at that time decided to not make the news of his death public for some time. The reason for this is not known.
CY Lee was from China and had migrated to the UA during the World War II.
CY Lee and his best-selling novel
The author CY Lee had released the book The Flower Drum Song in the year 1957. The story is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown and deals with the generational conflict. People read the book extensively it was a popular read. The book received praise from the people and also some critics. But the fallacies were also pointed out.
Idwal Jones from the New York Times had praised CY Lee for his objectivity and facts related to the generation gap, but he also added that the book lacked in ‘deeper notes’. The book had a lot of slang and sex talks and popular taste. CY Lee had answered that he wanted the book to reach a wider audience.
CY Lee used to write articles for a Chinese-language newspaper targeting the elderly people. He was residing in a rented small apartment above a Filipino nightclub in San Francisco and got an opportunity to see the prevailing differences between the older Chinese immigrants to the USA and their children who were born in the USA. This he portrayed in his book. In 2002, he had said:
“In Chinatown, I knew everything that was going on. Out of that, I created characters, using everybody including my own family and my friends, plus a lot of invention from the air.”
He could not find a publisher for this book and faced more than a dozen rejections. The book found the light of the day due to an 80-year-old gentleman. CY Lee had said:
“But then the novel landed at the sick bed of an 80-year-old gentleman, who was a reader for a highbrow publishing house (Farrar, Straus). He was quite ill, but he read it. He didn’t have the energy to write a two- or three-page critique and wrote only two words — ‘Read this’ — and died.
“Without those two words, the novel would have never been published.”
CY Lee’s novel’s adaptation into a musical
Screenwriter Joseph Fields and also composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II read the book and liked it. Hence they wanted to convert the novel into a script and a theater musical.
The director of the musical adaptation was Gene Kelly. It was a hit and ran on Broadway from 1958 to 1960. David Henry Hwang revived it in 2002 on Broadway. The novel was out of print and David procured it from a Seattle bookseller. David had spoken to AP in 2001 on this matter and he said:
“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s such a shame this author and this book have been lost, particularly the bittersweet tone of the novel,’”
“C.Y.’s book is complicated in terms of texture about what it means to be an American — the things you gain and the things you lose — but it ultimately affirms the value of this social experience.”
The film adaptation of the novel
The film adaptation released in 1961 with an all Asian cast. It bagged 5 Academy Award nominations. Though the film gained popularity, The New Yorker called it an ‘elaborate fraud’ and a showcase of crude stereotypes. CY Lee was thus the first Asian author who had broken into Hollywood commercially.
CY Lee’s other novels were China Saga and Gate of Rage. The latter discussed the pro-democracy protests of 1989 at Tiananmen Square.
Source: Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter