Myrtle Goldfinger was caught in a confused cultural dichotomy: She was born in Tokyo but moved to Southern California with her Japanese parents when she was just a year old. She looked Japanese, but her attitude was pure American. She was gorgeous by many counts, but not her own, because having grown up in
in the 1930s, her idea of beauty was all-white, all-American. Even in old age, Mrs. Goldfinger wouldn't leave the house without first putting on eye makeup to make her eyes look wider, said her daughter-in-law, Danna Kostroun. Hollywood
"People don't want to see Asians," she'd say in declining an
invitation to attend, for example, a grandchild's music recital.
Mrs. Goldfinger married twice, and both of her husbands were white Americans. Her son,
political scientist Johnny Goldfinger, recalled that when he married Kostroun, a white woman from Marian University , "it was the happiest day of (his mother's) life." But despite her self-doubt, Myrtle Machiko Goldfinger, who died Feb. 18 at 94, was ambitious. She could sing, and she could dance, and if she didn't have what she considered all-American beauty, she did have beauty. This she exploited. Ithaca, N.Y.
Her father, Imahei Takaoka, was a fire-and-brimstone Christian minister, a founder of the
. He died young of tuberculosis, leaving his family poorly fixed. It was then that Mrs. Goldfinger's drive showed itself. She went into show business, getting sporadic work as an extra at the movie studios in Hollywood Japanese Independent Church . She got at least one bit part, as a maid serving tea, at the age of 16. She went into vaudeville, she and her two sisters hitting the road as the Taka Sisters. For the time, the act was somewhat risque. Mrs. Goldfinger laid it out one time (with some embarrassment) for her curious daughter-in-law. Kostroun, who has a Ph.D. in history from Hollywood Duke University, teaches history at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
"They'd dance around in a sort of 'Three Little Maids' routine (from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado"), like a traditional Japanese dance," Kostroun said, "then the band would go into some fast jazz, and they'd throw off their costumes and dance to the jazz." The sisters performed all over the country, but the biggest sensation they caused was when one of them was murdered, knifed by a jealous boyfriend. The boyfriend was white. "The newspapers played it as an East-West love triangle," a cautionary tale of "the dangers of 'exotic love,' " Kostroun said.
In 1942, after the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor, Mrs. Goldfinger and her family were among the more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans to be rounded up and put in "War Relocation Camps." Mrs. Goldfinger spent most of the war at the Manzanar camp in the desert, about 200 miles northeast of California . She passed the time teaching ballet to the children. Los Angeles
After the war, she married and had a daughter. The marriage failed, and she moved to
to take Tokyo a job as an interpreter for the American occupation forces. There she met her second husband, Arthur Goldfinger, who was in with the Air Force. They married and had a son. Tokyo
The Goldfingers returned to the
in 1969 and settled in U.S. Mr. Goldfinger taught high school history; his wife did secretarial work. Mr. Goldfinger died in 2006. Mrs. Goldfinger became deeply religious, a committed Seventh-day Adventist. She lived uneasily with her own past. She came to believe it was wrong to watch movies, and here she'd been in them -- she appeared in the 1934 James Cagney vehicle "Jimmy the Mobile, Ala. Gent." And the dancing. She asked her daughter-in-law not to tell her parents about the dancing.
Late in life, Mrs. Goldfinger was faced with still more drama: Hurricane Katrina. She and her husband, both 89, didn't have to evacuate, but they went weeks without electricity. They soon moved to
to reside with their son and to live out their years here. Mrs. Goldfinger is survived by two children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren Indianapolis
Will Higgins@ indystar.com