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Starred in the ‘I Love Lucy’ of Japan

LindBeech live air Tokyo 1950's.  Provided Obit Photo

Linda Beech, live on the air in Tokyo, 1950's. Provided Obit Photo

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Updated: March 11, 2012 8:41AM

Linda Beech was a globe-trotting correspondent for the Chicago Daily News who wound up as the madcap star of a late-1950s TV show dubbed the “I Love Lucy” of Japan.

Mrs. Beech starred in “Blue Eyes Tokyo Diary,” portraying a transplanted American in Tokyo.

The television comedy was a huge hit in Japan, where the blonde Mrs. Beech stopped traffic — and once, a near-riot — when she hit the streets.

The program, which ran 78 weeks, depicted the fish-out-of-water foibles of an American magazine writer and his wife during their assignment in Japan.

According to a 1958 article by the Associated Press, it showed “semi-slapstick scenes in which they rattle around a delicate Japanese-style house, bump their heads on too-low doorways, mistake a Japanese charcoal brazier for a flower pot and generally try to out-Japanese their Japanese friends, who in turn try to act like Americans to make them feel at home.”

A 1960 story in the Chicago Daily News describes how rioting Japanese — angry about a U.S.-Japan security agreement — paused when Mrs. Beech passed by. “The crowds cheered as she passed and rushed forward to touch her outstretched hand,” the piece said. “ ‘Linda-san, Linda-san,’ they chanted, beaming.”

In 1959, her stardom was profiled in Look Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. The Post featured an article by her then-husband, renowned Chicago Daily News foreign correspondent Keyes Beach, called “How Japanese TV Stole My Wife.’

Mr. Beech, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1951, was famed for landing on Iwo Jima in 1945 with the 28th Marine Regiment, which raised the flag on Mount Suribachi in an iconic, powerful photograph.

Mrs. Beech died last month at age 86 in Hawaii.

She was born Linda Mangelsdorf in Boston to a father who was a geneticist for the sugar-cane growers of Hawaii, said her friend, Susan McIntosh, whose website contains information about Mrs. Beech.

The family moved to Hawaii when Linda was 3. She became fluent in Japanese from a family maid who was Nisei — born in America of Japanese parents.

The Mangelsdorfs lived near Pearl Harbor during the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attacks. She went outside to hear the commotion and told McIntosh the fighter planes were so close “she could see the faces of the Japanese pilots.’ Later she helped monitor radar for the military in Honululu. One quiet evening, she stepped away from her post and saw a nearby phone. Not knowing it was top-security clearance, she called her parents and told them they wouldn’t have to go to an air raid shelter that night.

“Someone tapped her on the shoulder, and it was Admiral Nimitz,” commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, McIntosh said. He was unhappy that she’d hinted about radar observations on a phone line. “He said, ‘Young lady, do you know what you’ve just done? What you have just done could have made the war last four more years,’ ” McIntosh said.

But he let her go with that stern warning, McIntosh said. Later, when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Hawaii, “Admiral Nimitz was coming up the aisle,” McIntosh said. “Her mother said to her: ‘Linda — did Admiral Nimitz just wink at you?’ ”

After the war she traveled to Japan to work as an analyst, where she met Keyes Beech. “Keyes went by the foreign correspondents’ club to pick up his mail and saw Linda there,” McIntosh said, “and [he] said, ‘who’s the new blonde?”

When her husband reported from Korea for the Chicago Daily News, Mrs. Beech worked as a correspondent for the Honolulu Advertiser.

She also wrote articles for the Chicago Daily News, including one about her children watching TV shows in Japan involving “Buharobiru” (Buffalo Bill) and “Kit-u Kasa” (Kit Carson).

It was at Tokyo’s foreign correspondents’ club where a director spotted her ordering off the menu in flawless Japanese. That led to her being cast in “Blue Eyes Tokyo Diary.”

She was fearless, said her son, Barnaby Beech. Once, while on a tour of Afghanistan, her group approached a frozen river in a camper. The group analyzed whether the ice was strong enough to support the vehicle. Not Mrs. Beech.

“Basically,” Barnaby Beech said, “She said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ’’

The Beeches were friendly with the Marshall Field family, vacationing with them in Maine and Florida, Barnaby Beech said.

Linda and Keyes Beech later divorced. After the war, Mrs. Beech earned a doctorate in psychology, McIntosh said. She moved to the Big Island of Hawaii and worked in the mental health field. She became locally famous for living in a well-appointed treehouse in the Waipio Valley that she sometimes rented out to visitors.

Mrs. Beech is also survived by her sister, Charlotte Holmes, and two grandchildren. Her ashes were scattered on a waterfall on her property.

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