So Long! Oo-Long (How Long You Gonna Be Gone?)

Music by Harry Ruby, lyrics by Bert Kalmar, 1920

What representations of the United States and Japan were introduced in the opera Madama Butterfly? How is this portrayal of the Japanese present in "So Long! Oo-Long"?

What stereotypes are present in "So Long! Oo-Long"? Do you find anything about the portrayal of Ming Toy realistic?

Do you think this is a serious love song, merely a vehicle for playing with stereotypes and exotic words such as "oo-long," or some combination of both?

Compare and contrast this song with "The Japanese Sandman" and "Chinatown, My Chinatown." How were the Japanese and Chinese portrayed differently in popular culture in these years?

"So Long! Oo-Long (How Long You Gonna Be Gone?)" performed by Frank Crumit on Columbia Records, © 1920. Available on YouTube. Another version by Frank Hellerman is available via Spotify.

Frank Crumit (1889–1943) was a popular vaudevillian singer and radio entertainer who recorded several popular, primarily comical, songs in the 1920s and 30s.

View the lyrics for "So Long Oo-Long."

View the published score.

After enjoying separate careers in vaudeville, Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar became a popular songwriting team in 1918 following an injury that ended Kalmar's career as a dancer. They composed for the Marx Brothers, Eddie Cantor, and others. Perhaps their best-known hits today are "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" and "Three Little Words."

Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, Tin Pan Alley issued a number of songs about separated lovers, often a Westerner and an Asian, following the model of Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly. The opera, which premiered in Italy in 1904 and in the United States two years later, has remained one of the most popular works of the musical stage since it was introduced. Although the opera was critical of the United States and sympathetic toward the Japanese, it uses a broad brush to portray the two nations. Represented by the character Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, the United States is shown as strong, masculine, and assertive, while the Japanese, represented by Cio-Cio-San, are weak, feminine, and passive. This general approach to representing the two nations was often emulated in American popular culture.

Poster for the 1922 film adaptation of East is West
Poster for the 1922 film adaptation of East is West.

Ming Toy, the protagonist in "So Long! Oo-Long," was a character first introduced in East is West (1919), a play concerning an American man and his Chinese lover. The popularity of the play inspired songs, revues, and films that featured the Ming Toy character. One popular song, "So Long, Sing Song" (1919), depicts the American lover saying "so long" as he departs. "So Long! Oo-Long" was at least partially conceived as a sequel to this song, for it features the female lover's response to her departing beau. Unusually, however, "So Long! Oo-Long" recasts Ming Toy as Japanese and her lover as a Japanese man named Oo-Long. In the song, Ming Toy waits in "Naki Saki" (presumably referring to Nagasaki) for Oo-Long's return.

The music of "So Long! Oo-Long" features a stereotypical Asian rhythm (short–short–short– short–long–long) that is present in many popular songs, such as "Ming Toy" and "So Long, Sing Song." It is heard several times throughout "So Long! Oo-Long," including a prominent iteration in the introduction just prior to the entrance of the voice, and another in the melody and accompaniment on the words "happy little Japanee."