Jack Soo in 1975.
October 28, 1917
Pacific Ocean (see below) (raised in Oakland, California, U.S.)
|Died||January 11, 1979
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Jack Soo was born Goro Suzuki on a ship traveling from Japan to the United States in 1917. He lived in Oakland, California, and was caught up in the Japanese American internment during World War II and sent to Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah.1 Fellow internees recalled him as a "camp favorite" entertainer, singing at dances and numerous events.2
Soo's career as an entertainer began in earnest at the end of the war, first as a stand-up nightclub performer primarily in the Midwestern United States. During his years playing the nightclub circuit, he met and became friends with future Barney Miller producer Danny Arnold, who was also a performer at the time.3
Soo finally earned his big break in 1958 when he was cast in the Broadway musical hit Flower Drum Song in the role of the show M.C. and comedian Frankie Wing ("Gliding through my memoree"). He was working in San Francisco in the Forbidden City nightclub, which was portrayed in the musical and movie. He was offered the chance to go to Broadway on the condition that he change his name to something Chinese, as Flower Drum Song is set in San Francisco's Chinatown. At that time he adopted the surname that he had used to leave the internment camp at Topaz, "Soo."4 Jack switched to the Sammy Fong role (Chinatown's 'Nathan Detroit") during the run and played the role in 1961, when the film version of the musical was made.
Jack was first broadcast across America by Jack Benny on November 27, 1962 as the street-wise talent agent in "Jack Meets Japanese Agent".5 In 1964, Soo played an important weekly supporting role as a poker-playing con artist in Valentine's Day, a one-season comedy television series starring Tony Franciosa. During the next decade, he would appear in films such The Green Berets as an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Colonel and the 1967 musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, as well as making guest appearances on TV shows such as Hawaii Five-O, The Odd Couple, and two episodes of M*A*S*H.
Soo joined Motown Records in 1965 as one of their first non-African American artists. During his time there, he recorded a slow ballad version of "For Once in My Life" as the first male singer to do so. The record was never released and was shelved in the Motown archives. The song was soon after made famous by Stevie Wonder.26
Soo was cast in his most memorable role in 1975 on the ABC sitcom Barney Miller as the laid-back, but very wry, Detective Nick Yemana, who was responsible for making the dreadful coffee the entire precinct had the misfortune to drink every day.
Soo refused to play roles that were demeaning to Asian Americans and often spoke out against negative ethnic portrayals.7
Soo was diagnosed with esophageal cancer during Barney Miller's fifth season (1978–79). The cancer spread quickly, and Soo died on January 11, 1979 at age 61. His last appearance on the show was in the episode entitled "The Vandal," which aired on November 9, 1978.
Because his character (and Soo himself) was so beloved, producers created a special retrospective episode showing clips of his best moments, which aired at the end of the season. The most poignant moment of the show came at the end, when the cast members raised their coffee cups in a final farewell toast to the late actor.
Soo's last words (and the last words in the episode "The Vandal") came after being given a truly thankless chore by Captain Miller (which Nick always seemed to be the beneficiary of in the series), Barney senses Nick's desire to complain and invites him to do so. On the wall, in the background during the entire episode is a spray-painted obsenity aimed at Captain Miller courtesy of the vandal (and which everyone feels the need to comment on during the episode). Nick, having been given the open invitation by Barney for a retort, glances at the obscenity on the wall and then simply says to Barney: "I have nothing to add".8
|1961||Flower Drum Song||Samuel Adams 'Sammy' Fong|
|1963||Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?||Yoshimi Hiroti|
|1967||Thoroughly Modern Millie||Asian #1|
|1968||The Green Berets||Col. Cai|
|1978||Return from Witch Mountain||Mr. Yokomoto|
|1962||The Jack Benny Program||Himself||Episode: Jack Meets a Japanese Agent|
|1964||Valentine's Day||Rockwell Sin|
|1965||The Wackiest Ship in the Army||Shiru||Episode: Shakedown|
|1966||Summer Fun||Sidney||Episode: Pirates of Flounder Bay|
|1968, 1971||Julia||Tree Man
Judge Warren wazaku
|Episode: I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas
Episode: Courting Time
|1969||The Monk||Hip Guy||ABC TV-Movie|
|1970||Hawaii Five-O||Sam Quong||Episode: The One with the Gun|
|1971||The Name of the Game||Sergeant George Kwan||Episode: The Man Who Killed a Ghost|
|The Jimmy Stewart Show||Woodrow Yamada||Episode: Pro Bono Publico
Episode: Cockadoodle Don't
|1972||The Odd Couple||Chuk Mai Chin||Episode: Oscar's Promotion|
|1972, 1975||M*A*S*H||Charlie Lee
|Episode: To Market, To Market
|1973||She Lives!||Dr. Osikawa||ABC TV-Movie|
|Episode: Amy Prentiss (1)
Episode: Amy Prentiss (2)
Episode: The Over-the-Hill Blues
|1974, 1975||Police Story||Tai'ske
|Episode: The Hunters
Episode: Year of the Dragon (1)
Episode: Year of the Dragon (2)
|1975||Police Woman||Red Star||Episode: The Bloody Nose|
|1975–1979||Barney Miller||Detective Sergeant Nick Yemana|
|1977||Busting Loose||Hoofat||Episode: House of Noodles9|
- Jack Soo
- Adachi, Jeff (2009). "The Jack Soo Story". You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
- Jack Soo - Yahoo! TV
- C.Y. Lee, author of The Flower Drum Song, in the special features of the Flower Drum Song DVD, Universal Pictures, 2006.
- Lom, Michael. "More Stories from Jeff Adachi". Retrieved from Asiapacificarts.usc.edu May 24, 2011.
- "PBS: You Don't Know Jack Soo". Retrieved 22 August 2011.
- "The Vandal" (Shout Factory's Barney Miller-The Complete Series)
- ctva.biz Busting Loose
- SFIAAFF 2009: YOU DON’T KNOW JACK (THE JACK SOO STORY) — Interview WithJeff Adachi
- You Don't Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story (2009)
- Jack Soo at the Internet Movie Database
- Jack Soo at Find a Grave
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