Jack Soo


Actor

About

Also Known As
Goro Suzuki
Birth Place
Oakland, California, USA
Born
October 28, 1917
Died
January 11, 1979
Cause of Death
Throat Cancer

Biography

A genial, sleepy-eyed character player especially adept at the relaxed wisecrack, Soo is best remembered for his hilarious Detective Sgt. Nick Yemana on one of the best sitcoms of the 1970s, "Barney Miller." His career, though, began three decades earlier, and the actor gradually managed to develop roles which were more than stock ethnic types, whose humor was based on the situations of ...

Notes

"I've quit this business a hundred times, and as soon as I do, the phone rings. Maybe it's because I am, seriously, one of a kind in this industry. That's not braggadocio; there's no one of my race who's doing what I do--making people laugh without using either dirty or heavily ethnic routines." --Jack Soo, during the run of "Barney Miller"

Biography

A genial, sleepy-eyed character player especially adept at the relaxed wisecrack, Soo is best remembered for his hilarious Detective Sgt. Nick Yemana on one of the best sitcoms of the 1970s, "Barney Miller." His career, though, began three decades earlier, and the actor gradually managed to develop roles which were more than stock ethnic types, whose humor was based on the situations of life rather than the limitations of caricature.

Born in California, Soo spent several years of his young adulthood during WWII in an internment camp in Utah along with many other US citizens of Japanese descent. After the war he did standup comedy on a nightclub circuit in the Midwest and befriended another performer, Danny Arnold, who would eventually produce "Barney Miller." Soo's breakthrough came when he played Sammy Fong, one of the four romantic leads and a kind of "Chinese Nathan Detroit" as "Variety" put it, in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical "Flower Drum Song" (1958). In 1961 Soo made his film debut recreating the role, and over the next decade acted in several other films. He played a colonel in John Wayne's controversial pro-Vietnam War "The Green Berets" (1968) and threw Mary Tyler Moore into a clothes hamper as Bea Lillie's cartoonish henchman in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967).

Already tending to play ambling ne'er-do-wells, Soo first ventured into TV series work as the poker-playing ex-Army buddy turned con-artist valet to debonair publishing executive Valentine Farrow (Anthony Franciosa) on the sitcom "Valentine's Day" (ABC, 1964-65). Soo's career had its dry spells, during which he made several TV-movies and played a recurring role on "The Jimmy Stewart Show" (NBC, 1971-72), but "Barney Miller" (ABC), beginning in 1975, insured his niche in popular memory four years before his death from cancer. Forever making bad coffee, griping to his bookie on the phone and moseying about offering sardonic Greek chorus-style commentary on the suspects hauled into the precinct, Sgt. Yemana finally offered full scope to Soo's quietly engaging but nonetheless formidable comic prowess.

Life Events

1958

Career breakthrough, playing in "Flower Drum Song" on Broadway

1961

Feature film debut, "Flower Drum Song", recreating his stage role of Sammy Fong

1964

Played Rockwell "Rocky" Sin on the ABC comedy series, "Valentine's Day"

1968

Last film for a decade, "The Green Berets"

1969

First TV-movie, "The Monk"

1978

Returned to features for his last film credit, "Return from Witch Mountain"

1979

Retrospective episode of "Barney Miller", done as a tribute to Soo and which included many of his character Nick Yemana's finest moments, aired on May 17, several months after the actor's death

Bibliography

Notes

"I've quit this business a hundred times, and as soon as I do, the phone rings. Maybe it's because I am, seriously, one of a kind in this industry. That's not braggadocio; there's no one of my race who's doing what I do--making people laugh without using either dirty or heavily ethnic routines." --Jack Soo, during the run of "Barney Miller"