Jack Soo (October 28, 1917 – January 11, 1979) was a Japanese American character actor. He is best known for his role as Detective Nick Yemana on the ABC television sitcom series Barney Miller. Jack appeared twice on M*A*S*H, first as Charlie Lee, a black market trader, in the Season 1 episode "To Market, to Market" and then as Quoc, a Korean merchant, in the Season 3 episode "Payday"

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early life[edit | edit source]

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]

Career[edit | edit source]

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.

In 1964, Jack 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.[2][5]

Soo was cast in his most memorable role in 1975 on the ABC-TV sitcom series 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.[6]

Death[edit | edit source]

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, a special retrospective episode was made, 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 to his Barney Miller co-star Hal Linden before his death were: "It must have been the coffee."

Filmography[edit | edit source]

Year Film Role Other notes
1961 Flower Drum Song Samuel Adams 'Sammy' Fong
1963 Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? Yoshimi Hiroti
1966 The Oscar Sam
1967 Wikipedia:Thoroughly Modern Millie Asian #1
1968 The Green Berets Col. Cai
1978 Return from Witch Mountain Mr. Yokomoto
Year Title Role Notes
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 Shw 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 / Quoc Episode: To Market, To Market
Episode: Payday
1973 She Lives! Dr. Osikawa ABC Television movie
1974 Ironside Joe Lee
Joe Lee
Episode: Amy Prentiss (1)
Episode: Amy Prentiss (2)
Episode: The Over-the-Hill Blues
1974, 1975 Police Story Tai'ske
Bruce Chan
Bruce Chan
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 Noodles[7]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Jack Soo
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jeff Adachi (2009). The Jack Soo Story. You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story. Retrieved on August 5, 2010.
  3. Jack Soo - Yahoo! TV
  4. C.Y. Lee, author of The Flower Drum Song, in the special features of the Flower Drum Song DVD, Universal Pictures, 2006.
  5. Lom, Michael. "More Stories from Jeff Adachi". Retrieved from Asiapacificarts.usc.edu May 24, 2011.
  6. PBS: You Don't Know Jack Soo. Retrieved on 22 August 2011.
  7. ctva.biz Busting Loose

External links[edit | edit source]

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