Jack Soo

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Jack Soo
Jack Soo 1975.jpg
Jack Soo in 1975.
Goro Suzuki

(1917-10-28)October 28, 1917
Pacific Ocean (see below) raised in Oakland, California,
United States
DiedJanuary 11, 1979(1979-01-11) (aged 61)
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
Years active19581979
Spouse(s)Jan Zdelar [1]

Jack Soo (October 28, 1917 – January 11, 1979) was a Japanese American actor. He was best known for his role as Detective Nick Yemana on the television sitcom Barney Miller .

Actor person who acts in a dramatic or comic production and works in film, television, theatre, or radio

An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance. The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern media such as film, radio, and television. The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally "one who answers". The actor's interpretation of their role—the art of acting—pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. Interpretation occurs even when the actor is "playing themselves", as in some forms of experimental performance art.

A sitcom, clipping for situational comedy, is a genre of comedy centered on a fixed set of characters who carry over from episode to episode. Sitcoms can be contrasted with sketch comedy, where a troupe may use new characters in each sketch, and stand-up comedy, where a comedian tells jokes and stories to an audience. Sitcoms originated in radio, but today are found mostly on television as one of its dominant narrative forms. This form can also include mockumentaries.

<i>Barney Miller</i> American situation comedy television series

Barney Miller is an American sitcom set in a New York City Police Department police station on East 6th St in Greenwich Village. The series was broadcast from January 23, 1975, to May 20, 1982, on ABC. It was created by Danny Arnold and Theodore J. Flicker. Noam Pitlik directed the majority of the episodes.


Early life

Soo was born Goro Suzuki on a ship traveling from Japan to the United States in 1917. He lived in Oakland, California, until ordered into internment along with other Japanese Americans during World War II. He was sent to the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah [2] and fellow internees recalled him as a "camp favorite", an entertainer singing at dances and numerous events. [3]

Japan Constitutional monarchy in East Asia

Japan is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies off the eastern coast of the Asian continent and stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Oakland, California City in California, United States

Oakland is the largest city and the county seat of Alameda County, California, United States. A major West Coast port city, Oakland is the largest city in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, the third largest city overall in the San Francisco Bay Area, the eighth most populated city in California, and the 45th largest city in the United States. With a population of 425,195 as of 2017, it serves as a trade center for the San Francisco Bay Area; its Port of Oakland is the busiest port in the San Francisco Bay, the entirety of Northern California, and the fifth busiest in the United States of America. An act to incorporate the city was passed on May 4, 1852, and incorporation was later approved on March 25, 1854, which officially made Oakland a city. Oakland is a charter city.

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. He changed his name to Soo after working at a Chinese night club. [1]

Nightclub act

A nightclub act is a production, usually of nightclub music or comedy, designed for performance at a nightclub, a type of drinking establishment, by a nightclub performer such as a nightclub singer or nightclub dancer, whose performance may also be referred to as a nightclub act. A scheduled performance, such as a wedding gig, is a club date.

Midwestern United States region that includes parts of Canada and the United States

The Midwestern United States, also referred to as the American Midwest, Middle West, or simply the Midwest, is one of four census regions of the United States Census Bureau. It occupies the northern central part of the United States. It was officially named the North Central Region by the Census Bureau until 1984. It is located between the Northeastern United States and the Western United States, with Canada to its north and the Southern United States to its south.

Chinese people ethnic group

Chinese people are the various individuals or ethnic groups associated with China, usually through ancestry, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship or other affiliation. Han Chinese, the largest ethnic group in China, at about 92% of the population, are often referred to as "Chinese" or "ethnic Chinese" in English, however there are dozens of other related and unrelated ethnic groups in China.

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. [4]

Danny Arnold Producer, screenwriter, director, actor

Danny Arnold was an American producer, writer, comedian, actor and director known for producing Barney Miller, That Girl and Bewitched.


Jack Soo and Nancy Kwan in Flower Drum Song . Nancy Kwan and Jack Soo in Flower Drum Song 2.jpg
Jack Soo and Nancy Kwan in Flower Drum Song .

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 at the Forbidden City, a Chinese nightclub and cabaret, which was portrayed in the musical and movie.[ citation needed ]

Broadway theatre class of professional theater presented in New York City, New York, USA

Broadway theatre, commonly known as Broadway, refers to the theatrical performances presented in the 41 professional theatres, each with 500 or more seats located in the Theater District and Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Along with London's West End theatre, Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.

<i>Flower Drum Song</i> eighth musical by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Flower Drum Song was the eighth musical by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It is based on the 1957 novel, The Flower Drum Song, by Chinese-American author C. Y. Lee. It premiered on Broadway in 1958 and was then performed in the West End and on tour. It was adapted for a 1961 musical film.

San Francisco Consolidated city-county in California, United States

San Francisco, officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California. San Francisco is the 13th-most populous city in the United States, and the fourth-most populous in California, with 884,363 residents as of 2017. It covers an area of about 46.89 square miles (121.4 km2), mostly at the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area, making it the second-most densely populated large US city, and the fifth-most densely populated U.S. county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs. San Francisco is also part of the fifth-most populous primary statistical area in the United States, the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area.

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". [5] Soo switched to the Sammy Fong role [6] (Chinatown's "Nathan Detroit") during the run and played the role when the film version (1961) of the musical was made.

Chinatown ethnic enclave of expatriate Chinese people

A Chinatown is an ethnic enclave of Chinese people located outside mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, most often in an urban setting. Areas known as "Chinatown" exist throughout the world, including Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Zealandia.

<i>Flower Drum Song</i> (film) 1961 film by Henry Koster

Flower Drum Song is a 1961 film adaptation of the 1958 Broadway musical Flower Drum Song, written by the composer Richard Rodgers and the lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The film and stage play were based on the 1957 novel of the same name by the Chinese American author Chin Yang Lee. It was nominated for five Academy Awards.

Soo was first broadcast across America by Jack Benny on November 27, 1962, as the street-wise talent agent in "Jack Meets Japanese Agent". [7]

In 1964, Soo played a weekly supporting role as Rocky Sin, a poker-playing con artist in Valentine's Day , a comedy television series starring Anthony Franciosa that lasted for one season. [8] During the next decade, he would appear in films such The Green Berets as a colonel of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam 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. [3] [9]

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 that, in one of the series' running jokes, his fellow detectives had to drink every day.

Soo refused to play roles that were demeaning to Asian Americans and often spoke out against negative ethnic portrayals. [10]

Personal life

Soo was married to Jan Zdelar, a model. The couple had three children and two grandchildren. [1]


Jack Soo (far right) with the Barney Miller cast. Barney Miller cast 1977.jpg
Jack Soo (far right) with the Barney Miller cast.

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, at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center (now the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center). [11] His last appearance on the show was in the episode entitled "The Vandal," which aired on November 9, 1978.[ citation needed ]

On the show there was a running joke that Soo's character made bad coffee. Therefore, his last known words were when he was being wheeled into an operating room and he joked to Hal Linden, referring to his cancer - 'it must have been the coffee'.

A retrospective episode showing clips of Soo aired at the end of the season, which concluded with the cast members raising their coffee cups in a final farewell toast to him.


YearTitleRoleOther notes
1961 Flower Drum Song Samuel Adams 'Sammy' Fong
1963 Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? Yoshimi Hiroti
1966 The Oscar Sam
1967 Thoroughly Modern Millie Asian No. 1
1968 The Green Berets Col. Cai
1978 Return from Witch Mountain Mr. Yokomoto
1962 The Jack Benny Program HimselfEpisode: Jack Meets a Japanese Agent
1964 Valentine's Day Rockwell 'Rocky' SinMain cast (34 episodes)
1965 The Wackiest Ship in the Army ShiruEpisode: Shakedown
1966 Summer Fun SidneyEpisode: 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 KwanEpisode: The Man Who Killed a Ghost
The Jimmy Stewart Show Woodrow YamadaEpisode: 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
Episode: Payday
1973 She Lives! Dr. Osikawa ABC TV-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 StarEpisode: The Bloody Nose
1975–1979 Barney Miller Detective Sergeant Nick YemanaMain cast (101 episodes), (final appearance)
1977 Busting Loose HoofatEpisode: House of Noodles [12]

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  1. 1 2 3 "Jack Soo, Acted Detective in TV Series". The Washington Post . Washington, D.C.: Fred Ryan. January 12, 1979. p. C6. Retrieved April 5, 2016. (Registration required (help)).
  2. "Jack Soo". nndb.com. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  3. 1 2 Adachi, Jeff (2009). "The Jack Soo Story". You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
  4. "Yahoo TV". yahoo.com. Retrieved 19 Sep 2015.
  5. C. Y. Lee, author of The Flower Drum Song , in the special features of the Flower Drum Song DVD, Universal Pictures, 2006.
  6. Coe, Richard L. (December 23, 1961). "Lilting Glow Brightens Tree". The Washington Post . Washington, D.C.: Fred Ryan. p. B6. (Registration required (help)).
  7. "'The Jack Benny Program' Jack Meets Japanese Agent (TV Episode 1962)". imdb.com. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  8. "Year of Snake? Ah So! Orientals Mark Season's TV". Desert Sun. UPI. 7 January 1965. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  9. Lom, Michael (November 2, 2011). "'More Stories from Jeff Adachi' on Asian Pacific Arts". asiapacificarts.usc.edu. Retrieved May 24, 2011.
  10. "PBS: You Don't Know Jack Soo". pbs.org. Public Broadcasting Service. Archived from the original on July 2, 2013. Retrieved April 5, 2016 via web.archive.org.
  11. "Jack Soo, 63, Actor in 'Barney Miller'. He Was Sgt. Yemana in Television Series Appeared in Movies". The New York Times . United Press International. p. 19. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  12. "CTVA US Comedy – "Busting Loose" (Paramount/CBS)(1977) Adam Arkin". ctva.biz. Retrieved September 19, 2015.