Pat Morita

Last updated
Pat Morita
Pat Morita 1971 publicity photo.jpg
Morita in 1971
Born
Noriyuki Morita

(1932-06-28)June 28, 1932 [1]
DiedNovember 24, 2005(2005-11-24) (aged 73)
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Occupation
  • Actor
  • comedian
Years active1962–2005
Spouses
  • Kathleen Yamachi
    (m. 1953;div. 1967)
  • Yukiye Kitahara
    (m. 1970;div. 1989)
  • (m. 1994)
Children3

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (June 28, 1932 – November 24, 2005) [1] was an American actor and comedian. He was known for his roles as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi on Happy Days , Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid film series, Captain Sam Pak on the sitcom M*A*S*H , Ah Chew in Sanford and Son , Mike Woo in The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo , and The Emperor of China in Mulan and Mulan II . He was the series lead actor in the television program Mr. T and Tina and in Ohara , a police-themed drama. The two shows made history for being among the few TV shows with an Asian-American series lead.

Contents

Morita was nominated for the 1985 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid , [2] which would be the first of a media franchise in which Morita was the central player.

Early life

Morita was born on June 28, 1932, in Isleton, California to Japanese immigrant parents. [3] Morita's father Tamaru, born in 1897, immigrated to California from Kumamoto Prefecture on the Japanese island of Kyushu in 1915. [4] Tamaru's wife, Momoe, born in 1903, immigrated to California in 1913. [5] Noriyuki, as Pat was named, had a brother named Hideo (Harry) who was twelve years older. [6] [7]

Morita developed spinal tuberculosis (Pott disease) at the age of two and spent the bulk of the next nine years in the Weimar Institute in Weimar, California, and later at the Shriners Hospital in San Francisco. For long periods, he was wrapped in a full-body cast, and he was told that he would never walk. [8] During his time at a sanatorium near Sacramento, Morita befriended a visiting priest who would often joke that, if Morita ever converted to Catholicism, the priest would rename him to "Patrick Aloysius Ignatius Xavier Noriyuki Morita". [9] Released from the hospital at age 11 after undergoing extensive spinal surgery and learning how to walk, Morita was transported from the hospital directly to the Gila River camp in Arizona to join his interned family. [10] After about a year and a half, he was transferred to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center. [11]

After World War II ended, Morita moved back to the Bay Area and he graduated from Armijo High School in Fairfield, California, in 1949. For a time after the war, the family operated Ariake Chop Suey, a restaurant in Sacramento, California, [12] jokingly described by Morita years later as "a Japanese family running a Chinese restaurant in a black neighborhood with a clientele of blacks, Filipinos and everybody else who didn't fit in any of the other neighborhoods". [13] Morita would entertain customers with jokes and serve as master of ceremonies for group dinners. [14] After Morita's father was killed in 1956 in a hit-and-run while walking home from an all-night movie, Morita and his mother kept the restaurant going for another three or four years. Needing a regular job to support his wife and a newly born child, Morita became a data processor in the early 1960s with the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies, graduating to a graveyard shift job at Aerojet General. In due time, he was a department head at another aerospace firm, Lockheed, handling the liaison between the engineers and the programmers who were mapping out lunar eclipses for Polaris and Titan missile projects. [13]

However, Morita suffered from occupational burnout and decided to quit his job and try show business. [13] He began working as a stand-up comedian at small clubs in Sacramento and San Francisco, and took the stage name "Pat Morita", in part due to the presence of comedians including Pat Henry and Pat Cooper, and in part due to memories of the priest he had befriended as a boy. [9] Morita struggled for many years in comedy, until fellow performer—ventriloquist Hank Garcia—told him to try his luck in Los Angeles. [13] Sally Marr, Lenny Bruce's mother, acted as his agent and manager after he moved to Los Angeles, and booked him in the San Fernando Valley and at the Horn nightclub in Santa Monica. Morita sometimes worked as the opening act for singers Vic Damone and Connie Stevens and for his mentor, [15] the comedian Redd Foxx. Morita used the nickname "The Hip Nip". [16]

Television and movie career

Arnold Takahashi with Richie (Ron Howard, left) on the TV series Happy Days in the 1975-76 season. Ron Howard and Pat Morita in Happy Days 1975 promo.jpg
Arnold Takahashi with Richie (Ron Howard, left) on the TV series Happy Days in the 1975–76 season.
Photo of Arnold's wedding from Happy Days. Arnold asks Fonzie (Henry Winkler) to be his best man at his traditional Japanese wedding ceremony. Happy Days Arnold's Wedding 1976.jpg
Photo of Arnold's wedding from Happy Days . Arnold asks Fonzie (Henry Winkler) to be his best man at his traditional Japanese wedding ceremony.

Early work

Morita's first movie roles were as a henchman in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and a similar role in The Shakiest Gun In The West (1968), starring Don Knotts. Morita had other notable recurring television roles on Sanford and Son (1974–1976) as Ah Chew, a good-natured friend of Lamont Sanford, and as South Korean Army Captain Sam Pak on the sitcom M*A*S*H (1973, 1974). [17] He was also cast as Rear Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka in the war film Midway (1976).

Happy Days

Morita had a recurring role in the mid-1970's on Happy Days as Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi (the new Japanese owner of Arnold's Drive-In) commencing in season three (1975–76). The story line was that Takahashi had purchased the Milwaukee eatery from the original Arnold but adopted the former’s first name, explaining that it was too expensive for him to purchase the additional neon sign letters required to rename it "Takahashi's". As the new owner, he moonlighted as a martial arts instructor, teaching self-defense classes at the drive-in after hours. Morita also portrayed "Arnold" as a guest star during seasons four and six before returning as a recurring character for season ten and as a main character in the final eleventh season. He also portrayed the character of Arnold on Blansky's Beauties in 1977.

The Karate Kid film series

Morita gained particular fame during the 1980's for his work as Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid films. The original preferred choice was Toshiro Mifune, who had appeared in the Akira Kurosawa films Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Hidden Fortress (1958), but the actor did not speak English. [18] Morita later auditioned for the role, but was initially rejected for the part due to his close association with stand-up comedy, and with the character Arnold from Happy Days . [18] Producer Jerry Weintraub in particular did not want Morita, as he saw him as a comedic actor. [19] Morita eventually tested five times before Weintraub himself offered him the role, [19] ultimately winning it because he grew a beard and patterned his accent after his uncle. [20] After he was cast and although he had been using the name Pat for years, Weintraub suggested that he be billed with his given name to sound "more ethnic." [21]

In the first film, in The Karate Kid (1984), he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a corresponding Golden Globe Award, for his role as the wise karate teacher Mr. Miyagi who taught bullied teenager Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) the art of Goju-ryu karate . [22] He was recognized as Noriyuki "Pat" Morita at the 57th Academy Awards ceremony. [23] He reprised the role two more times with Macchio in The Karate Kid Part II (1986) and The Karate Kid Part III (1989). In 1994, he starred in The Next Karate Kid with Hilary Swank (as bullied teenager Julie Pierce) instead of Macchio.

Television series

Morita was the star of two television series. In 1976, he starred as inventor Taro Takahashi in his own show, Mr. T and Tina , the first Asian-American sitcom on network TV. The sitcom was placed on Saturday nights by ABC and was quickly canceled after a month in the fall of 1976. He also starred in the ABC detective show Ohara (1987–1988); it was cancelled after two seasons due to poor ratings.

Later work

Morita in 2002 Pat Morita.jpg
Morita in 2002

Morita went on to play Tommy Tanaka in the Kirk Douglas-starring television movie Amos, receiving his first Primetime Emmy Award nomination and second Golden Globe Award nomination for the role.

The handprints of Pat Morita in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park Pat Morita (handprints in cement).jpg
The handprints of Pat Morita in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park

He wrote and starred in the World War II romance film Captive Hearts (1987). He hosted the educational home video series Britannica's Tales Around the World (1990–1991). He made an appearance on The Fresh Prince of Belair in the 1994 Season 5 episode “Love Hurts”. Later in his career he starred on the Nickelodeon television series The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo (1996–1998), and had a recurring role on the sitcom The Hughleys (2000). He also made a guest appearance on a 1996 episode of Married... with Children . He went on to star in the short film Talk To Taka as a sushi chef who doles out advice to anyone who will hear him. He voiced the Emperor of China in Disney's 36th animated feature Mulan (1998) and reprised the role in Mulan II (2004), a direct-to-video sequel and Kingdom Hearts II . [24]

He spoofed his role as "Mr. Miyagi" in a series of commercials for Colgate toothpaste; he portrayed the white-clad Wisdom Tooth, hailing Colgate as "The Wise Choice".

He had a cameo appearance in the 2001 Alien Ant Farm music video "Movies". His appearance in the video spoofed his role in The Karate Kid. In 2002, he made a guest appearance on an episode of Spy TV. In 2003, he had a cameo on an episode of Yes, Dear, as an unnamed karate teacher, potentially being Miyagi. He would also reprise his role (to an extent) in the stop-motion animated series Robot Chicken in 2005.

Death

Morita died of kidney failure, following a urinary tract and gallbladder infection, on November 24, 2005, at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the age of 73. Throughout his life, Morita had battled alcoholism. [25] [17] [26] He was cremated at Palm Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery in Las Vegas, Nevada. [27]

Posthumous credits

Roles created prior to his passing were included in a few posthumous works. He voiced Master Udon in the 2006 SpongeBob SquarePants Season 4 episode "Karate Island" (the episode was dedicated to his memory). He had a role in the independent feature film Only the Brave (2006), about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, where he plays the father of lead actor (and director) Lane Nishikawa (the film included two other Karate Kid stars, Yuji Okumoto and Tamlyn Tomita). [28] He also had roles in Act Your Age (2011), Royal Kill (2009), and Remove All Obstacles (2010). [29]

The fifth episode of the 2018–present series Cobra Kai (a web-streaming follow up to the original Karate Kid films) was dedicated to his memory. [30] Mr. Miyagi is frequently referenced via archival footage from the original films during Cobra Kai, having died on November 15, 2011 (6 years after Morita's death).

Filmography

YearTitleRoleNotes
1967 Thoroughly Modern Millie Asian #2
1968 The Shakiest Gun in the West Wong
1971 Green Acres Charlie LeeSeason 6, Episode 25, "Hawaiian Honeymoon"
1972 Evil Roy Slade Turhan
Columbo HouseboyEpisode: "Etude in Black"
Every Little Crook and Nanny Nonaka
Where Does It Hurt? Nishimoto
Cancel My Reservation Yamamoto
The Odd Couple Mr. WingEpisode: "Partner's Investment"
1973‘’Hawaii Five-O’’PhoebeSeason6, Episode 7, “Tricks Are Not Treats”
1973–1974 M*A*S*H Captain Sam PakSeason 2, Episode 13, "Deal Me Out".
Season 2, Episode 19, "The Chosen People".
1974 Cannon Chuck YamagataEpisode: "The Avenger"
Punch and Jody Takahasi
1974–1976 Sanford and Son Ah Chew7 episodes
1975 I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? Heshy Yamamoto
Kung Fu ChanSeason Three Episode 58 Ambush
1975–1983 Happy Days Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi26 episodes
1976 Welcome Back, Kotter Mr. Takahashi
Mr. T and Tina Mr. Takahashi
Farewell to Manzanar Zenahiro
Midway Rear Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka
1977 Blansky's Beauties Arnold13 episodes
1977–1987 Love Boat Unknown
1978 Man from Atlantis MobyEpisode: "Imp"
The Incredible Hulk FredEpisode: "Stop the Presses"
1980Hito Hata: Raise the BannerYamada
When Time Ran Out Sam
1981 Full Moon High The Silversmith
1982 Savannah Smiles Father OHara
Jimmy the Kid Maurice
Slapstick of Another Kind Chinese Ambassador Ah Fong
1983The Daltons on the LooseJolly JumperEnglish dub
1984 The Karate Kid Mr. Miyagi Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Night Patrol Rape Victim
1985 Alice in Wonderland The Horse
1986 The Karate Kid Part II Mr. Miyagi
Babes In Toyland The Toymaster
1987 Captive Hearts Fukushima
1987–1988 Ohara Lieutenant Ohara
1988 Big Bird in Japan "Bamboo Princess" Play NarratorVoice
1989 The Karate Kid Part III Mr. MiyagiNominated – Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor
The Karate Kid (animated television series)Mr. MiyagiOpening narration; 12 episodes
Collision Course Inspector Fujitsuka Natsuo
1990 Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes Yoodo Toda
1991Strawberry RoadOld Man's Brother
Harry and the Hendersons Kenji Sahuara1 episode
Do or Die Masakana "Kane" Kaneshiro
Lena's HolidayFred
Goodbye ParadiseBen
1992 Choose Your Own Adventure: The Case of the Silk King (unknown) ABC Weekend Special (TV Series)
Honeymoon in Vegas Mahi Mahi
Miracle Beach Gus
Auntie Lee's Meat Pies Chief Koal
Great Conquest: The Romance of 3 KingdomsNarratorEnglish version
Genghis KhanEmperor Wang
1993 American Ninja V Master Tetsu
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues The Chink
Living and Working in SpaceCap
Space Rangers Nazzer
1994 The Next Karate Kid Keisuke Miyagi
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Mr. YoshiEpisode: "Love Hurts"
1995 Timemaster Isaiah
The Misery BrothersJudge
Lamb Chop's Special ChanukahHimself
1996 Murder She Wrote Akira HitakiEpisode: "Kendo Killing"
Bloodsport II: The Next Kumite David Leung
Boy Meets World Wise ManEpisode: "I Was a Teenage Spy"
Spy Hard Brian, Waiter In Restaurant
Reggie's PrayerPrincipal
Bloodsport III David Leung
Earth Minus ZeroDr. Mobius Jefferson
Married... with Children Bank OwnerEpisode: "Turning Japanese"
1996–1998 The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo Michael "Mike" Woo
1997Captured AliveSam Kashawahara
Beyond Barbed WireNarratorDocumentary
1998 Family Matters Mr. TanakaEpisode: "Grill of My Dreams"
The Outer Limits Dr. Michael ChenEpisode: "In the Zone"
Diagnosis Murder Martin GaylordEpisode: “Food Fight” Season 5 Episode 23
Mulan The Emperor of ChinaVoice
1998–1999 Adventures with Kanga Roddy Various CharactersRecurring
1999 King Cobra Nick Hashimoto
Inferno Jubal Early
Los GringosThe SamuraiShort film
2000 Brother Guy At The Poker TableUncredited
Talk to TakaTakaShort film
I'll Remember April Abe Tanaka
HammerlockUn Huong Lo
Diamonds in the Rough:
The Legacy of Japanese American Baseball
Narrator NBRP Documentary
2001 Son of the Beach The KingEpisode: B.J Blue Hawaii
2001 Baywatch: Hawaii Hideki TanakaRecurring role as the father of Kekoa Tanaka
House of LukKwang Luk
The Boys of Sunset RidgeCharlie Watanabe
The Center of the World Taxi Driver
Shadow Fury Dr. Oh
Hwasango Vice Principal Jang Hak-SaDubbed version
2002The Stone manProfessor Stevens
The Biggest Fan Richard Limp
2003 High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story Mr. Leo
Yes, Dear Karate TeacherEpisode: "When Jimmy Met Greggy"
2004 Miss Cast Away HimselfCameo
Elvis Has Left the Building Man In Turban
Mulan II The Emperor of ChinaVoice
The Karate Dog Chin Li
2005 Robot Chicken HimselfVoice;
Episode: "S&M Present"
Down and Derby Ono Yakimoto
American FusionLao Dong

Posthumous credits

YearTitleRoleNotes
2006 Spymate KiroFilmed in 2003
2006 Only the Brave Seigo Takata
2006The Number One GirlMr. Sakata
2006 18 Fingers of Death! Freeman Lee
2006 SpongeBob SquarePants Master UdonVoice;
Episode: "Karate Island"
2006 Kingdom Hearts II The Emperor of ChinaVoice
2009 Royal Kill Exhibition ManagerLast acting role
2010Remove All ObstaclesThe GuruShort film
2010Interviews of Ninja's CreedIntervieweeDocumentary
2011Act Your AgeTom
2013Blunt MovieMr. Miyami
2014Rice GirlPeter Ong(final film role)
2015The Real MiyagiIntervieweeDocumentary
2018–present Cobra Kai Mr. Miyagi Archival footage
2019 [31] Pat Morita: Long Story ShortManuscript Writer & IntervieweeDocumentary
2021More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita StoryArchival footage & IntervieweeDocumentary

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>The Karate Kid</i> 1984 American martial arts drama film

The Karate Kid is a 1984 American martial arts drama film written by Robert Mark Kamen and directed by John G. Avildsen. It is the first installment in the Karate Kid franchise, and stars Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue and William Zabka. The Karate Kid follows Daniel LaRusso (Macchio), a teenager taught karate by Mr. Miyagi (Morita) to help defend himself and compete in a tournament against his bullies, one of whom is Johnny Lawrence (Zabka), the ex-boyfriend of his love interest Ali Mills (Shue).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ralph Macchio</span> American actor (born 1961)

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Mr. Miyagi is a fictional character in the original films (1984-1994) of the Karate Kid franchise. He is a karate master who mentors Daniel LaRusso and Julie Pierce. Although he died in 2011, Miyagi is frequently referenced in the series Cobra Kai (2018–present), which is itself thematically structured via The Miyagi-Verse.

<i>The Karate Kid Part II</i> 1986 American martial arts romantic drama film

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The Karate Kid Part III is a 1989 American martial arts drama film, the third entry in the Karate Kid franchise and a sequel to The Karate Kid Part II (1986). It stars Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Robyn Lively, and Thomas Ian Griffith in his film debut. As was the case with the first two films in the series, it was directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen, with stunts choreographed by Pat E. Johnson and music composed by Bill Conti. In the film, the returning John Kreese, with the help of his best friend Terry Silver, attempts to gain revenge on Daniel and Mr. Miyagi which involves hiring a ruthless martial artist and harming their relationship.

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Mr. T and Tina is an American sitcom and a spin-off of Welcome Back, Kotter starring Pat Morita and Susan Blanchard that aired for five episodes on ABC from September 25 to October 30, 1976. It is one of the first television shows to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast. The series was a ratings flop and was cancelled after only five aired episodes.

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