Japanese American

Jack Soo

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“I must have been the coffee.” were Jack Soo’s last words to Hal Linden as he was wheeled into intensive care.

A genial, laid back, slumber-eyed character player especially adept at the relaxed wisecrack or dry comment, Japanese-American actor Jack Soo was born in Oakland, California, in 1917, his real name being Goro Suzuki. In the post-WWII years, he entertained as a stand-up performer in nightclubs and had made a reasonable dent on the Midwest circuit by the time he earned his big break playing the club MC/comedian in the Rodgers and Hammerstein hit Broadway musical “Flower Drum Song” in 1958. Three years later, Soo was upgraded to the Sammy Wong character in the film version and decided to settle in Hollywood. Over the next decade, despite a typical lack of roles for Asian-Americans, he managed to find a niche for his hip, deadpan demeanor on TV and a few other films including Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963), the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), and John Wayne’s controversial pro-Vietnam War film The Green Berets (1968). Soo is probably best remembered for his smart-aleck Detective Sgt. Nick Yemana on Barney Miller (1975), one of the more popular sitcoms of the 1970s alongside Hal Linden and Abe Vigoda. Sadly, he died of cancer during the show’s fifth season in 1979 at the height of his popularity.

The cast of Barney Miller (1975) stepped out of character on a retrospective episode that aired in May of 1979 to offer a tribute to Jack, who had died a few months earlier during the show’s fifth season. The episode recalled some of his best moments on the show.
In the late 1940s, he first met Barney Miller (1975) creator Danny Arnold while sharing the nightclub stages in the mid-West early in their show business careers.
Was interned in a camp for Japanese-Americans in Utah during WWII.
His last words to Hal Linden as he was being wheeled into the operating room before his death were “It must have been the coffee.” This was a reference to the running gag of his character Nick Yemana from Barney Miller (1975) having the reputation for making horrible coffee.
Cast as the show M.C. and comedian Frankie Wing (“Gliding through my memoree”) in the 1958 Broadway cast of “Flower Drum Song”, and Larry Blyden was Sammie Fong. Jack moved up to the Sammie Fong role for the 1961 film.
According to his daughter, speaking on camera in the 2009 documentary You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story (2009), his parents wanted him to be born in Japan. But he was actually born on board the ship en route to Japan from Oakland.
In the late 1940s he had a nightclub comedy act with Joey Bishop.
Best Known for making bad coffee for TV Dramedy Sitcom “Barney MIller(1975-1982).”.
His children are Richard Suzuki, James Suzuki, and Jayne Suzuki by his wife Jan Zdelar, a Croatian American former model.
Pat Morita
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