Jack Soo


Name Jack Soo
Born October 28 1917
Died January 11 1979
Birth Location Japan
Generational Identifier

Nisei

More information...


Actor and singer best known for role on hit 1970s TV show Barney Miller. Jack Soo was born as Goro Suzuki and grew up in Oakland, California, the son of a tailor father and dressmaker mother. He attended Oakland Technical High School, and though he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in English, he sought a career in show business, performing in San Francisco night clubs before the war.

With his family, he was sent to Tanforan Assembly Center and Topaz and was among the early "volunteers" at Topaz who helped to prepare the camp for the arrival of the rest of the inmate population. He was well-known at Topaz as a singer and entertainer, performing at many events in the camp. He left Topaz in June of 1943, resettling in Cleveland, where he worked as a butcher, while continuing to pursue show business.[1] Sometime after the war, he began using the stage name "Jack Soo," in part to escape the prevalent anti-Japanese attitudes of the time.

His first big break was being signed to become the straight man for comic Joey Bishop in 1949. He later returned to the West Coast, where he worked at the Forbidden City nightclub in San Francisco, which featured an all Asian American cast. It was there that he was spotted by Gene Kelly, who hired him for a role in Rogers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song, the groundbreaking Asian American musical, on Broadway. Starting out playing Frankie Wing, a nightclub announcer, he eventually graduated to the second male lead, nightclub owner Sammy Fong, a role he reprised in the movie version, released in 1961. Moving to Hollywood, he worked steadily in movies and television over the next decade, perhaps most notably as the second billed star in the short-lived ABC situation comedy Valentine's Day in 1964–65.

In 1975, he landed the role of wise cracking Japanese American detective Nick Yemana in the ensemble situation comedy Barney Miller. He had become friends with Barney Miller's producer Danny Arnold when both were struggling comics in Cleveland in the late 1940s. The role made Soo a well-known TV star. He died of cancer on January 11, 1979, during the show's fifth season.

Jack Soo is the subject of the 2009 documentary, You Don't Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story, written, produced and directed by Jeff Adachi.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Jack Soo IMDB page, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0814530/.

"You Don't Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story" website, http://www.jacksoo.com/.

Footnotes

  1. Central Utah Final Accountability Report, Utah State University Digital Collections, p. 171, retrieved on July 17, 2013 at http://digital.lib.usu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/Topaz/id/7913/rec/1; Pacific Citizen, September 17, 1942, p. 6, retrieved on July 17, 2013 at http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19420917_006.jpg. Mentions of Soo/Suzuki's performances in camp appear frequently in the camp newspapers The Tanforan Totalizer and The Topaz Times; see for instance, the Totalizer, May 23, 1942, p. 1 or the Times, Nov. 17, 1942, p. 2 or Dec. 31, 1942, p. 2, all available in the Densho archives. The April 15, 1943 Pacific Citizen, p. 8, lists Soo/Suzuki as one of the volunteers from Topaz for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team; see http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19430415_008.jpg. He did not end up joining the army, perhaps because of his being born in Japan and thus not being a U.S. citizen.