Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Memoriam: Jack Soo

Having only seen Jack Soo in the classic 70s sitcom Barney Miller, it came as something of a shock to watch him break out singing in the 1961 film Flower Drum Song! Yet Jack Soo's antics in the 12th Precinct were not merely the last he would record for posterity, they came at the end of a long and fruitful career on Broadway, in Hollywood, and over as many airwaves as nightclub stages.

PhotobucketThat most of Jack Soo's career accolades came in the second half of his life is only remarkable when considering how poorly the first half of his life went; born on this day in 1917, the Oakland native found himself at Utah's Topaz War Relocation Center for the duration of America's involvement in World War II. Following his release his first thought was... Entertain. Entertain the very same people who'd enthusiastically oppressed his community for no other reason than their appearance; then again, it's no surprise when considering that while he was incarcerated, he spent a goodly amount of time entertaining his fellow inmates as one of the most popular detainees, and likely responsible for a good measure of their morale through difficult times into the bargain.

He's a better man than me, that Jack Soo.

Following a decade on the nightclub circuit, Soo's big break came when he was cast in the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song; his next big break came when he was cast (through the intercession of his longtime pal, producer Danny Arnold) as Sgt. Nick Yemana in Barney Miller at the start of the second season in 1975. For the next three seasons, until he succumbed to esophageal cancer in January 1979, Jack Soo could be counted on to ladle out drollities and reap the rewards of entertainment in what would become a stereotype-busting role.
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