Early life and family
Goro Suzuki – stage name Jack Soo – was born on 28 October 1917. George Suzuki and Haruko Shiozawaa Suzuki were looking forward to the birth of their first child, hoping for a boy, and although living in Oakland, California, wanted their first child to be born in Japan. While travelling across the Pacific Ocean from the USA to Japan, Soo was born on the ship.
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His father George Suzuki was a tailor, and his mother Haruko Shiozawaa Suzuki was a dressmaker.
For his schooling, Soo attended the neighbourhood Oakland Technical High School. He subsequently graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a degree in English.
After finishing school Soo worked as a farm labourer. At a later stage, he bought and sold melons in Turlock, but Soo’s lifelong dream was to become an entertainer. Strangely it was World War II that provided him with a captive audience, as all Japanese Americans were interned in Utah.
His singing, dancing and acting uplifted the spirits of the people who were encamped, and he was admired by all. After the war, Soo worked at a butchery, a surprising choice for an entertainer, but it was difficult to get work. It was his passion for entertaining that found him as a comedian in nightclubs, trying to gain exposure and hoping to be noticed for bigger, better roles. Danny Arnold was also on the nightclub trail, and they became friends.
Suzuki, who took on the stage name of “Jack Soo” after World War II, was part of an all Chinese show that was held in the “Andy Wong’s Sky Room” in San Francisco.
Due to his experiences during the war, he wouldn’t take work where Asian Americans were portrayed in an undignified or humiliating manner, and he spoke out about negative ethnic judgements. In 1958 his big break came in the role of “Frankie Wing” the master of ceremonies in the ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’ Broadway musical hit “Flower Drum Song”.
During Soo’s film career between the 1960s and 1970’s, he was cast in many films. His most famous was “Flower Drum Song” – he assumed the name “Sammy Wong” for the film version of the Broadway musical.
Some of the other films that he acted in include “Who’s been Sleeping in my Bed” (1963), “The Oscar” (1966), “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (1967), and “The Green Berets” (1968).
Soo made his TV debut when he was by chosen for the ABC television sitcom – the “Barney Miller” series. This happened when Danny Arnold who he met during his nightclub stint became the writer and producer of the show. When deciding on who to cast as Detective Sergeant Nick Yemana, Danny decided that Soo was perfect for the character, as he had a relaxed demeanour with an added sense of humor.
Soo starred in 101 episodes – his character Detective Nick Yemana was described as the dour faced detective who made dreadful coffee. In real life, when Soo was admitted for surgery to remove a cancerous growth, his screen character was admitted for an appendectomy. Unfortunately, the cancer was in the final stages and Soo passed away a while later.
During May 1979 to honor Soo’s life, Hal Linden, Abe Vigoda and other members of the cast of the hard-hitting twelfth Precinct of the New York Police Department came together representing the “Barney Miller” series.
They stepped in to highlight some of the shows most magical moments, and Soo’s fans and the followers were treated to a nostalgic view that included a re-run of some of the highlights of Soo’s great acting career. The cherry on the top was Soo being wheeled in for surgery, and his last words were ‘it must have been the coffee’.
Other television and guest appearances
As Soo’s successful career spanned many years, he acted in and appeared as a guest on many TV shows. There are too many to mention, but among the most noteworthy were “Valentine’s Day” (1964), “The Monk” (1969), “Hawaii Five-O” (1970) and “M*A*S*H” between 1972 and ‘75.
In 1945 Soo married Jan Zdelar, a former model who came from Croatia. The couple had three children named were Richard, James and Jayne Suzuki.
Soo was 5ft 11ins (1.8m) tall and weighed around 148lbs (67kgs). He had dark brown eyes and black hair.
Soo developed cancer of the oesophagus after many years of smoking. He was hospitalised to undergo surgery to remove a tumor, but unfortunately the cancer was too widespread, and at the age of 61, he died on 1 January 1971 in Los Angeles, California, US. During his career, Soo’s versatility saw him moving effortlessly between stage, films and TV.
He died at the highest point of his success during the fifth season of the Barney Miller series.