Thursday, February 20, 2014

Jack Soo’s Last Laugh

Jack Soo was the professional name of the child of a Japanese immigrant family named Suzuki (Suzuki happens to be the Japanese name for Smith).  Achieving considerable success as a singer and actor, he played John Wayne’s South Vietnamese counterpart in that all time camp flick “The Green Berets.”  Soo’s most memorable line in that film was, “We build many camps, clobber many VC.  Affirmative?” 

However, Soo’s most famous role was that of Detective Nick Yemana in the mid-70s comedy “Barney Miller.”  The show featured an absolutely superlative ensemble cast with Detective Yemana frequently making brilliant sardonic comments.  I note in passing that some of his humor was racial without being racist.  Example, Yemana once commented, “I don’t think the Chief likes Japanese cops.  They mess up the looks of the St. Patrick’s day parade.”  Or after hearing an eastern European fellow describing the delight that he felt (Yaakov Smirnoff) made a guest appearance and spoke of his delight at seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, Yemana dead panned “my parents felt the same the first time the saw Alcatraz” (for anyone who’s slow on the uptake for 30 years Alcatraz was America’s highest security federal prison).

One of the running gags on “Barney Miller” was that Nick Yemana, while a capable detective could not make a decent pot of coffee to save his life.  After the completion of the show’s 4th season, Soo discovered that he had cancer and died shortly thereafter.  When his co-star Hal Linden visited him in the hospital, at the end of the visit as the orderly wheeled Soo out of the room, he reverted to character and called out, “It must have been the coffee Barney!”

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