Early life and family
Goro Suzuki – stage name Jack Soo – was born on October 28, 1917. George Suzuki and Haruko Shiozawaa Suzuki were looking forward to the birth of their first child, hoping for a boy, and although they lived in Oakland, California, they wanted their first child to be born in Japan. While traveling across the Pacific from the US to Japan, Soo was born on the ship.
His father George Suzuki was a tailor and his mother Haruko Shiozawaa Suzuki was a seamstress.
For his education, Soo attended Oakland Technical High School nearby. He then graduated from the 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. Oddly enough, it was World War II that earned him a captive audience, as all Japanese Americans were interned in Utah.
His singing, dancing and acting lifted the spirits of the people who encamped, and he was admired by all. After the war, Soo worked at a butcher’s shop, a surprising choice for an entertainer, but it was difficult to get work. It was his passion for entertainment that found him as a comedian in nightclubs, trying to gain fame and hoping to get noticed for bigger, better roles. Danny Arnold was also in the path of the nightclub and they became friends.
Suzuki, who took the stage name “Jack Soo” after World War II, was part of an all-Chinese show held at San Francisco’s “Andy Wong’s Sky Room.”
Because of his experiences during the war, he would not take on work that portrayed Asian Americans in an unworthy or degrading manner, and he spoke out about negative ethnic judgments. 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 1970s, he was cast in many films. His most famous was “Flower Drum Song” – he took the name “Sammy Wong” for the movie version of the Broadway musical.
Some of the other movies he starred in include “Who’s been Sleeping in my Bed” (1963), “The Oscar” (1966), “Throughly Modern Millie” (1967) and “The Green Berets” (1968).
Soo made his TV debut when he was chosen for the ABC television sitcom – the “Barry Millerseries. This happened when Danny Arnold, whom he met while staying at a nightclub, became the show’s writer and producer. When Danny decided who to cast as Detective Sergeant Nick Yemana, he decided that Soo was perfect for the character, as he had a relaxed demeanor with an added sense of humour.
Soo starred in 101 episodes – his character Detective Nick Yemana was described as the stern-faced detective who made terrible coffee. In real life, when Soo was admitted for surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, his movie persona was admitted for an appendectomy. Unfortunately, the cancer was in its final stages and Soo passed away a while later.
In May 1979, in honor of Soo’s life, Hal Linden, Abe Vigoda, and other cast members of the New York Police Department’s stubborn twelfth precinct came together to depict the “Barry Millerseries.
They stepped in to highlight some of the show’s most magical moments, and Soo’s fans and followers alike were treated to a nostalgic view, including a recap of some of the highlights of Soo’s stellar acting career. The icing on the cake was Soo was 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 guest starred in many TV shows. There are too many to list, but the most notable 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 was from Croatia. The couple had three children named Richard, James and Jayne Suzuki.
Soo was 1.8 m tall and weighed about 67 kg. He had dark brown eyes and black hair.
Soo developed esophageal cancer after years of smoking. He was hospitalized to have surgery to remove a tumor but unfortunately the cancer was too widespread and at the age of 61 he died on January 1, 1971 in Los Angeles, California, USA. During his career, Soo’s versatility saw him move effortlessly between stage, films and TV.
He died at the height of his success during the fifth season of the Barney Miller series.