Monday, December 14th, 2009 at 2:59 pm in Night Owl.
I am irrationally exuberant over learning that Jack Soo, the wry, long-faced Asian American detective in the Barney Miller show was an Oakland native. The comedy cop show was a favorite of mine growing up. But I never realized how righteous Barney got during every episode or that Soo’s character “Nick Yemana” was the first Asian American character in a regular TV series. Do you remember how his terrible coffee was a running joke on the show?
The Oakland native got his start — after being interned during World War II — performing in nightclubs. His first big break was a part in the landmark musical Flower Drum Song. But the Japanese American had to change his name from Goro Suzuki to something more “Chinese” to get the part. Soo is closer to a Korean spelling than Chinese. That’s why I thought he was Korean and decided to look him up while we were watching an episode the other night. Weirdly enough, we were watching his last episode before he died in 1979. I would love to see a Warhol style painting (a la Marilyn, James Dean, etc) but with Soo’s face.
Okay, navel-gazers, who are the other famous Oaklanders we don’t often hear about? Surprise me, please!