Jack Soo (born Goro Suzuki, October 28, 1916 - January 11, 1979) was a Japanese-American actor.
Born and raised in Oakland, California, Soo was caught in the Japanese American internment during World War II, sent to Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Fellow internees recalled him as a "camp favorite" entertainer, singing at dances and numerous events.
His career as an entertainer began in earnest at the end of the war; first as a stand-up nightclub performer primarily in the Midwestern United States. Interestingly enough, it was during his years playing the nightclub circuit that he would meet and become friends with future Barney Miller producer, Danny Arnold, who was also a performer at the time.
Soo would finally earn his big break in 1958 when he would be cast in the Broadway musical hit, Flower Drum Song, in the role of Sammy Fong, a part that he would be asked to play again in 1961, when the film version of the musical was made. During the next decade, he would appear in films such as The Green Berets, and made guest appearances on TV shows such as Hawaii Five-O and M*A*S*H. In most of his roles in television, movies and on stage, Jack portrayed leaders and/or characters "breaking out" of the Asian stereotypes held at the time.
Soo would finally be cast in his most memorable role in 1975 on the ABC sitcom Barney Miller as the laid-back, but very wry, Detective Nick Yemana, who was also responsible for making the dreadful coffee the entire precinct had the misfortune to drink every day.
One of his most memorable scenes was when Yemana was accused of "squinting" at a Caucasian. Deadpan, without changing his expression in the slightest, he says words to the effect of "I'm not squinting . . .THIS is squinting!" This line has since become a favorite among Asians, most of whom don't know the origins.
Sadly, Jack Soo was diagnosed with esophageal cancer during the show's fifth season (1978-79). The cancer spread quickly, and Soo died shortly afterwards in Los Angeles, California at age 62.
Because his character -- and Jack himself -- was so beloved, a special retrospective episode was made, showing clips of his best moments; it aired at the end of the season. It also noted that Yemana was the first regular adult character on US prime-time television written as an American of Japanese descent, a role long-sought by Jack. The most poignant moment of the show came at the end, when the cast members raised their coffee cups in a final farewell toast to the late actor.