SAN FRANCISCO — A DVD release party for “You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story” will be held on Thursday, May 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, 1840 Sutter St. in San Francisco Japantown.
Directed by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, the documentary tells the fascinating story of pioneering entertainer Jack Soo, who is best remembered for playing Det. Sgt. Nick Yemana in the sitcom “Barney Miller” from 1975 to 1979. He died at the height of his popularity, and his fellow cast members stepped out of character in a tribute to Soo that aired in May 1979.
When he played Rocky Sin in “Valentine’s Day” (1964-1965), he became the first Asian American male to be cast in a leading role in a regular television series.
Born Goro Suzuki in Oakland, he graduated from UC Berkeley and was interned at Tanforan and Topaz during World War II. After the war, he adopted his stage name and performed at nightclubs across the country, including Charlie Low’s Forbidden City in San Francisco. There he was discovered by Gene Kelly, who offered him a role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song” on Broadway in 1958. Soo was also cast in the 1961 movie version.
Interviewees include “Barney Miller” cast members Max Gail and Steve Landesberg; “Flower Drum Song” star Nancy Kwan; and George Takei, who appeared with Soo in the John Wayne movie “The Green Berets.”
The DVD special edition features the PBS version as well as the full-length theatrical version of the documentary, plus several never-released recordings of songs by Soo. The film reveals that he recorded “For Once in My Life” for Motown before Stevie Wonder’s version became a hit.
Adachi and others involved in the production of the film will be present. A portion of the proceeds of the DVD sales with be donated to relief efforts in Japan. Refreshments will be served.
Adachi is also the director of “The Slanted Screen,” an examination of Hollywood’s portrayals of Asian males.