Fixing a flat tire helped Jack Soo find the spotlight in Hollywood

Plus: A random writer who barely worked on the show pushed for Jack Soo to be cast on M*A*S*H.

Read to Me

The first time we saw Jack Soo appear on M*A*S*H, he's fanning himself with a large cream paper fan while donning an alpaca sweater with a kerchief tied around his neck, the picture of pawn shop luxury.

The episode is called "To Market, To Market," and it’s the second episode of the entire series. That means there was a lot of pressure from critics and fans alike wondering if this next episode would live up to the comedy of the pilot.

In "To Market, To Market," Hawkeye and Trapper John try to reclaim medical supplies stolen from the camp and sold on the black market.

Jack Soo plays the underground merchant Charlie Lee.

In his first encounter with the M*A*S*H surgeons, Charlie Lee doesn't seem at all sorry for the heist the boys describe. In his world, he didn't take their supplies, and a deal's a deal. His deal for them is that they can either match the $10,000 for the supplies they need, or they can forget it.

There's a lot of physical comedy in this scene that buffs out any expectation of tension, and the prime source of laughs is Soo. He's perfect in the role and that's probably because it was, in fact, written for him.

"To Market, To Market" was written by Burt Styler, a TV writer who won an Emmy for an episode of All in the Family that aired the same year. But this was the only episode he ever wrote for M*A*S*H.

"I was a freelance writer, sort of a hired gun," Styler said in an interview recorded in TV's M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book. "In the early days of the show, my agent set me up with a meeting with a one-script commitment."

Before the meeting, Styler got to view the pilot before anybody else in America. Then, he got called in to meet with the co-creators and pitch his best ideas for what episodes should come next.

"I told them a couple of thoughts for shows, among them was the concept of dealing in the black market for medicine," Styler said.

M*A*S*H TV creators Larry Gelbert and Gene Reynolds were sold on the black market idea, so Styler worked out the script, and he said that when he was writing the character of Charlie Lee, he knew he had to at least try to get producers to get Soo to do the part.

"I not only had Jack Soo in mind when I wrote the character of the black marketeer, I suggested him to Gene and Larry," Styler said. "As I recall it, they weren’t too familiar with his work. I was happy they hired him."

By the time Soo appeared on M*A*S*H, the year was 1972. He'd consistently appeared in TV and movies since his memorable debut in the 1961 movie Flower Drum Song.

Because Flower Drum Song played often on TV, and because Soo started doing his comedy act on variety shows, over time, he just became a more and more familiar face to TV audiences.

"I milked Flower Drum Song for the next 16 years," Soo told The San Francisco Examiner in 1978. He said the royalties from that movie alone put his three kids through college.

His acting coach John Kirby didn't think Soo was sitting around milking anything. He recalled in the 2009 Jack Soo documentary You Don’t Know Jack that unlike many character actors who either quit after a while or sullenly accept boring work forever, Soo was always pushing himself to do more with each role to edge closer to the spotlight.

"Jack Soo never gave up," Kirby said. "Throughout his life, as a young man and on and on till the end of his life, he always kept going forward, improving his work and doing what he loved to do."

But Soo said it wasn't his determination that got him cast in his biggest TV role on Barney Miller. It was being a Good Samaritan.

In 1976, Soo told The Honolulu Star-Bulletin that he remembered there was one cold morning in Illinois when he came upon this comic named Danny Arnold, who at that time had the "lousiest nightclub act in the world." As if that wasn't bad enough, Arnold also had a flat tire and not a wit to fix it.

Soo helped him fix the flat, and when he was done, Arnold offered him $10 as payment.

Soo refused.

"I wouldn't let him pay me back because I wanted him to be obligated to me for the rest of his life," Soo joked.

Before driving off, Arnold swore to Soo, "Someday, I'm gonna be a writer-producer, and you're gonna work for me."

Soo said, oh sure, but years later, when Arnold co-created the series Barney Miller, he did end up fulfilling his end of the bargain.

"He hired me because it was a part that fit my bag," Soo told The Cincinnati Enquirer Sun in 1975.

He said he liked that his Barney Miller character, detective Nick Yemana, was so "inscrutable."

The next time that Soo appeared on M*A*S*H came two months after his introduction on Barney Miller, so viewers who watched both shows likely delighted extra watching "Payday" in 1975.

In "Payday," Soo plays Kim Chung Quoc, a peddler of jewelry of dubious origins.

Perhaps we can consider "Payday" as pay-off for the potential Soo showed in "To Market, To Market"?

As one reviewer in The Star Press wrote about that first episode that Soo appeared in: "Soo's character, Charlie Lee, thinks like the surgeons, and he deserves another show."

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Finlive 1 month ago
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VegasWillie2 1 month ago
Jack's comic talents were fantastic. His quizzical sideways glances were classics. I'm still laughing "at those spherical beauties".
Hogansucks1 1 month ago
“It’s OAK”

“Oh, the top comes off”

“Wanna buy a watch”

and of course-“Colonel Brake”

😂


srrainwater 1 month ago
Funny actor! Love him in "Barney Miller"
Spiro 1 month ago
Jack was detained in the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during WW2.
madvincent Spiro 1 month ago
Better than being detained in a POW camp in Japan.....NO
JHP 1 month ago
Kernel Brake :)

Laugh every time

great Ep for sure

Frank "I like to get a good look at your legs"

Korean "ohhh one of those huh?"
harlow1313 1 month ago
I have a genuine set of Jack Soo knives!

Oh, wait, maybe they're Ginsu knives.
JHP harlow1313 1 month ago
are they still sharp?
harlow1313 JHP 1 month ago
Like Kramden, I am a Chef of the Future. They can core a apple.
stephaniestavropoulos 1 month ago

"Mooshi! Mooshi!"
Let me see a show of hands whose favorite Barney Miller episode is #11 from season #3: "HASH!"
It is funny you mentioned that episode "Hash" Though never seen I had to laugh when reading about everyone getting stoned except for Barney. Which also reminds me in back in the day. One of my best friend's brother was a drug dealer. My friend was scared to death because he did not do drugs and worried that his brother would get him into trouble. Later of which his brother did get caught and some jail time. The real kicker is that I went over with my friend to his brother's house once. Walk in and everywhere are drugs that he was dealing. Huge pieces of Hash which some smoked in a pipe. I was kind of wide eyed being in his abode with all those drugs and a bit Leary myself. Though I can say I never bought any illegal drugs in my life. Not to say I was not sitting around a few times when a doobie was passed around and sometimes declined and others, well you know how that goes. Taking the 5th on anything else

I never watched much of Barney Miller but if that episode ever comes on I'd sure like to watch it. I guess it was the (Mushi mushi) that got me interested in looking it up. Sometimes you miss out things in life only to find them later on (thanks to MeTV and others, including you in this one). You learn something new most everyday. Thanks.
You're welcome! Glad I could be of service to the addition of acquired knowledge for your cranium to absorb and retain.
You should check out that Barney Miller episode. {It probably can be viewed on You Tube.} Fortunately, I have the dvd series, so whenever the urge strikes me to watch "HASH" or whichever episode, I don't have to rely on the internet.
Sorry to hear of your drug experience {I know, you didn't get hooked, I just mean that you were even around them at all.}
To correct you: No I don't know how that goes. I have never been in that situation, have never been around anyone who was connected with drugs. So I can honestly say, of course, I was never tempted by peer pressure or anything like that to experiment/get hooked on drugs. That's not to say I haven't heard about the situation you speak about, because I have, I just don't have any first hand experience.
madvincent texasluva 1 month ago
A bit Leary as in Timothy ....lol I got it
If you worked for large company. Had a party or have gone to one. A card game with friends over. Also I ran and played for years on a softball time. You would most likely knew or run into some that take these recreational drugs. Unless maybe you were in some small town that folks looked down upon it and not so easy to acquire. You know what I mean is a common phrase used for a laugh or wink on what someone might be doing. So do I partake in such drugs now, no. It just came around back then at various places. Some that you knew did so and that was just the way things were. The schools I went to were usually large with 2,000 students or so. I was the type of individual got along with everyone. I knew all the book worms and gang members. They all liked me because I stood my ground and being so honest that I am (cough). Have I tried this or that during that time, some. Never had a time where I needed a toke of this or that to make my day. Alcohol played a bigger part growing up then street drugs. I grew up in San Diego which is the 2nd biggest city in CA. I had a wonderful childhood. Being so close to the beach and entertainment being the bay, amusement park, school trips, across street from a new elementary school to play with others, football, baseball, marbles etc. Was in LL and a large band which sometimes played in parades. Lots of things to do back then. Trouble was not much of it. I guess some feel peer pressure but I just did things because I wanted and not let someone dictate my everyday life. Life was also much more simpler back then. Now it's people wish to put you in a PC place if you take one little step outta line.

Back to BM. Late last night I did go to YT and found that episode. I will be watching it in the next couple of days, Yay! Ty, ty.
With Nick asking (in all seriousness), “Has anyone seen my legs”?
I never had or went to any parties, or worked for a large company. Went to an all girl Catholic HS {the HS was also in a small town, it cost more to live there than it did to live in Deerfield.} and lived in a village. The most Deerfield, IL had, {it's located in the northeast corner of the state;} when I lived there was about 18,000. My sister went to Deerfield HS which I was mad about. {I did go to grade school there. My sister also went to the Junior high there. Her 1969 grad. class was the first from that school! I went to JH in a nearby suburb that only had around 500-800 people The village, not the school.} I could never understand why they didn't want me to go there.
Like you, I too had a good childhood. There were several things I liked about growing up in Deerfield: It had several parks, nice to go for walks around. I can remember all the times I would walk uptown to go shopping, go to the dentist, visit the train station. I loved going there It was old fashioned They kept it looking the way it did, when it
was first built. It {uptown} was a mile up and back.
Another thing I liked, {when I was still "into" them,} was the fact that the Bulls basketball team practiced in Deerfield. There was this one restaurant the family liked to go to, and we would sometimes see some of the players in there! I liked the house we had 4 levels, the backyard was big: 3/4 of an acre.
I had friends in the neighborhood but as I got older, no one. I was a loner in HS. At Woodlands Academy, {HS,} it was the yearbook tradition, that Seniors select a quote to place by their photo. I chose Neil Diamond's {yes, I do like his music, have since I was about 13,} quote from his song: "I Am I Said:" "I never cared for the sound of being alone."
I wholeheartedly agree with you, it was a much simpler time people were less quick to judge others than they are now. You blink or breathe wrong...watch out!
I am glad you will be viewing "HASH!" I have to attach a disclaimer to it: I cannot be held responsible for how much laughter you spew forth from your throat/mouth while viewing. Nor can I be held responsible for any liquid libation you may snort through your nose, nor food you may choke on while imbibing, as you view said episode {If you find the need to laugh hard, which I do when I see it!}. With all that being said: Happy Viewing!
Andybandit 1 month ago
Thank you for your answer, now I know why they don't air the episode.
Andybandit 1 month ago
Does anybody know why Metv doesn't air the real episode of the series finale of Mash. They just air the one when Margaret has the time capsule. Just curious and wondering.
ncadams27 Andybandit 1 month ago
They do, but not in rotation with the other episodes. During its time on the air, there were several hourlong episodes (typically the first episode of a new season) that were split into two half hour episodes for syndication. The finale is not part of the syndicated package.
It seems like METV airs "Goodbye, Farewell And Amen" on a holiday: Memorial Day/4th Of July/Veteran's Day, but it does get aired. Interviews with cast members are also shown during commercial breaks, or after the finale is over. {Can't remember which one.}
Andybandit 1 month ago
Interesting story. I like watching Mash.
teire 1 month ago
Always liked him, yes, since Flower Drum Song.
ncadams27 1 month ago
I remember a line from Barney Miller when one of the detectives was being asked questions by someone in internal affairs. When he asked Nick if he had ever been questioned, he replied “Not since Pearl Harbor”.
BrittReid ncadams27 1 month ago
Jack Soo was hilarious on Barney Miller.
Krn BrittReid 1 month ago
One of my favorite characters 🙂
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