It’s hard to break into the entertainment business, but one M*A*S*H actor got his big break after changing a flat tire. That’s seriously how actor Jack Soo got his break in Hollywood. On M*A*S*H, Soo played underground merchant Charlie Lee. He started appearing on the show in the second-ever episode.
The flat tire exchange when his contact, Danny Arnold, had a flat tire and a nightclub routine that wasn’t doing so well. When Arnold offered him $10, Soo refused it.
“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 to The Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1976.
Despite the fact that Arnold’s act was struggling, he still had faith he’d make it someday.
“Someday, I’m gonna be a writer-producer, and you’re gonna work for me,” Arnold told him. At the time, Soo didn’t think much of it, but then one day, that actually happened. He worked on the series Barney Miller with Arnold. And that connection allowed him to stay relevant in Hollywood after the success of M*A*S*H.
On Barney Miller, Soo played Det. Sgt. Nick Yemana and had a major role in the series from 1975 through 1979.
Soo was a hit on ‘M*A*S*H’
On M*A*S*H, Soo was an instant hit.
“Soo’s character, Charlie Lee, thinks like the surgeons, and he deserves another show,” one reviewer wrote following the release of episode 2.
TV Writer Burt Styler talked about the decision to hire Soo in an interview recorded in TV’s M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book
“I told them a couple of thoughts for shows, among them was the concept of dealing in the black market for medicine,” he began.
“I not only had Jack Soo in mind when I wrote the character of the black marketeer, but I also 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,” he said.
Following M*A*S*H, Jack Soo found some success in other work including Barney Miller. But tragically, he passed away in 1979 at just 61 years old.
Soo’s success on both Barney Miller and M*A*S*H was aided by his acts of kindness and generosity. While he joked about it, it’s a truly touching story about how someone got their start.
“Jack Soo never gave up,” Soo’s acting coach John Kirby said in the 2009 Documentary You don’t Know Jack. “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.”