Monday, June 28, 2010

June 28

Now that the Karate Kid has been successfully re-invented for another generation, it's a good time to remember Pat Morita. After all, it was his Oscar-nominated performance that elevated a teen movie into a signpost for a decade, and cemented his title as the most popular Japanese-American actor in history.
He managed quite a few firsts in his career. Morita was the Arnold that ran Arnold's on "Happy Days". He became the first Asian-American sitcom lead in "Mr T and Tina"; the cancellation of that show and "Blansky's Beauties" would make him one of the few actors to lose two shows in one season. In the wake of "Karate Kid", he got his own cop show, "Ohara":

Yup, that's Catherine Kenner,from "Being John Malkovich", as a junior detective. "Ohara", the first drama with an Asian-American lead, didn't do much better in the ratings; it lasted two seasons.
Morita's enthnicity was a double-edged sword, but he used it adeptly through the decades. He played at least as many roles in his native California drawl as he did laying on his Migayi-think accent. He was just as comfortable lampooning his iconic sensai character as he was reprising or ripping it off. Whether he was earning an Emmy nod (for the Kirk Douglas TV-movie Amos) or starring in a buddy cop movie with Jay Leno:

[Take THAT, Prince Humperdink!]
Morita schooled us all. Happy Birthday, Sensai...

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