Yoshio Yoda, who portrayed Fuji on the ABC World War II-set situation comedy McHale’s Navy, died on Jan. 13 at 88. Yoda played the sweet-natured Japanese prisoner of war who was befriended by the irreverent gang of American sailors. Yoda died in Fullerton, Calif. McHale’s Navy ran from 1962-66 starring Ernest Borgnine.
Yoda also went by James Yoshio Yoda in his post-acting career as an executive of Toyota Hawaii. He was born in Tokyo and studied law at Keio University in Japan before deciding on an acting career. When Yoda moved to the United States, he enrolled at the University of Southern California’s film school.
Yoshio Yoda Caught Big Break From MGM Film ‘The Horizontal Lieutenant’
In 1961, when producers for the MGM film The Horizontal Lieutenant reached out to USC looking for a young actor who was bilingual in Japanese and English, it recommended Yoda. Yoshio Yoda got the role and his performance led directly to his involvement in the McHale’s Navy series and two feature film adaptations, Deadline reports.
Yoda played Seaman 3rd Class Fujiwara Takeo Kobiashi, but more affectionately known as Fuji by his newfound American friends. The actor portrayed a deserter from the Imperial Japanese Navy who is more or less adopted by the rules-busting PT-73 crew led by Lieut. Quinton McHale, played by Borgnine. Stationed at the Pacific island base of Taratupa, the crew kept Fuji hidden from the sour-faced by-the-book Capt. Wally Binghamton, played by Joe Flynn.
After McHale’s Navy was canceled in 1966, Yoshio Yoda appeared in a 1969 episode of Love, American Style. He then moved on to a corporate career. Prior to his retirement in Fullerton, he was an assistant vice president with Toyota Hawaii in Honolulu. Yoda was predeceased by his son, Edward Yuji Yoda. At the actor’s request, no services will be held.
Gavin MacLeod, Tim Conway Also Starred On Sitcom
Other cast members on McHale’s Navy included Gavin MacLeod and Tim Conway. Both of them would go on to find greater success in other shows. MacLeod played Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show while Conway was a featured performer on The Carol Burnett Show. Another notable cast member was Carl Ballantine. He often would appear on variety shows as “The Great Ballantine,” a comedy magic act.
Conway, in a 2016 interview with Fox News, offered some insight into why McHale’s Navy was canceled after just four seasons. “Yes it was four years in black and white,” he said. “They were coming into color and it was to go into color in the fifth year. They thought they would never be able to resell the four years in black and white so they canceled it.”