Thursday, July 31, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Pat Morita: TV/movie star, Armijo grad

Pat "Nori" Morita, Oscar-nominated actor and Armijo High School grad. Click picture to view gallery.

Pat "Nori" Morita, Oscar-nominated actor and Armijo High School grad. Click picture to view gallery.

By
From page A2 | September 28, 2012 |

Pat Morita achieved fame in the 1960s as a standup comedian and then in the ‘70s and ‘80s for playing Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi, owner of a diner on the hit TV show “Happy Days.” Morita is probably best-known for playing Mr. Miyagi in the 1984 motion picture “The Karate Kid” — a role for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

What some may not know is that Pat Morita was also a 1949 graduate of Armijo High School.

Morita was born in Isleton to Japanese immigrants Tamaru and Momoye Morita on June 28, 1932. His first name at birth was Noriyuki or “Nori” for short. As a small child, Morita contracted spinal tuberculosis and was in a full-body cast for approximately seven years. At about age 11, he underwent a then-experimental procedure that changed his life dramatically.

Unfortunately, that time was right after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and American citizens of Japanese descent were summarily rounded up and sent to relocation camps for the duration of the war.

“One day I was an invalid,” Morita said in a 1989 interview with The Associated Press. “The next day I was public enemy No. 1, being escorted to an internment camp by an FBI agent wearing a piece.”

Karen Herman, director of the Archive of American Television, conducted an intensive interview with Morita in 2000, which is available for viewing on the organization’s website, http://www.emmytvlegends.org. In it, Morita described the feeling he got when the war ended and he went to Armijo High. While some parents of classmates harbored lingering anti-Japanese sentiments, Morita didn’t experience that from his peers.

“When I became a teenager and went to high school, these young kids didn’t carry that kind of baggage with them,” Morita said. “I was just Nori and a classmate and they gave me a sense of self for the first time in my life.”

Morita’s account was borne out by some of his classmates, including longtime Fairfield businessman Art Engell.

“When he came to our school he was just another guy and everybody liked him. He was funny as all get out,” Engell said. “He was involved in everything, drama, you name it — he was even on the basketball team even though he was only 5-foot-2 — but  he only got in when we were 100 points ahead.”

Aside from the comedic performing arts talents for which he later became famous, Morita was an artist and drew a mural of a miner panning for gold on the inside front and back covers of the 1949 Armijo La Mezcla yearbook.

Ron Thompson, who later became a legendary coach at Fairfield High School, graduated from Armijo a year after Morita and Engell.

“Nori was a sports nut and wanted to be an athlete so bad, but he was very small and just wasn’t very athletic,” Thompson said. “When I was a freshman and the Japanese students came back, four of his buddies came out and we won the baseball championship, but poor Nori just didn’t measure up and I know that was very disappointing for him.”

After achieving fame, Morita still found time to sometimes help out his old classmates.

“Art Engell and some other guys started a bank and they had Nori come for the grand opening,” Thompson said. “I was in the coach’s office at Fairfield High and here comes Art Engell bringing Nori in to see me. That’s when he was on ‘Happy Days’ and the kids were going crazy.”

Morita was coaxed by Engell to attend the Class of 1949’s 10-year reunion, which was the only one he made. For the 50th reunion in 1999, Morita sent a 2½-minute video for his classmates titled, “A message from the Last of the Great Prospectors.” In it, he dressed as a 49er panning for gold in Alaska and turned celebrity name-dropping on its head by mentioning the names of several of his classmates, including Engell, whom he referred to as “gems.”

Morita died in 2005. In the Archive of American Television interview, he was asked how he would like to be remembered.

“I guess I’d like to be remembered for having touched a lot of lives in happy, positive ways,” Morita said.

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at getthelowdown@sbcglobal.net.

Tony Wade

Tony Wade

Tony Wade is the slightly older yet infinitely more handsome brother of long-time DR columnist Kelvin Wade
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 2 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • MeredithSeptember 28, 2012 - 10:00 am

    I attended Armijo in the 80's. I remember that my Psychology teacher had found a bunch of film canisters in a cupboard in his classroom and, out of curiousity, he watched them. It was film footage of the old Armijo High School (now the courthouse), including footage of the now-legendary Pat Morita as a high school student. (Playing basketball, I think.) He showed us the footage and pointed out Mr. Morita, which is why I remember it. I have no idea if the film still exists, but it was very neat to watch.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Dave McBrideSeptember 28, 2012 - 11:28 am

    Tony, great job. Hopefully we'll see you at our next ALL Armijo Alumni Dinner in March after which you can do a piece on Armijo alumnus Robert Hale, U.S. Under-Secretary of Defense and Leon Panetta's right-hand man. I graduated with Bob back in 1964. His parents own the Hale Ranch in Suisun Valley... Dave McBride President - Armijo Alumni Assoc

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

It’s ‘camping for 30′ at the Solano fair

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Cities dealing with state drought rules

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Muralist helps locals ready for some painted wall history

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Rejection makes us each stronger

By Angela Borchert | From Page: A2

 
Highway 12 crash sends 2 to hospital

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Mall to host Ultimate Army Throw Down

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

Price will seek re-election as Fairfield mayor

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4

 
Police release name of Vallejo homicide victim

By Glen Faison | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Fairfield police log: July 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: July 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Peace Corps evacuates over Ebola as 2 isolated

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Pipe break that flooded UCLA dumps 20M gallons

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4 | Gallery

Dissent quieted with most Israelis behind Gaza war

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Deadly Israeli strikes hit UN school, market area

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Obama takes tougher line against Gaza casualties

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
AP Analysis: Amid war, endgames in Gaza emerge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

2 women survive ordeal along Indiana rail bridge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Ex-IRS official called conservatives ‘crazies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Suing Obama: GOP-led House gives the go-ahead

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
Congress cooperates – and fights – as recess nears

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

Powell maybe not told early about CIA techniques

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
Crews work to keep Yosemite fire from sequoias

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

Sanctions will damage Russia if not lifted quickly

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
Clashes prevent experts from reaching bodies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

.

Opinion

 
Cruz gets border crisis wrong

By Ruben Navarrette | From Page: A11

Editorial Cartoons: July 31, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
What happened to the US?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 9 Comments

Am I blaming victims?

By Kelvin Wade | From Page: A11

 
Why ‘compassionate conservatism’ is still dead

By Ramesh Ponnuru | From Page: A11

.

Living

Today in History for July 31, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: July 31, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Horoscopes for July 31, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

 
I want to change my daughters last name to my maiden name

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Commentary: ‘Orphan Black,’ Emmy snubs and questions of identity

By Los Angeles Times | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Allison Williams headed skyward as NBC’s Peter Pan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Contract dispute delays ‘Big Bang’ production

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

.

Sports

SF benefits from Pirates’ blunder, ends skid at 6

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Complete game shutout lifts Expos to State Tournament win

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Hammel fails again for Athletics in loss to Astros

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Ray Guy’s long wait for Hall of Fame comes to end

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Raiders owner confirms talks with San Antonio

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Lloyd’s film watching impresses 49ers teammates

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Stanford star Ty Montgomery rehabbing shoulder

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Greg Ives to crew chief Earnhardt in 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

Steelers to retire Hall of Famer Greene’s No. 75

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Fairfield-Suisun 6U Bobby Sox win titles

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B4

Usain Bolt in controversy at Commonwealth Games

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Indians trade pitcher Masterson to Cardinals

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Riley speaks out, insists Heat will be competitive

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Nadal out of 2 tournaments because of right wrist

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Pipe break that flooded UCLA dumps 20M gallons

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
.

Business

US judge slaps $1.3B fine on Bank of America

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5, 1 Comment

 
A more vigorous US economy appears to be emerging

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

Overhaul approved for troubled California refinery

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Judge says Crystal CEO should testify in lawsuit

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7, 1 Comment

.

Obituaries

Clifford C. Hemler

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Louise Scholten

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

Ronald Witt Escue Sr.

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Scott Allen Shaver

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9