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Yoshio Yoda, who portrayed Fuji Kobiaji, the lovable Japanese prisoner of war who becomes a valued member of the PT-73 crew led by Ernest Borgnine on the 1960s ABC comedy McHale’s Navy, died Jan. 13 in Fullerton, California, it was announced. He was 88.
Yoda appeared on every one of the 138 episodes of McHale’s Navy during the Universal Television show’s 1962-66 run, plus two movies.
His character deserted from the Imperial Japanese Navy and becomes a Seaman 3rd Class, gladly “serving time” cooking and working for Borgnine’s Lt. Commander Quinton McHale and his crew on the fictional Pacific island base of Taratupa.
Fuji’s presence and identity is meant to be kept a secret from Joe Flynn’s Captain Binghamton, so whenever the boss arrives unannounced, he’s told to “head for the hills!” in a popular running gag.
Born in Tokyo on March 31, 1934, Yoda was studying law at Keio University in Japan when he was encouraged to pursue an acting career, and he enrolled at the University of Southern California’s film school in 1958.
MGM producers contacted USC seeking an actor who was bilingual in Japanese and English, and he was cast as Sgt. Roy Tada alongside Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss in the World War II comedy The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962), directed by Richard Thorpe.
He attended night school while appearing on McHale’s Navy and wound up getting his degree in cinema arts.
After the show ended, Yoda appeared on ABC’s Love, American Style in 1969 and served as an assistant vice president of Toyota Hawaii in Honolulu. He moved to Fullerton when he retired.
He was predeceased in death by his son, Edward. Per his request, no services will be held.
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