Nevada Days are happy days for ‘Mr. Miyagi’ | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Days are happy days for ‘Mr. Miyagi’

PETER THOMPSON

Oscar-nominated actor Pat Morita was quickly surrounded by dozens of Playboy Bunnies on Friday night as he arrived at the Piñon Plaza in preparation for his part in the Nevada Day festivities.

Known to movie buffs the world over as the cryptic but sagacious “Mr. Miyagi” to Ralph Macchio’s dopey but lovable “Karate Kid,” the 72-year-old actor, his wife Evelyn (“Donna” in three Cheech & Chong films and Playboy Playmate from September 1980) and Hugh Hefner’s younger brother, Keith, were on hand to watch as the finishing touches were put on the Playboy Bunny float, a flatbed 18-wheeler with giant bunny ears and plenty of room for the girls to dance.

The float is sponsored by the nonprofit After the Hutch, a Gardnerville charitable organization and retirement warren for former Playboy Bunnies and their families.

Morita’s connection to Playboy goes back to his days as a stand-up comic where he put in his time working the numerous Playboy Clubs on the comedy circuit.

Wearing a green jacket and a pair of glasses clipped to the side of his black hat, Morita sat at a slot machine in a corner of the casino and chatted.

He was relaxed and spoke cheerfully, his face looking fresh and vibrant.

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Though he doesn’t gamble, Morita and his wife have lived in Nevada for 10 years, describing their home as “right smack in the middle of Las Vegas.”

Asked what he’s been up to, the actor smiled, lacking any sign of official Hollywood affectation. He said he doesn’t go out too much. “I’m a professional bore,” he said.

If he had to vote, he said he would “give two votes to Bush, two to Kerry and five votes to (late comedian) Pat Paulson,” who ran for president several times.

He talked about playing the old Vegas clubs like the Mint, El Cortez and the Sahara, about his friend George Carlin and the late Lenny Bruce, whom his wife counted as a cousin. He talked about a lot of things.

A baseball fan, Morita used to sing the national anthem in different ballparks, once performing in Fenway Park. He was terribly excited about the Red Sox victory.

“I really enjoyed watching that series,” he said.

Morita lit a cigarette.

Recounting his World War II experience in a Japanese internment camp he reasoned, “I was just a kid. When you’re a kid, you just go where your parents go.”

While he survived the imprisonment without any major trauma, his tone took on the wizened curtness of Mr. Miyagi, sans the accent.

“Hopefully our country never goes to that place again … uprooting people and shaming them.”

Morita put down his cigarette and let it burn.

A man in a wide-brimmed hat stood a few feet away staring at him wildly. He pointed, his hand moving up and down.

“Karate guy! Karate guy,” he hollered. “Somebody give me a picture!”

Contact reporter Peter Thompson at pthompson@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1215.

Nevada Day Events

• Northern Nevada Antique Power Club’s Gas-Up and Static Display, 2180 S. Carson St. All day Saturday and Sunday morning. Free.

• Fifth annual Nevada Day Breakfast, 7 a.m. at Red’s Old 395 Grill. Cost $5 a ticket, includes breakfast and no-host bar. Call 882-4353.

• Carson City Republican Women’s Club Nevada Day Pancake Breakfast, 7:30-9:30 a.m. at the Governor’s Mansion, Nevada Room/ Larry Ruvo Stateroom, 606 N. Mountain St. Cost is $6 adults, $3 children under 10.

• Annual Carson Nugget Nevada Day Run, leaves from Telegraph and Curry streets at 8 a.m. An 8K run, two-mile run and two-mile walk; finishes at the Nugget. Call 883-3361.

• Hot air balloon lift-off, about 8 a.m., weather permitting, in front of Gottschalks.

• Fly-over by Naval Air Station Fallon, 10 a.m. F-18 Hornets and a French-75-mm cannon about 100 years old, refurbished by the Nevada National Guard in Carson City.

• Nevada Day Steam-up, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Nevada Railroad Museum, 2180 S. Carson St. Call 687-6953.

• Capital City Community Band’s annual Nevada Day Concert, 1 p.m. at the Railroad Museum. Call 883-2219.

• Tour of Governor’s Mansion, 606 N. Mountain St., 2-4 p.m. Call 687-3000.

• Ride the Carson and Mills Park Railroad at Mills Park, 5-7 p.m. Those in costume ride at half price. Call 887-2523.

• 1864 Grand Ball, 7:30-11:30 p.m. Saturday at Piper’s Opera House, 12 North B St., Virginia City. Price: $35.