On the Original “Hawaii Five-O”

For those of us of a certain age there is only one Hawaii Five-O worth talking about, the original one starring Jack Lord (John Joseph Patrick Ryan, 1920-1998) which ran from 1968 through 1980.

Lord (whose birthday it is today) is a fascinating guy to learn about, for there was little enough information about him around during his years of fame. Aside from a couple of well-known turns (e.g., Felix Leiter in the first James Bond film Dr. No, 1962), you almost never saw Lord anywhere except his show Hawaii Five-O. He was reclusive, it turns out, and the show was shot on location in Hawaii, both of which would explain why you seldom saw him on talk shows and the like to gab about his early years. It turns out that Lord’s background was highly atypical for a screen actor. His father was an executive with a steamship company. As a child, Lord sailed all over the world, drawing whatever he saw. He became an adept horseman, because his family owned stables. Lord initially studied to be a visual artist, and actually sold works to the Met Museum in the early 1940s!

After Merchant Marine service in WWII, Lord studied acting with Sanford Meisner. This led to a couple of Broadway parts, and then films like The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955), God’s Little Acre (1958), and Man of the West (1958). Years of plugging away in television eventually lead to the starring part (and executive producership) in one of the most popular TV shows of all time.

In Hawaii Five-O, Lord played the unflappably cool, no-nonsense Hawaii state police captain Steve McGarrett. The key men in his squad were Kam Fong as Chin, Zulu as Kono, and James MacArthur (adopted son of Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur) as the soporifically catatonic “Danno”.

Former vaudeville and musical comedy star Peggy Ryan, who’d moved to Hawaii in the 1950s, also had a recurring role as a precinct secretary.

The show had so much going for it. In addition to the gorgeous locations, the most exciting instrumental theme music and credit sequence ever, and Lord’s intense, tightly wound performance, it was the 1970s…so you got lots of the same kind of doped-up freaky criminals you got on The Mod Squad or Adam-12, but mixed (for better or worse) with lots of stereotypical Asian supervillains with names like Wo Fat. The low-lifes got scooped and thrown in the back of the squad car, with the chiming of Lord’s trademark catchphrase, “Book ’em, Danno!” The supervillains tended to evade punishment to fight McGarrett another day.

Hawaiian crime shows are an entire cop show subgenre. In addition to the original Five-O and its 2010 reboot, there was The Hawaiian Eye (1959-63), and Magnum P.I. (1980-88, and a current reboot). Subjects for another day if Pele, the Volcano Goddess wills it!

As for Lord, he pretty much retired and lived on his substantial fortune after Hawaii Five-o ended. He suffered from Alzheimer’s during her final years. His last words were “Book him, Dan — oh!” Then he collapsed. (No, that didn’t happen).