LORD OF THE ISLANDS
From Playgirl Magazine,
One perfect sundrenched a sleek Mercedes pulls into the parking lot of a new shopping complex in
. A man emerges from the automobile like a figure from a dream. He wears white patent leather boots that zip up the side of the calf, eggshell-color custom-tailored jeans, a cowboy shirt with floral embroidery. At his throat is a red neckerchief, and on his head rests a handwoven straw hat worthy of a plantation boss. His clothes, or costume, act like a psychic rod, pulling towards him the amazed attention of one after another of the shoppers strolling near the mall. The effect created by this strange and sudden apparition is almost palpable; yet the man seems unaware of the subtle change he is causing in this environment and walks stiffly towards a row of shops, almost as if he looked a normal human and not a being from the subconscious. Honolulu
A child of the islands, standing with her father, soundlessly mouths a single word several times before uttering it aloud like the catalyst in a fable. As the father bends to hear the word repeated, his mind comprehends the fact it has been sliding against but refusing to assimilate: the oddest thing about that odd figure in white gliding across the parking lot is the face, which is highlighted and hidden beneath a cakey orange layer of — makeup. The madeup man moves slowly out of sight like some surreal kabuki dancer; the little girl again repeats the single word. Jacklord.
Lord, n. 1. a person who has dominion over others; 2. a master, chief or ruler ... 3. a person who is a leader or has great influence in his chosen profession: the lords of the theatrical world; . . . v.i. to play the lord; assume airs of importance and authority; behave arrogantly or dictatorially; domineer. . . . —The Random House Dictionary.
Jack Lord, star of the top-rated CBS series Hawaii Five-O, sat unflinching in the front row of the audience viewing Marlene Dietrich's one-woman show at the Sheraton Waikiki. Throughout the performance he betrayed no sign of appreciation, but tensely focused his unrelenting attention on the figure in the spotlight. As soon as the last curtain call was made he stood, apparently furious, and strode briskly down the aisle and out of the room as Marie, his wife of twenty-six years, scurried to catch up.
"What's the matter with him?" a member of the audience asked someone who worked with Lord.
“Are you kidding?" came the reply. "She didn't introduce him from the stage."
A television series with only one major star is not uncommon, but most series have one or more players in continuing roles, and they are called costars. Hawaii Five-O has three such regular players, but none of them are so billed. Many performers of stature play guest roles in Five-O episodes, but they are not known as guest stars; they, like the Five-O team, are merely featured players. Hawaii Five-O has but one star.
Zulu, a talented Hawaiian entertainer and for several seasons a "featured player" on the Five-O team, left the show apparently as a result of misunderstanding this fact. The island arm of the United States Coast Guard, as part of its Christmas festivities, announced its intention of naming Zulu an honorary member of its service. According to a Five-O source, when Lord heard of the impending ceremony he forbade Zulu to participate; he wanted the honor for himself. The other actor complained bitterly, and the angry words that ensued were apparently used as a pretext for firing the popular regular from the show.
It was not the end of Zulu's career. His witty nightclub act still plays to a packed house, twice a night, six days a week. But one wonders what his feelings must be as the paperboy tosses onto his lawn the biweekly
throwaway. The front page of this publication can be purchased for $80, and Jack Lord's stern visage appears there with regularity, glowering up from lawns all over Honolulu Oahu.
All of Hawaii Five-O's filming is done on location sites in the
Hawaiian Islands. Many private residences are rented to serve as the homes of characters in various episodes. Most homeowners are delighted to have the show make such a request, and they are usually charmed by the presence of the television people.
One such gentleman, particularly anxious to be a gracious host, invited Jack Lord to inspect his valuable collection of hand guns. Lord, a professed expert in a myriad of fields as diverse as skindiving and fine art, at once assumed the knowledgeable air of a connoisseur of pistols. The collector proudly displayed his latest and finest acquisition, a matched pair of superbly handcrafted derringers. The weapons rested in a velvet case, their irons freshly blued. "Ah yes," Lord murmured, removing them from their case for closer scrutiny. "Beautiful," he said as he gripped them by their barrels, ruining their new finish with fingerprints.
Jack Lord to his producer: "I want to be surrounded by bleeders. People who care."
A young actor who played a guest role in an episode of Hawaii Five-O: "He was incredibly polite to me. I was terrified, because I'd heard all these remarks: 'He can be very . . . difficult.' But I found him to be really supportive; he kept complimenting me on my work. He was very charming — up to a point. Of course, there's no denying he's remote; he puts up a wall that you just don't get past.
"One thing I did notice about the crew. The crew is made up of like dozens of nationalities, because of the people from the islands that they hire. So you have those typical Waspish right-wing technicians from
working alongside these freaky young Hawaiians, and they all have this incredible spirit. They really work their asses off — unlike a L.A. Hollywoodcrew. They work six days a week, for very long hours, and nearly every scene is done on a different location; but still they manage to be incredibly efficient, all the while very loose and happy-go-lucky. Until he walks on the set. Then suddenly the mood turns, and everyone gets uptight. The fun goes out of it."
"It's disconcerting," Jack Lord said, pausing on his way back to the set at the door of his $35,000 mobile dressing room that contained the four-burner stove, the Swedish fridge and the portable water purifier. He referred to the crowd of islanders and tourists who had materialized around the location sight to gawk at the television crew's activity. "We are here to work. This is not a luau."
James MacArthur, who plays Lord's junior partner in the Five-O unit, was married last year to actress Melody Patterson in the beautiful Fern Grotto on the
. The grotto is situated in a cave by a small waterfall, and the wedding party made its idyllic way to the site aboard a riverboat. A full-throated chorus of fifty carolers sang such a cappella selections as "This Is Hawaii" and "The Hawaiian Wedding Song." The only flaw in the festivities was a hazy fog which hung over the river and which the sun's rays could not penetrate. Islandof Kauai
As the boat maneuvered between waterfall and cave, Jack Lord, attending the wedding with his wife Marie, raised his arms to the sky in silent supplication. Perfectly still, he held the position for a full ten seconds. While many guests were smirking at this outrageous act of presumption, the sun broke through the clouds to shine directly on Lord, bathing him in a golden light and creating a magnificent rainbow in the mouth of the cave at the precise moment the carolers achieved a crescendo.
Later that afternoon Lord attempted to throw a photographer off of the boat because the man had dared to take a picture of him and his wife.
"Hawaiians who don't know Lord, think of him as a superstar," says one man close to the series' action; but he completes his appraisal with, "Those who do know him, hate him." That person may speak with some bias; for he goes on to insist (only partly in jest), "Of all the twenty-five thousand actors in the Screen Actors Guild, Jack Lord is the single one who is most disliked." Whether Lord is truly a tyrant feared by all who work with him or merely a conscientious professional who demands the same high degree of dedication from others as he practices himself, there are undeniably real reasons for his rather widespread reputation as an eccentric of the first water.
Born John J.P. Ryan, Lord was raised by a shipping magnate father "who made and lost two fortunes." Young Jack was paid a penny a line for memorizing poetry, an experience that may have contributed to his somewhat grandiloquent conversational style and his strongly theatrical manner. Lord shipped out to sea as a teenager and met his first wife in
; the marriage lasted less than a year. He attended Argentina on a football scholarship and served in the Navy during the Korean War. Upon his discharge Lord studied acting under Sanford Meisner, who remembered him as being "very intense." There was a quality about him, Meisner thought . . . You could imagine him playing Henry IV, Richard New York University III. . . .
After turning professional, Lord appeared on Broadway with Kirn Stanley in The Traveling Lady, and as Ben Gazzara's replacement in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. "I've drunk from the cup a couple of times" is Lord's summary of his stage career.
was not so immediately receptive. Lord, with the looks of a dangerous John Garfield, had difficulty finding movie roles other than villains. He announced his availability for television work, and got some publicity out of his plight by writing an article about it for the Los Angeles Times. Hollywood CRUSHES ACTOR'S VERSATILITY, SAYS JACK LORD. "No Lead Roles for Him in Films." "Must Refuse Work to Protect Career." HOLLYWOOD
Four years later, in 1963,
Hollywoodcolumnist Hedda Hopper reworked the angle. HEAVIES TO HEROES LONG HAUL FOR JACK. "Talented Actor Turned to TV to Play Leads, Impress Producers." This time the piece had a happy ending: Lord had been signed to star in Stoney Burke, a "modern oater" about the adventures of a rodeo cowboy.
Jack's ambition was now quite visibly unreined. His look had been transformed from brooding presence to slightly feathery leading man, and it wasn't long before the studio was claiming to receive thousands of fan letters a week — most of them from adolescent girls. "A New Kind of Teenage Idol?" asked Lord's official biography. Lord had his own thoughts on the matter." I'm going to make Stoney big."
The series didn't last long enough for Lord to make good his promise; Stoney was canceled at the end of its first season. But some fast and shrewd moves insured the actor of an income far in excess of any normal expectations for a "one-season wonder." Rerun rights were sold to thirteen foreign markets, one of the beneficiaries being the star's Lord and Lady Productions. Then Lord took a crash course in singing before beginning a string of personal appearances on the rodeo circuit. (He described to Hedda Hopper his "absolute amazement" at his first vocal lesson: "Out came this big sound that had been trapped in there." Hedda dutifully wrote a column headed JACK LORD
MAY STARIN BROADWAY MUSICAL.) He worked this inspired device for a couple of years, extending Stoney's mythical life. "They thought he was a real person in those small towns." Lord would walk into an arena with a saddle slung over his shoulder, address a few words to the grandstand, then sing a brief set of country-and-western tunes. He claims to have made $200,000 a year with this venture, an estimate independent observers suspect is somewhat exaggerated. But Lord may have been right when he referred to Stoney Burke as "the most successful failure in television history."
The strains of Lord's uniqueness were in evidence by this point. He had begun to paint a picture of himself as a Renaissance man, and every aspect of his career or private life became inflated by the time it reached the public. The "items" and stories Lord got planted in the press seem excessive even in the context of his egocentric profession. Apparently Lord came to believe his own press releases.
Consider his painting. Lord for years has created innocuous art in a roughhewn, primitive style, mostly landscapes. Stormy skies over flat yellow Van Gogh fields. Beached boats beneath the palms. A cutely decaying island shanty. The occasional cockfight. It always made for good copy ("though not a gunslinger, Jack Lord easily can outdraw most of his western colleagues"), even if some of his claims to respectability varied from story to story.
One magazine would relate that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had bought four Lord canvases when the artist was a precocious eighteen. In another story, the four canvases would metamorphose into three etchings and two paintings. By the time of Five-O, Lord had escalated his credits to the point where his official biography included a list of forty prominent museums supposedly including his work in their permanent collections. In fact, the reason those institutions had his work at all was that Lord had mailed it in the form of "donated" silkscreen prints, charging the postage to CBS.
That is Lord the artist. There is also Lord the photography buff, who insists upon personally approving any picture to be used in a story to which he gives his cooperation. There is Lord the dramatic coach who has intimidated many an actor and whom, it is rumored, several directors vow they will never work with again. There is Lord the ten percent partner in a top-rated TV show, eager to have it run the way he knows it should be run.
Leading the crew in silent prayer and a pep talk at the beginning and end of each season, urging and then thanking all for another year's good showing in the national Nielsens.
Walking off the set over a dispute with a new producer, then returning after a "personal plea" by
's Governor John Burns, poignantly placed on the front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. (A partner of one Lord associate has a different version of why Lord returned to the set so promptly: "CBS told him they would replace him, and they meant it. He snapped to right away. The Governor's plea was a brilliant press release, dreamed up by some PR man.") Hawaii
"It's the character I play that makes me edgy."
When Jack Lord speaks for the record (which is rare), his remarks often echo themselves. His wife Marie is "the best thing that ever happened to me." Of his grueling schedule, he will say: "Look at me! I live like a monk." For the program he stars in and the character he portrays, he reserves a musical metaphor. "Most TV has about a one-and-a-half octave range. Sometimes, on Five-O, we hit a two-and-a-half octave." And: "McGarrett is a complex man. He works in three or four octaves, as against the one octave I was locked into with my last series Stoney Burke."
Actually Steve McGarrett, chief of Hawaii Five-O, has no more range than had Stoney, the fantasy rodeo cowboy. Five-O's top cop has but a single octave, a solitary dimension, and that is the source of his bizarre appeal.
The one definitive quality consistently present in Lord-as-McGarrett is menace. This man is dangerous! But these are desperate times, and the psychotics Five-O must apprehend can only be outmoved by a paragon of cunning paranoia even more devious than they. The subordinates who surround McGarrett are mere flunkies —useful enough for legwork, but hopeless when it comes to the kind of imaginative schizophrenia necessary to launch the mental arrows that find their way to the villains' lair. The other three all look to Steve for the daring conceptual breakthroughs. Tightlipped, ominous, keeping his own counsel, he psyches out the geometry of every evil scheme, his only reward the opportunity to utter once again the terse phrase: "Book him."
Lord McGarrett has no social life. How could he? This loner must protect his solitude. It is a kind of necessary mortification, allowing him to retain the uncluttered concentration which enables him to be so precise in his work. He has no trouble preserving his isolation; a warning glance, a caustic comment serve to ward off those who presume too much. He seems, in fact, a mean man, and few can turn any innocuous remark into a vague threat as readily as he. But he is dealing with vital matters. Nothing as mundane as profit and loss; nothing less than life and death. The normal amenities need not apply.
McGarrett is a man turned inside out. Where others function in an atmosphere of presumed friendship and goodwill, his is a world fueled by suspicion and ever attuned to the vibrations of corruption. Where others assume a basic trust, even his allies are seen by him as potentially suspect — if not of wickedness, then of a laxness, a mental sloth which could prove equally fatal. While others are amazed victims of a reversal of the normal order, he is in his element when confronted with disaster. He is never more fully alive than when rising, stunned but vengeful, from the ashes of some terrorist's bomb. Stony-faced, steel-willed, not (as might seem at first glance) a Frankenstein monster, but Superman. By definition, then, a loner: for few are worthy of his company.
The man's wife rises each morning at to prepare his breakfast in the kitchen of their double-sized quarters in the Kahala Beach Apartments, a condominium on the beach at
Waikiki. At precisely the man sits at the table. The walls of the apartment are hung with island scenes he has painted. Plastic plants and flowers, easier to tend than living vegetation, extend the tropical motif. Breakfast is punctuated by the soft boom of Pacific waves on the shore below. In half an hour the meal is over. The man stands, walks to the door, leaves the apartment.
On the beach, a gray premonition of sunrise arduously begins to define the night into forms. There is nothing here to disturb him as he jogs near the wake of the receding tide. He is alone with the elements and with his thoughts.
There's nothing really wrong with what I do. I act. I create a character. And I bring an awful lot of people an awful lot of joy. Whumph, whumph, whumph, whumph, go the man's sneakers on the tawny sand. This show will be it for me. I'll never leave the islands. They'll have to carry me out. The sneakers leave uniform prints along the shore, ghostly in the predawn light. Marie and I have no children and don't want any. We have a marvelous relationship that doesn't require other people. Whumph, whumph, whumph, whumph. We have always tried to shoot for the sun and hoped to get a slice of the moon. What we've ended up with is a beautiful slice of
. We have fallen in love with the golden people of these islands. Hawaii