BURBANK:This was my first trip to the LA area in about 38 years. Mrs. Q and I arrived from Vancouver at LAX on Wednesday, Oct. 23rd right in the height of the evening rush hour -- gross! We eventually ended up at the Burbank Hilton where the LA part of Mahalo Con was to take place.
Friday I showed up at the time announced on the hotel's info sheet for the beginning of the convention, but there was no one to be seen. Eventually I ran into Karen Rhodes, fearless leader of the Iolani Palace Irregulars, who told me things were a bit behind due to the fact that the car of convention organizer Rita Ractliffe had packed it in. I put in a few hours of volunteer work at the registration desk while others rushed to and fro. People were viewing episodes in one of the hotel rooms to pass the time.
Finally later in the afternoon, a forum was announced which was to feature Kam Fong (Chin Ho) and Zoulou (Kono). There was a very small amount of people in attendance, only about a dozen or so. Kam Fong is slimmer than he was on the show, and is very animated for someone 78 years old! (Zoulou called him a "medical specimen.") Zoulou shows signs of his recent illness which included two strokes and being in a coma, but he is mentally very alert. Both of them appeared later in the evening at another forum, where the moderator was Dennis Chun, Kam Fong's son (who appeared on the show in minor roles like a punk in #148, Steal Now, Pay Later).
When Kam was asked how he prepared for his Five-O roles, he said "All the world's a stage." When he was younger, he was interested in dramatics. He said the best way to become an actor is by watching other people. He originally had a stage show in Hawaii and found out there is a big difference between acting on stage versus acting on camera. In the pilot episode, the director told him, "You're no longer on stage ... don't use big gestures, this ruins the scene. Emote with your eyes." He said his favorite episodes were the ones where he was the star: Cry, Lie (#43), where Chin Ho is accused of bribery and Engaged to be Buried (#118), where Chin's daughter wants to marry a punk played by Erik Estrada.
Zoulou said his role was difficult since he was a comedian by trade ... he said he "smiled only once" during the show! In the first show Zoulou was eating a sandwich ... he said the famous eating scene in the movie Tom Jones is nothing compared to a Hawaiian having lunch. He said that producer Leonard Freeman's eye was looking for a special character ... a gorilla mentality. In one scene, Zoulou was called on to break down a door and after he had done so, he found out this was not a "stunt door," it was the real thing, which upset the owner of the building something fierce. Zoulou's favorite shows were #2, Strangers in Our Own Land, which touched on the issue of Hawaiian sovereignty and co-starred Hilo Hattie, and #92, Cloth of Gold, where a toxic shellfish was used as a murder weapon.
Both actors talked of the daily grind of the making the show. Zoulou said he had to "learn or burn." One of the hardest jobs was learning how to deal with the camera, which he described as "a tiger." Kam spoke of getting past the glamour and being a celebrity and just coping with a 12-hour-a-day job. He said the various camera shots (closeups and so forth) were difficult to deal with, since "you have to develop emotions immediately," despite the fact that things aren't filmed in sequence. Kam said that Zoulou used to sleep on the sound stage all the time, which Zoulou denied, saying that the other actors would often make $5 bets that Kam was going to blow his lines, especially when they made faces at him off-camera. (This was typical of the good-nature ribbing all the actors engaged in during the convention.)
Zoulou said "each program was a life in itself" with good times, bad times, and emotional highs. He said "when people in Hollywood compliment you, you know you're doing a good job ... you need a pat on the shoulder. The difference between success and failure is a pat on the head and a kick in the butt." Zoulou spoke often of difficulties in working with Jack Lord. Lord was very intolerant of screw-ups and didn't have much of a sense of humour. One time a scene of Zoulou's was cut, so for revenge, when he entered the Five-O office Zoulou addressed McGarrett like Jack Benny's servant Rochester, and Jack Lord's jaw just about hit the desk. Kam said, "That's why he became unemployed."
Kam said making a movie is much easier than working in TV. A TV director has no time to waste and will often print a scene if he is running out of time -- "he couldn't care less about the actors." When asked about the fact that many local Hawaiian actors were used on Five-O, often in different roles from week to week, Kam said, "We were forced to use them ... this saved the company money." As far as the announced Five-O movie is concerned, Kam doubted that it will capture the spirit of the original show -- "the chemistry won't be the same."
When asked about his demise at the end of the tenth season in #238, A Death in the Family, Kam said that he originally wanted Chin Ho to "retire gracefully," and fought the idea of having his character murdered. There was even talk of the production company suing Kam for breaking his contract! Then someone told him that it was an honour if you were a regular in a TV show and you were knocked off ... this meant that no one else could play your character. Later Kam said it was a Hollywood superstition that "if one of the regulars leaves, the show falls down." Someone in the audience said, "Oh, this must mean that everything after the fourth season [when Zoulou left] was no good!"
Zoulou spoke of the difficulty of a Polynesian breaking into the film and TV business -- he auditioned for Murder She Wrote, but was considered "too fair looking." On the other hand, the producers of The Karate Kid said he was "too dark." Zoulou said he on Five-O he was put in his place for shooting off his mouth and telling the truth. "Jack Lord pushed some people's envelopes too much." Zoulou was burning the candle at both ends. He would often finish his nightclub act at 3 a.m. and he had to be on the Five-O set at 6:30 a.m. But he insisted, "I never snored."
Kam Fong spoke of being a cop for eighteen and a half years. In 1944, he lost his family in a horrible accident where a plane crashed onto his house. He said he wanted to commit suicide, but managed to keep together and five years later married a second wife. When asked whether he really smoked a pipe (like his character in the show), he said he originally took up smoking cigars during the war. Now he smokes White Owl cigars every day. He took up smoking a pipe when he was training school crossing guards and would often go to have a smoke with the school teachers and didn't want to subject them to the smell of a cigar. Zoulou commented, "I never knew anyone who could go through so much tobacco." Later Kam became a radio disk jockey.
Kam said he used to watch Five-O and analyze it for his mistakes. It was a "learning process," but he also enjoyed it as entertainment. Zoulou said he couldn't separate how he did the show and the outcome. Kam said "overall, the scripts weren't that bad," but Zoulou commented after Leonard Freeman died, the scripts changed.
Both actors spoke of how Jack Lord wanted to be considered the star at all times. When Kam went to Hong Kong for Nine Dragons, he was more popular than Lord! Zoulou didn't mince words regarding his relationship with Lord -- he said he was treated like a black person. He summed it up by saying, "The Lord giveth ... and the Lord taketh away." Zoulou has never spoken to Lord since he left the show. Once he nearly ran into Lord in a supermarket, and Zoulou turned around and walked out.
When asked what made Five-O a success, Kam said it was the islands themselves. "People became hooked on the show because they wanted to relive their trip to Hawaii -- at the beginning it was like a travelogue." As well, there was a sizeable audience of GIs who had been to Hawaii.
Someone asked about Five-O blooper reels. There was a suggestion that this sort of footage was suppressed because of Jack Lord. Both Kam and Zoulou said this was unfortunate, because there were some terrifically funny boo-boos.
After the forums on Friday afternoon, all fans (which now included many from the Internet) moved to one of the reception rooms where they talked about their favorite episodes and lots of trivia. Zoulou accompanied them and at one point was amazed by how much the fans knew about the show. The evening was capped by showing of more episodes.
Saturday, Oct. 26th there were many more people in attendance. The first forum of the day featured Ron Feinberg, who played "developmentally challenged" individuals in #12 (Pray Love Remember, Pray Love Remember) and #116 (Little Girl Blue) as well as the foreman at an incineration plant in #74 (No Bottles...No Cans...No People). Incidentally, #74 was based on a real case, where two gangsters' bodies were disposed of in Honolulu.
Feinberg, who is 6'8" tall, spoke of difficulties in working on Five-O -- "there were animals running across the studio ... it was an abandoned sugar mill." At the time of his first Five-O appearance (#12 aired on New Year's Day, 1969), he had already been an actor for about 15 years. Because of his size, he was usually restricted to "meat" roles.
Feinberg spoke at length of his audition for this show. He said he read for the part and then he and the casting director just stared at each other. Then he was asked to see Leonard Freeman personally, who said that he "didn't want Lenny from 'Mice and Men'." After auditoning for Freeman, he was hired immediately. Later he told Freeman, "It's not that you didn't want Lenny ... you didn't want Lon Chaney Junior." Feinberg was on his way out of the building after the audition when suddenly Freeman came running after him and said, "Don't let anyone fool with this performance. You do what you want to do." Feinberg regards his performance as Benny Apa as a major stepping stone in his career. Later he received letters of thanks from people with children who have developmental problems. People still come up to him and say, "You're the man with the chicken!"
In #12, he was paired with another very tall actor, Denny Miller, who had appeared on Wagon Train and later on Tarzan. Dick Benedict, the director of #12, was an ex-boxer. Feinberg said the days working on #12 were "very long." After one day's shooting, he and the other actors returned to the hotel all covered with red volcanic dust! In the fight scenes, Feinberg was doubled by a football player named Bob Lui.
When I asked him about #116, where much of the footage was reused from an earlier episode about a sniper in a bunker (#78, ...And I Want Some Candy and a Gun that Shoots), Feinberg said that #116 was what was known as "a bottle show." The previous episode had been too violent to rebroadcast, but Leonard Freeman wanted to reuse much of the footage, so #116 was virtually written for Feinberg. There was originally about 20 minutes of footage from the earlier show used, but it was trimmed down somewhat. Feinberg said this show was a "great opportunity" for him and it also gave him a chance to work with Jackie Coogan. Mentioning reused footage, Feinberg said the sequence with the burning sugar cane fields in #12 was also seen in several other episodes.
Feinberg said that he had no conflicts with Jack Lord while working on the show. Ron's attitude was "know your lines and character and be professional." He described Lord as "theatrically conservative," having come from a stage background. Originally an actor named Robert Brown was supposed to be McGarrett!
In the afternoon, James MacArthur finally appeared along with Feinberg, Zoulou, Kam Fong, Sharon Farrell, Dennis Chun and John Thorpe (a stunt man who appeared in #187, Turkey Shoot at Makapuu, among others). There was also an appearance by the show's camera operator, identified only as "Billy" (he shied away from almost all attention) and art director Robert Kinoshita was in the audience.
Leonard Freeman's care and attention to the series was stressed -- it was Freeman making a series, rather than a director making an individual episode. Freeman did not want the writers going to Hawaii ... the focus was to be on the characters, not making the show into a travelogue. Jack Lord was described as always prepared. Lord instilled discipline in people and was not a socializer -- "you didn't get to be buddies with him." When someone asked MacArthur how he approached the part, he said "learn the goddamn words!" In the early seasons, it took up to 8 days to film a single show. Director of photography Robert Morrison "lit every shot so people looked as good as they did."
Several of the actors stressed that "you needed a sense of humour on the show." When the show became successful, no one wanted to change the formula. It was so popular that when Herbert Lom was asked to play a role in #73 (Highest Castle, Deepest Grave), he had no idea of what Five-O was all about, but his children, who were very familiar with it, forced him to take the role! Someone told of a stunt guy on the show known as "Boom Boom" Johnson, who blew up an entire building by mistake instead of just part of the building. Johnson left Hawaii on the next plane. When Kam Fong, a former cop, was asked about his fellow actors' "gun work" on the show, he said it was "terrible." John Thorpe told me that in the Turkey Shoot at Makapuu he doubled not only for the hang-gliding actors but also played a long-haired hippie type looking at the action in the air -- thus he was looking at himself!
Sharon Farrell was puzzled as to why she was hired to be a member of the Five-O team. She thought that she reminded Jack of Marie Wilson (an actress). She said that Jack hated smoking ... he wouldn't let people smoke on the set. She said that during the final season, "it wasn't the same show." She knew the show was coming to an end. James MacArthur was asked why he quit at the end of the eleventh season. Contrary to popular rumour he had no contractual dispute with CBS. He was in South America on a holiday and just phoned his agent and said "I'm not coming back," and it was as simple as that. He'd had enough. MacArthur spoke of Kwan Hi Lim who played numerous oily characters on the show (and is a judge in real life): "Kwan Hi Lim is a saint, he was the lawyer for my second divorce."
Saturday evening the convention featured a banquet with most of the featured stars and many fans in attendance. Mrs. Rose Freeman, wife of series' creator Leonard (who died in 1974) was there with several family members as well. Following dinner there were numerous speeches of appreciation and the evening concluded with a charity auction benefiting the Variety Club of Honolulu with people bidding on items like scripts, stills from the show and other things.
Sunday was a pretty low-key conclusion for the convention. James MacArthur left early in the morning and the main focus was on the room of Five-O "exhibits" including photos and clippings from the show, recordings of Five-O music and a "wacky captions" contest.
We arrived in Honolulu on Tuesday, October 29th, having never been there before. Hawaii Five-O related events were focused on Oct. 31st and Nov. 2nd, with plenty of time for exploring well-known Five-O locations around these dates.
For a start, we were staying in one of them -- the Ilikai Hotel, featured in numerous episodes, such as #149 (Bomb, Bomb, Who's Got the Bomb) and #196 (Tour de Force -- Killer Aboard). Snooping around the gardens, I discovered a plaque which mentioned the first owner of the hotel, whose name was Chinn Ho (a Five-O coincidence?). From our room we had an excellent view of the glass elevator used in #149. This now leads up to a rather expensive Italian restaurant, and there is a stern warning posted to discourage people from using the elevator for any other purpose. I took a look inside ... the ceiling which McGarrett peeks through is covered with a grill which is covering up the lights.
The front of the hotel is somewhat different than seen on the show -- there isn't one central stairway any more. On the right there is an escalator and on the left side there are steps. The Ilikai actually consists of three buildings -- the main one which is like a Y, containing the glass elevator and the penthouse from the opening shot, the Yacht Harbor Tower (where I was staying) and a Marina building which is all condominiums. When the show was first done back in the late 60's, the Ilikai was one of the biggest hotels around ... now it is dwarfed by many of the neighboring buildings. At the very western end of Waikiki, it's only a couple of blocks from the Ala Moana shopping center, one of the largest in the States.
On Hallowe'en (Leonard Freeman's birthday), the first Five-O event was a breakfast in the Canoes Restaurant of the Ilikai. A large number of fans and many of the stars were present, including James MacArthur, Herman Wedemeyer, Doug Mossman (who co-ordinated events in Honolulu), Moe Keale, Margaret Doversola, Harry Endo, and Rose Freeman. There were several representatives of the local press at the breakfast, including Tim Ryan of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, who had also covered the convention in Burbank. There wasn't as much opportunity to speak to the actors as there was in California, but people still managed to get pictures taken and autographs. The Five-O Memories TV program broadcast just before the convention was playing in the background.
Following breakfast we boarded two tour buses (one large, one small) for a day of viewing Five-O locations and other well- known island sites. The large bus was hosted by Doug Mossman, the small one was hosted by Dick Kindelon, who was Five-O's casting director, and who now works for the tour bus company. After driving past the Ala Moana Center, we pulled up at the Iolani Palace, headquarters of Five-O. Unfortunately, reservations are required to enter, which we didn't have. But lots of pictures were taken in front of the palace with Mossman, MacArthur and Endo and we checked out the parking places the Five-O team used in front of the building. Across the street was King Kamehameha's statue and another building which often subbed for the courthouse.
We then drove through Chinatown, one of the seedier areas of Honolulu. Mossman pointed out the location of a former porno theater which was used in #165 (Hit Gun For Sale). We also paused by the Wo Fat Chinese restaurant, which still sports its old sign, despite the fact that it has been sold to some concern in the People's Republic of China! The promised meeting with some cops who worked on the show didn't materialize. As well, The HPD headquarters seen on the show was torn down about a year ago and replaced with a brand new building.
Next stop on the tour was the Punchbowl Cemetery where the female statue in the main titles is located. Then we paused for a picnic lunch in a pleasant park along the Pali Highway. Following this was the Pali Lookout, scene of Kamehameha's decisive victory in the conquest of Oahu. I don't think this location was actually used in any of the shows, but the terrain looked very similar to that in #23, The Big Kahuna, where Sally Kellerman plunges to her death.
A drive through the Pali Tunnels took us to the windward side of the island and The Valley of the Temples Park near Kaneohe. This contains the Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a 900-year-old temple in Uji, Japan, which was featured in at least five episodes: #12 (Pray Love Remember, Pray Love Remember, where it becomes a "cultural institute"); #32 (Singapore File, where it is a Buddhist temple in the Philippines); #66 (F.O.B. Honolulu, scene of the finale with Wo Fat); #157 (Hara-Kiri: Murder, at the beginning of the show); #171 (Termination with Extreme Prejudice); and #183 (Deadly Persuasion, in which Danno is menaced by a psycho with nerve gas). James MacArthur was quite amazed when we listed all of these!
Leaving the temple, we travelled around Makapuu Point (location of Sea Life Park, which we passed) and through a couple of ritzy areas of Oahu including Kahala, where Jack Lord lives. After driving by Diamond Head and the Five-O studios, we returned back to the Ilikai.
On Saturday afternoon, the first order of business was a trip to the Penthouse on the top of the Ilikai which is featured in the main titles shot with a helicopter approaching Jack Lord. There was plenty of opportunity to check out the panoramic view, including the lagoon between the hotel and the beach (which is no longer safe to swim in ... there are signs posted warning of jellyfish!). The Ala Wai heliport used in both Five- O and Magnum, P.I. no longer exists, by the way, though the Rainbow Tower (where Danno's aunt stayed), now part of the Hilton Hotel complex, is just next door from the Ilikai. Lots of pictures were snapped at the corner of the balcony where McGarrett stands, including a mob shot of the Iolani Palace Irregulars.
Then we descended twenty-five floors to the Tahitian Lanai next door for a buffet-style luau, including pork, chicken and the ubiquitous "poi" ... which didn't taste like library paste as I anticipated! Most of the stars from the breakfast/bus trip were there plus Tom Fujiwara, Jimmy Borges and Zoulou (and Zoulou's brother). Some no-shows included Glenn Cannon, Al Harrington and Kwan Hi Lim. There were several other familiar faces. I recognized Robert Witthans, who played military types, McGarrett's barber and a gangster in #194 (Oldest Profession, Latest Price) ... he seemed amazed that anyone would remember him after all these years. Richard Lightner and Christine Sato have already covered the luau in considerable detail, so I'll defer to their report.
There were lots of opportunities to pose for pictures with the celebrities that attended and to grab a few autographs.
After it was all over, I was on my way back to the hotel and met Kam Fong on his way out of the Ilikai. I expressed hope that there might be another such meeting some time in the future. With a twinkle in his eye, he said, "I don't know about that..."
Sunday and Monday brought more opportunities to explore Five-O sights. The War Memorial Natatorium at the east end of Waikiki (the place where Peter Strauss meets the oily drug dealers Kwan Hi Lim and Seth Sakai in #139 (Death With Father), and David Opatoshu as a Chinese [sic] boss meets a Korean hood in #83 (A Matter of Mutual Concern) is in bad shape ... it's all boarded up and in a very bad state of disrepair. I also visited the Arizona Memorial (#169, Murder -- Eyes Only) and Sea Life Park (#54, The Ransom and #265, Image of Fear). There were several places I didn't get to see -- The Aloha Tower, the north side of the island, some sugar cane fields! Hopefully I can check these out on my next visit to the islands.