A Hollywood television publicist strikes up varying degrees of intimacy with the stars of his shows. Buddy Ebsen used to invite me aboard his yacht, Merv Griffin to his poolside. Another one kept crawling on my lap -- but it was only Lassie.
Then, in 1968, CBS shipped me several thousand miles to Hawaii to work with one star I still haven't met.
"Just be sure of one thing out there," my boss told me before I left Television City. "Don't let them sucker you into running back and forth to the airport on errands for the production company. They've been doing that to us. A publicist is not a messenger boy."
I should have got it in writing, or else Jack Lord should have. The island wasn't big enough for both of us.
The Lord, as his fellow artists are apt to call him behind his back, stars as stone-faced investigator McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O -- "filmed entirely in Hawaii," as CBS likes to put it.
Nevertheless, when I was transferred to the islands as unit publicist on the show, Lord was shooting two episodes back home in Los Angeles. "Shall I go out to the set and meet him?" I asked my boss.
"No, let's underplay it," he said. "Touch base here with Leonard Freeman and then go out to Hawaii and get yourself set up with everybody else. That way you'll be: already plugged in as part of the company when Lord gets back there. But try and stay cool with Lord. It's costing us plenty to ship all of you press agents and your stuff back and forth, and my budget won't take it."
I saluted, left his office and made an appointment with Leonard Freeman, executive producer of Hawaii Five-O.
Freeman welcomed me warmly, made me feel like the one absolutely essential ingredient the show had lacked until that moment, and was hand-on-shouldering me out the door in under four minutes as only an executive producer can.
My colleagues in Press Information were taking bets on how long I'd last on the show. The man currently out there had been there six months -- a record -- but he was counting the hours till I'd spring him for other assignments back home in L.A. (The one before that used to phone Lord and say,"Hi, Star," and still got fired.)
I leased out my apartment, traded my old car in on a new one for delivery in six months, and felt downright dashing as I said good-bye to The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D. and the other shows I'd been covering. My girl said she'd visit me in Hawaii on her vacation.
Then my boss fed me some final philosophy on the star who'd already spit out three or four publicists in less than a season.
"Let's face it," he said. "This is Lord's last chance to hit it, and he's uptight. He wasn't the first choice for the part, but we're stuck with him now. He owns a piece of it, with Freeman. Just do your job and stay loose -- and keep away from that airport detail."
Fred, the man I was replacing, met my jet at Honolulu Airport. He seemed honestly delighted to see me, and I asked how it was going.
"Fine right now," he said, "with the Lord away."
He checked me into the Ilikai Hotel on Waikiki, where many of the Hawaii Five-O cast and crew stayed. It had about a dozen bars and free hula lessons in the lanai every day. I planned to hit everything but the hula lessons.
Fred drove me out past Pearl Harbor through the cane fields to an old Navy warehouse that had been converted into the Five-O sound stage. There he introduced me to James MacArthur, Kam Fong, Zulu and the others. Back in town at the production office, not far from the hotel, he introduced me to the assistants and secretaries.
Everyone was charming and, when asked how things were going, they said Fine right now, with the Lord away."
I settled into an Ilikai apartment with a terrace overlooking the lagoon and the ocean, and caught up on my paper work: reading Leonard Freeman s original concept of the show and instructions to scriptwriters, reading and summarizing scripts for periodical TV logs. I also digested a few hundred pages on the life and works of Jack Lord, including his prior incarnations as a much-exhibited painter, a writer and a star of stage, screen and Stoney Burke, stoney-faced rodeo cowboy.
There was more local color about how he lived in a $200,000 condominium apartment next to the Kahala Hilton, surrounded by his own paintings and his adoring wife; got up at 4 in the morning to study his lines and jog on the sand, or vice versa, and had an air-conditioned luxury motor home for a dressing room while the show shot on location around the island.
There were even some notes and memos to my colleagues from Lord himself, killing publicity photos that didn't do his jawbone justice, setting up rules for further still photography and raising hell over a story that had called young Jim MacArthur the series "co-star".
The Lord made it clear that there was no co-star on Hawaii Five-O. There was just a star.
The two weeks passed. I rented a car, dropped by the set and the production office a few more times and said hello to Jim, Kam, Zu and the bunch. I bought drinks for Honolulu newspapermen and set up interviews for visiting mainland journalists. I sunned on my terrace over the lagoon and the ocean.
Then suddenly the honeymoon was overcrowded. Leonard Freeman's office cabled me to be at the airport the following noon with a chauffeured limousine to meet Mr. and Mrs. Jack Lord and 19 pieces of luggage.
As it happened, I'd already set a lunch date with old New York colleague Harold Hostetler, who was now writing a column called "Looking Ahead with Hostetler" for the Honolulu Advertiser. And I remembered my boss's warning about the airport run, so I crossed my fingers and (dialing with the other hand) phoned my regrets.
Next day there I was in the restaurant, looking ahead with Hostetler, when the Lords and their 19 pieces arrived from the mainland. I never did hear who picked them up -- but I heard plenty of other things when I phoned Lord at home the following evening. "Where the hell were you yesterday?" was his opening line, in McGarrett's granite growl.
"Well, where the hell were you?" I blurted right back, always sharp on the uptake.
"Didn't you get the cable?"
"Yes, but I had a date with the press. I told the production office."
"Well, don't make any plans here, because the planes fly both ways, honey, and you're through."
"But, Jack, we have a couple of interviews to set."
"Forget it. I'm calling Lennie tonight."
. . ."
But Jack hung up. I called my boss in L.A., collect. I wondered if I'd be fired for following his orders not too wisely but well.
"You did right," he said.
"So what now?"
"Give him a day to cool off. Then call him and see what he says."
I did that.
"Jack," I said, "they've spent a lot of money sending me out here, and I hope we can work together."
"I don't see how."
"Well, i do have some interviews and things to talk to you about."
"No," he said, "I don't want anybody around who won't give 150 per cent loyalty to the show."
(That was before the year of 1000 per cent loyalty.)
I phoned my boss again.
"Come home," he said. Mayberry and the Hillbillies were waiting.
"I have a few weeks' vacation and compensation time coming," I said. "Can I stay out here and take them?"
A week later my girl friend landed and we discovered a great Honolulu restaurant with the great name of Chinatown Chop Suey, ate Mr. Dole's 45-cent plate of pineapple slices right in the middle of the plantation, and checked the price of every muumuu from the International Market Place to Kailua Bay. Then we spent another week touring the Big Island from the Kona Coast to the volcanoes to the rnacadamia-nut factory. it was a tough assignment.
The next Five-O publicist was a man who was retiring to Hawaii anyway, so if the Lord fired him they wouldn't have to ship him back.
Many months later I stepped out of an elevator at Television City and ran into Jack Lord stepping in with some executives. Three thousand miles from the set, he had his make-up on.
I started to launch a spirited "But, Jack," or at least "Hi, Star," when I realized that I knew him but he didn't know me. I'd never met the man.
So I stepped out and he stepped in.