A Talk with Marj Dusay: Part 2

HH: The first two seasons, Jack says in various interviews, were hell. They didn't know if the show was going to make it or not and he was under tremendous strain. You were in one of the first episodes [Episode #6, "24 Karat Kill"]. Did you notice anything like that?

MD: Well, he was very distant the first show that I did. I think I worked one scene with him or something. So I didn't get to know him, really, in the first show. But any new show has that nervous thing. I mean, do a pilot, that really gets the nerves jangling. Because they really don't know what they're doing there. All the characters are new, it's all up for grabs, everyone's a nervous wreck. I remember I did a pilot with Ted Bessell, my God, he had me taking about three Valiums a day, and I don't even use the stuff! He was a nervous wreck and he was seeing his analyst seven times a week and he wanted more appointments.

HH: The Hawaii Five-0 pilot was kind of strange -- it was more like a James Bond movie than a cop show.

MD: Another friend of mine, J. D. Cannon, an actor whom I just love -- I did The Cimarron Strip with -- he was offered that part. He was offered the lead in Hawaii Five-0. That's what I was told. But he said "I'm not moving to Hawaii".

HH: Apparently Jack Lord was a last-minute replacement for another actor. He got the call and showed up a few days later and that was it.

MD: Oh, so he got thrown right into it.

HH: Then it became pretty much The Jack Lord Show.

MD: Oh, definitely it was. And anybody around would tell you. It was almost bow-down time. That was the warning you basically got before you went there to shoot. It's like, speak when spoken to. You felt like you were going to visit the Hawaiian royalty! Some people distance themselves. Like I said, Mike Connors was exactly the opposite, on Mannix. Bill Conrad was exactly the opposite, on Cannon. Jack Lord wasn't like that. You got a little spooked with Bob Conrad, but once you got to know him -- and if you were there on time and did your part and everything else, he was great.

HH: He was gruff at first, Bob Conrad?

MD: Well, you never knew what he'd do. He was known for such a hot temper. He'd do things. They said "you can't do your own stunts anymore -- we can't cover you with insurance." So there'd be a stunt where a rope would have to swing all the way across a big cave, and the stunt person was going to actually do it. So Bob would go up there and test it. What he did was do the stunt anyway, just to prove that he could do it. But he said he was just "testing it". Then he'd come down and let the stunt man do it for the shot. Ego!

HH: He was a short guy.

MD: Yes.

HH: Getting back to Five-0, and "Singapore File": this was a memorable episode for many reasons. A lot of people remember that episode as being the first one that really hooked them into the show.

MD: You know what, say what you will about the soaps, but I think that did it. They liked the "soap" part. The romance.

HH: Well, what's funny is that Five-0 is like a soap opera in many ways. It's not just a cop show. People, especially women, want to watch these characters, day in and day out. The show has an incredible number of female fans. It's just amazing and I think that's probably why it was on for so long.

MD: Jimmy MacArthur was so charming, and cuddly, and cute. I can see him capturing his share of the women. Can't you?

HH: Oh, yeah.

MD: I mean, he really was. He was everything that he looked like he was. Sweet and kind and unassuming and cute, and did his job. And of course, Jack was, you know, formidable, a strong, sturdy, dependable guy. I can see how women would like the show.

HH: "Singapore File" was unusual in Five-0 because of the romance. Did they say anything to you in the beginning about what their plans were for this episode and the characters?

MD: When they first started out, what they said to me was simply that these two have to be thrown together. They didn't tell me a whole lot about this, but it was pretty well defined in the script -- that he wasn't going to trust me, and I didn't want to trust him. It was a lesson in trust. And we -- when you're isolated like we were, you know, you're put into circumstances beyond your control, you have no ID, you've lost your means of support -- he, in essence, lost his identity -- so it put us on an even keel to a degree. What they thought it was, was trying a romantic interest with him and seeing him juxtaposed -- seeing him stuck together with a woman not of his level. I think they hoped sparks would fly. Whenever two people, two opposite people, are stuck with each other, you wonder. You wonder how they're going to do it. You know they'll have to find a way of meshing together with some sort of trust, eventually. And that's always an interesting human drama when you say, okay, who's going to trust first, who's going to disappoint first.

HH: What were your impressions of McGarrett and Nicole and their relationship?

MD: I think they're both damaged people. However, he took the high road, and she was taking the low road -- she had a lot more fear overtake her -- until she got some sort of a guardian angel to help her. He was dedicated to work -- all-work-no-play, he was that kind of guy -- and I think she was the kind who was always running from things. So they were polar opposites. Opposites that meet. I thought that there was a kind of understanding between them without too much being said. It took some time for him to trust her, and her to trust him. But they communicated on some level. When two people are so opposite and yet communicate, it's very scary -- you know, it's scary to know that someone really understands you. And then you look at your life and say, "But we live such totally different lives. And yet, we communicate." It's very frightening to know that you're communicating with someone whom you're totally, totally different from. I think each person fears they're going to have to give up something of themselves. And people who are fearful protect themselves a lot.

HH: So you think they were both fearful in a certain respect, even McGarrett.

MD: Yes. He was fearful. I think most people who are Type A people, dedicated people, cause-oriented, have a reason. I think it's deep hurt. And disappointment somewhere.

HH: They want to get control of everything somehow?

MD: They want to make everything right somehow. That's how these damaged people react, I think. There are two paths you can go down. You can either be righteous, and be strong with that, or you can be the victim because you won't make any decisions and therefore you're victimized by the people around you. Like she was. And it's kind of pleasing, for some reason, to see these two people together. A pleasing contrast.

HH: That's an interesting analysis.

MD: Well, that's my take on it. I figure these things out psychologically. I say things like this sometimes to directors -- writers, even -- and they say, "Wow. I hadn't thought of it like that!"

HH: The contrast between the characters was intriguing.

MD: It would have been different if he'd fallen for a socialite in Hawaii, a lawyer in Hawaii, an activist -- an upstanding person like he was. Unless this socialite or whoever had a strange secret past, it wouldn't have been that interesting. This was a big risk for him. It made him vulnerable. So they were both vulnerable in this case. I think she was worried that she wasn't good enough for him. And he was worried that she wasn't good enough for him! (laughs)

HH: And there's a real tension between the two of you at first, when you're thrown together, and then you start to get used to each other and grow to like each other. It was like the movie It Happened One Night.

MD: Yeah, exactly. The development of trust -- that's always heartwarming to see.

HH: I think you might have been the best match for McGarrett, of the the love interests that they allowed him. You were warm and earthy, and had a sense of humor, and were a wonderful counterpart for him.

MD: Well, the thing of it is, you've got two opposites. You know, two stiff people, who cares if they're in love? (laughs) But I never got asked back to do anything else. I don't know why they didn't continue with some sort of a romance, but I guess they didn't need to.

HH: There seemed to be some kind of resistance to that.

MD: I think there was. I think they thought they'd lose the essence of his character, which is possibly true.

HH: It would have been nice for them to meet again. You're left wondering what eventually happens.

MD: Waiting for the other shoe to drop! (laughs)

HH: That bit of business with the shoes [in the bunk-bed scene] was a cute touch. Was that in the script?

MD: I think that was the director's idea.

HH: He just said "Let's try this --"

MD: Well, they did something that was a little bit unusual at the time, because in most television dramas, episodics then, to take time for real acting was very, very difficult. They had to be action-driven. And very often you found they wouldn't take time for subtleties. Directors a lot of the time weren't into it. "Get the action down, get the pages shot" -- you know, they didn't go for languishing sometimes on character. They thought the characters were so blatant that you didn't need that. However, that's what makes things memorable.

HH: Especially in this show, because it was really a character-driven piece -- nobody cares that much about the crime-drama part of it.

MD: Right.

HH: There's some funny stuff, like when he stares up your skirt as you climb into your bed.

MD: The guys liked that, I think. (laughs)

HH: So the director allowed you to develop these little --

MD: Yeah, I think we felt it was important. That was one thing that was so much fun about the show -- we were doing something just a bit different. It wasn't just "pump this show out, here". I think that's one reason Jack was so cooperative and willing to work to make it good -- he was searching for kind of a new avenue for himself. Maybe that got his attention a bit more, and I think he was very, very cautious about how it was going to affect people, too. So I think it was a sensitive show that way, for him and for the producers.

HH: You had a number of romantic scenes with Jack. What was it like to do those?

MD: I don't think the romance scenes were anything he was very comfortable with, at all. And I had to sort of play it like it was coming out of the situation. Anybody -- if you're in a life-or-death situation, lost, no ID, no nothing, scared to death, someone's chasing you, you would gravitate to whoever feels safe next to you. And I think in circumstances like that, maybe what pulled people in was the fact thathe had to concentrate on one person, who happened to be a woman -- and he had a moment there to think about this other side of his life, and her. And at this point he was stopped in his tracks, and he found out he had other needs. He won't succumb to them, but he has them. And no matter how cold he was -- shy, really, and alone -- he was a protector. Two people needing each other. Somehow he needed that for a moment. So what it was, in a way, was a tease. You know, for his character. A tease that allowed them to continue at other moments down the line saying "You know he'd really care if he could."

HH: Jack had trouble with these scenes?

MD: I think getting the desperation scene -- that scene on the bed -- was very difficult, getting the desperation of the reality of the situation. You know, "the end is near". It was a difficult scene to do because he was the kind of person he was. You can't expect in those circumstances to get too much from him. He more or less performed it. And you couldn't expect to get -- I didn't get the same kind of feedback, certainly, that I got from William Holden when I did the film Breezy, when he had to listen to me talk and he had to just be there, and he was absolutely wonderful. I thought, "Gee, this man is really here for me. Really right there. He believes this."

HH: Holden was a great actor.

MD: Yeah. But he was also a very kind actor in responding to you like that. You know, some stars won't stand on the other side and do their lines while you're getting your closeup. You do it with the script girl reading the lines. Whereas the guests are pretty much demanded to be there for the star on everything he does. There's your star power. If it were a simple, little thing, where you make one turn and say a couple of lines, who cares. But when the scene's important, most actors really should have the dignity to be there for you. Holden was one that would do that.

HH: Did Jack do this for you?

MD: Yes, he tended to be there. Especially in the scenes where it was getting much more intimate, more fear, and everything. I would say he was pretty much there.

HH: But he seemed to retreat, emotionally, in that scene?

MD: Well, he's not an emotional man. Not an outwardly physical emotional man. Everything -- you know, his moves are planned. He's more of a "planned" actor. Some actors have to have everything planned. Some actors are by-the-seat-of-their-pants kind of people. And he was more -- I'd say he dictated and planned, almost choreographed every move. Not to say you can't create quite a charisma that way, because he obviously did. But some actors are more instinctual. And you feel that they're more "there with you". You're safe. You're safe to make a fool of yourself. And there's probably a certain amount of lack of safety that he'd give you because you could see his work.

HH: He does have a sort of brittleness in that scene -- there's a lot of tension and I think it actually works well, because of the circumstances and the characters.

MD: Yes. I think it also helped that I got to know him a little bit beforehand. You have to see how you fit with somebody. He allowed me at least to do that, to sit with him going over the lines. So I could say, you know, if it were really Jack and myself, how would I make him vulnerable. And how would I take safety from him in that moment because I NEED IT. Whether or not he can give it is immaterial! But I need it, so how would I make myself take it from him. "I trust you, I do, I really do, and I know, no matter what, no matter who I've been, what I've been, you WILL help me." So as an actor you have to find your own way to say, how can I get this even if they're not going to be there for me.

HH: That must be difficult.

MD: It is difficult! But that's one of the actor's jobs, because everybody has a bad day. And you know, some people don't have many good days! "So you leave me out there alone, honey, swingin' in the wind!" It's not fun swingin' in the wind! (laughs)

HH: It turned out to be a great scene. You made it clear that you got to him somehow. You found a chink in that armor.

MD: People like that are challenges to women. Romantic challenges!

HH: Like Spock.

MD: Yeah! (laughs) You know, I was the one who stole his brain. "Spock's Brain". My claim to fame.

HH: Do you participate in any Star Trek events?

MD: Yeah, I'm going to go out and do a couple of shows for them. You'd be just amazed at how many people are Trekkies. You never know. You'll talk to somebody -- they'll be 22 years old, they'll be 65 years old. And they'll just all of a sudden turn purple and say "YOU did a STAR TREK??" It's really uncanny.

HH: Besides "Singapore File", you were also excellent in "24 Karat Kill".

MD: I haven't watched that one in years. I think I've seen it once.

HH: It's a good episode. Your part in it is very good. You're this tough, no-nonsense undercover agent. Beautiful, but not a bimbo.

MD: They did do a few intelligent things, didn't they? (laughs)

HH: Are you still on Guiding Light?

MD: No, I left it in March. They wrote me out. They said they had too many Spauldings. (laughs) I think they wanted to make the show younger, bring in more characters -- and any time there's a takeover, they want to revamp the show.

HH: You'd been on it for years, hadn't you?

MD: Three and a half years. It was a part that was going to continue into infinity as long as the show was on. But I was cut. I was the only major character to be cut, really. I got a lot of interesting mail because people didn't like the character going off the show at all.

HH: From what I understand, she was a popular character.

MD: A very popular character. But they changed the show so much -- and I never understood soaps anyway. I just look at my part and say, what can I do to make this anywhere near real. I liked the character, she had possibilities, and you keep just hoping and praying every night that someone's going to come up with an intelligent story. What we do is relate life in a spectacular way, try to make people feel better or say something about family life, the situation of living. But, when you're constantly disappointed and it keeps descending into manipulative writing and repetitive stories, you just say, Jesus! At least let me entertain!

HH: It's a grueling schedule, isn't it?

MD: You work anywhere from one to five days a week. Usually a heavy lead works two to three days a week. You have a contract that says you're guaranteed two shows, three shows a week. Some people have contracts that say one show a week, one and a half shows a week. It's dependent on the story. On the average I would say you work three days a week if you're heavy. Sometimes you go through months where you work four and five. That's a killer.

HH: What is your next project?

MD: I'm reading for some plays now. I really want to do a play in New York. I have this film coming out -- I think in December -- with Denis Leary, called The Bitter End. I'm looking for plays and I'm reading for television things. Probably in February we'll head out to California for pilot season out there. Then I'll go from there. I'm doing some writing. I've got a couple of ideas for projects.

HH: What kind of writing?

MD: Well, I'm writing some monologues, and there's a play idea I have. So I'm working a little bit on that with some writers. We'll see what happens to it. I've always worked at trying to create things - there's a few things I've cared about that I've wanted to produce -- so we'll see what happens.

HH: I'd love to see you in something that you've written for yourself. I wonder why actors don't do that more often. Because it's hard, I guess.

MD: Well, I'm a good re-writer and I have very good ideas. But I don't sit down and write novels. It's a different kind of thing. I'm trying to create a show where we can do some theater, live and on television. I've always loved creating new things that I think would be fun for audiences. And that probably comes from my years of improv. You get to know an audience, get to feel them out, and I think somehow really getting to a live audience is the experience that you want. Something live is always much more fun.

HH: Where you can feed off their energy.

MD: Yes. That's why doing a sitcom, a really good sitcom, is the greatest joy in the world, because you've got an audience once a week.

HH: And they actually laugh.

MD: Yeah, right! You're actually there and you can see them and play with them. And that's fun.

HH: I didn't know that you did improv.

MD: Oh yes. That's how I started out. Improv comedy, with people like Mike Nichols and Jonathan Winters.

HH: I would think someone like Jack, with his need for planning, would find that terrifying.

MD: Oh, he probably couldn't do it! Some people can't do it. Well, some people can't do soaps. They can't learn the dialogue that fast, and the pressure's too much. Some people need a month to rehearse. I mean, we'd go in, we're rehearsing after makeup in the morning, and we're shooting the show at 3:00 in the afternoon. Of course, you know your character, but you've got different words every day. And you should try and get the dialogue right. The onus is on you to know it. And if you're not used to learning things that quickly, you can be a problem to them, and they can't afford to have you on the show. It's hard work. It's very hard work. To squeeze in some acting is a miracle!

HH: One last question for you. How did you ladies back in the '60s sit down in those incredibly short skirts?


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