Sharon Farrell Interview

Actress Sharon Farrell had guest roles during the original Hawaii Five-O, and in the show’s final season, played policewoman and Five-O team member Lori Wilson, wife of a Honolulu Police Department cop who was killed in the line of action. This interview was conducted by a freelance journalist in the late 1990s as part of a project for a book on another actor which never materialized. Reprinted with permission of the journalist and Sharon Farrell.

Q: You went to the Five-O Convention, I understand.  

A: There were a couple that I couldn’t go to because I was working. So -- there was one that I went to in California. Not too many people showed up!  

Q: That’s what I heard. I didn’t go -- I didn’t know about it at the time.  

A: It wasn’t very well organized. It wasn’t anybody’s FAULT, either -- it was just, you know, one of those things. But it was fun seeing the few actors that showed up. But at that time, too, when Jack Lord was alive, he had a certain strength over people. He was a nightmare. He was just a nightmare. You just never knew what he was going to do. He was a very powerful person, and he could keep you from working at CBS, and he was very vindictive and very cruel.  

Q: I’ve heard some different things about that...  

A: Well, for example, he called me up and wanted me to be on the show. He called me directly. And [another director], at the time, wanted me to do his show, and he was gonna pay me $15,000 a week to do a pilot that he had. And Jack said, “Oh God, Sharon, turn that down -- we’re gonna pay you more than that.” So Jack Lord got me for $5,000! Because he kept calling me, and kept telling me to turn down things, and I really believed him. And he had done a thing for me where I played two roles [Why Won’t Linda Die? – season 10 show]…  

Q: Right, he directed you in that.  

A: Every time I went there he would make me jewelry. He bent over backwards for me. I reminded him of an actress that he and his wife were very very good friends with, and this actress was a very sexy gal who used to be a stripper or something, and then she became an actress, and -- I’m trying to think of her name --  

Q: Marie Wilson?  

A: Marie Wilson! Yeah. And he named my character Lori -- and he wanted it to be pronounced Lo-REE. Like Marie! And you know, of course, NO ONE called me Lo-REE. You know what I mean. It was LO-ri, if anybody did call me by my name. And whenever I had to say my name, I could never do “Lo-REE!” [laughs] And he would get me alone, he would come over to my hotel room and sit and talk for hours about -- and it was all very platonic, he never came after me or anything, but he would sit and tell me about [dramatic voice] how GORGEOUS I was, and how BEAUTIFUL I was, and how TALENTED, and all this, which was all really wonderful until, you know, by the time I was hired to do the show, I had turned down the other show. Jack said, “Sharon, your agents are so difficult, they are NOT good for you, I think you should leave your agents because you are gonna be dealing with me and you can trust me.” And by the time -- I had no agents, and I had turned down everything, and I was just sitting -- he just HAD me! And something fell through for my husband, and financially we just had to take “Hawaii Five-O”. So I went over there and I was making $5,000 a week on that show. When I came over, he demanded that my husband shave his mustache and beard off and cut his hair. He said, “Who does he think he is, Jesus Christ?” And well, my husband, his hair was long -- I always liked his hair long, he looked better that way -- he was more attractive when his hair was long and he had a mustache and beard. And my husband said, “Doesn’t matter, I’ll shave, I don’t care, I’ll shave my head.”  

Q: But that’s so strange! What difference could it make?  

A: Jack reneged on every part of the deal. And by that time, I was worried I would lose my house. Because he kept saying, “You’ve got to turn that down. That Movie of the Week, NO, you cannot do that, because we’re gonna need you before that time.” I had only had really good experiences with him when I worked with him before -- he was always so wonderful and so sweet to me. And so, when all of this thing happened with the financial part, and with the agents and all of this, he had just manipulated me into a really tight spot emotionally. And financially. And my husband and my son came, and I was supposed to go pick them up at the airport, and he called when they came in, and he said “I WANNA SEE YOU NOW.” And I said, “I have to go pick up my son.” I hadn’t seen my son and my husband for, like, you know -- my husband had been taking care of everything in Los Angeles before I came over there, you know, renting out the place and doing this and that -- taking care of business and stuff -- and I just didn’t listen to him. He wanted me to come over and talk about some script or something, and I just went to the airport and picked up my husband. And he flipped out! He berated me, he screamed at me, he -- he just -- and I was SO AFRAID of being fired, because I had gone out on a limb, and I thought, if he fires me now, I’m gonna go back into town, they’re gonna say I was fired, I have NO WORK, I have NOTHING. So I just sat there and let him say all these things to me. Now at the time, there was a cinematographer that was working on the show. And Jack would, like -- he would berate -- we’d be like in the middle of a scene or something, and he would turn around and he would start just tearing someone down. Unjustly! And he ended up firing this cinematographer. And the cinematographer came back and he -- it might have been the Globe or the Inquirer, or one of those -- he told them what it was like working with Jack Lord. And I’ll tell you something, everything that was printed in that magazine article was TRUE. Every single thing.  

Q: I haven’t seen that one.  

A: And Jack totally flipped out about it and everything else. I had given the cinematographer the contact to call, and I said, “You go to the Inquirer and you TELL THEM. You tell them. But don’t use my name, because I don’t wanna get fired!” [laughs] I gave him the name of someone I knew over at the Inquirer, or something, to do it. But it didn’t help much.  

Q: He was what he was.  

A: He was what he was, and it didn’t make him any better. It didn’t really change anything. You know what I mean. It didn’t really do any good for us. But it’s like -- my little boy -- he was just a little kid. I was working on the set in the middle of a huge dialogue and I glanced out of the corner of my eye and there were Dale and Chance over on the side or in the background somewhere -- and Jack stopped and said, “GET THOSE TWO PEOPLE OFF THE SET!! Get that man and that little blond child off the set!”  And I just burst into tears! It was just -- and then he said later, “Oh, I didn’t realize it was your husband, I didn’t realize it was your child. How sad. What does your husband do?” He feigned interest. Then he had him writing scripts! “Hawaii Five-O” scripts! None of which he ever -- he just USED him. Dale wrote about five scripts for him, and he would just bring him in and tell him what a terrible writer he was. And he was just -- he was SO CRUEL to my husband. And he got me in one time, and he said, “You know, Marie Wilson was such a wonderful girl, and her husband was so awful -- she just had the worst taste in men, and you’re just like her!” Well, he was transferring this woman’s life to MINE!! [laughter] And I thought, “Something’s wrong with this guy! He’s losing it! He’s nuts!” And sure enough, as the months went on, he started -- he couldn’t remember his lines. He started fumbling over his lines. He couldn’t remember anything. We would go over and over and over some words of his that he couldn’t get. And he PRIDED himself on memorizing lines -- and if YOU didn’t know your lines -- there was a note that you got when you came to visit to do the show -- “You do not get on the set unless you know every line backwards and forwards! I will not put up with anyone not knowing their lines or being ill-prepared for the work” --  

Q: Was this a letter that he sent to people?  

A: Yeah, it was a letter. There was no smoking, no fraternizing with the crew -- you weren’t supposed to talk to the crew -- and God, you know, I’ve been doing movies, and after working, after doing a whole week’s work and it’s Friday night and you’ve worked until 12:00, you know, usually you’d have a beer with the crew! But oh, no. He just thought that was horrible. We brought a van over to drive around in. And he didn’t like me in a van. He said, “You have GOT to be a LADY. You represent my show. You are supposed to be a lady.” He’d have a limo come pick me up. And you know, he’d invite ME to parties but exclude my husband. I’d go, I’d show up, and then I’d leave right away. I’d eat a little bit, he would introduce me around, and then I’d sneak out and come home. It was a very -- as a matter of fact, my husband and I broke up. He broke us up. And my husband went back to Los Angeles and I was finishing up doing “Hawaii Five-O”, and Bill Smith at that time was on the show too -- and Bill Smith -- every day he was gonna punch him out. Every day! [laughter] I tell you, Jack Lord was SO CRUEL to other people. It was like -- Bill Smith had a reputation for being difficult on sets, and everything, and he wanted -- he wanted to prove that he could work. You know. And everybody thought, we all thought that we were coming to Hawaii to work on a show that was very well-regarded -- and Jack Lord had made as many promises to Bill Smith as he had to me. And he had gotten HIM just as stuck financially, and everything else, as he had me. And we were just -- he was just the most frightening person in the world, because he could just stand there and LIE to you, and then not remember one word he had said the next day. And I really believe that the illness that he had was such that -- it had touched him in such a way that it just brought out -- you know how people will drink and they just become EVIL? Well, I think the illness, whatever it was that he had, did something like that to him. When he couldn’t remember things, he just got TWISTED, and he just -- he started changing lines. He couldn’t remember his lines, so he started changing EVERYBODY’S lines. “Oh, I don’t like the way -- why don’t you say THIS here, instead of that?” You know. He made it difficult for everyone. There was a woman who was on the show -- she was playing an astrologer -- she was Steve Allen’s wife?  

Q: Jayne Meadows?  

A: Yeah -- lovely lady -- she was playing an astrologer and had to do a lot of dialogue -- “This is Capricorn trine to Saturn,” she had to do a lot of this kind of gobbledygook thing. And he kept changing lines so much that she got a RASH! She just got a rash! She broke out in HIVES! She was calling Steve Allen every night saying “I can’t work with this man! He’s just driving me crazy -- he’s being so cruel and so mean!” It was so interesting because Jack Lord got away with being so cruel and so mean to so many people, and people covered for him. He had so many people afraid to say what it was. And any time we ever did an interview, or anything like that, all the interviewers would say, “Oh, we only want to do a positive article.” Jack Lord called me in one time -- it was my husband’s birthday, and he KNEW it was my husband’s birthday -- and he berated me because I -- in the script, when you get new pages, they’re pink, and you take out the old pages, and then next you get yellow pages, and you put them in -- they keep rewriting up until the time you did it. So you change the script. And as I changed my script, you know, I would throw the old pages in the wastepaper basket. Well, he got on my case for doing that. He said, “HOW DARE YOU throw those away? You could bring those home with you and your son could scribble on them and draw pictures!” And in a way he was right, you know, but he had called me away from my husband -- we were going to do something, you know, drive around the island for his birthday -- and he called me away to -- you know, he said “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?? You are one of the people who are destroying the Earth by littering and not using --” [laughter] You know, he ruined my day because it had such a touch of truth. ALL of it was crazy. And he insisted that I eat PRUNES every day. [laughter] He said “It’s VERY important to be regular!” [laughter] And he would have prunes SENT to me. And then -- this is the REALLY weird one -- he got very upset -- he said, “You know, over at Long’s” -- that was a drugstore over in Hawaii at the time -- “there’s a wonderful sale on toilet paper. You should get that!” And the next day I saw him, and he said, “Did you go pick up the toilet paper?” And I said -- I should have said, “Oh yes,” you know, lied -- but I was so astounded that he asked such a stupid question that I said, “Well, no, I did my wash yesterday, and I did other things, and my son and I went for a walk--” And he said “YOU DIDN’T GO --!” He sent over a limo and the limo came back FULL of toilet paper. [laughter] FULL of toilet paper!! And then he deducted it from my salary. I brought back toilet paper from “Hawaii Five-O”! From that one trip that he had them make -- I mean, it was a big stretch limo, and there was toilet paper -- it was FULL. We drove up and we just looked at each other, we just couldn’t believe it. The toilet paper was stuck in the trunk, around the driver, there was so much toilet paper -- [laughter] Between the prunes and the toilet paper, I was regular. I was a regular on “Five-O”, and I mean, I was REGULAR! [laughter] If nothing else, I was never constipated on that show! [laughter] But he -- I remember in a scene, we had to walk in -- we found a body and we had to examine it, and the coroner was there, and I said “You did a good job,” and I patted him on the back. Jack Lord called me into his office and he said, “YOU --” What did he say? Not “stroked” -- what’s another word for that -- “pawed.” “You PAWED that man! And he’s Hawaiian! That’s like a nigger!” He got VILE! “How can you be on my show PAWING -- you’re like a female in heat! Pawing another man! You’re supposed to be a cop!” And it was like, I PATTED him on the shoulder -- “you did a good job.” As I walked by, I patted him.  

Q: He used the word “nigger”? That wasn’t politically correct, even back then --  

A: Oh, he wasn’t politicially correct, believe me [laughs]. And he was obsessed with my breasts! He bought me different bras because he thought I was TOO BIG. He was always calling me a “sexy dame”. “She’s a sexy dame.” He was just -- he was out of his mind! Totally out of his mind. He was. He really did like me, but he was SO TWISTED -- God only knows. They brought in me and Bill [Smith] -- see, it came to a point where -- for Jack Lord to do the last year, he held out from the studios. He wanted to direct, and he wanted to do another pilot. He wanted to be in control of “Hawaii Five-O”. He told me he wanted to put me and Bill Smith -- we were going to run Hawaii Five-O. We were going to take over Hawaii Five-O. He was starting a new series -- he was some kind of captain -- I don’t know that much about it. But what they did was, they said “Oh, yah, yah, yah” to him, and they let him do the pilot -- it was so important to them to have him do that last year -- that they gave in to him, but they didn’t buy anything that he did. They didn’t buy the show that he did. But they made him finish up “Hawaii Five-O”. And of course, I think -- even though he had a certain kind of power to make people’s lives miserable over there, changing lines and everything -- he couldn’t change the STRUCTURE of a script. He couldn’t change -- you know, like “YOU’RE not in the show and I’m gonna take over.” The scripts would come from California. He could steal the good lines -- he could do what he could do on the set -- but he couldn’t change the structure of the show. He thought that he had this control, and he had it for a while, but no matter what, the network ruled. But the network didn’t know a lot of the stuff that was going on in Hawaii, either.  

Q: I just can’t see how so many people could work with him for years...  

A: Well, it could be, this thing that he had -- when he started losing his mind -- I mean, I think he had Alzheimer’s -- and when he started losing it, maybe that’s when I met him and he started becoming so cruel. Maybe he was a different kind of person before. How could people put up with someone who was so cruel and mean -- he might not have been like that from the very beginning. Maybe deep down he thought these things, but he didn’t act on them. Maybe he’d be real jealous of his co-stars, thought they were getting all the good lines, but he wouldn’t try to, you know, take them away from them -- it was just a thought. But when he was in a real position of power, when he was really THE star of the show, he could do that. As the show grew and everything, as the show grew in popularity, Jack Lord had the strength to say, “You know, if you want me to do the show, you’re gonna have to let me--” you know, I think he was the producer on the show eventually, and he kept it so that he was the one…. Jack was THE star. In the first couple of years, Jack couldn’t pull that, because he didn’t have the power. You know. But once the show was established as a show that everyone wanted to see, then he could pull that. Jack was just -- oh, man. He could watch somebody gettin’ their toenails pulled out. I swear. That kind of cruelty was just -- you can understand some stuff, but when someone is in this position of power and they can just inflict such cruelty on people, it’s just so, so unfair, you know.  

Q: There’s a lot I admire about Jack Lord, he brought himself up from nothing, and he worked very very hard --  

A: Well, who hasn’t?  

Q: Yeah, that’s true. [laughter] It’s too bad, though -- I think you hit him at a very bad point --  

A: Oh, I’m sure I got the worst of him. The last three years that I was on the show, he was always very -- when I had to do the thing with him -- he was doing a scene with me when he first “went up”. And that was when -- EVERYBODY was -- well, they just couldn’t believe it. But we were on the bed, and he was giving me a kiss or something, and he just couldn’t remember his lines. He couldn’t remember his lines. And also, he had me smoking, and stuff, in the thing. It was like -- I had STOPPED smoking -- he wouldn’t let anybody smoke on the set, right -- and he wrote in that he wanted me to be smoking. He said, “I want you to be smoking here too.” Well, he knew that I had just given up smoking! And every time I took a drag, I would get SO nauseous, and sick from the cigarette, it’s like -- for me to go on with my lines, and my dialogue, the cigarette was, like, the hardest thing in the world to do. I don't know -- but it was right about that time that -- in the show before, I had played this revolutionary, he wasn’t -- he wasn’t weird then. He was kinda mean to everyone, to the crew members -- he was always kinda mean. He really had echelons. He really believed that some people were beneath him. That some people just don’t count in life. That’s why I call him Hitler! Because he really didn’t have any use for some people. If someone was sweeping up, or something -- they’re not a human being! They don’t deserve to be treated like one. And I don’t like people like that. Stuff like that going on on a set -- you know, certain people have a certain size role or something, you say hello to them and you talk to them, but if people are extras, or if they’re members of the crew or something, and you don’t treat them like human beings? I mean, there is that Indian caste system that goes on everywhere, and I NEVER liked that. I REFUSE to -- I truly do believe that all men are created equal.  

Q: Jack did seem very class-conscious -- always talked about how his father was a steamship company executive, which I’m not sure is true. He wouldn’t let anyone talk to his family. I think he may have made up some things about his background.  

A: I’m sure you’re right. I think he just lived a total lie. I think he really missed out on life. He went through the whole thing, and he just missed out on what it’s all about. And it’s too bad, because a person in his position, with his power, could have done a lot of good. And he just missed out on the whole point. His life was a waste, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s strange -- he was a very tall man, anyway, but he wore those lifts in his shoes! [laughter] He was tall! He was, like, over six feet, six-two or something, and he wore lifts to make himself six-four!  

Q: There is a rumour that he had a number of facelifts, too.  

A: Well, I don’t mind THAT so much, but when he was wearing makeup in public, when he wasn’t working -- THAT was a little weird. He’d show up at a party at night, on some day where he hadn’t worked for three days, and he’d have makeup on. Or he’d come over to your house -- oh, he’d come over and spy on you. He wanted to know what was going on with everybody. I had this place right on the beach, and I’d find him and Marie drivin’ around, peekin’ in the windows! [laughter]  

Q: What about Marie?  

A: Oh, she was his slave. Something was wrong with her too. He’d give these little presents out for Christmas -- he’d always give me dolls -- and they’d be all wrapped -- it looked like some paraplegic wrapped them. He would pick up a wrapping. It’d be all twisted around, and -- the wrap would be used wrapper, she would re-use old Christmas wrapping, and it’d be all wrapped up with TWINE twirled around -- [laughter] It was like a paraplegic wrapped the present. And he would hold it up and talk about how [hushed tone] she wrapped EVERY ONE HERSELF. It was like -- he really looked like a nut case! I’ll tell you something -- he wore -- the makeup -- he did all this STUFF to his face, and you know, he was a very nice-looking man, you know? But he had all this SHADING -- I mean, the makeup on him -- all shaded -- and he wore mascara and everything! I mean, when you’ve got mascara on, and you’ve got, like, thick orange makeup, an inch thick, on your face, and you’ve got darker makeup making your nose more chiseled and your features more chiseled -- you know, when you’ve got tons of makeup on, you’re gonna look like Michael Jackson! [laughter]