"Hawaii Five-O" was one of the biggest hits in television history. After all, only the great ones return to life, albeit with a new cast, a contemporary setting, crime-fighting tools that would have made Steve McGarrett's head swim, and enhanced cinematography that makes our island state more lush and beautiful than it looked the first time around.

However, a story written after a phone interview with Jack Lord in 1969 reminded me that "Hawaii Five-O" was lucky to have survived its first season (1968-69). Its escape from cancellation didn't rival the nail-biting adventure of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" a few years earlier, but it came close.

Providence Sunday Journal, September 7, 1969


It has all the makings of a classic television tale ...

“Hawaii Five-O.”

The series stumbled along in 45th place in the Nielsen ratings during the early part of the 1968-69 season. It was pre-empted four times in its first nine weeks, killing any chance it had to attract an audience. It was considered very likely to be canceled.

But strange things happened on the way to oblivion. Not only was “Hawaii Five-O” renewed for a second season, but now may be on the verge of becoming a big, fat hit.

Jack Lord senses this and in his recent phone call from Hawaii listed the reasons:

“We’re getting calls from good actors who want to be on the show. Good directors are asking if they can do an episode or two. And the show already is sold out for the season.”

And if momentum means anything, “Hawaii Five-O” has it made. In the ratings taken during the summer, the show finished in eighth place.

“Isn’t that something!” Lord exclaimed. “Talk about coming off the canvas!”

The Hawaii-based show couldn’t have been in worse shape last season. It had a bad timeslot for a police drama – Thursdays at 8 – and its lead-in program was “Blondie,” one of the biggest disasters in recent seasons.

Lord received a break in mid-season when CBS moved the series to Wednesdays at 10, switching Jonathan Winters into the Thursday slot. Not surprisingly, Winters was canceled a few weeks later.

However, ratings for “Hawaii Five-O” immediately began to improve. “I always thought we were a 10 o’clock show,” said Lord. “Our’s just isn’t the kind of thing you’d like to watch early in the evening, and it’s certainly not a children’s show.”

The program got an unexpected boost when its title song became a hit record. By late spring, “Hawaii Five-O’ was off the critical list. It even was strong enough to knock off its NBC competition, “The Outsider.”

A hit would be a long overdue reward for Lord, who has lived up to his reputation as a fussy actor when it comes to choosing his parts. He turned down starring roles in 22 other television series, including “Wagon Train,” “Ben Casey,” “The Man From UNCLE” and “Judd for the Defense,” before “Hawaii Five-O” came along. His only previous attempt at weekly television was 1962’s “Stoney Burke,” a contemporary Western. The actor believed the show had something relevant to say about our society, but viewers did not agree. “Stoney Burke” was canceled after one season.

“ ‘Stoney’ was the most successful flop in television history,” Lord claimed. “As soon as it went off the network it went into syndication. Only 163 network stations carried it for ABC, but 210 stations carried it in syndication. It was very popular for most of them. I’m still getting money from ‘Stoney Burke.’ I own 25 per cent of it.”

After “Stoney’s” demise Lord limited himself to ten guest roles per season. “You can do too much television,” he said. “I didn’t want to take the chance. Besides, but doing only 10 shows a year I had plenty of time to travel and paint.”

Lord also thinks it is difficult to find more than ten interesting television roles per year.

After “Stoney Burke” the actor had turned down all series roles for five years until he agreed to do a pilot for “Cutter’s Trail,” a Western set in the immediate post-Civil War era. CBS had expressed an interest, but instead went with another Western, “Cimarron Strip,” for the 1967-68 season. But the network wanted something for Lord and found it before the ‘67-68 season was over.

“I got a call one morning at 9,” Lord recalled. “The network said they had a show that would suit me fine. They gave me two hours to decide.”

Lord read the pilot script and fell in love with the character – a passionate policeman who cares about people.

“I think this is a good image for police and will do more for them than all the bumper stickers in the world.”

And so “Hawaii Five-O” was born. It became a two-hour pilot film that was shown as a CBS Thursday movie.

Besides a good, strong character, Lord said he looks for something else in a series. He wants harmony. He said he has seen too many programs that were battlegrounds for bickering actors.

“I vowed my series would be a happy one. It is. We were particularly lucky to get Jimmy MacArthur to co-star. We get along very well.”

Lord’s thinking is that life is too short to waste on petty squabbles. “Look, I have to get up at 4 a.m. I don’t get home at night until 9. A 72-hour work week is our basic minimum; an 84-hour work week is more common. You can’t spend all that time on something unless it’s a pleasant experience. If you do something that eats at your guts all the time, you’ll just destroy yourself.”

So Lord is happy in his work. And he has a feeling he’ll be a lot happier when the new season begins.

What wasn't mentioned — because at the time I hadn't noticed it — was one noticeable change that had been made to "Hawaii Five-O" between the time the pilot was filmed and the series went into production. The characters were toned down. Hawaiian shirts gave way to suits. Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong), one of Steve McGarrett's detectives, suddenly was subdued, rather than the upbeat extrovert he was in the pilot. Likely this change was initiated by Lord after he took a good, long look at the pilot.

The 1969 interview was one of four I had with the actor. Our first meeting was face-to-face when he showed up in Cleveland in 1962 to promote his first series, "Stoney Burke," about a rodeo rider. On his publicity Lord showed up for all his interviews dressed in a cowboy outfit . He was living his role as Stoney. My story said, in part:

Akron Beacon Journal, December 9, 1962

A versatile fellow named Jack Lord died June 13 of this year and even his closest friends didn't know about it until recently.

June 13 was the day Lord began work on his television series, "Stoney Burke."

Lord still walks, talks, eats and breathes ... but it is obvious to anyone who has been with him lately that Jack Lord – the man – is gone. Only Stoney Burke survives. Lord – the actor – is so completely wrapped up in his TV role he has abandoned his off-camera personality.

When he teamed with producer Leslie Stevens last spring to invent rodeo rider Stoney Burke, Lord set out to create a person different from anyone he had ever met. Someone had to give ... and it was Lord, who changed his ways to fit the Stoney Burke image.

The scary thing is you don't know how to take this fellow in the cowboy hat. Often you're not sure he's serious ... our putting you on.

He talks about the satisfaction of pleasing children in the audience.

"We receive 500 letters a week and I read every one. We get letters from little kids saying, 'Dear Stoney, I love you and I'm glad you forgave Ves Painter last week.' "

Ves Painter (Warren Oates) is a villain on the show who manages to upset Stoney, but Stoney is a big man. He always forgives Ves. Lord ... Stoney ... whoever I was talking to ... said the show plans to gradually turn Painter into a good guy.

"We believe we can accomplish a lot of good in this world. We're interested in our influence on children because they represent what this country can and will become.

"Do you realize what ten producers like Stevens and myself could accomplish in just one season by teaching children that forgiveness, tolerance and other good qualities still have a place in the world."

Lord's conversation isn't bubbling and he doesn't often laugh, but when he talks about children this way his face lights up. He says he frequently visits hospitals to see children. He said he won his argument to have Stoney abstain from smoking or drinking for fear this might have a bad influence on young viewers. (This was a touchy matter; one of the program's sponsors is a cigar company. Also, the real Jack Lord is a chain smoker.)

Stoney Burke is a bachelor and will remain that way. "Stoney loves women," said Lord. "Let me emphasize that: He LOVES woman, but he will not get married."

Lord is married, however, to fashion designer Marie de Narde. He called her "the most fascinating woman I have ever met. Our marriage is continually fresh and happy."

Fame that usually accompanies television success was a long time coming for Lord. He appeared in several plays, TV shows and movies before "Stoney Burke" came along, but he lacked the colorful persona that makes a "star."

Lord is a multi-talented and well educated individual, a graduate of New York University, a skilled painter, a fine athlete and an accomplished actor.

Stoney Burke is a simple man and Lord feels this uncomplicated, honest character is more identifiable with the audience than is the artistic, intellectual type. Thus Lord chose to become Stoney, rather than vice versa.

Lord's paintings have been exhibited in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington. But Stoney Burke doesn't paint, so Lord hasn't picked up a brush since June 13.

"I work 65 hours a week on the show and don't have time to do anything else," he said.

Lord has a five-year contract with Daystar Productions. He also is a full partner in the show, which is one reason he agreed to do "Stoney Burke." It was an opportunity to control his career.

"I am the program's only star and I am in every scene," he said. "I'm giving Daystar Productions five years of my life and I want to be sure I get more out of those years than just money."

As was mentioned in the first story, "Stoney Burke" was canceled after one season and 32 episodes. That's right, 32. Television seasons were longer back then. The thinking was a series had to run at least three seasons to accumulate enough episodes to be marketable in syndication where the real money was made. However, even one season's worth of episodes was enough to provide Lord with extra income for several years after "Stoney Burke" was canceled.

Lord was a serious man, dedicated to his work, whether it was acting or painting. He was born John Joseph Patrick Ryan in 1920, and his career was delayed by World War II when he served first in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and later with the Merchant Marines. He was a bit older and a lot wiser than most actors, and plotted each move very carefully. For awhile it appeared he might be too fussy, but his insistence upon getting a piece of the action eventually paid off.

Lord made his first movie appearance in 1949 in something called "Project X," a suspense tale about Communist infiltration in the United States. The film was made in New York City where Lord was studying acting with Sanford Meisner. In the 1950s he worked mostly on the Broadway stage. Among his roles was Brick in "Cat on Hot Tin Roof." He succeeded Ben Gazzara in the role.

In 1955 he played Elizabeth Montgomery's husband in the Gary Cooper film, "The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell." After two films in 1958, "God's Little Acres" and another Cooper film, "Man of he West," Lord's on-camera performances were mostly for the small screen. Among them were two guest roles on "Rawhide" and one each on "Naked City" and "Route 66." People in the business were impressed with his work and started offering him lead roles in television series.

Lord said he turned down 22 series before he agreed to do "Stoney Burke." After that show was canceled he received more offers, including "The Man from UNCLE," which later went to Robert Vaughn. Most interesting, perhaps, is that Lord was asked to play Capt. James Kirk in "Star Trek" in place of Jeffrey Hunter, who starred in the series pilot film. Lord wanted co-producer status and part ownership in the series, prompting creator Gene Roddenberry to withdraw the offer.

Meanwhile, he also laid down unacceptable conditions to reprise the role of U. S. agent Felix Leiter in "Goldfinger." Lord originated the role in the first James Bond film, "Dr. No," released in 1962, the same year he began "Stoney Burke." Lord asked to be listed as co-star of "Goldfinger," with Leiter's part greatly expanded. No deal, the producers replied.

As mentioned in the 1969 story above, Lord did a pilot for a Western called "Cutter's Trail" before he moved into "Hawaii Five-O." The script for "Cutter's Way" was rewritten a few times and finally made as another pilot, this time starring John Gavin. It never became a series, but was shown as a CBS movie.

In 1972, after "Hawaii Five-O" had become a big hit, Lord hit the phone interview circuit again. I've lost the story that came out of that conversation, so I don't know what his concerns might have been. In 1975, when I had my final interview with Lord, he was upset that CBS had moved his show from Tuesday nights, where it was very popular, to Friday nights where it was being beaten regularly by NBC's "The Rockford Files."

A month after the call, CBS gave in to Lord's request and moved the show again, this time to Thursdays, and the ratings went up.

There were other things on Lord's mind in '75. For one thing, he still liked to talk about "Stoney Burke."

"If ABC had had more guts at the time, that show would still be on the air," said Lord. "Stoney was a peaceful hero in a violent setting, a man way ahead of his time on television. And look at the other actors on that series – Warren Oates and Bruce Dern. Look at how far they've come since then."

On the other hand, Lord's Steve McGarrett of "Hawaii Five-O" was the central figure in a very violent program.

Lord admitted there was violence, but thought it was appropriate for "Hawaii Five-O." He was annoyed by a certain U. S. Senator from Rhode Island (John Pastore), though he didn't mention him by name

"It was that loud mouth from Rhode Island who started all this fuss about violence on television. I even wrote him a letter and told him he had found a great way to grab a headline. I see he's retiring, and that's good. But I suppose some other politician will come along and jump on television as a way to attract attention.

" 'Hawaii Five-O' is genuine action, a reflection of what goes on in our world. But remember, every one of our episodes makes the point, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, that crime doesn't pay. And I can tell by the mail we receive that our viewers are getting that message and they appreciate it."

However, Lord was not willing to give the letter writers something that a lot of them wanted – more up close and personal information about Steve McGarrett, whose private life was a deep, dark secret on the series.

"People want to know more about what McGarrett's home life is like, what he does when he is home. But even if we chose to reveal that, I don't think we could match what our viewers have built up in their heads over the past seven years.

"Besides, I think the enigma of McGarrett is good. It intrigues the hell out of people."

Lord's "Hawaii Five-O" ran for 12 seasons, leaving the network in 1980. Lord and his wife, fashion designer Marie de Narde, were firmly settled in Hawaii by this time and lived out their lives there. Lord was ill for several years before his death in 1998. His wife died seven years later. Their entire estate, worth $40 million, was willed to a dozen Hawaii charities.

[Note: Marie de Narde was the second Mrs. Lord. He and his first wife, Anne Willard, were divorced in 1947. They had one child, a son, who was killed in an accident at the age of 13.]