This Renaissance Man and one-time third mate runs a tight ship

TV Guide, September 4, 1971

The Hawaiian Village Dome was packed for the Honolulu Press Club's annual Gridiron roast. It was the night when the island's most illustrious citizens, including Mayor Frank Fasi and Sen. Hiram Fong, took their lumps in good grace. Everybody was there whooping it up. Everybody, that is, except Jack Lord.

The Brooklyn-born star of Hawaii Five-O, a cops-and-robbers show shot entirely in Hawaii, had been tipped off in advance by his press agent that the parody might be a little rough. The choir sang:

    Jack Lord, superstar!
    Are you as great as your great PR?
    Jack Lord, superstar!
    No one's as great as they say you are. . .
And the narrator intoned: In the beginning was the word. And the word was Jack Lord!

To which "Jack Lord" replied: I am the Lord, by God, and there shall be no other superstars before me -- only featured players.

Too bad Jack missed out. For the islanders seldom pay you the compliment of a ribbing on the Gridiron show unless they think you're a big man. Instead, he sent his regrets, explaining that while he himself did not mind being raked over the coals by the Press Club -- in a script co-authored by an old Lord nemesis, Dave Donnelly, columnist for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- he feared that it "might embarrass my wife, Marie."

The Gridiron celebrants found it all highly amusing, especially the part about "Abou Ben Wood:"

. . .And there arose among the scribes a foul assassin of words, a son of Ishmael called Abou Ben Wood, and he blasphemed the Lord and caused to be printed the words James MacArthur Co-Star!

Ben Wood, the Star-Bulletin's entertainment editor, had had the temerity last year to run a story about a Five-O set decorator who, it turned out, as a descendant of a well-known island family. "Viewers assume that Zulu and Kam Fong are the only island-born stars of the hit CBS series," Wood had written. "But there is a third local principal, a silent and unseen star who is highly regarded. He is set decorator Buck Henshaw. . ."

Wood describes what happened next. "My phone rang. It was the show's press agent. He said that 'management' was 'very upset' over the piece. I had called Zulu and Kam Fong stars. They are not stars, I was told. Not even Jimmy MacArthur. They are all 'featured players.' There is only one star of Five-O, and that is Jack Lord. When I reported this conversation in print, a couple of CBS vice presidents (Perry Lafferty and Paul King) got into the act. 'Management' had said no such thing. They demanded a retraction, making it look as if I was guilty of inaccurate reporting. That was when we began to refer to 'Jimmy MacArthur, Co-Star'."

The entire motif for the Gridiron spoof was "the Lord's" apparent compulsion to control everything and everyone connected to the show -- even the usually inescapable facts of life and time. For instance, if Jack had been born the year his current bio says (1930), he would have graduated from John Adams High School in Queens, N.Y., at the age of 7 and been married the first time (he was third mate on a Mediterranean cruise ship at the time) at the age of 9. He not only doctored the official CBS biography, he rewrote it, thereby supplying some examples of the Lord prose style. According to Jack, he was "tempered in the crucible of the New York stage . . . a highly disciplined product of the theater, steeped in the art of acting . . . and possesses a striking facial bone structure for which the cameras have an affinity."

A painstaking "photography buff," he professes to know more about that art than any pro. Once he nearly got CBS into a lawsuit with Skin Diver magazine. Publisher Paul J. Tzimoulis agreed to submit (at Jack's request) a photo layout of Lord and Jimmy MacArthur skin diving. "No one, star or otherwise, has ever had the bold audacity to destroy my photographs," Tzimoulis heatedly wrote the network. "That is my privilege, no one else's." Eventually Lord did return them, badly defaced.

The seemingly compleat Renaissance Man, he is a serious painter whose pictures are included in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and some 40 others (a complete list comes with every bio), a poetry lover who recites e.e. cummings as naturally as another man might eat, the author of a "forthcoming" book on Hawaii, and, some say, a prime asset of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, swelling the tide of tourism by his own personal involvement and enthusiasm. "Supersalesman of the islands!" cries one "approved" chronicler.

"I think he's pretty well respected," says Dr. Tom Hamilton, the former University of Hawaii president who now runs the HVB. "And no doubt Five-O has some impact. But it would be pretty hard to say how many visitors the show brings in compared to, say, the Hawaiian Open golf tournament, which is also on TV. I personally like him very much, although the Bureau has no direct contact with him."

Sometimes selling the "Renaissance Man" gets pretty sticky -- also wildly funny. For instance, it is hard to buy the fact that all those art works hang in all those museums. The fact is they don't necessarily. A year or so ago jack turned out signed serigraphs (silk-screen color prints) by the hundreds. His press agent was delegated to address and mail them in cardboard tubes to museums, accompanied by a letter designating the serigraph as "a donation valued at $100." CBS paid the postage. Later, in a businesslike fashion, he dispatched another letter asking the curator either to return the "donated" print or sign a paper acknowledging its acceptance by the museum.

CBS has no choice but to let Jack get away with this sort of thing. Success can excuse a hundred transgressions. But it makes it hard to promote the Lord image. (The show is now being represented by its sixth press agent.) Whenever a writer turns up who doesn't want to talk about "bone structure" or isn't on the approved list, Lord is likely to come down with the "flu," or the show to develop "labor troubles."

The local press, which tends not to take anything too seriously, is alternately bemused and bewildered by these goings on. On the We-Love-Jack side is the Honolulu Advertiser gang, enthusiastically led by columnist Eddie Sherman and his executive editor, Buck Buchwach, who may be found almost any day sitting around the Kahala Hilton pool, a short walk from the Lords' spiffy, 4000-sq.-ft. beach condominium. Sherman is a one-time comedian whose wife, Peggy Ryan, plays the secretary on the show and who himself holds the title of "consultant."

Eddie serves a useful purpose. "I make him laugh," he says. "He can use it. Serious man, you know. Helluva painter. Gets up at 4 A.M. and jogs on the beach. When 6:30 rolls around, he's clear-eyed, every hair in place. Works a 14-hour day and never goes out socially during shooting. He's betting all the chips on this show."

Ben Wood and Dave Donnelly lead what they laughingly call the opposition. The bearded Donnelly, a sometime actor who graduated to columning from a children's TV show called Checkers and Pogo, is forever suggesting that "the real star of Five-O is Hawaii itself," which irritates Jack but with which most islanders seem to agree. "We might see our friends or even ourselves on the show." "I try to remain scrupulously aloof," says Donnelly, who nevertheless has appeared on Five-O three times himself. "I mean, how silly can you get? No, I don't mind Eddie's buddyship with Jack. I get plenty of items."

Of all the public figures on the island it is Aku (Hal Lewis), the millionaire disc jockey, who knows and appreciates Jack best. "J. Akuhead Pupule" dominates island radio -- a green neon A-K-U has long since replaced the KGMB call letters on the tower. Everyone loves Aku, and Aku loves Jack. In fact, this one-time fiddle player from Seattle and his beautiful Polynesian wife, Emma, are probably the best friends Jack and Marie Lord have. "To me this guy's a real craftsman," Aku will tell you. "Juices himself up like a fighter, gets everybody else all jazzed up. The guy's classy. Really dedicated. Never stops working."

Jack can feel at ease with Aku as with few people. This is because, one observer thinks, "Aku shares the same drives. Jack can live with it because they are not in direct competition." Thus Marie feels free to bake her datenut bread for Aku, or send over her famous home-made cheeseball. For his part Aku likes to talk about how 90 per cent of a possible 204,000 Hawaiian sets tuned in to Five-O every Tuesday night, or to compliment Jack on the campaign he voluntarily waged to raise $150,000 for the retarded-children's home.

Marie Lord, the one-time New York fashion designer, his devoted wife of 23 years, bakes his bread and bolsters his confidence by constantly reminding him, "Remember, Jack, it's your show. You are the show. You are the star." She recently told an interviewer: "I don't think anyone else on earth knows all of Jack because there are so many facets. But I do and that makes me one of God's most fortunate women. . . . He's reserved, but he's also Irish and that means explosive. One more thing. Tenderness. Through all the years there have been endless unexpected, sweet and touching expressions of it -- always fresh and lovely."

The side he shows to his co-workers is not always lovely. He tends to direct for his directors and light for his cameramen. Directors handle this in their various ways. "You have to treat him like Paul Scofield," says one. "Otherwise he won't react to your direction." "Jack is undirectable," says another. "Since I'm a director I find that unbearable." Guest stars -- uh, actors -- come away awed by his technical knowledge, also "with the distinct feeling that I was a snake being come at by a mongoose." Jimmy MacArthur diplomatically declines to talk about him. Kam Fong, the one-time Honolulu cop turned actor, one of the best-loved Chinese in the islands, finds his lips similarly sealed.

Zulu is not quite so cautious. But then, Zulu is a special case. A young, down-to-earth Hawaiian, he is -- and was, before Five-O -- a talented comedian who is part Godfrey Cambridge and part Zero Mostel. He is a gifted mimic, sings tolerably well and puts together a show that packs Waikiki's C'est Si Bon supper club nightly.

None of this ever shows on Five-O. "Jack won't let him do anything," says a co-worker. Consequently Zulu exists only as a "dumb Hawaiian" as far as the haoles (mainlanders) are concerned. This bugs him.

"My friends think I'm a trained-animal act. Yes, boss; no, boss," Zulu said on stage the night I saw him perform. "Well, some day this animal will be laughing all the way to the bank."

Zulu claims he has a "10-year plan" to retire in 1980 with $2,000,000 in order to pursue his major interest, Hawaiiana. Right now he needs the Five-O affiliation; it helps bring the haoles in.

Beneath the posturing, boondoggling, actor-ego trips and carefully constructed façades, John P. Ryan (Lord's real name) is buried so deep that few people ever get a look at him. The human things he seldom talks about or simply denies ever existed. Like his tragic first marriage. At 19, Third Mate Ryan met the daughter of an Argentine diplomat on a cruise ship. They were married by the captain and spent five weeks honeymooning on the French Riviera. Jack then rejoined his ship and his wife returned to Buenos Aires. A few months later she learned she was pregnant. He quickly rented a "dream house" on Chesapeake Bay, but the romance was over. She wanted to stay in Argentina. He went to see his son just once. After that she returned his letters unopened.

He did hear from her once more, however, in 1953. The envelope bore a single enclosure -- his 13-year-old son's death certificate.

"Jack is the kind who never whimpers but just squares off his jaw and starts all over again," Marie has said. Many people call him "Stoneface," but it wasn't always so. Those who saw him as Ben Gazzara's replacement in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" on Broadway remember a powerful, emotion-charged performance. "He really tore the theater apart," says one. They remember, too, when he first got to Hollywood, how he dared fly in the face of the system by refusing to play any more heavies. Typecasting, he didn't mind saying, constituted "an emotional prison. What this industry needs is a good hypo of daring, mixed with guts and imagination."

In 1963, at about the time his earlier TV series, Stoney Burke, was on the wane, a change came over Jack. "He saw success come to so many of his contemporaries. It bothered him," says an old acquaintance. Time was running out. He was already 42 years old. In the end he gave in to that same "industry" with its lack of "daring, guts and imagination." The Establishment Fighter joined the Establishment. "That's the really sad part. All that talent, all that sensitivity," says one old admirer, "ground up like so much raw meat. It's one of the cruel things about the business."

My half day with Jack was as stiffly formal and stylized as a Kabuki dance. Actually, it was a miracle I saw him at all. I represented one of the nosey mainland writers and hence a threat. And it was only through the urging of his partner-producer Leonard Freeman, that I saw him at all.

The company is shooting a chase at Sea Life Park, the Hawaiian equivalent of Marineland, about a half hour's drive outside town. The scenery is, as usual, magnificent. The talk of the set is the impassioned opening-day speech Jack had made to the troops early that morning. It was strictly King Henry V before Agincourt, Churchill before the Battle of Britain, Rockne before the army game. He called for "blood, sweat and tears" to overcome the disadvantages of the new time slot (the show, which has been a highly rated Wednesday night fixture, is being shifted to Tuesday this fall). He ended with a silent prayer.

"I was embarrassed," someone confides sotto vote. "That win-one-for-the-Gipper stuff doesn't make it. Want to know something? The crew's here for the bread."

The morning rain has put director Paul Stanley several setups behind. Jack, wearing his familiar Five-O suit, is all business, no time for a chat. He sits apart, unsmiling, studying his script. He confers now and again with cameraman Bobby Morrison. Occasionally he will saunter over to Lou Antonio or Loretta Leversee, the guest stars. For Antonio's wife, actress Lane Bradbury, whose work he has seen and admired, he turns on the charm. The crew stands apart, making its own jokes, or listening to Keester Sweeney, the legendary make-up man, tell once again how it was with Gable and Tracy back at MGM.

The light goes at 5:30. Riding back to town in his air-conditioned, stereo-equipped bus, amid paperbound copies of e.e. cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay scattered among the banquettes, Jack at least is able to talk. He climbs into a long-sleeved aloha shirt, pours himself a glass of guava juice -- he neither drinks nor smokes -- and settles onto the yellow Naugahyde.

He is strung up tighter than a banjo string. The network has given his old time slot to Mannix, leaving Five-O to fight off the popular Tuesday night ABC Movie of the Week. "It's our jungle and we're fighting for our lives," he says. "Like kamikaze pilots on an impossible assignment."

"Look at me. I'm a goddamned monk! And my poor wife has been putting up with it for years. I told my partner, 'Lennie, the show may be your natural child but it's my adopted one.' And I love it, so I end up working 85 hours a week.

"I love this beautiful land. There's a sweetness, a gentleness, a naïvété, a goodness. Kids come over with a bag of potato chips, then run shyly away, having given you a token of love. This show will be it for me. I'll never leave the islands. They'll have to carry me out.

"Of course, we have enemies, some in the legislature, people who thought Five-O would give people the idea crime was rampant in the islands. But, as Edwin Markam said, 'Love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle and took him in'."

Jack admits he never could "draw a circle" around the kind of acting he once did, especially in a TV show which Freeman designed "strictly to beat the machines." "Sure, I wanted to be a motion-picture actor," he says. "But I'm a pragmatist, a tough professional, and I know the real victory is to survive. Buffalo Bill's defunct."

It sounds like a line from e.e. cummings and it is:

    Buffalo Bill's
           who used to
           ride a watersmooth-silver
                         stallion . . . .

    he was a handsome man
    and what i want to know is
    how do you like your blueeyed boy
    Mister Death
So Jack's not riding the watersmooth-silver stallion any more. Instead, he's riding McGarrett, the inscrutable TV cop who, says Jack, is nevertheless "a much more complex character than Stoney Burke, who was nothing but a laconic, virginal cowboy. McGarrett's vulnerable. He makes a mistake and he has to back off. I like that about him. A certain mystery surrounds him. People wonder why he doesn't get himself more girls. Our form is as rigid as a sonnet. Romance just doesn't work."

By this time the bus has pulled under the Kahala Hilton's fiddle-leaf fig trees. It puts him in mind of all the painting he wants to do once Hawaii Five-O closes shop, leaving him several million dollars richer. All that money, in turn, reminds him that "There's nothing really wrong with what I do. I act. I create a character. And I bring an awful lot of people an awful lot of joy." A pause.

"Buffalo Bill's/defunct/who used to/ride a watersmooth-silver stallion," he begins almost gaily. "Imagine being able to put just those little words together. I'm a pro. I learned the hard way. It's been a nice trip. . . . So how do you like your blueeyed boy now, Mister Death?"

Harry, the driver, puts the bus in gear. The "interview" is over.