Hawaii Five-O’s Jack Lord: A Very Private Eye
Jack Lord, who wore a grim dark suit to match his perennially grim dark mood as police detective Steve McGarrett on TV’s longest-running cop show, Hawaii Five-O (CBS, 1968-80), died Jan. 21 of congestive heart failure. He was 77 and long retired from show business. By all accounts, he was wholly unsentimental about his former celebrity; not even Tom Selleck, at the height of his own Hawaiian-detective fame on Magnum, P.I. in the mid-’80s, could coax Lord back into the funereal suit for a nostalgic guest shot.
Lord, born John Joseph Patrick Ryan, began his career as a painter (his work has hung in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art). His most notable film role was as CIA agent Felix Leiter in the first James Bond feature, Dr. No (1962). But it was only when he moved to TV — his first stint was as a rodeo rider in ABC’s Stoney Burke (1962-63) — that he found his deadpan voice.
In Five-O, Lord’s terse episode-ending catchphrase to James MacArthur’s Det. Danny Williams — “Book him, Danno” — was almost as famous as the show’s surf-pounding theme song (still heard on Family Channel reruns). Five-O was the first series produced entirely in the 50th state, and its dazzlingly beautiful backdrop was a striking contrast to Lord’s hard-boiled relentlessness in the pursuit of crime. Viewers, used to seeing detectives like Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday in gritty urban settings, were caught off guard by Five-O’s large and diverse Asian cast, many of them amateur actors; the result captured the imagination of the mainland and the world.
McGarrett’s no-nonsense character was echoed by Lord’s own aloofness off the set. “We were acquaintances,” says MacArthur. “Jack was a very private person. He didn’t spend time with us socially.” Kam Fong, who played Det. Chin Ho Kelly for 10 years, says bluntly, “He kept to himself.”
Producer Stephen J. Cannell had planned a new Five-O series, shooting a pilot last spring with Gary Busey as the new hero. Lord declined to participate, a hard-boiled egg to the end.
(Additional reporting by Shawna Malcom)