Haole, I must be going: Five-O's Lord
Question: Try to settle these arguments: Is Hawaii Five-O's Jack Lord dead or alive, and was he gay or straight?
Answer: The late Mr. Lord, star of the cop drama that ran on CBS from September 1968 to April 1980, died of heart failure in 1998 at the age of 77. Now, I can't address the man's sexuality with any authority and, frankly, I think that's every person's private business. But I can tell you he was married to wife Marie for nearly 50 years, so you do the surmising from there.
What I can tell you about the actor, who headed the Hawaii State Police's fictional Five-O unit as Det. Steve McGarrett, is that he was dead serious about his career, worked very, very hard at it and was near-obsessive about how he was portrayed by the press. Born John J.P. Ryan, the Brooklyn native saw his share of sadness and challenges before landing the McGarrett role. He met the daughter of an Argentinian diplomat on a cruise ship when he was 19 and the two were married by the captain. She got pregnant a few months later, but the new marriage didn't last long. The young wife stayed in Argentina, allowing Lord to visit his son just once, and after that she returned his letters. The next time she got in touch with him was to send him an envelope containing only the death certificate for the boy, who died at 13.
Lord went through a bit of a mid-life crisis when his first series work as rodeo rider Stoney Burke came to an end after one season in 1963. After early years doing quality theater work in such Broadway shows as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and decrying Hollywood as being in need of "a good hypo of daring mixed with guts and imagination," Lord decided to play the game and give the industry what it wanted. He went to work as a stiff-jawed cop in a well-worn genre and never looked back. "Sure, I wanted to be a motion-picture actor," he told TV Guide in 1971. "But I'm a pragmatist, a tough professional, and I know the real victory is to survive." (For the record, Lord did do some big-screen work; most notably, he played James Bond's CIA pal Felix Leiter in 1962's Dr. No.)
And as long as he was going to do formula work (he described the Five-O format as being "as rigid as a sonnet"), he made damned sure he did it his way. The man our magazine described as "strung up tighter than a banjo string" — who was called, simply, "The Lord" by others working on his show — laid down the law on how he and his series would be covered. For starters, he was the star and there were no costars. Catch the credits on a Five-O rerun — you'll notice it's "starring" Lord and merely "with" James MacArthur (Det. Danny "Danno" Williams), Kam Fong (Det. Chin Ho Kelly) and the rest of the cast. His fingerprints could be found on everything from his official CBS biography (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 possessed "a striking facial bone structure for which the cameras have an affinity") to the rejected cast stills that didn't emphasize said bone structure sufficiently and the parade of publicists assigned to the show only to be fired by its star. ("[D]on't make any plans here, because the planes fly both ways, honey, and you're through," he told one publicist who'd just flown in from the mainland — that particular press agent lost the job without ever meeting the actor in person.)
That said, Lord didn't even go out socially when Five-O was shooting. He routinely put in 14-hour days on a show that ran for 12 years, and you've got to respect that kind of work ethic. Show creator Leonard Freeman certainly did. "He's terrific," Freeman observed. "I'm a perfectionist and so is he. Having a star like Jack is like having money in the bank. He's always on time, no bags under his eyes, and he always knows his lines."
For his part, Lord knew he lived a life of extremes. "Look at me," he said in an interview. "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."
On top of that, the millions the actor earned helped him to live with a body of formulaic TV work. "There's nothing really wrong with what I do," he said. "I act. I create a character. And I bring an awful lot of people an awful lot of joy."