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- February 09, 1998
- Vol. 49
- No. 5
Stranger in Paradise
Hawaii Five-O's Jack Lord Played Tough and Kept to Himself Until the End
Lord, who appeared on Broadway and in dozens of movies and TV shows, was also an accomplished artist; New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired two of his prints when he was only 20. But to fans around the world, Lord will always be McGarrett, the stolid bachelor with steely blue eyes, narrow suit and lacquered pompadour that boosted his 6'2" frame.
Under those formidable tresses was an even more formidable man. An intensely private person known on the set as a temperamental perfectionist, Lord wielded an iron hand in the production—and shared in its profits. After Lord walked off the set during a 1974 spat with producer Bill Finnegan, the acting governor of Hawaii pleaded with him to return. Lord came back and Finnegan later left. "Jack was a star," says Doug Mossman, a Five-O actor and now general manager of the Hawaii IMAX Theatre. "And you were aware of it. In the show, Steve McGarrett was in charge. In life, Jack Lord was in charge."
That extended to every facet of the production. Lord liked poetry (e.e. cummings was a favorite), so cast and crew sometimes had to listen to his readings during lunch. Lord despised cigarettes, so Hawaii Five-O was smoke-free long before any legal mandate. Lord would rewrite scripts and expect actors to memorize new lines in minutes. Yet he also drew praise for casting native Hawaiians. Even so, Kam Fong, 79, who played Det. Chin Ho Kelly for 10 years, says Lord "never, ever socialized. I was never invited to Jack's house for coffee or anything."
Lord spent even less time with his own flesh and blood, admitting that he had lost contact in the 1960s with his parents and siblings. Born John Joseph Patrick Ryan in 1920 in New York City, he grew up in middle-class Queens, the second son of steamship-company executive William Lawrence Ryan and homemaker E. Josephine O'Brien. Lord was a serious student with little time for dating at John Adams High School. He won a scholarship to New York University, where he studied to be an art teacher, but quit to enter the Merchant Marines in 1942.
That year, working on a ship in the Mediterranean, Lord fell in love and married a passenger. Apparently they spent only a short time together; Lord told a Motion Picture Magazine reporter in 1964 that he was back at sea when she wrote to tell him she was pregnant. He claimed she didn't want to live with him in the U.S. and demanded a divorce. Lord said he saw his son only once, as an infant, and that the boy died at 13 in an accident.
Returning to the States, Lord buried himself in his work, becoming an illustrator for the U.S. Maritime Service in Washington. He also appeared in training films for the service, which was how he discovered acting. Back home in New York after the war, selling Cadillacs by day and studying acting at night, Lord soon landed parts in the new medium of TV In 1952 he married Marie de Narde, then a clothing designer. According to actress Betsy Palmer, a friend, "Marie was older than Jack. She took care of everything for him. They were very, very close." In 1955 the couple moved to L.A., where Lord was mainly cast in the roles of thugs and cowpokes.
When offered the role of Honolulu cop in 1968, Lord jumped at the chance. "This show will be it for me. I'll never leave the islands. They'll have to carry me out," Lord told TV Guide in 1971. After Five-O ended, he continued to paint and busy himself with such causes as Save the Whales. Driving his Cadillac with Five-O plates or walking on the beach sporting his ascot, Lord was an island fixture until just a few years ago, when illness kept him inside. (For years, Marie denied rumors that he had Alzheimer's disease.) Although Jack and Marie never had children, Kam Fong says Lord loved them: "He was a softy, but he didn't want anybody to know it."
CHAMP CLARK in Los Angeles
- Champ Clark.
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