1996: Five-O fans meet (almost all of) the original cast

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title of the original series.

In 1996, fans of the original Hawaii Five-O series had a chance to meet with almost all of the main cast members of the series at a fan convention.

The event took place in two locations: The first half in the Los Angeles area, the second in Honolulu.

James MacArthur, Gilbert Kauhi (stage name, Zulu) and Kam Fong, the supporting actors in the 1968-80 show, were there. Jack Lord, who starred as lawman Steve McGarrett (six years after playing Felix Leiter in Dr. No), was still alive but had retired to private life.

I attended the Los Angeles part of the event. Among the things that happened there:

On the first day of the gathering, MacArthur, Zulu and Kam Fong just hung around with fans, engaging in casual conversation. It was very low-key and informal.

-MacArthur, asked why he left the show after 11 seasons, said he simply had done enough. He described telling the powers that be about the decision and that he didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

–Zulu was asked why he left the show. He replied that he and Jack Lord never got along all that well. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Zulu said he tried at the start of one season (I suspect season three but he didn’t specify) he tried to get off to a new start with the series star.

Zulu’s title card during the first four seasons of Hawaii Five-O.

“Hey Jack, you’re looking great!” But Lord walked off. Zulu said he was confused. Then he was told the actor had gotten a facelift during the series hiatus.

Zulu told another anecdote in which the Five-O team apprehended a suspect. According to him, Lord felt Zulu was little slow. On the next take, according to this anecdote, Zulu zoom around the others. “OK, McGarrett! I’ve got him.” In this telling, the Big Kahuna wasn’t happy.

After, some time elapsed, a late-arriving fan again asked Zulu why he left the show. For a moment, I felt bad after hearing the stories he told earlier. But Zulu didn’t miss a beat. He grinned and repeated his “Lord taketh away” line.

–MacArthur, commenting to Zulu, said the Hawaiian actor was burning the candle at both ends in those days. Zulu did his Five-O work during the day and did a night club act in the eventing.

–Rose Freeman, widow of Five-O creator Leonard Freeman, told attendees that Jack Lord was cast only days before filming of the pilot began. Initially, American actor Robert Brown (not to be confused with the British actor Robert Brown, who played M in four 007 films) had been cast.

–Fans watched episodes shown with a film projector. At one point , Zulu was there watching with the fans. One episode shown had his replacement, Al Harrington. Zulu did a mock boo. Another one of the episodes shown was Bored, She Hung Herself, an episode that was shown only once on CBS and hasn’t been seen since, in either syndication or home video. The story behind that is a little complicated. 

–I let myself get outbid for a copy of the 1967 first draft of Leonard Freeman’s pilot script for a charity auction. I scanned it and committed to memory what I could. There was no Danno and McGarrett was the only Caucasian of the Five-O characters.

–A friend of Five-O theme composer Morton Stevens showed up. He had heard about the event and wanted to check it out.

–On the final day in LA, many of the fans were preparing to head to Hawaii for the rest of the event. I prepared to head home. As I was leaving the hotel to head to LAX, I ran into Zulu at the door.

“I just want to thank you for being here,” he said.

Obviously, he would have said it to any other fan. But it was a great moment for me, nevertheless.

“No, thank you,” I replied.

Historic CBS Television City on verge of being sold

The historic CBS Television City complex is on the verge of being sold, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The likely buyer is Hackman Capital Partners, according to the newspaper, citing people familiar with the negotiations it didn’t identify. The property may be valued at $700 million the Times said.

CBS originally acquired the complex in 1950 and it became its West Coast production hub starting in 1952.

Barry Nelson in 1954’s Casino Royale

One of the early shows produced at Television City was Climax!, a series of live dramas beginning in 1954. The third Climax! broadcast was an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, the year after the first James Bond novel was published. It featured Barry Nelson as an American Bond.

Admittedly, that’s one of the more obscure Television City productions.

“Television City has played an important role in CBS history and American pop culture as home to many legendary TV shows,” the Times noted in its latest story. “It is where entertainers such as Jack Benny, Judy Garland and the cast of ‘All in the Family’ performed.”

CBS has moved most of its West Coast entertainment operations to CBS Studio Center, with the network renting out Television City to programs not owned by CBS. The Times said if the deal with Hackman is finalized, “CBS is expected to continue to operate the 25-acre studio as a tenant for a period of time.”

Neither CBS nor Hackman commented to the newspaper for its story.

Hawaii Five-O’s 50th anniversary: Cop show with a spy twist

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Adapted and updated from a 2013 post.

Fifty years ago this month, Hawaii Five-O debuted. While a cop show, it had an element of international intrigue from the start.

The two-hour television movie version version of the pilot, which first aired on CBS on SEPT. 20, 1968, concerned a plot where Red Chinese intelligence operative Wo Fat was torturing U.S. intelligence agents in the Pacific Rim and obtaining important information.

Steve McGarrett, the no-nonsense head of state police unit Hawaii Five-O is drawn to the case because the latest victim was a friend of his. The lawman, a former U.S. Naval intelligence officer, isn’t one to back down from official pressure to lay off.

The pilot immediately grabbed the attention of viewers. A short pre-titles sequence shows Wo Fat using a sensory deprivation chamber for the torture. That’s followed by a 90-second main title featuring a stirring theme by Morton Stevens.

The composer initially thought about re-using the theme he wrote for an unsold pilot, CALL TO DANGER. His wife, Annie Stevens, strongly advised against the move, according to a 2010 STORY IN THE HONOLULU STAR ADVERTISER. As a result, Stevens created one of the greatest themes in television history.

The series was conceived by veteran television producer Leonard Freeman, who wrote the pilot. Freeman’s 1967 first draft had a team led by McGarrett, with a mid-20s Hawaiian sidekick, Kono Kalakaua, a third, heavy-set detective and Chin Ho Kelly, who was the Honolulu Police Department’s liaison with Five-O. In the final version of the story, the sidekick became the Caucasian Danny Williams; the Kono name was given to the heavier-set character; and Chin Ho was made a full-fledged member of Five-O.

Freeman & Co. were preparing to film the pilot with American actor Robert Brown as McGarrett. Rose Freeman, widow of the Five-O creator, told a 1996 fan convention in Los Angeles that CBS objected to the casting and, just five days before filming was to start, Brown was replaced with Jack Lord, the first screen incarnation of Felix Leiter in Dr. No. Brown ended up starring in another 1968 series, Here Come the Brides.

Perry Lafferty, a former CBS executive, told the story a bit differently in an interview for the Archive of American Television. His version, though, still had Jack Lord as a last-minute casting.

The pilot had Tim O’Kelly as Danny. When the series was picked up, Freeman recast the part with James MacArthur, who a small, but notable role in Hang ‘Em High, a Clint Eastwood Western film that Freeman had produced.

The international espionage aspect of Five-O remained throughout the show’s 12-year run, though less so in the later seasons. Wo Fat, played by Khigh Dhiegh, made a NUMBER OF RETURN APPEARANCES, including the 1980 series finale. As the U.S. and China began to normalize diplomatic relations, Wo Fat became an independent menace. In the ninth-season opener, Wo Fat attempts to take over the Chinese government.

George Lazenby in a 1979 episode of Hawaii Five-O

Five-O matched wits with a number of other spies played by the likes of Theodore Bikel (who had tried out for Goldfinger), Maud Adams and Soon Tek-Oh. George Lazenby, the second screen James Bond, played a secondary villain in a 1979 episode filmed on location in Singapore.

Five-O wasn’t always an easy show to work on. Freeman died in early 1974, after the sixth season completed production. Zulu (real name Gilbert Kauhi), who played Kono left after the fourth season; he told fans at the 1996 convention about problems he had with Jack Lord. His replacement, Al Harrington as another detective, departed in the seventh season.

Nevertheless, Five-O had a long run. When it left the air, Five-O was the longest-running crime drama, a status it held until Law and Order, the 1990-2010 series.

Lord’s Steve McGarrett emerged as one of the most recognizable television characters. In 2007, 27 years after the final Five-O episode, THE NEW YORK TIMES’S OPINION PAGES summed up Five-O’s appeal.

“Evil makes McGarrett angry, but when he speaks, his voice is startlingly gentle, exuding a quiet control that a beleaguered generation of parents surely wished they had when facing the forces of social decay,” reads the commentary by Lawrence Downes.

The writer ends his piece describing what it might be like if McGarrett was president. He dispatches Kono and Chin to stop illegal immigration and tells Danny that he wants undocumented workers “legalized. Tell Congress to send me a bill. I want it tough, and I want it fair. And I want it on my desk Monday morning.”

In 2010, CBS introduced a new version of the show, with a slightly different spelling (Hawaii Five-0, with a digit instead of a capital O as in the original), a younger McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and a Danny with more attitude (Scott Caan).

The current series is in its ninth season. For the 50th anniversary of the original show, it will feature a remake of Cocoon, the 1968 pilot. The remake is scheduled to be telecast on Sept. 28.

The 2010s Five-0 has other significant differences than the original. In the eighth season, the McLaughlin and Caan versions of McGarrett and Danny decided to go into the restaurant business on the side. I can’t imagine Leonard Freeman would have approved.

On the other hand, the producers were smart enough to keep the Morton Stevens theme music. Now, as in 1968, it’s still a highlight.

50th anniversary of the best TV theme

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Apapted and updated from a 2013 post.

Sept. 20 is the 50th anniversary of, arguably, the best television theme of all time: Hawaii Five-O by composer Morton Stevens.

The Five-O theme is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. People who’ve never watched an episode recognize it when just a few notes are played.

Over the decades, it’s been used in commercials and been played by marching bands. Yet, the vast majority of those who’ve heard it probably couldn’t name the man who wrote it.

In the 1960s, the likes of Stevens, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin were busy doing scores for television. Of that quartet, three became big-time film composers. Stevens didn’t.

In the spring of 1965, CBS hired Stevens to supervise its West Coast music operation. It was in that capacity that Stevens scored the Hawaii Five-O pilot. But Stevens couldn’t do every job himself. Thus, he hired Williams to score 1969’s The Reivers, which CBS released under the Cinema Center Films label. The Steve McQueen movie helped Williams transition from TV to films.

Stevens died in 1991, at the age of 62, of cancer. His lasting music achievement was the original 1968-80 Five-O series. Not only did he write the theme, he created the music template for the series.

Stevens delivered episode scores for 11 of the 12 seasons. The Five-O theme was often used by Stevens and other composers in the background music. It showed up as an action riff. It would also be slowed way down for reflective moments in a story.

This decade, Stevens got attention for his other work. The DVD set for the 1960-62 Thriller anthology series with Boris Karloff featured a number of episodes where viewers can isolate the scores of Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith.

A Morton Stevens title card (for music supervision, not for his theme) for a first-season episode of Hawaii Five-O

Jon Burlingame, who has written extensively about film and television music, did a commentary track about each composer. He discussed Stevens’ work in detail.

In 2016, the blog did a post about Stevens as part of its “unsung figures of television” series.

Stevens’ work on Hawaii Five-O represents a paradox. It’s a famous TV theme. Million of people know it. Yet he’s relatively obscure. Stevens had a successful career. Yet his contemporaries — such as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams — achieved more fame than he did.

Regardless, the Five-O theme is a crowning achievement for Stevens. Watching a Hawaii Five-O theme is akin to viewing a James Bond film scored by John Barry. In both cases, the composers established a music template that thrills viewers decades later.

1988 Mission: Impossible series gets a soundtrack release

Mission: Impossible soundtrack from 1988 revival series.

A soundtrack to the 1988-90 Mission: Impossible revival television series is coming out from La-La Land Records, the company said July 23 ON FACEBOOK.

The price is $29.98 and sales will be limited to 1,988 units, La-La Land said. The new soundtrack includes music by Lalo Schifrin (composer of the famous Mission: Impossible theme) and Ron Jones.

The sets will include liner notes by film and TV music expert Jon Burlingame, who has worked on other La-Land projects, including a soundtrack for the original 1966-73 Mission: Impossible series.

The 1988 series starred Peter Graves, reprising his role as Jim Phelps of the Impossible Missions Force. In the first episode, he returns to the IMF after a protégé was killed. At the time it began production, there was a Writers Guild strike. As a result, the initial stories were based on scripts written for the original show. The revival series aired on ABC while the original had been telecast by CBS.

The revival soundtrack will go on sale July 31. Presumably, it will be sold (like other La-La Land offerings) on the company’s website.

50th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E. (and ’60s spymania)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

Originally published Dec. 28, 2012. Adjusted to note it’s now the 50th anniversary along with a few other tweaks.

Jan. 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also a sign that 1960s spymania was drawing to a close.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts.

Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.”

Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Matt Dillon, right, and sidekick Festus got new life at U.N.C.L.E.'s expense.

Matt Dillon (James Arness), right, and sidekick Festus (Ken Curtis) got new life at U.N.C.L.E.’s expense.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty.

NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969.

NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but shifted away from spy story lines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done.

Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

1966: Lone Ranger adapts WWW, Batman

Lone Ranger and Tonto in the 1966 cartoon series that aired on CBS.

There have been many versions of The Lone Ranger, but a forgotten one aired on CBS in the fall of 1966.

That was a cartoon series, produced by Format Films. The series apparently was influenced by The Wild Wild West series that aired on CBS and the Batman  series that was broadcast on ABC.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto, as depicted in the cartoon, very much followed the Clayton Moore-Jay Silverheels model that debuted on television in 1949 and starred in movies in 1956 and 1958.

However, the villains the heroes confronted in the 1966 film were different.

The Iron Giant, built by Tiny Tom to menace the Lone Ranger in a 1966 cartoon.

In a number of the cartoons, the Ranger and Tonto faced Tiny Tom, a a very short scientist, sometimes aided by a giant assistant named Goliath. That was similar to Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) and his extremely fall assistant Voltaire (Richard Kiel).

Beyond that pair of villains, other of the Ranger’s foes had familiar capers to viewers of The Wild Wild West.

In particular, a Ranger cartoon titled Quicksilver had a villain who, after consuming a formula, moved so fast he was practically invisible. This was practically the same plot of the first-season episode of The Wild Wild West titled The Night of the Burning Diamond.

Format Films, the maker of the Ranger cartoons, had earlier produced the title sequence for I Spy.

One of the company’s principals was Herbert Klynn (1917-1999). Klynn was an alumnus of UPA, the cartoon operation that produced Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing theatrical shorts as well as a memorable adaption of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, with James Mason as the murder-narrator.

Meanwhile, Format’s version of The Lone Ranger featured villains with elaborate lairs, similar to the Batman television series with Adam West and Burt Ward that debuted in January 1966.

One of the Ranger’s foes in the cartoon series, the Black Widow (in the episode titled Cult of the Black Widow), had thugs in outfits similar to the henchmen in a typical Batman outing. The Black Widow was voiced by Agnes Moorehead, who would later win an Emmy for an appearance in The Wild Wild West.

Today, there’s a term, “steampunk,” definted as “a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.”

The Wild Wild West featured steampunk. So did the 1966 version of The Lone Ranger.