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.

Hawaii Five-O: In the beginning

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

The recent news that Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park are departing the Hawaii Five-0 remake that has aired since 2010 has created a stir.

Example: IndieWire posted a July 6 article about why the departures are “a huge problem” for the series that’s entering its eighth season.

As it turns out, the makeup of the Five-O (official spelling of the original show) is an issue goes back to the very beginning of the original series.

In 1996, the Spy Commander attended a Five-O convention in Los Angeles. One part of the event included an auction. One of the items up for auction was a photocopy of the first-draft script for the pilot episode written by creator Leonard Freeman.

The Spy Commander lost out in the auction, but had a chance to examine said script.

In that first version, the Five-O team only had one white member, Steve McGarrett (initially American actor Robert Brown, but replaced by Jack Lord days before filming). Five-O’s second-in-command was Kono Kalakaua, described as a Hawaiian in his mid-20s.

Another Five-O member was named Lee, who was described as a heavy-set Hawaiian. Rounding out the cast was Chin Ho, who worked for the Honolulu Police Department but was also a liaison with Five-O.

Between that script and filming of the pilot, Five-O got another white member, Danny “Danno” Williams (Tim O’Kelly in the pilot, James MacArthur in the series); the Lee character got the Kono name; and Chin Ho was made a full-fledged member of Five-O.

As an aside, arch villain Wo Fat was named after a restaurant in Honolulu. The character of Chin Ho Kelly was named after Chinn Ho, a successful Hawaiian businessman.

Fall 1963: Norman Felton casts his Solo

The Solo that William Boyd forgot

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo

Producer Norman Felton had to make a decision: Who would be cast as Napoleon Solo, the character he co-created with Ian Fleming?

The task may not have been difficult as finding a Solo for a 21st century movie version of the show (finally cast with Henry Cavill). But it wasn’t a slam dunk, either.

According to Jon Heitland’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. book, Felton for a time considered a friend, Harry Guardino, for the part.

Also in the running was actor Robert Brown, who five years later would briefly be cast as Hawaii Five-O’s Steve McGarrett until the part was re-cast with Jack Lord. Also, according to the Heitland book, Felton decided to offer the role to Robert Culp, but the actor wasn’t available.

Felton ended up going with an actor already in his employ: Robert Vaughn, 30, who was the second lead in The Lieutenant, a drama about U.S. Marine Corps officers. Felton was the show’s executive producer, with Gene Roddenberry as the creator-producer.

“I was looking for someone who would give the character a certain visual sense of sophistication,” Felton told Heitland in an interview for the 1986 book.

Vaughn, in 2007, recalled the deal being done quickly:

Other work on the project proceeded. Sam Rolfe turned in his second-draft script and Don Medford was hired to direct on Oct. 9, 1963, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E.-007 Timeline.

By November, the rest of the cast was in place. David McCallum would play the small part (in the pilot script) of Illya Kuryakin, a Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent, and Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison, the U.N.C.L.E. chief.

Production was scheduled to begin on Nov. 20. It would be shut down for four days because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy two days later.

In the coming months, two men named Broccoli and Saltzman would present another challenge.

Earlier posts:

July 1963: U.N.C.L.E. presses on without Fleming

June 1963: Ian Fleming signs away his U.N.C.L.E. rights

The Living Daylights’ 25th: living on the edge


James Bond celebrated his silver anniversary in the movies in 1987 and in the process got a makeover in the person of Timothy Dalton, the fourth actor to play the role in the Eon Productions-made series.

The story is familiar to fans. Roger Moore had departed and Eon considered various candidates. Pierce Brosnan had been selected but NBC, deciding to capitalize on the choice, opted to renew the television series Remington Steele. Producer Albert R. Broccoli didn’t approve and decided to search anew. Eventually, Dalton got the job, beginning filming days after wrapping up the now-forgotten Brenda Starr, which wouldn’t get released until 1989 (and 1992 in the U.S.)

With a new Bond, a new Miss Moneypenny was cast, with Caroline Bliss getting the job, replacing 14-film veteran Lois Maxwell. There was some change going on behind the camera, as well. Broccoli, 78 when production began, had earlier promoted stepson Michael G. Wilson to share the producing duties with him. With Daylights, the master showman named daughter Barbara Broccoli associate producer, a title she shared with 007 crew veteran Tom Pevsner.

Caroline Bliss and Timothy Dalton


The biggest change was a more serious tone in story. While Richard Maibaum and Wilson again scripted, the story was much different than Moore’s finale, A View To a Kill. This was a MI6 that issued “termination warrants” and the Cold War very much played a big role, even though the the motivation of the villains (played by Jeroen Krabbe and Joe Don Baker) was to get rich.

Still, there was much continuity. Robert Brown as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q and Geoffrey Keen as the Minister of Defence all were back in the cast. Also returning was composer John Barry, for his third straight Bond film and what proved to be his final 007 scoring assignment. Being Bond’s 25th anniversary, the film got publicity. Examples include a prime-time television special on ABC hosted by Roger Moore and an article in Time magazine that ran to almost 1,800 words.

Financially, the film sold $191.2 million in tickets worldwide, a good jump from the $152.6 million for A View To a Kill. In the U.S., the difference wasn’t as pronounced: $51.2 mlllion, less than $1 million more than View’s U.S. ticket sales. James Bond, and Timothy Dalton, would return, but more changes were in store.

M by the numbers, 1962-present

With the news that Dame Judi Dench says she’s returning as M, it got us to thinking about the actors who’ve played M, James Bond’s boss. Our tally is as follows:

Bernard Lee (Sir Admiral Miles Messevry): 11 films, Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker. Trivia: First name (Miles) mentioned by KGB General Gogol in The Spy Whgo Love Me. Cameo (sort of): Portrait at MI6 emergency headquarters in The World Is Not Enough (1999), 18 years after Lee’s death.

Judi Dench: 7 films, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Bond 23. Conjecture: the Dench M since Casino Royale is another character (perhaps in a parallel universe) given the Daniel Craig films are a “reboot.”

Robert Brown: 4 films, Octopussy, A View To a Kill, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill. Possible 5th film: The Spy Who Loved Me Real name: Admiral Sir Miles Messevry (if you assume he succeeded Bernard Lee as M) or Admiral Hargreaves (if you assume Hargreaves succeeded Messevry as M). In any event, Brown appeared as an admiral in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Edward Fox: 1 film, Never Say Never Again (not part of official 007 film series). Implied that Fox’s M is successor to the Bernard Lee M, as least as much as can be implied without starting off a lawsuit between official 007 producer Albert R. Broccoli and Thunderball film rights holder Kevin McClorry.

John Huston: 1 film Casino Royale (1967), spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman. Huston, an important American director, was one of five credited directors on the Feldman-produced spoof.

Only 007 film without an M: For Your Eyes Only (1981). Bernard Lee had died in early 1981. He had been unable to work on the 12th 007 film. Producer Albert R. Broccoli opted not to cast a replacement. Actor James Villiers played chief of staff Bill Tanner, who subbed for M, who we were told was on leave.

1968: Hawaii Five-O what could have been

Over at the Cinema Retro Web site, the authors are upset at the notion of a remake of Hawaii Five-O. Here’s an excerpt:

For our money, Hawaii 5-0 was one of the all-time great action TV shows. Now, CBS- the network that telecast the series for years- has commissioned a pilot for a remake of the series. Can’t they just set a brand new crime concept in Hawaii and leave the legacy of this classic series unblemished? Besides, the original series holds up great even by today’s standards.

The thing is, just like James Bond movies, things could have been very different. For example:

— The first choice for the role of Steve McGarrett wasn’t Jack Lord, but Robert Brown, the star of Here Comes the Brides. Rose Freeman, the widow of series creator Leonard Freeman, told fans attending a 1996 Five-O convention in Los Angeles that Brown was replaced by Lord with only five days before filming began on the series pilot.

— Leonard Freeman’s first draft script (which one of our staff got to inspect at that 1996 convention before he got outbid at a charity auction), had a cast of characters including the following: Steve McGarrett, the Five-O leader; Kono Kalakua, second-in-command Hawaiian in his mid 20s; a big, beefy Hawaiian whose first name was Lee; and Chin Ho Kelley, a member of the Honolulu Police Department, who was the laison between Five-O and HPD.

By the time the final shooting script was done, the second-in-command had morphed into Danny (Danno) Williams; Lee the Hawaiian had taken the Kono name; and Chin Ho was a full fledged member of Five-O.

— CBS has tried more than once to revive Five-O so it remains to be seen whether it can actually happen. Here’s the title sequence from a 1997 pilot, which never aired, in which retired members of Five-O team up with a new Five-O crew when Gov. Dan Williams is gunned down during a public appearance. One problem: the pilot included Kam Fong as Chin Ho, who had been killed off in the final episode of Five-O’s 10th season.

UPDATE: Alex O’Loughlin has been cast as Steve McGarrett in this latest revival attempt, according to Entertainment Weekly’s Web site.