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.

Hawaii Five-O’s 45th anniversary: cop show with a spy twist

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Forty-five 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.

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.

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.”

Cast of the 2010 Hawaii Five-0

Cast of the 2010 Hawaii Five-0

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), a Danny with more attitude (Scott Caan) and a woman Kono (Grace Park).

CBS will begin televising the fourth season of the new Five-0 later this month. The show been shifted to Friday nights after falling ratings during the 2012-13 season, including a 25 percent decline for its season finale compared with a year earlier.

Even if the new Five-0’s ratings stabilize, it doesn’t seem likely editorial writers will muse what it’d be like to have McGarrett 2.0 as president. On the other hand, the producers were smart enough to keep the Morton Stevens theme music.