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THE HAWAII FIVE-0 NEWSLETTER

Volume 3           July 2006            Issue 3

 

 

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A Most Uplifting Hour With Al Harrington

by Jerry Pickard, uhalum@yahoo.com

 

The writer is not exactly sure how many interviews to date he's been privileged to have with Five-0'ers of various stripes. There have been a few; a lot face-to-face and others courtesy of Alexander Graham Bell's revolutionary device by voice alone. Each one was really terrific, regardless of how it was conducted.

 

It was especially unfortunate, however, that the circumstances for this one did not permit an in-person meeting with the truly incredible 'persona' who played Ben Kokua during an all-too-brief few years. Seeing his expressions and other non-verbal forms of conveying ideas and reactions, would have been a most useful bonus. Nonetheless, for sixty minutes early one Sunday morning in April '06, this relentless, "ink-stained" chronicler of many of the show's performers, etc., enjoyed a wonderful session of "talk-story" with Mr. Harrington.

 

He was reached on O'ahu that day as over a month of almost non-stop, damaging rain finally began to let up. Not three weeks before, the writer had been present in Waikiki to witness Al's gracious acceptance of the first Legacy Entertainer award, given by the Music Foundation of Hawai'i. When we spoke, he was in the wind-down throes of returning home to the islands of his youth and most of his adult days. This followed about a dozen or so years on the mainland. By the time this article is published, he and those close to him will be well repatriated!

 

As has been the writer's experience when speaking in some depth with people of Polynesian lineage, the interchange on this occasion was neither flippant nor superficial -- it was caring and sincere. We touched on a number of topics and issues close to Al's heart, with respect and consideration. To get to know this unique man even a little is to become aware of his life-long concern and passion for the difficult 'kuleana' of indigenous peoples in various places. The time we conversed, ended with a greatly enhanced appreciation for the causes he has pursued and is continuing to strive for, seemingly tirelessly.

 

It won't be the purpose of this treatise, to delve deeply into Al's somewhat colourful biography and numerous performance credits...those are covered at length elsewhere. Rather, the hope is to leave the reader with a better understanding of his times in Five-0 and perhaps, some of the inner workings and motivation of this totally committed gentleman.

 

Al left his native American Samoa at the age of three to take up residence in Hawai'i. In due course, he studied and played football at Punahou, the distinguished Honolulu prep school where he would return to instruct and inspire, from Stanford University in California. He first felt the call of acting when in college, he confided. But he perceived a highly evident stigma attached to that profession in relation to his status as a member of a minority segment of the American population. So he concentrated on history instead, and taught in that discipline at his Punahou alma mater.

 

In the late 60's he was speaking at an athletics banquet when Five-0's ubiquitous Ted Thorpe spotted him. He was asked to read for a small role (presumably in Season One's "The Box", and got it at once. A number of lesser parts became his too, until the big break in '72. With a void caused by Zulu's somewhat unplanned departure, the show wanted to find another Polynesian to fill the spot. Leonard Freeman gave Al a kind of "offer of first refusal," and the latter took it, becoming Ben. 'Kokua' means help or cooperation, incidentally, which Al Harrington provided to the show at a needful time.

 

So-called "turning points" can change a life drastically and for Al Harrington, Hawaii Five-0 represented a major benchmark. His exposure to the inner workings of TV production proved most compelling. He realized there was in this business, a tremendous potential for his talents and aspirations. Five-0 opened up doors previously unanticipated, supplying the impetus for him to enter the entertainment world full-time. His outstanding successes in long-running ventures such as becoming Waikiki's "South Pacific Man" and several later prominent movie character portrayals, stemmed from that first approach by Ted Thorpe.

 

For virtually everything that followed, he credits Mr. Freeman (along with Jack Lord, James MacArthur and Kam Fong). Through them, he said, he received crucial insights about the commercial aspects of performing like product marketing and timing. Five-0 gave his life a special flavour and inspired completely new directions. And in so doing, it positively influenced at least two family members, with his sons going into careers like advertising and sports announcing.

 

Al's realistic awareness of the socio-political backdrop during much of Five-0's original airing came out during our discussion. When asked why he didn't perhaps "do more" with the Kokua character, his reply came without hesitation. Middle America, the target audience for the series, really wasn't all that interested in smaller ethnic groups gaining notoriety, he said. Instead, he pointed out, with all the upheavals related to the Vietnam war, protests and uprisings on college campuses and elsewhere, and a generally unsettling atmosphere, some symbol of stability was the goal of much of the population. Steve McGarrett's consistently strong authoritarianism and upholding of "old" values in the struggle toward victory over all the evils abounding, was the focus, and as such in the 'ensemble piece' of the fictitious elite state police force, it sold well.

 

Al felt he did what he could in presenting Ben as a sympathetic connection, but he did not want to risk over-stepping any boundaries, implicit or otherwise. The too early passing-on of Mr. Freeman was regretted in this context, he mentioned. That was because the series creator had a unique ability to gauge the true meaning of what was going on in the country (and indeed, the world), and what the viewing public really wanted. In time, Al believes, the role of the Polynesian in the series might well have expanded. Yet even today, his primary feeling toward his Five-0 period is one of deep gratitude, with no regrets about what did or did not seem accomplished.

 

This is not to say that it was all work and no play. With audible chuckles he recalled numerous instances when, among Kam, James and himself, specific bets would be exchanged as to who would be the first to flub lines or otherwise cause a scene to require a re-take. Five dollars was the amount of the stakes, and when the bet was offered, the actor about to speak in close-up, unmistakably heard it, almost guaranteeing some kind of flummox. Al had only kind words about 'Jimmy,' recalling the freely-offered (and accepted) coaching from this trained and seasoned actor who helped "all us neophytes!" As well, he fondly remembers one Irish director in particular (Michael O'Herlihy?) who visited the series regularly and contributed greatly in many ways. And when asked about favourite episodes, Al said he found that any appearance of Khigh Dhiegh signified, for him, an exceptional show.

 

Eventually, however, the time came to move on. Al went into the Waikiki main showroom scene big-time. He recounted how he tried to maximize this opportunity to convey, through humour and his own studies/background, a somewhat different view of Hawai'i's history to those who came to see him perform. As he put it during our talk, "it all boiled down to giving them - those who came to my show - what they wanted but in the process, broadening their horizons." A line used often, he said, was that "God made Hawai'i first, and then He used the left-overs to make the rest of the world."

 

There has been, of course, the time on the mainland since the mid-90's. Al won some great parts, primarily depicting various American Indian roles. These helped him to understand that group's specific plights in contemporary society, mainly in terms of civil rights issues. Surviving the insanities of the Hollywood scene was another skill he had to develop, he said. But it was all useful, and he has come away firmly convinced that a well-grounded, talented actor can be fully capable of playing any character regardless of "categorized" ethnic origin. Al also mentioned the strong feeling of intrinsic satisfaction he felt as the Chief in White Fang II. This was shot in Western Canada, which he said he thoroughly enjoys visiting.

 

All this notwithstanding, his absolute love of the 50th State, and particularly the native Hawaiians, shone through virtually everything he shared. As a young man performing service work for the Mormon mission, he returned to American Samoa for a brief stay. Learning the language helped to reinforce his understanding of the remarkably common ties that link all aboriginal peoples within the gargantuan Polynesian triangle. Not only are words and concepts similar despite enormous expanses of ocean separating them; they share much, much more. Perhaps most truly marvellous, historically, is their uncanny ability to navigate large canoes extremely long distances without compass aid, etc., instead relying on ancient lore and an innate knowledge of natural phenomena passed down along the generations. Al believes that western civilization has generally not accepted the reality of such feats, and is the poorer for it. Our planet would be better off if the sources of such amazing contributions were suitably recognized and cultivated to help in solving global issues, Al suggested most adamantly.

 

He has travelled world-wide. But returning home is invariably the highlight of his many pilgrimages, he said, because of the tremendous gratitude he feels, first as an American enjoying the freedoms and benefits of this country, and second, because the unique culture which is Hawai'i, is a part of America. That grave wrongs were committed against Hawai'i's native people cannot be denied, but he believes that a strong corrective process is now happening.

 

At the time of our conversation, Al was actively backing Senator Daniel Akaka by committing full resources to support this distinguished gentleman's re-election campaign. Al's passion in this sense was wholly unmistakable. He asserted that Sen. Akaka has in fact represented the State and most notably, native Hawaiians' causes and concerns, extremely well in Washington. No one else, he assured the writer, has as effectively brought awareness to their strengths as well as their ongoing difficulties in being dominated by/adjusting to the not-always admirable aggressive, trade-and-commerce/high-tech ways of western societies. (More background info can be found at http://akaka.senate.gov/ )

 

One might gather that a great deal was packed into this relatively brief telephone exchange, and that would be at best a dire understatement. As our time drew to a close, Al talked about how the process of education has changed since he was a teacher. Aspects like the relationship between labour & management, nationalization vs globalization, as well as the profound impact of the Internet, which has opened up the frontiers of knowledge far more than anyone could have imagined a relatively short while ago, were brought up. He feels the need is now greater than ever, for the best teachers there can be so that students can receive quality opportunity for rounded learning in the context of a democratic civilization.

 

Al hinted that although he's not yet begun to actually write it, there could be a book in the works. Material has begun accumulating in his mind if not elsewhere. He hopes it would encompass a non-traditional history of Hawai'i, from a perspective other than Western. It would, in all likelihood, feature far more than just mere names, places, events and dates...concepts of spirit, embedded in the Polynesian psyche and relating to realities of island life and clashes with contrary-thinking invaders from afar, could form the basis of a very, very enlightening treatise.

 

For Five-0 fans all over, Al commented that he consciously considers it a blessing to "still be above ground" as he put it, each waking day. He exhorted everybody to be grateful for life and to enjoy it. Al made special mention of the Freemans, being most appreciative for their encouragement and the many opportunities afforded him through the existence of the show. And finally, he said he was touched beyond words by the unbelievable legacies/endowments left by Jack and Marie, for Hawai'i's people. As he put it, while the monetary value is not insignificant, the real message was the Lords' true affection shown by giving back to the place which adopted them in the late 60's, i.e. their "aloha a'ina," or love of the land.

 

Al is one who donates considerably too. He is thanked most sincerely for all that he has humbly given of himself over a remarkable lifetime. Me ke aloha pumehana nui nui, kanaka!

 

 

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Some Elicitations From Elissa

Catching Up With Elissa Dulce

by Jerry Pickard  uhalum@yahoo.com

 

Elissa Dulce April 2006

 

First, an assurance. An affirmation that goes out especially to all the other red-blooded guy fans. Elissa most definitely hasn't lost "it." Not by any measure, not by a long shot. In fact, in the vivid estimation of this one-time wannabe almost hunk (who now exemplifies geekdom to da max, sob), Elissa's got more "it" than was even the case way back then. And that, good folks, is no mean feat, trust me!

 

But, enough comforting of those few (ahem) fantasizers among us. Bringing things into updated perspective, let it be known that Elissa is now a very proud, doting tutu-wahine, or granny. Yup, when she made her entrance at a Zippy's Family Restaurant for our April '06 meeting, planted securely in her arms was 10-months old grand-daughter Teihirangi. This little charmer, having a Maori-flavoured moniker and being a big light of her grandmother's present life, actually joined in the interview, which was something of a first for your humble reporter. Her happy jabberings throughout the hour we were together, liberally punctuated our conversation. But in reviewing the taped record, I felt reasonably confident the main thrust of our discourse had been well preserved.

 

"Babely" aspects aside (as she has been described on various sites), Elissa truly is a remarkable woman in so many of ways. She has acting credits in film productions like Moon Over Paradise (originally called 'Good-bye Paradise' before Joe Moore--also of Five-0 fame--sold the rights) and No Man Is An Island, as well as small-screen ventures such as Magnum P.I./Baywatch Hawaii (recurring roles), Jake & The Fat Man, and Barnaby Jones, among others. She was also in Hawaii's local theatrical version of The Joy Luck Club. A very impressive dossier to say the least.

 

But where the big-time stuff all pretty much began was on our very own Five-0. And how did Elissa get there? Back-track to around when the movie West Side Story first came out. A very impressionable, not-quite-teen Elissa saw it and realized she wanted to act. The times, in Hawai'i at least, were not with her...the arts faltered as part of the public schools' curriculum. However, she persevered, and became involved with the somewhat low-profile drama club at Ka'imuki High. Following graduation, she pursued her dream by moving to the mainland for formal acting instruction. Homesickness brought her back to the Islands after about a year, but only briefly, and then a migration to the lower 48 recurred so she could pick up where she'd left off. After hooking up with an agent, she was able to get into classes at Universal Studios, where one particularly notable fellow-student was none other than David Cassidy, she recalled.

 

The Aloha State beckoned her home once again, a fortuitous thing for all of us, because it was around this juncture that Five-0 was beginning to hit its stride. Readings for a few small parts led to some exposure on the series, followed by more active speaking roles in the latter period. These were supplemented with occasional spots in commercials and ABC movie work. Nonetheless, her main acting activity in the 70's was Hawaii Five-0.

 

So, what was her experience like there? As with most others, so much depended on one's relationship (or lack of same) with Jack Lord. Elissa shared that she enjoyed working with him and overall, found him a very kind man. In the years since, she has come to better appreciate Jack's preoccupation with trying to maintain a no-nonsense environment on the set, mindful of the huge monetary investment that was at stake in the show's success. She acknowledges that for Lord, the running of a tight ship during production was paramount because to do otherwise, to openly tolerate an abandonment of his strict standards, would have led to unacceptable loss of control and ultimately, chaos in his mind. This is how, in retrospect, she figures he saw things. She now empathizes more than before, perhaps, how difficult it must have been for him, never quite getting used to the fooling around and playful banter that almost always permeates group/social settings in Hawai'i. The atmosphere when Magnum was in production was decidedly more relaxed, she noted.

 

One particular Five-0 filming incident came to mind during our talk-story, she shared. There was a challenging scene on Ford Island (within Pearl Harbor), which seemed to require multiple attempts to get a good take. Her character was to come running around a building, very distraught over just finding a diving partner murdered. After several efforts that weren't deemed okay, followed by a break but no ACTION keyword cue, Jack said something like "C'mon sweetie, let's go with it again." She thought this occasion was only to experiment with a different camera angle or the like, so she didn't even try to play the role as required and was almost flippant, sashaying around the corner. Jack blew his cool in a major way, she said, and although he later apologized, it was a huge lesson for her. Always be prepared!

 

One of her first speaking parts, however, occurred in Banzai Pipeline. There, she had to be adversarial with McGarrett, and apparently did a bang-up job of it. She gave him more lip than the script called for, even pointedly mimicking McGarrett at one stage (with Jack's encouragement). He liked it so much that it ended up in the final take.

 

She indeed remembers Jack as a gentleman always, never swearing or embracing vulgarity in any form. Let McGarrett refer to women as "dames & broads," but that was not Jack, she clarified.

 

He definitely remembered Elissa after the series was over, as he cast her for M-Station Hawaii. If it had been a hit, then his conscripting words "will you be ready for stardom?" might well have been put to the test. Alas, that wasn't quite to be.

 

Although Elissa doesn't currently keep up any regular contact with fellow Five-0 alumni, she fondly recalls Moe Keale in particular, for his total lack of ego. And she especially enjoyed doing scenes with occasional guest star Leslie Nielsen (e.g. in We Hang Our Own). For the referenced episode, she was offered a more prominent role than was usually the case. Unfortunately, her boss at the Ala Moana Hotel's Hawaiian Hut, where she was holding steadier employment as a dancer, refused to allow her the extra time off needed. Elissa decided to go to the Big Island for the part anyway, and when the shoot was over, she came back to her regular job, only to find it no longer available to her. I sensed that she regretted the incident, understandably, but felt she did the right thing, at the end of the day.

 

Five-0 was indeed pivotal to her career, she asserted, because at the time there were few opportunities for actresses like her, of Japanese-Filipino lineage (compared with the present, she pointed out). Whenever any chance to perform came up, she unhesitatingly took it. Even now, although she has other vocational duties (including baby-sitting!), she continues to take acting classes, to keep her skills sharp for any future productions she might like to try for. Elissa noted that not long before she sat down with me, for example, she'd been tapped by LOST casting lady Marg Doversola (who of course did local casting during Five-0's latter stages), to audition for a possible recurring part. Unfortunately, Elissa was unable to follow up on this chance owing to a major prior commitment off-island.

 

I asked for her views on why the series lasted so long. Her response was immediate: it was mainly because of the times, she said. When Five-0 began, Hawai'i had not been a State for quite a decade, so there was a distinct allure to the Islands for scenery and associated fantasies, on the part of the other 49 and beyond. Too, the concept and format were both considered unique, in comparison with other good-guy/bad-guy shows. And perhaps most endearing of all for her, she said, was the unique relationship that Five-0 grew to enjoy with the local community. So many Hawai'i residents, lacking in professional acting skills and unsullied by all that is deemed questionable about Hollywood, were given a chance to be a part of the show in some form. They were noticeably real people, of varying ethnic backgrounds yet encountering universal problems, and well represented the unique mosaic that is the 50th State demographically.

 

We talked a bit about the writing that produced the plots. Overall, Elissa suggested, by today's standards Five-0's situations and actions by characters would appear almost cartoon-like But, it should always be borne in mind that back then there was tremendous public outcry about the violence the show was seen to portray, and nowhere was the howling more vociferous than in the Islands themselves. (Your reporter, as a UH Manoa student in Five-0's earliest days, can well vouch for that recollection...fortunately, a more comprehensive perspective prevailed, eventually!)

 

Elissa also emphasized that the wide spectrum of themes, very relevant to the times then and many often enduring to the present, touched viewers in a very special way. The fact that the good guy virtually always won at the end, provided a needed assurance to a very wary, old-values-in-jeopardy TV-watching public, she stressed.

 

Besides her acting roles, her dancing prowess has taken her many places as part of Polynesian "trouping around," including with the Disney organization across the mainland. As well, she has been part of shows headlined by Zulu and Danny Kaleikini, to name just a couple. In '97 she enjoyed a role on the never-released CBS recycled Five-0 pilot, when she got to revel again in working with Moe, Zulu, Kam Fong and Jim MacArthur. Should the Five-0 movie actually become a reality in the near future, she could see George Clooney as a great choice for the lead, she confided.

 

As our time together wound down, I asked Elissa if she had any particular message for the show's numerous fans. After thinking a bit, she offered this:

 

"So many speak of the 'old days' with a sweet and tender feeling. On behalf of those of us who were privileged to be a part of this unique phenomenon we call Hawaii Five-0, I hope the fans will help to keep the memory of its positive message and legacy alive for as long as possible." She also expressed the hope that maybe some day another series, both set in Hawai'i and specifically local in content, might capture the imaginations that Five-0 did and enjoy a similar beloved longevity.

 

Sadly, all too soon it was time for the still-babely Elissa and grand-baby to 'hele on,' but meeting her and having the reminiscences and insights that we had, will remain with me for a long, long time. Incidentally, if anyone wishes to drop her a line, she asked this be done through myself and I will gladly pass it along.

 

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A word from our sponsors:

 

Anyone interested in copies of Hawaii Five-0 episodes (mostly all full versions) can contact Barbara Brindle at 105 Warren Road, Sparta, NJ 07871. Barbara does not have an email address so you’ll need to phone her at 973-729-9232. Her rates are reasonable and she’s very reliable.

 

Ron Evans, owner of e/p Partners, www.networksplus.net/caseyguy/epPartners.htm, also offer VCR tapes of Hawaii Five-0, Jack Lord and James MacArthur, among others. His email is caseyguy@networksplus.net.

 

Hard copies of the newsletter are available

 

The Hawaii Five-0 Newsletter is available in print form. Membership is $10 per year for four issues (foreign subscriptions are $14.00 US funds). Checks for membership may be made out to Annette Nixon/H50FC. You can contact Annette at Spink@colint.net and ask her for her mailing address. Any additional financial contributions are always welcome. The newsletter will be available on the 15th of January, April, July and October.

 

Submissions, which are always welcomed, to the newsletter can be emailed to me at tw1151@comcast.net. Deadlines are one month before each issue. You can find the Central Dispatch on Terri’s Jack Lord Connection located at www.thejacklordconnection.com 

 

See you in October, 2006

Be There! Aloha!