I love Jack Lord.
There. It's out of the bag now. I can breathe freely.
It feels so good to be rid of my inhibitions. I think I'll repeat it.
I love Jack Lord.
With this exhilaration, I think I'll tell you why I love Jack Lord. It's because there is no other actor like him on TV (with one possible exception) and because there is no other character like Steve McGarrett of Hawaii Five-0 (no exceptions).
Think about the detective and cop heroes on TV. What do you know about their private lives? What sort of men are they? We know Columbo has a wife, but otherwise his off-duty life is hidden. Mannix disappears up those stairs every once in a while, but what goes on up there we can only shudder at. Other detectives are gourmands (Cannon) or lovers of young women (Kojak).
But only Steve McGarrett, as played by Jack Lord, offers us a view of a man completely dedicated to his work. McGarrett is almost a monk, so intense is his interest in his job to the exclusion of everything else.
What do we know about McGarrett? Even when he gets away from his office to play handball, he is still at work, constantly analyzing clues, always sifting ideas for the right combination.
McGarrett's dedication to his job is so single-minded that even women take a backseat. Last fall when Steve almost fell in love, his first emotion toward the woman was not affection. It was suspicion. That's how devoted he is to seeing his work completed no matter what. And he was right. She was a crook.
What else do we know about McGarrett? His lifestyle is austere. He rises with the sun to exercise and jog. His schedule is tight, allowing room for only the essentials. If he is not at his desk, you can bet he is somewhere doing his job -- at the governor's office, in the field, or with some source of information.
And what about his relation to his underlings? Only Kojak displays a similar toughness with his co-workers. McGarrett, like the bald one, knows who is boss and what that entails. If Danny or Chin fouls up, he lets his displeasure register. He doesn't request their cooperation; he demands their full concentration. He doesn't ask them to investigate something; he tells them to do it. And they jump at his words.
His office is run efficiently, the outward sign of the workings of his mind. When clues pile up, he scrawls them on a blackboard to find some pattern. When the solution is just within his grasp, he begins snapping his fingers to catch the rhythm of the clues and shape them into a comprehensible whole.
Television gives us lots of jokers and gamblers, lovers and clowns. But only McGarrett, as played by Jack Lord, gives us a man to admire for his forthrightness, his dedication to duty, his devotion to his chosen vocation, his singleminded attention to logic and detail.
In a world of weak people, McGarrett is a saint. In a medium filled with half-defined characters, Jack Lord has delineated a special person. The result is Hawaii Five-0. Consistently in the top shows, year after year. Consistently tough plots. Consistently good entertainment.
And that's why I love Jack Lord.
This article first appeared in The Evangelist, newspaper of the Albany, NY, Roman Catholic Diocese, March 6, 1975.
When I finished my column of several weeks ago in praise of Jack Lord's performance as Steve MeGarrett on Hawaii Five-0, I decided it wouldn't hurt to send him a copy along with a request for an interview.
To my delight, he responded with an invitation to call his home in Honolulu anytime "for a chat." An early riser like Steve, Mr. Lord asked me to call him at 7 a.m. his time.
So I did and our conversation ranged over a variety of topics, from his interest in art to his views on televised violence, from his feelings on religion to the difficulties of living a public life.
"I'm really a non-violent man," he told me when I asked what he thought of the arguments against violence on TV, "so I can sympathize with people who feel as they do about the proliferation of violence on TV. But I ask them, how can you do a police form without violence? We're not justifying violence.
"As a matter of fact, we are, in a sense, a parable. We try to show people that violence begets violence, that nothing is ever settled, on either an international level or individual level, by violent actions. We always show that the 'baddie,' the evil one, is incarcerated or gets his comeuppance. Evil falls, is consumed by itself or taken over by a greater force - the force of good.
"I understand their concern, but I also point out that we can't do a police form without violence. We live in a violent world."
Describing himself as a Christian who "tries to practice Christianity in everything I say or do," Mr. Lord countered the usual image of Hollywood and some actors.
"There are many spiritual people in acting," he said. "I know many of them and some who might surprise you, people who are supposed to be carnal and 'of this world,' They have a very touching and very active spiritual drive to their life. In my experience in Hollywood, the so-called 'sin mecca of the world,' I have known many spiritual, religious, good, kind, decent, wholesome people."
I could fit that description to him as well from what I gathered. For example, in discussing his interest in painting (his work hangs in several museums), Mr. Lord traced the beginnings of his interest to God.
"Some kids can play the violin; some are geniuses with mathematics." he mused. "I guess God tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'You should paint.' I've always been able to draw and paint. I was going to teach art on the college level. That's what my degrees are for." He will continue to paint no matter where his career takes him, he added, because "the talents God gives, we must improve."
As for his career, Mr. Lord sees it leading eventually into production of movies.
"Motion pictures are the greatest force for good in the world," he told me. "I think they can do as much as our Bible has done if used in the proper manner. In the last few years, they've been putrified and vilified with all this evil and pornography we've been fed. But motion pictures in the hands of a man like George Stevens can turn people's lives around. Without hitting them over the head, you can use it as a great force for good and that's what I'd like to do --direct motion pictures."
For the time being, of course, he will continue with his role in Hawaii Five-0, over all the top-rated dramatic series of the year. The toughest part of his work, he said, is "the gradual wearing down of energies over a period of a season. It is awfully difficult to keep up your enthusiasm for eight or nine months without any respite.
"From a creative standpoint, finding 24 scripts is the most difficult problem. There are just so many writers who are good. A good script is the single most difficult thing to come by."
on a personal level, there are other difficulties. I asked him whether being open to criticism is the hardest part of being a public figure.
"The slings and arrows are tough," he admitted. "Especially when you're not guilty. There must be a lot of envy in the world. I have never knowingly hurt another human being. So it's incomprehensible to me that people would set out to destroy, to tear down, to denigrate, to attack another human being. So much of what they say are lies or half-truths or distortions that it's shocking to me.
"You're always stung by the arrow, but after the hurt you say that they have to account for their actions and thinking. Not to me, but to a greater force. So you pick up the pieces and go on."
Rising above the carping is exactly what Jack Lord has been doing magnificently. He has improved his talents with each season and I look forward to more from him from both sides of the camera.
(On May 6 Hawaii Five-0 will re-broadcast "Welcome to Our Branch Office" about doubles for the regulars conning people. Mr. Lord laughed about the show when I mentioned it as one of my favorites. "It's kind of crazy to do that kind of thing," he said. I complimented the program for not using the same actors to play their own doubles. He told me the producers interviewed hundreds of people to find a double for McGarrett. Whom did they end up with? One of the camera technicians who had been with the show all along. "A case of not seeing the forest for the trees," Mr. Lord said with a laugh. The resemblance had never been noticed before, he said, especially with the man running around "in an aloha shirt, shorts and sneakers." You might want to tune in to see the results.)
This article first appeared in The Evangelist, newspaper of the Albany, NY, Roman Catholic Diocese, May 1, 1975.