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Like many aspiring actors, Jack soon discovered that visiting the
agents with photographs of himself was not enough. He needed a way to set
himself apart from the crowd. In short, he needed acting credentials. To obtain
those, he needed to show that he had studied acting under a noted acting coach.
Continuing to sell cars by day, Jack studied acting by night ("Jack Lord’s
Amazing Confession” in Photoplay. May 1971), first at the Neighborhood
Playhouse and then at the Actor's Studio. Marie encouraged him to follow his
dream; she would continue to offer assistance and encouragement throughout his
Jack’s teacher was Sanford Meisner, who recalled that Jack was a very
intense young man and told a story that revealed that Jack was also a very shy
young man, who would prefer to act into a tape recorder than before another
actor (Gill, Alan. "Big, Big, Big!" in TV Guide. November 17,
1962). Most people are shy when they start a new venture; self-assurance comes
with experience. Jack said,
Meisner opened me up. I was closed, introverted, a scared guy. He had me leave the room and return with an improvisation of a ham Shakespearean actor. I was petrified…but then I remembered the sonnet that begins, ‘When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes’ and slung my overcoat around me like a cloak and burst through that door like a banshee. I had to. And once I started, once I broke through the sound barrier, a kind of relaxation set in. (Gill, ibid.)
He wanted to use his own name, but someone else already was using the name Jack Ryan, and so, he drew from his family tree for inspiration and took the stage name "Jack Lord" (Denis, Paul. "Was It Wrong To Marry Her? Jack Lord’s Bitter-Sweet Love Story” in TV Radio Mirror. June 1963). He did not change his name legally, however.
The problem with many actors is that they are forced to fake world-weary experience. Lord didn’t have to play
larger-than-life. He was larger-than-life. He had traveled all over the world as a teenage merchant seaman. He
had played college football, he got a solo pilot’s license, and he had organized his own art school. He had prints
made of his artwork, then sent them to his favorite museums.
Meyers, Ric. Murder on the Air: Television’s Great Mystery Series. New York: The Mysterious Press, 1989, 139.
Imagine, if you will, that Steve McGarrett of Hawaii Five-0 goes up against Coaley Tobin of Man of the West. On the one hand, there's the sophisticated, Annapolis-educated Navy commander, who stands up for what is right at all cost. On the other hand, there's the uneducated, crude barbarian, who seemingly thrives on living a murderous life.
Similarly, Cdr Zachary Landsdowne of The Court-Martial of Billy
Mitchell was as much the counter-type of down-and-out, drunken
ex-football hero Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as any character
could be. The same could be said for FBI SAIC Frank Thompson in The Doomsday
Flight as compared to Buck Walden in God's Little Acre, a man
who moaned and groaned when his wife chose another man over him on whom to
dispense her affection.
Jack portrayed them all. He said an actor was fortunate if he could play either a cowboy or a policeman. Jack played both, and he played them well. He could be a good cowboy, like Stoney Burke, who like McGarrett, stood up for his principles, or he could be a rotten, good-for-nothing cowboy, like Clay Renton in the Bonanza episode, "The Outcast." Similarly, he could be a traditional police department investigator, like Det. Deke Del Vecchio in The Tattooed Stranger, or an independent-minded, flies-by-the-seat-of-his-pants intelligence officer, like CIA agent Felix Leiter in Dr. No or Five-0 chief Steve McGarrett.
Jack’s deepest regret was that he could not find overwhelming success
in either art or acting, although he clearly was successful in both. He
did not become a star on the level of Claude Renoir or Clark Gable. In
many ways, he is closer to that level of stardom today than he was during his
lifetime. Why is Jack closer to that level today? Because he put his heart
and soul into everything he did. Similarly, Jack constantly strove to be
better with each venture he attempted. Over the years, good became better became
best, until the shy boy from Queens had art displayed in more than
40 collections and could write, edit, perform in, direct, and produce a
multi-million-dollar film and have viewers – many of whom are too young to
remember him – clamoring to find copies of his work.
It's long been held that the world doesn't really know how great a man is until after he dies. Such certainly seems to be the case for Jack Lord.
It really bothers me when someone says s/he is not familiar with
Jack Lord's pre-Hawaii Five-0 work. Some say they don't like
watching Jack as the bad guy. To that I must respond, "Yes, but in those
works, you see the vastness of Jack's acting ability."
For the most part, Steve McGarrett was a pretty tame character compared
to some of the other characters Jack portrayed. He brought down the house
as the alcoholic closet homosexual Brick Pollit in Broadway's Cat on a
Hot Tin Roof. As a virtual newcomer to the screen, he took on screen idol
Gary Cooper's character in Man of the West, even before their
often-shown brawl. In Dr. No, he made such a strong showing as CIA
agent Felix Leiter, especially in the opening scene, that producers Salzman and
Broccoli declined to bring him back, lest he show up their star, Sean Connery.
When Leslie Stevens wanted to try his hand at creating a television
series, he called on Jack to help him create Stoney Burke. The
only fault to be found with the series is that the early writing wasn't as
strong as the later writing was. If it had been, the series would have been
every bit as successful as Hawaii Five-0. Stoney could be a tough old
saddle bronc rider, but he was basically a quiet, God-fearing man, who liked to
sketch on napkins of an evening at the local watering hole. Actually, he
was McGarrett in denim and spurs, for he stood up for what was right
even as he resolved the conflicts around him.
In "The Master's Touch," an episode of The Man From
U.N.C.L.E., Jack's Pharos Mandor's brawl with Nehemiah Persoff's
Valandros ended in an impasse, but only because Napoleon Solo (Robert
Vaughn) had to come out on top. In an independent production, Mandor's cool,
calm, and collected persona would have brought down the loud, brash, and edgy
Valandros as surely as he managed to locate and slip into Valandros' castle.
In The Doomsday Flight, the man who had been grooming himself
for the role of Steve McGarrett finally donned the tailored suit and took his
place behind a desk with a telephone in hand as he identified the man
responsible for planting a bomb aboard an airliner. FBI Special
Agent-in-charge Frank Thompson was Steve McGarrett, just without the feistiness
that Jack gave Hawai'i's top cop.
I encourage you to watch Jack's earlier works. Look for the qualities
that define his style of acting, the ones that lasted down through the years.
You've got to be a maniac to be in this business —
and a dedicated maniac to survive. ~ Jack Lord
"Jack Lord: The Hyphenated Man: The Cop Who Cares" in HONOLULU Magazine. October 1970.
Jack’s first stage production was Flame Out (1953), which was a road production performed entirely by military personnel. It was followed in 1954 by The Little Hut, which is generally considered to be Jack’s first theatrical production (Jack Lord. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Lord). Other off-Broadway productions include The Illegitimist (1954) and The Savage (1954).
Also in 1954, Jack made his first appearance on Broadway in The Traveling Lady (Jack Lord. Internet Broadway Database. https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jack-lord-50101) by Horton Foote, who would go on to write the screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird (Horton Foote. Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0285210/). Jack appeared as Slim Murphy. The play lasted for 30 performances, between October 27 and November 20, 1955, at the Playhouse Theatre (Wikipedia, ibid.) Jack was honored with the Theatre World Award for his performance in The Traveling Lady (Theatre World Award Past Winners. http://www.theatreworldawards.org/past-recipients.html). According to Brooks Atkinson, of the New York Times, Jack’s performance had “a fervent sincerity that is overwhelming.”(Gill, ibid.)
A year later, Jack replaced Ben Gazzara as Brick in Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (IBDb, ibid.) He performed opposite Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie in Dallas), who portrayed Maggie, the Cat. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ran for 694 performances between March 1955 and November 1956, at the Morosco Theatre (Gill, ibid.)
With these successes to his name, Jack decided to try his hand in film.
In what was not an altogether wise move, he and Marie moved to Los Angeles.
There, Jack learned that he would have to start his career anew; his
achievements in New York meant little in California. In 1956, Jack auditioned
to play the role of Beauregard “Bo” Decker in the film production of Bus
Stop (Vallance, Tom. “Obituary: Jack Lord” in The Independent. January
23, 1998). Bo was a naïve, yet stubborn, cowboy from Montana. The
stubborn part might have fit Jack, but the naïve part did not. He was turned
down, because, according to director Joshua Logan, his “face looks lived in” (Vallance,
It was at this time that Jack appeared in two movies with veteran actor Gary Cooper. There’s an interesting story behind this. Jack met “Coop” in New York. Jack was selling Cadillacs, and Coop stopped by to see an old Duesenberg, which he once had owned and now was on display in the showroom. The two struck up a conversation, and Coop took Jack to lunch at Schrafft’s. When Jack moved to California and was sent to the set of The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell, he saw Coop and asked whether he remembered him. Coop replied, “Yeah. You’re the guy who likes Duesenbergs” (Raddatz, Leslie. “How an Ex-Rodeo Rider Went West to Enjoy the Good Life as a Hawaiian cop” in TV Guide. January 4, 1969). Jack and Gary Cooper maintained a friendship until Cooper’s death in 1961 (Raddatz, ibid.) In fact, Jack said Cooper was a role model for him (Gill, ibid.); he liked Coop’s laid-back style of acting and emulated it at times in his own acting (Gill, ibid.).
In The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955), a biographical
film, Jack portrayed US Navy LCdr Zachary Landsdowne, friend of Air Corps Gen
William "Billy" Mitchell. Although Mitchell is revered by the Air
Force today for his insistence that improvements be made to ensure the safety
of airmen, in the early years of military aviation, he was faulted for
questioning his superiors, reduced in rank, and ultimately drummed out of the
Air Force. In Man of the West (1958), Jack appeared as the quite mad
Coaley Tobin, who turned against his cousin, Link Jones (Cooper), in a
battle of egos, more specifically in defense of a woman’s virtue. The scene
showing the two fighting is considered a classic.
In 1957, Jack portrayed colonial assemblyman John Fry in The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s production of Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot. The 30-minute film has been shown in the Foundation’s visitor’s center, as a part of each visitor’s introduction to Colonial Williamsburg for all these years and following a major film remastering project (“‘Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot’ Restored.” Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. http://www.history.org/foundation/general/patriot_restored.cfm).
In 1960, Jack appeared in what has become something of a cult classic, Walk Like a Dragon. His character, Linc Bartlett, hauled freight from San Francisco via buckboard wagon in those long-ago days before 18-wheelers. He is in San Francisco when he sees Chinese women being auctioned off for use as prostitutes. Unable to bear what he is seeing, he buys one of the women in hopes of giving her freedom. But she never has known freedom, and since he paid for her, she must belong to him. So, he takes her home to his mother to work as a domestic servant. Of course, he falls in love with her, but marriage is not in the picture, for the Caucasian community cannot accept her, and the Chinese community cannot accept him.
In 1962, Jack was chosen to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter in the first James Bond film, Dr. No. Set and filmed in Jamaica, it seemed almost a portent of Jack’s looming fate as a law enforcement officer on a tropical island. Sources vary about why Jack did not retain his role in future James Bond films. Some say the producers feared he would upstage Sean Connery (Find Biography, link needed) (Jack Lord Biography. ArtLine.ro. http://www.artline.ro/Jack-Lord-21165-2-n.html), while others say he asked for financial interest in the next production, Goldfinger (Find Biography, ibid., ArtLine, ibid.) In either case, he was replaced by Cec Linder (Felix Leiter. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Leiter).
Jack’s next feature film was The Doomsday Flight (1966). He portrayed FBI Special Agent Frank Thompson, Thompson had to deal with a blackmailer who had placed an aneroid bomb aboard an aircraft flying cross-country. We come close to seeing Steve McGarrett here, especially in the bar scene, where he goes to confront the blackmailer, who has died of a heart attack moments before his arrival.
In The Ride to Hangman’s Tree (1967), Jack showed his comedic side when he, James Farrentino, and Don Galloway teamed up as outlaws robbing stage coaches during the California Gold rush. In The Name of the Game is Kill (1968), Jack portrayed an immigrant, who finds himself in the midst of a group of quite insane women, while in The Counterfeit Killer (1968), he worked undercover to close down a counterfeiting ring. This movie was adapted from a television pilot in which Jack also starred, called The Faceless Man. Riding a black motorcycle and wearing black sun glasses in a hotel lobby, he gave evidence that he was as tough as the men he was after. It was the same evidence McGarrett would give when he screeched to a halt in his big, black Mercury.
The toughest part of his work, [Jack] 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.
Breig, James. “Call to
Hawaii” in The Evangelist. May 1, 1975.
Popular in the 1950s and 1960s were television theater productions on
which one-hour, three-act plays were produced under the marquee of the
sponsoring corporation, such as the U. S. Steel Hour, Alcoa Presents, and
Kraft Suspense Theatre. Still others had names of their own, such as Climax!
These provided a proving ground for new actors, many of whom were fresh out
of acting school. Here, Jack gained enormous experience, portraying characters
ranging from Civil War soldiers to police officers. At this time in American
television, such programs were aired live as stage productions that could be
viewed on television. Because so few were filmed, they, like their on-stage
counterparts, have been lost to us.
Like most young actors, Jack started off in small, uncredited roles. His appearances in such productions do not bear his name, but they gave him his start. Jack’s first credited television appearance, in 1952, was in “The Puzzle of Pier 90,” an episode of the series The Hunter. He appeared under his own name, Jack Ryan (“The Hunter” in The Classic TV Archive – US Spy Series). Next, he appeared in “The Chinese Dolls,” an episode of Ralph Bellamy’s Man Against Crime (1954). Two of his later television theater performances were in “The Long Ravine,” an episode of the Kraft Suspense Theatre (1965), and “The Faceless Man,” an episode of the Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre 1966).
Beginning in the late 1950s, episodic television series, as we know them, came into being. Jack appeared as the guest star on such programs as “The Outcast,” an episode of Bonanza (1960); “Play It Glissando,” an episode of Route 66 (1961), where he met the man who would go on to create Hawaii Five-0, Leonard Freeman; “Big Brother” and “Face of a Shadow,” two episodes of 12 O’Clock High (1965, 1966); and “Dead Man’s Tale,” an episode of Ironside (1967).
In 1962, after proving his worth as a guest star, Jack was offered the title role in Stoney Burke, a new television series produced by Daystar Productions, United Artists, and ABC Television (Gill, ibid.). Stoney was a saddle bronc rider on the rodeo circuit. His aim was to win the Golden Buckle denoting him as the best of the best, and he was determined not to let anything – wine, women, or song – get in his way. Stoney Burke took the high road and stood up for his beliefs. And, so, Jack seemed to be taking yet another step toward the highlight of his career. Stoney Burke lasted only one season and became known as "the most successful failure on television" (Radditz, ibid.) Even after filming concluded, Jack continued to appear as Stoney at rodeos, where he sang a few songs and signed autographs (Stoney Burke, Crazy About TV, http://www.crazyabouttv.com/stoneyburke.html).
It is said that, to know someone well, one must walk a mile in his
shoes. Interspersed among the films in which Jack portrayed law enforcement
officers were television programs on which he portrayed troubled and criminal
characters. In “The Outcast” (Bonanza, 1960), Jack portrayed Clay
Renton, a member of a band of robbers, who took advantage of Leta Malvet (Susan
Oliver), a woman ostracized by society for her father’s and brother’s criminal
ways. Leta fell in love with Clay, but his ways remained criminal, until she
was forced to accept that he was no better than her father and brother had been
and propelled him at rifle’s length straight into the hands of the law. In “The
Long Ravine” (Kraft Suspense Theatre, 1965), Jack portrayed Paul
Campbell, a man who would rather gamble on finding the mother lode than hold a
normal job. He owed money to the owner of the general store and lived in a
cabin owned by the owner. In short, he was a dreamer, who did not mind imposing
on others to see him through.
In “Dead Man’s Tale,” an episode of Ironside (1967), Jack portrayed John Trask, a mob boss, who seemed as though he were beyond capture. Presiding over his team from a desk set at an angle (like McGarrett’s), he seemed to have plotted a way to have his cake and eat it, too, until Ironside extended his long arm and nabbed him before he could get away in his private plane. In “The Master’s Touch Affair,” an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1967), Jack portrayed Pharos Mandor, a THRUSH agent who tried to use U.N.C.L.E. to help him escape from his arch rival. Mandor should have emulated McGarrett’s smoothe, “Gotcha!” ways if he had thought he was going to slip past the long arms of Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin.
By portraying many different personalities, Jack learned not only about acting, but also about people. And, so, when Hawaii Five-0 came his way, Jack was ready to portray a tough, yet compassionate, police officer, whose powers of deduction and understanding of human nature made him the top cop from the Mainland to Hong Kong. At the same time, he was human and made mistakes. Nowhere was this more clearly seen than in “Once Upon a Time” (Season 1), when McGarrett failed to consider his sister’s need to have someone to believe in when there was no cure for her infant son’s terminal illness. For McGarrett, not even his sister’s feelings were more important than honesty – and that, if he had one, was his fatal flaw.
Jack’s last project in the performing arts was the pilot for a new
television program, M Station: Hawaii. The series would follow the
adventures of a marine salvage company, which worked under government contract.
The pilot concerned a Russian submarine, which had sunken off the coast of
Hawai‘i. The US government wanted to explore the submarine in order to see what
they could learn from it. Such exploration would have to be done quickly and
quietly, for the Russians were on their way to Hawai‘i to remove any and all
secretive material and equipment. To facilitate the mission, the US government
hired a marine salvage company to retrieve what it could. The pilot, which Jack
produced, directed, and appeared in a cameo role, aired in the spring of 1980,
soon after the end of Hawaii Five-0. Although the premise was realistic
and the two-hour movie was well produced, the networks did not pick it up as a
My own opinion as to
why M Station: Hawaii was not picked up was its similarity to, yet
difference from, Five-0. When I saw it, I was stricken by the similarities –
the Makai Research Pier, the USCGC Cape Corwin, and the Navy and the
scenes of Pearl Harbor – yet, I felt only disappointment in the differences.
Where was the palace? Where was Jack? If memory serves, I did not watch it to
its conclusion. It wasn’t Hawaii Five-0!
If Jack had produced something entirely different from law enforcement in
Hawai‘i, he, no doubt, would have had a winner. But that would have required
him to leave Hawai‘i, and he and Marie had said they planned to live in the
islands for the rest of their lives (they did).
About the Theatre World Awards
The Theatre World Award is the oldest award given for a debut theater performance, whether on Broadway or off. Each season, the Theatre World Awards committee names six actors and six actresses for their debut performances. Its purpose is to encourage and inspire "newcomers to the stage to continue to pursue their dream...in an industry known more for rejection than reception."
The winners in the 1954-55 season were Jack Lord for The Traveling Lady, David Daniels for Plain and Fancy, Dennis Patrick for The Wayward Saint, Anthony Perkins for Tea and Sympathy, Christopher Plummer for The Dark is Light Enough, Julie Andrews for The Boy Friend, Jacqueline Brookes for The Cretan Woman, Shirl Conway for Plain and Fancy, Barbara Cook for Plain and Fancy, Mary Fickett for Tea and Sympathy, Page Johnson for In April Once, and Loretta Leversee for Home is the Hero. All in all, some very impressive names with whom to be associated.
[Kam Fong] told me whenever I worked
on Five-0 to watch Jack . . . He's a professional;
watch how he
approaches the character and his intensity, his focus and how he knew the scene
~ Dennis Chun
Uyehara, Charles. Coffee With Actor Dennis Chun. SAG-AFTRA. July 28, 2016. https://www.sagaftra.org/coffee-actor-dennis-chun