All New York actors learn whether they have what it takes to succeed by appearing on stage. They begin in off-Broadway plays, which are being produced by producers, directors, and writers who have not yet proven themselves worthy of being picked up by a Broadway theater. Everyone has to start at the bottom, as they say. Jack was no different. He quickly proved that he would go far in the profession - but I expect Sanford Meisner knew that the instant Jack burst through that door "like a wild banshee," wearing his coat like a cape and discovering that he could put himself aside and become the character he was portraying.
Jack made his New York stage debut in The Illegitimist. In 1954, he appeared in a play entitled The Savage. So far, I have been unable to find information about these plays.
Flame-Out was a comedy-drama that was written and directed by Alan Mowbray and produced by M. M. Productions. It opened in Hartford, Connecticut, on November 12, 1953, and closed in Washington, DC, on December 5, 1953.
The story centered around the false accusation of a pilot for the death of a fellow pilot in action during the Korean War. In the end, a medical report showed that the downed pilot had incurable cancer and allowed himself to be shot down in order to secure a pension for his wife and a hero's status for his son.
The Little Hut
Jack played a small role in this off-Broadway production. When two men and a woman are stranded on a seemingly deserted island in the middle of the ocean, the men begin vying for the woman's attention. She is not particularly interested in either of them. But, then, an island native (Jack) arrives, and it's fireworks between him and the woman. A picture of Jack in The Little Hut has circulated on Ebay. It leaves no doubt about why the woman chose him over her male traveling companions. He wore only a loin cloth.
The Traveling Lady
The Traveling Lady was Jack's first Broadway production. Presented as a musical, The Traveling Lady, opened at the Playhouse Theatre, on Broadway, on October 27, 1954, and ran for 30 performances, ending on November 20, 1954. The script was written by Horton Foote; the music was composed by Milton Davidson.
The Traveling Lady is a story about simple people in a time gone by. It is set in a small town in South Texas. Georgette Thomas (Kim Stanley) and her young daughter, Margaret Rose (Brook Seawell), arrive to look for her husband, Henry Thomas (Lonny Chapman), whom she believes is being released from prison. Throughout his incarceration, she has been working hard to raise the money for his release. Sadly, she learns that he has been free for some time and that he has not changed his ways and has no intention of being a husband and father.
Similarly, Slim Murray’s (Jack Lord) marriage ended unhappily. He is the town's mechanic and likes Georgette and her daughter. As a man, he can see through Henry Thomas and his criminal ways and worries about what will happen to mother and daughter even as he falls in love with Georgette. When Henry Thomas goes to jail for yet another of his numerous crimes, Slim and Georgette go off together.
Horton Foote was known for creating characters who felt deeply and came
to life on stage. In addition to his own scripts, he wrote screenplays
for television and for such movies as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962);
Baby, the Rain Must Fall (1965), which was based on The Traveling Lady;
and Tender Mercies (1983). The pans gave scathing reviews of Horton
Foote's play, which was said to have been like too many of his other
creations. The critics called it predictable.
Even so, Jack received good reviews.
The Theatre World was impressed, too, for they awarded Jack
the Theatre World Award for his performance as an outstanding newcomer
to Broadway. As Slim, Jack spoke
the very first line spoken in Act 1, Scene 1. Because it was produced as
a musical, we may assume that Jack sang, as well.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play in 1955. That is the year when the play premiered on Broadway. It ran for about 18 months. Jack played the role of Brick, the alcoholic former athlete, after taking over from Ben Gazzara, who left to perform in another play. An unnamed source, who described Jack's "powerful and emotion-charged performance," said, “He really tore the theater apart.”
Trivia: McGarrett and Ormsbee. If you think Jack Lord and Pat Hingle look enough alike in the Dr. Grant Ormsbee episodes of Hawaii Five-0 to have been brothers, you are not alone. Elia Kazan, producer of the 1955 Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, thought
so, too, when he cast them as Brick and Gooper Pollick. Brick (Jack) and
Gooper (Pat) didn’t get along any better than McGarrett and Ormsbee, for
Brick was the favored son, while Gooper wanted to be. Fortunately,
McGarrett did not fall off his perch in his encounters with Ormsbee.