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Jack's Lessons for Us

Jack is seen in a picture from his high school yearbook,

The Clipper , John Adams High School, 1938.

Photograph provided by the Richmond Hill Historical Society.

I think, when Jack passed, everyone said the same thing, that he made

us better as actors and as people, because he taught us that this is a

profession, you have to take it seriously, and it's a lot of hard work.

Source: Comment by Dennis Chun on Emme's Island Moments:

Hawaii Five-0 Revisited, KGMB-TV,  2012

It is no surprise to those who remember Jack Lord that he was accomplished as both an actor and an artist. As an actor, he was best known as Detective Steve McGarrett, who led an elite force of criminal investigators on Hawaii Five-0 (Hawaii Five-0. Created by Leonard Freeman Productions. CBS/Paramount, 1968-1980.). 

During his acting career, Jack achieved such notable successes as performing in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  (Williams, Tennessee. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. First Broadway Production, 1955. Pulitzer Prize, 1955.) on Broadway within a very few years of beginning his acting career, being the first actor to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter in the James Bond series (Dr. No. Eon Productions, 1962.), and being one of very few actors to star in two television series. His work in Williamsburg – The Story of a Patriot (Williamsburg – The Story of a Patriot. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1957.) continues to be enjoyed by visitors to the historical site to this day.

As an artist, Jack’s works have hung in such notable galleries as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tate Gallery in London. Hundreds of lithographs of his works were sold at auction in 2007; today, they are being sold among collectors for as much as ten times their original selling prices.

What was not as well known until Jack’s wife’s passing was that he was a philanthropist, as well. Throughout their lives, the couple gave generously. Through their wills, they donated another $40 million to a dozen charitable organizations in Hawai'i, where they lived for more than thirty years.

What is least known – or, perhaps, realized – is that Jack was a teacher. Not many actors or artists or even philanthropists take the time and trouble to teach us life’s lessons. Perhaps, they haven’t learned the lessons, themselves, or, perhaps, they doubt whether anyone would want to hear from them. It is our gift from Jack that he took the time and trouble to pass along the lessons he had learned in life.

Throughout his twelve years on Hawaii Five-0, Jack shared poems that he learned from his father. Indeed, he attributed his knowledge of the poems to his “old man,” alluding to Mr. McGarrett. In fact, it was Jack’s father, William Lawrence Ryan, who taught him. Jack said his father paid him and his brothers and sister a penny for each line of poetry they memorized (Miller, Roland. Jack Lord Talks About His Mother and Father... in Photoplay. May 1971.). In the 1920s and 1930s, when the Ryans were growing up, a penny was a lot of money; a nickel would buy a whole week’s worth of candy or admission to a picture show.

In the same article, Jack said, “I memorized hundreds and hundreds of poems, all of which proved useful later when I had to learn lines.” (Miller, Roland. Jack Lord Talks About His Mother and Father... in Photoplay. May 1971.) Even that is a lesson to us.


So often we reach a point in life when we realize that the little things we have done all along have come together to prepare us for what we now are doing or going through. Little did Jack realize he would need good memorization skills. After all, his earliest ambitions were to sail the high seas and to become an artist, like his brother, Bill (Holton, Brett. You’ve Never Read a Story About Jack Lord That Told You This in TV Radio Mirror, December 1970). Acting did not enter Jack’s life until the Merchant Navy sent him to Washington to make training films and he discovered that he liked acting (Richmond Hill Historical Society, The. About Jack Lord, Actor and Artist. (Link no longer works.). And, so, we are taught not to trivialize the little things we are asked to do.

Some of the poems that Jack quoted, we’ve heard before, such as the first few lines of Rudyard Kipling’s untitled poem (Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936). Poem appears following “The Elephant’s Child” in Just So Stories. New  York: Doubleday, 1902, 1907.):

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Many, however, are more obscure, such as the following saying, which has been attributed to both Aristotle and Elbert Hubbard (Hubbard, Elbert (1856-1915).

To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.


The lesson, of course, is that we can avoid criticism by remaining uninvolved in life, but we will soon find that we are not growing as human beings. To grow, we must stick our necks out and risk that criticism.

Jack Lord, like Steve McGarrett, was a man of principle. He knew what he believed, and he stuck to those beliefs. Quite often, he used Hawaii Five-0 as a platform to teach lessons of morality. Most often, those lessons came in the form of digging a little deeper to learn the truth. After all, it was not in Jack’s or Steve’s nature to convict the wrong man. Numerous times, as in the episode “Over Fifty, Steal” (“Over Fifty, Steal,” Hawaii Five-0, season 3. CBS/Paramount, 1970.), he urged his detectives on by saying, “Let’s hustle, gentlemen,” instead of allowing them to accept the first, seemingly plausible explanation for something that happened.

The episode “Use a Gun, Go to Hell” (“Use a Gun, Go to Hell,” Hawaii Five-0, season 12. CBS/Paramount, 1979.) is a morality tale with the message that guns are evil things that can only lead to trouble. Jack Lord, through Steve McGarrett, insists that the premise that “people, not guns, kill people” is wrong and that guns kill people. Whether he is right or wrong is open to debate, since guns have no will of their own. The point is that Jack shared his personal point of view, and that is a rare thing in television dramas.

More often, a point of view is presented within the story line. For example, the protagonist can be shown viewing a gun laying on a table top and agonizing over whether or not he should use it; when he does use it, his life and the life of the person he shot are shattered. The protagonist rarely stands up and gives a speech about it. Speaking as Steve McGarrett, Jack did. He lectured the people he was arresting by giving a brief recap of the trail the gun had taken before it had reached their hands. It was a bloody trail, which included the accidental shooting of one child by another. In that instance, the child did not intend to harm the other, but the shooting very nearly was a fatal one.

Such lessons were not unusual for Jack to give. In a magazine interview (from an interview with Jack Lord originally published in Movie Life (1963, publication data unknown) and included in Good Bye!: The Journal of Contemporary Obituaries (January 1998).), he urged the young people of the day to stand up and make a difference:

"There is a terrible tendency to conform today. It’s choking this country. It’s particularly sad because all great men and women have had one quality in common – they have dared to be different, dared to speak their minds, dared to espouse the unpopular cause.

"Does it take any courage or express any individuality to dress exactly like “the crowd” – the group of friends around whom most of your social activities revolve? To tease your hair or get a flat-top cut because the majority of kids at school do it? Does it take any creativity to like the same kind of music, or art, or dance as the pack?

"No!” Jack vehemently exclaims. “Being a silly, weak-minded follower can’t satisfy any real human being. And besides, it’s a very unhealthy atmosphere to grow up in. It’s stifling. No red-blooded American wants to be a carbon copy. What you have, what you are – your looks, your personality, your way of thinking – is unique. No one in the world is like you. So capitalize on it – don’t submerge it and come on like a mass-produced auto part.”

Such is a breath of fresh air to the reader, who expects to find the subject boasting of his accomplishments or bragging about how well he lives.

Jack and Marie lived well, yet without pretense. They might well have bought the mansion; instead, they lived in a condominium in an upscale neighborhood. They might have driven a new car every year; instead, they drove the same car until it was far beyond its prime. They might have bought into a concept that was accepted in the entertainment industry long before it swept the rest of the nation: the two-income family. Before marrying Jack, Marie was a fashion designer. She gave it up to be Jack’s wife, business manager, and, most importantly, his soul mate. They had been married for forty-nine years at the time of his death.

Indeed, Jack’s lessons were breaths of fresh air in an industry that often focuses on the shock factor in what it airs and in a society that tends to tear down its old values without having anything to replace them. His lessons urged us to stop and think before we act. That is a lesson that works far beyond the use of handguns. It is a lesson that might even encourage us to step forward, risk the criticism, and give something back to the world in which we live ? as, indeed, Jack did.

Jack on Praying


In a magazine article, (Judge, Philip. “A Different Drummer” in Girl Talk. Publication data unknown. Approximate date: 1975 or 1976), Jack said,

"At the beginning of each session I ask everyone to join me in a minute of silent

prayer. Personally I’ve never prayed for anything material in my life – these prayers

are to bring us together for that episode, that’s all. Each man can say whatever is

in his own heart, privately, to himself.


"I have been severely criticized for this . . . I happen to believe in the power of

prayer. I pray every morning. It opens up all kinds of doors, I promise you. But

mostly it’s a prayer for inspiration, not a prayer for supplication.


"I don’t think anything’s in this Universe or this life by accident. It’s all design.

There’s a purpose to everything. When I pray, I believe in communion with God.

He’s the Director! I want to keep my mind open for guidance and inspiration.


"Sometimes I have physical problems – fatigue, maybe, or insomnia. Or I need a

problem solved. Then I pray. I literally ask for help. And it works – you bet it works.

I believe totally in the power of prayer, and I have an absolute faith that all things

are possible of God. I’m a Christian, and I try to practice Christianity. I believe that people can be healed of diseases, and I believe in the power of the mind over



On Handling Disappointment 

[Marie] recalls she once helped in designing some $2,000 to $3,000 worth of elaborate costumes for Lord to wear on his personal appearance tours, but he soon learned that his audiences preferred to see him in the blue jeans and black hat of his "Stoney Burke" characterization, so the costumes were put into mothballs. "He wears the cheapest kind of blue denims available," she says with a grin, and adds, "I guess you could say he favors Sears Roebuck as his costume designer. (McDonald, Margaret. "Mrs. Lord Works Devotedly to Keep "Stoney" Happy" in Shreveport, Louisiana, Journal, April 5, 1964.)

I want to tell you about an article in which a noted columnist printed a letter Jack wrote to his fans after the cancellation of Stoney Burke. It is most relevant today, when so many people are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. Indeed, Stoney Burke was enjoying good ratings and a very large fan base with 1,500 pieces of fan mail arriving weekly. Still, it was cancelled. It's cancellation threatened to discourage Jack from the acting profession. His letter tells how he made his way back and offers a lesson that can help us as we work through our own disappointments.

The letter was published about 18 months after Stoney Burke ended. Jack spoke of going through a full year when he didn’t quite know what to do with himself. He was accustomed to rising at 4:00 in the morning and keeping a “relentless full-day schedule.” (Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.) Suddenly, everything ground to a halt. He was not approached about other projects, not at first. Instead, “months slipped by while everyone watched and I waited.” ( Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.) He was painfully aware that “In Hollywood there is a time-worn saying: ‘You’re only as good as your last picture!’” (Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.)

So, how did Jack get over this sensation of having been put out to pasture? It didn’t come easily. As Jack said, “What happened to me might have made hermits out of some people. [Then, there are] others who throw in the towel – period.” (Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.) What saved Jack from that fate? Marie reminded him of something he said he had forgotten: “It’s not what happens in life – but how one responds to what happens that counts.”  (Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.) Being reminded of that “served to direct my thinking...” (Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.)

With his thinking once more in focus, he set to work. That is when he took “Stoney” on the road. With the help of voice and guitar lessons, he organized a group called The Wanderers. They toured the rodeo circuit, singing, saying a few words, and giving autographs. Not only did he reap the rewards of being appreciated by an audience, but he actually made a handsome sum of money in the process. In fact, he so enjoyed himself that he turned down offers to do television shows in favor of the rodeo circuit.

Jack also began writing and said, “I followed Ray Bradbury’s advice… ‘If you want to be a writer, begin something’” (Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.). Jack followed that advice and wrote two scripts. The first was Yankee Trader, based on his father’s experiences operating steam ships in the China Seas (Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.). The second was McAdoo, which he described as “a kind of James Bond character with American overtones” (Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.). He imagined that he would either perform in them or sell them.

Jack says he did not paint much during this recuperative period. Finally, though, he set up a studio in his attic, where he used his free moments to paint” (Asher, Jerry. “Bitter-Sweet” in TV Star Parade. January 1965.). Slowly, but surely, he was finding himself again.

As we now know, Jack’s biggest challenge was yet to come. He may not have produced or appeared in McAdoo, but he did a very fine job, both producing and appearing in, Hawaii Five-0. We are all delighted, Jack, that you did not throw in the towel. But, then, as Marie said “...with a laugh: ‘He’s Irish and a Capricorn...’” (Laurent, Laurence. “Jack Lord Isn’t Settling Into a Rut” in The Washington Post (date unknown). Reprinted in The Spokesman-Review. January 26, 1979.).

On Writing

Even writing comes down to faith. This piece of advice was shared with Jack:

"...I took Ray Bradbury's advice about writing. This fine writer told me -- if you want to be a writer, begin something. Spend hours a day staring at a piece of white paper. sit there and stare if you must, but the idea will come. I sat, I stared and eventually -- I wrote. The results, a TV series, are in my folio. An exciting format called Yankee Trader, evolved. It is based on my father's experiences operating steam ships in the China Seas."


(Archer, Jerry. "Bitter-Sweet" in TV Star Parade. January 1965.)


Jack sold his pilots to Universal.  According to an entertainment news blurb (Charleston (SC) News-Courier. November 10, 1965, p. 4A.), Jack entered into a contract with Universal Studios for the right to write, act, direct, and develop new TV and motion pictures through his Lord & Lady Enterprises. He created five pilots for which Universal received first right of refusal. The pilots are McAdoo, Sea Tiger, Clementine, Ryan's Raiders, and Yankee Trader.

According to another entertainment news blurb ("Tramp Ship." Broadcasting-Telecasting. February 20, 1961, p. 133.), Don Fedderson Productions produced a series entitled Tramp Ship based on Jack's idea. The half-hour dramatic series, which starred Neville Brand, followed the activities of the captain, mate, and passengers aboard a modern tramp ship. 

Do Not Force Things to Happen.

Jack offered another good piece of advice. We should take our time and let things come together as they are meant to, rather than struggle to put pieces together. He said . . .

"Both my father and mother instilled it into us: "The place you seek is seeking you; the place you need, needs you." Let it unfold rather than try to make it happen. Don’t try to force events, for forcing things never seems to work out. I never try to fight against the signs that are there to guide me or against the inner voice. When I’m in a terrible quandary, I go alone and say, "Not my will but Thine," and then it’s very clear. Very clear."

( Anderson, Nancy. "Jack Lord: My Life is Filled With Miracles"

in Photoplay. March 1974.)

Jack believed that when something is meant to be, the pieces will come together; if it is not meant to be, every step will be a struggle. He went on to say . . .

I could spend hours telling you how I arrived at this conviction, but I’ll give you just one example: My wife, Marie, and I had been living in an apartment for four years when we decided to look for a home in Los Angeles. So, Sunday after Sunday, week after week, we went out with real estate people, looking. We searched and searched, my poor wife and I, until we were desperate – and we still didn’t find the home we wanted.

Finally, Marie said,


“Since we can’t find the house we want, perhaps we should build one. That seemed a good idea, so we went up to Trousdale Estates one day with a broker, who showed us a beautiful lot with the exact number of feet we needed, and at a price we could afford. It seemed to be ideal. In fact, Marie and I were so pleased, we made an offer on the lot, gave the realtor a check, and then began to plan our home.

"The next morning, after we’d made the offer, we naturally expected to get a call from the real estate agent, saying it had been accepted and that the lot was as good as ours. But nothing happened. So by that afternoon we were rather anxious and called him.

"He told us, that just before he’d brought our check in, another agent had come in with an offer that had been accepted. And then only two months later, this show came along and took us to Hawaii. My reaction was, 'My God, we’ve been protected!'"


(Anderson, Nancy. Jack Lord: My Life is Filled with Miracles

in Photoplay. March 1974.)


When do you know that you are hearing the wisdom of your inner voice and not your own wishful thinking? Jack said . . .

"I know there’s a danger of simply hearing what you want to hear, but I believe there’s a way to make a distinction between the true inner voice and the false. The path seems so clear, so pointed, when you’re going in the right direction. I realized very early that things are ordered for our good. Very early. In our family, we were brought up on that philosophy. Both my father and mother instilled it into us: The place you seek is seeking you; the place you need, needs you. Let it unfold rather than try to make it happen." 


(Anderson, Nancy. Jack Lord: My Life is Filled with Miracles

in Photoplay. March 1974.)

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