The Everett Collection

10 reasons Jack Lord was truly the most interesting man on television

By: H&I Staff    Posted: February 7, 2022, 9:52AM Tags: Tags: Jack Lord, Hawaii Five O

Television characters like Steve McGarrett are larger than life. The heart of Hawaii Five-O, McGarrett was tough, savvy and sharply dressed. He drove a cool car. He could rock a floral print shirt and throw a hard right hook. He had an awesome catchphrase — "Book 'em, Danno."

But the man behind the character was far more fascinating. Jack Lord was more than an actor — he was a true renaissance man. The biggest stars of classic TV tended to have biographies more fantastic than the wildest script could dream up. This true-life experience seeped into the characters and oozed off the screen. It is not coincindence that incredible people made incredible characters.

Painter, poet, Cadillac salesman, sailor, singer, sartorialist — Jack Lord did it all. Of course, his name was not originally Jack Lord. We begin his tale there…

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He changed his name after being lost at sea.

He was born John Joseph Patrick Ryan. In World War II, Ryan first served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He built bridges in what is now Iraq. He had done some of his schooling at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, and Ryan returned to the Merchant Marines in 1944. After leaving an African port, his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine. Ryan was stranded on a lifeboat at sea for 16 hours. He promised himself if he survived he would change his life. After rescue, he changed his name to Jack Lord.

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The Merchant Marines gave him acting work, too.

While in the Merchant Marines, Lord was selected to appear in training films. He enjoyed the process. After serving, he sought training from legendary acting teacher Sanford Meisner, at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.

 A Ship Is Born (1942)

  CBS Television Distribution

He funded his acting studies by selling Cadillacs.

To pay for those acting lessons, Lord worked as a car salesman. He apparently was quite skilled at it. Commissions paid his way through the renowned Actors Studio. No wonder Cadillacs can be seen throughout Hawaii Five-O. Later in life, Lord cruised around Hawaii in a Cadillac with "FIVE-O" license plates.

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He was an accomplished painter.

In his youth, Lord also studied at NYU — where he had a football scholarship, no less — and earned a degree in Fine Arts. Yes, he was an artistic athlete. He had at one time hoped to be an art instructor. At the age of 20, he had two of his works accepted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can spot his paintings through Hawaii Five-O, hanging on the walls, in episodes like "Invitation to Murder," "How to Steal a Masterpiece," and "'V' for Vashon."

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He was a lover of poetry — and recited it on set.

That was not the only artistic pursuit of Lord's. He was also a true lover of the written word. During lunch breaks on set, Lord would recite famous poetry to cast and crew members of Hawaii Five-O. He was particularly fond of e.e. cummings. In the episode "Leopard on the Rock," seen here, McGarrett recites a bit of Rudyard Kipling: "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…"

  CBS Television Distribution

He was offered the role of Captain Kirk before Shatner.

In some alternate universe, Star Trek reruns are airing with Jack Lord and Martin Landau in the roles of Kirk and Spock. (Now that sounds like a Star Trek plot.) After the captain of the original pilot episode, Jeffrey Hunter, was given the boot on the show, Gene Roddenberry offered the new lead role of James Kirk to Lord. However, Lord had rather high salary demands. He reportedly wanted 50% ownership of the series. Shatner was simply cheaper.

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He holds a notable place in James Bond history.

While he never made it aboard the Enterprise, Lord did take part in another iconic series. In the first James Bond film, Dr. No, Lord portrayed Felix Leiter, the familiar C.I.A. ally of 007. He was the first actor to play the role in the film series. He might have appeared in more — but money was again the issue. For Goldfinger, Lord wanted more screen time and higher billing. Alas, these are Bond movies, not Leiter movies.

  The Everett Collection

He truly, deeply loved Hawaii.

“This show [Hawaii Five-O] will be it for me. I’ll never leave the islands. They’ll have to carry me out,” Lord told TV Guide in 1971. Indeed, he spent the rest of his life in the 50th state, retiring from acting.

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His wife was a fashion designer who crafted his 'Hawaii Five-O' costumes.

From his trademark blue suit to those bold floral Hawaiian shirts, Steve McGarrett was a true fashion maestro. Those sharp threads came from the Lord household, not some studio wardrobe department. Marie de Narde, Lord's second wife, was a fashion designer. She crafted and tailored McGarrett's clothing. Thank her for his style.

  The Everett Collection

He sang country tunes on the rodeo circuit.

Prior to Hawaii Five-O, Lord's biggest TV role was the lead in Stoney Burke, a Western that briefly aired from 1962–63. The show was about a rodeo ace. After the series ended, Lord took singing lessons, formed a group called The Wanderers, and hit the real-life rodeo circuit. He notably drew a large crowd to Sidney, Iowa, where he earned $250,000 for croonin' tunes like "Strawberry Roan."

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