About the classic TV show Hawaii Five-O, plus hear that iconic theme song

Original classic Hawaii Five 0 opening credits

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There are iconic TV show themes, and there are iconic TV show themes — the theme to the original Hawaii Five-0 is one of the latter.

The popular police procedural drama, featuring Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett, lasted 12 seasons (until 1980) on CBS. And the Five-0 part? The name came from the fact that Hawaii was America’s 50th state.

Every season of the show kicked off with composer Morton Stevens’ up-tempo, brassy tune. Later recorded by instrumental rock group The Ventures, the energetic theme reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The modern-day remake of the show still features an arrangement of Stevens’ classic theme song, but below, you can go ahead and check out the original.

Classic vintage Hawaii Five 0 cover purple

Hawaii Five-0 first filmed-in-the-islands TV show (1968)

By Edgar Penton, Hollywood – in the Great Falls Tribune (Montana) October 20, 1968

It isn’t too often that the word “unique” can be applied to any aspect of a new television series, but this can be done with “Hawaii Five-O,” CBS’ hour-long police procedural with the Islands as a stunningly beautiful costar for Jack Lord.

What’s unique about the series is that it is filmed entirely in Hawaii. Previously, shows with a Hawaiian locale had let mood shots taken in Hawaii establish the theme; the rest of the work had been done on the mainland.

Hawaii Five-O View-Master
Hawaii Five-O View-Master – See more old photo reels here!

CBS and Leonard Freeman Productions moved about 30 men and women — cast and crew and their families — from Hollywood to Hawaii, picked up another 30 office workers and technicians, imported some $300,000 in equipment and set about making happen what a lot of people thought would never happen — regular video film production in Hawaii.

The series itself is the end result of 27 months of work for executive producer Leonard Freeman, who conceived the idea, wrote and produced the feature-length pilot film and convinced network executives it was a worthwhile project.

“Book ’em, Danno”

Vintage photo of James MacArthur from Hawaii Five 0 - Danno

For star Jack Lord, “Hawaii Five-0” is the culmination of five years of reading scripts, looking for just the right series to go with after his successful but short-lived “Stoney Burke” series. The moment he finished reading the script he knew “this was it.”

To prove his own faith in the series, Lord and his wife picked up, packed up, and bought a permanent home in Hawaii.

Except for two permanent interior sets, all scenes are shot “practical.” That is, when the script calls for a beautiful mansion, the production company has to find a beautiful mansion and then secure the owner’s permission to move in for a day or more in order to shoot the scenes called for in the script.

The average script calls for 20 or more different locations, so equipment often has to be unpacked and set up, knocked down and repacked as many as three times a day for the eight days it takes to shoot each hour-long episode.

And for Jack Lord and the hard-working crew, all this adds up to 75-to-85-hour work weeks, a grueling schedule for even the veteran Hollywood-trained crew.

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September 4, 1971

The cast of the classic TV show, Hawaii Five-O

In “Hawaii Five-O,” Lord stars as Steve McGarrett, head of a state police unit. Steve McGarrett is what Lord calls a “compassionate cop, who likes people, likes his job and loves Hawaii.”

Among the other regulars in the “Five-0” cast are James MacArthur, in his first television series, as Danny Williams, and two Honolulu actors. Kam Fong as Chin Ho Kelly and (just plain) Zulu as just plain Kano.

Richard Denning, veteran of four television series of his own and 30 years in Hollywood, and now a resident of the island of Maui in Hawaii, is cast as the governor of Hawaii. New England-born Maggi Parker, now a resident of Hawaii, plays May, McGarrett’s secretary. Morgan White, who has a television show of his own in Honolulu, plays the attorney general.

Kam Fong as Ho Kelly - vintage Hawaii Five-O TV series

Approximately 80 percent of the speaking roles for each episode are cast in Hawaii, which means the television viewers across the country are going to be seeing more “new faces” than ever before.

Casting director in Hawaii for “Hawaii Five-O” is Ted Thorpe. Thorpe has been able to give many residents of Hawaii their first opportunity before a camera.

Quite a number of Honolulu professionals, too, are playing guest roles, such as Hilo Hattie, Tommy Sands, Danny Kaleikini and Carol Kai, all stars of their own nightclub shows in Honolulu.

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But the really “new look” will be provided by the background people, the extras who are the real faces of Hawaii. Hawaii, with its ethnic mixture, has Hawaiians, Polynesians, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Portuguese and all possible combinations, as well as Caucasians.

In “Hawaii Five-0,” the offices of McGarrett and his Five-0 police unit are in the Iolani Palace, across the hall from the offices of the governor.

While making the feature-length pilot film, the production company was afforded the unusual privilege of actually filming in the Iolani Palace, in the offices of Hawaii’s Governor John Burns and of the lieutenant governor.

Photo by bayazed/Deposit Photos
Iolani Palace picture by bayazed/Deposit Photos

Not wanting to wear out their welcome, the company later faithfully reproduced the office of the governor and the fictional Five-O office in an ex-Navy warehouse near Pearl Harbor, now converted into a sound stage. And anyone without proper respect for this first sound stage in Hawaii is quickly reminded that the first studio in Hollywood was a barn near Hollywood and Vine streets.

Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States, was formerly the home of Hawaiian royalty and now houses the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, members of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate. It is an ornate, Italian Renaissance-style building constructed in 1881 to replace a less-imposing structure.

Hawaii Five-O star Jack Lord

The House of Representatives meets in the former throne room, which is restored to its earlier appearance and open to the public between legislative sessions. The State Senate meets across the corridor in what was once the royal dining room, and the governor’s offices now occupy the second-floor suite, which was the royal bedroom for Hawaii’s monarchs.

The 19th-century style of architecture in the palace has been faithfully reproduced in the two sets constructed on the soundstage, and viewers of the show may even get a glimpse of the new state capitol building, which is going up across the street, because that view from the palace has also been reproduced on a painted background.

Classic Hawaii Five 0 TV series with Jack Lord

Actor Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Lord brings a lifetime of varied experiences to his role of McGarrett, and in many ways, the actor and the character have similar qualities. Like McGarrett, Lord is a dedicated man — dedicated to his work as an actor, dedicated to his avocation as a painter, and dedicated to his wife, Marie, who is truly his partner in everything, and shares in all his decisions pertaining to home and career.

Born in New York City, Lord had traveled all over the world before he was out of school. His father was an executive in a steamship company, and Lord spent his summers at sea as a teen-age seaman sketching and painting from the decks of roving freighters.

Later, he was commissioned as an officer in the Merchant Marine, won a football scholarship to New York University, where he majored in fine arts, earned a private pilot’s license and organized his own art school in Greenwich Village.

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Jack Lord and Khigh Dheigh in classic Hawaii Five O 1980

It was during the Korean War, while he was making training films for the Navy, that Lord became fascinated with acting. He studied under famous drama teacher Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. His Broadway plays include “The Traveling Lady” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

His best-remembered motion pictures include “Man of the West” and “The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell,” both with the late Gary Cooper, and “God’s Little Acre.” Television viewers probably recall him best for his starring role in “Stoney Burke” several seasons ago.

Everyone in Hawaii, from Governor Burns and Police Chief Dan Liu to the beach boys in front of Waikiki’s luxury beach hotels is an enthusiastic booster for “Hawaii Five-O.”

They hope the series shows the real beauty of their island state — not only to the rest of the country, but to the entire world. No doubt it will, being already due to be broadcast in more than 20 foreign countries as well as by 200 CBS network stations “stateside.”

James Jimmy MacArthur Hawaii Five O

Jack Lord, star of Hawaii Five-O, has confidence (1974)

By Jerry Buck, Hollywood, in the Ithaca Journal (New York) Feb 16, 1974

Six years ago, Jack Lord confidently predicted: “This show is going to make it. I don’t see how it can fail.”

Before that first season in 1968 was half over, Lord nearly had to eat those words. “Hawaii Five-0” was going down the tube. But at Christmas time, CBS pulled a schedule sleight-of-hand. It switched the show from Thursday, where it was being slaughtered by “Ironside,” to Wednesday.

There, it killed off the opposition, Burt Reynolds’ “Dan August,” and the rest is ratings history. CBS has since moved the series to Tuesday.

Hawaii Five 0 TV Guide cover 1973

The point is that Lord, on the mainland for a brief vacation with his wife, Marie, is a supremely confident man. A few disgruntled voices have intimated that it is more than just confidence.

Over the years, reports have wafted over the waters that all is not milk and honey on the island paradise where the series is filmed. That Lord is possessed of a large ego, and once rewrote his network biography in terms that would have flattered a Greek god.

That his fellow actors are a bit rankled that Lord retains exclusive right to be called “star.” The credits read: “Starring Jack Lord, with James MacArthur, Kam Fong and Al Harrington.”

Starring Jack Lord

I asked Lord about these rumors and put to him the question of ego and star billing. His blue eyes seemed to ice for a moment, and he considered his words carefully. “Someone once said anyone who’s spoken about is spoken against,” he replied.

“I had a deal with the network going in that called for star billing. There was a reason for that. I don’t know where the criticism began. It’s mostly about Jimmy MacArthur.

“But he wasn’t even in our pilot. I congratulated him when he was hired. He’s a marvelous actor, but I don’t see why any actor who had nothing to do with the pilot or selling it on Madison Avenue should be handed star billing. Stardom is something you earn.

The two shows I starred in, ‘Hawaii Five-0,’ and ‘Stoney Burke,’ I helped sell them on Madison Avenue. So, you may call it ego. I call it good business sense.” Lord said he did not know of any open friction on the show.

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Classic Hawaii Five-0 James MacArthur and Jack Lord

“Hawaii Five-O” is a flamboyant show, and one of the consistently better detective shows on the air. What’s interesting is that while the show’s production values are a little flashy. Lord’s style is not, and it works out well.

The lush locations, the exotic faces and the snap and crispness of its color — Lord credits this to Hawaii’s nearness to the Equator — impart a special look. Add to this the bizarre crimes and the frenetic pace, and you have a very stylized show.

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On the other hand, as Steve McGarrett, the head of the Five-O unit, Lord’s performance is sturdy, almost dour. His chiseled face wears a troubled, no-nonsense expression. It plays off well against the flamboyance of the show. He definitely is not lost among the flora and the fauna.

After six years on the air, Lord’s McGarrett still remains a mystery man. We see only one side of him — the business side. “Not knowing him works for us,” said Lord. “We get letters from people wanting to see something of his personal life. I think the mystery piques people. I think it also annoys them.”

1974 - Jack Lord with head cameraman Robert Morrison - Hawaii 5-0

In his own life, Lord isn’t a mystery, although he is a very private person. He said that livings in Honolulu, where he intends to remain once the show leaves the air, doesn’t give him a sense of isolation.

“Even when I was in Hollywood, I was never of it,” he said. “I never ran with the crowd. I’m a loner, with the exception of a few people I grew up with on Broadway — Paul Newman, Tony Franciosa, Steve McQueen, Darren McGavin. I didn’t have many contacts with Hollywood. I wanted to spend my time with my wife.”

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Lord, 43, and his wife, a former fashion designer, live in a condominium at Kahala Beach. He is an accomplished painter, and majored in fine arts while on a football scholarship at New York University. His works hang in the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Lord also admits that Hawaii’s distance from the network decision-makers provides the show with an autonomy he enjoys.

Despite his confidence and the success of the show, he said: “No one in television who cares about his work is totally satisfied. You have to make compromises. It’s the sonnet form. You get 14 lines and that’s it.”

Classic vintage Hawaii Five O cover 10th season

Hawaii Five-O intro/opening credits video

YouTube video

Where are they now?

Jack Lord died in Hawaii on January 21, 1998, at age 77; while James MacArthur (son of actress Helen Hayes) followed on October 28, 2010, at 72 years old.

The series was successfully rebooted in 2010, starring Alex O’Loughlin as Steve McGarrett, and Scott Caan (son of actor James Caan) as Detective Danny Williams.

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