Jack Lord: Meeting the Man Behind the Hawaiian Shirt

For twelve years, audiences tuned in every week to watch Jack Lord and the rest of the gang at Hawaii Five-0. As the heart of the police force, Lord’s character, Steve McGarrett, was larger than life. He was tough, very savvy, and knew how to rock a Hawaiian shirt. He drove a cool car and knew how to throw a right hook.

Marie De Narde and Jack Lord on the red carpet circa 1988 / Jack Lord posing against the wheel on a yacht / Jack Lord kissing Gia Scala on the cheek in a movie / Jack Lord posing near colorful flowers in a Hawaiian shirt / Marie De Narde and Jack Lord photographed on the way to an event through a window
Photo by Kypros, Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / Art Zelin, Getty Images

While McGarrett was one of the most interesting characters on television, the man behind the character was far more fascinating. Lord was so much more than an actor—he was a true Renaissance man. Poet, painter, car salesman, singer, and sailor, Jack Lord did it all. Let’s take a look at some of his incredible feats, as well as some unknown facts about the show Hawaii Five-0!

Lost at Sea

While we all have come to know and love him as Jack Lord, that’s not actually his real name! He was born John Joseph Patrick Ryan, and the story of how he changed his name is very interesting. Six months before the actor was set to finish college, the United States was dragged into World War II.

Jack Lord in Hawaii Five-O holding a walkie talkie
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive / United Archives / Getty Images

Lord, who was a Merchant Marine, served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building bridges in Persia (which is now Iran) before going to sea with the U.S. Maritime Service. But the ship he boarded was quickly torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Italy while they were on their way to pick up manganese ore in East Africa.

A Promise to Change His Life

Within seven minutes, the ship was already underwater. The Merchant Marines only had time to deploy three lifeboats before the ship sank, and luckily, Lord was on one of those three. The actor and his fellow Merchant Marines were stranded on the lifeboats for more than 16 hours before help arrived!

Jack Lord standing near a boat wearing a denim shirt
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Can you imagine? Well, Lord said that he made a promise to himself that if he survived this ordeal, he would change his life. So, the first thing he did after the rescue boat came? He changed his last name to “Lord.” While Lord legally changed his name to Graydon Joseph Lord in 1949, Jack’s nickname stuck.

Look Ma, I Can Act!

Like we said before, Lord served as a Merchant Mariner, civilians who transport cargo by ship during peacetime. Those who just sign up are hired as laborers, but those who have studied at a Merchant Marine academy become highly trained officers. When Lord was 14 years old, he studied at such an academy.

Jack Lord in uniform
Source: Pinterest

Fast forward to 1945, and Lord was sent to Washington DC to serve as an artist for a magazine. Lord was always interested in the arts, but he had to put it on the backburner when WWII broke out. It was during this time that Lord discovered his love for acting. He was asked to film some training videos for new recruits and fell in love with the craft!

An Accomplished Painter?

Long before Lord discovered his love for acting, he discovered his love for painting. When he was a senior in high school, Lord received the prestigious St. Gaudens medal for some of his artwork. Lord was so good that two of his early works made their way into a permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Jack Lord posing leaning on his hand
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

How amazing is that? Well, it gets better. Lord’s art has graced more than 40 galleries and museums around the world, including the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design in Washington DC as well as the Tate galleries in London! Lord didn’t have one specific style and often experimented, making it hard for art appraisers to determine if a piece is actually his!

A Harsh Critic

Lord always said that the only reason he got into acting was to make a name for himself, thus making it much easier to sell his art. But even though his pieces are unique, Lord was his harshest critic.

Jack Lord leaning on a wooden fence
Photo by Bettmann / Getty Images

It is said that Lord actually destroyed more than a third of his paintings because he thought they weren’t good enough! The ones that made the cut are not only in museums worldwide, but you can spot them on a few episodes of Hawaii Five-0!

His Son Passed Away

Lord’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1947. His first wife, Ann Willard, couldn’t take him being away for long periods of time. The two had one son, John Joseph Ryan, who was born in 1942. However, for one reason or another, Lord only saw his son once when he was an infant.

Jack Lord posing for a portrait
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

His son sadly passed away from hepatitis when he was only 12 years old. Lord first learned of his son’s passing after Willard sent him a copy of their son’s death certificate. Willard ended up remarrying in the ‘60s and passed away in 2004.

The Love of His Life

Lord knew that his marriage to his first wife was over before she filed for divorce. A few months before the two officially called it quits, Lord met the woman who would eventually become the love of his life. It all began when he was out in Woodstock, New York, visiting his brother.

Jack Lord and Marie DeNarde posing together arriving at an event / Another photograph of Jack Lord and Marie DeNarde arriving at an event wearing a large fuzzy hat
Jack Lord and Marie DeNarde. Source: Pinterest

While taking a drive, Lord came across a nice stone house that really sparked his interest. Wanting to learn more about it, he decided to look up the owner. It belonged to Marie De Narde, an up-and-coming fashion designer in the city.

Finally Giving In

So, Lord finally obtained DeNarde’s telephone number and gave her a call, but she didn’t answer. So, Lord tried again a few days later—still, no answer. It went on like this for nearly three weeks! After growing tired of Lord’s repeated phone calls, De Narde finally decided to pick up one day.

Jack Lord and Marie DeNarde posing together wearing flower Leighs at an event
Source: Twitter

She firmly told Lord that she was not interested in selling the house and told him never to call her again. Lord explained that he was not a real estate agent and just wanted to learn a thing or two about the home.

Falling Head Over Heels

De Narde was flattered and decided to invite Lord over to her stone home that same day. She told Lord that she had a date later that evening, but she could show him around the place if he wanted to stop by beforehand. Well, De Narde never made it to her date.

Jack Lord and Marie De Narde on the red carpet
Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

When Lord arrived, the homeowner said that he looked like he belonged in an “ad for Wonder Bread.” The two began talking about the house, which De Narde had actually designed, and that conversation turned into their mutual love for art. As the hours passed, both of them began falling head over heels for one another.

She’s the One

The two planned to meet again for dinner a few weeks later at a Spanish restaurant called El Faro, located on Greenwich Street. Although he had just met De Narde, Lord knew in his heart and soul that she was the one for him. So, while the two ate dinner, Lord decided to propose.

Jack Lord and Marie De Narde on the red carpet
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

De Narde said yes, of course, and the two were married in January 1949. Although De Narde was doing well in the fashion world, she decided to give up her career to get married and become a housewife. While this may seem a bit backward today, this was the norm back then.

What to Do Next?

When he completed his obligations to the Maritime service in 1948, Lord was almost 28 years old. Yes, he had found the love of his life, but he had no idea what to do career-wise. He had followed his father’s footsteps into life at sea, only to learn that this lifestyle cost him his first marriage.

Kim Stanley talking to Jack Lord on steps leading up to a front porch
Photo by Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Luckily, he fell in love with acting while filming training videos for new recruits. Now Lord finally had a new direction in life: He wanted to become an actor. But to find work, Lord needed to sharpen his skills.

Just Getting By

In order to set himself apart from other actors, Lord knew that he would need to study with an acting coach by the name of Sanford Meisner. But Lord wasn’t made of money. He knew that in order to fund his studies, he would need to work at the same time.

Jack Lord and Aldo Ray digging in the side of a mountain in a scene from God’s Little Acre
Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: United Artists

So, like the hard worker he was, he decided to sell cars during the day and study acting at night. Lord found work as a car salesman, working for Ford before eventually transferring to a Cadillac dealership.

Making a Name for Himself

After studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse, Lord continued to sharpen his acting skills at the Actor’s Studio. As time went by, Lord became a better actor, and now it was time to put his skills to the test. It didn’t take long before Lord landed his first film, Project X, in 1949.

Jack Lord handing someone an envelope in the film ‘Project X.’
Photo by LMPC / Getty Images

Lord also partook in several television theater programs. During these televised plays, Lord gained some much-needed experience by playing a wide range of characters, such as police officers and Civil War soldiers. This continued for a few years until Jack finally made his first appearance on Broadway in 1954.

Moving on Up

By 1957, Lord felt that his career was finally on an upward tick, and maybe it was time that he and his wife move to Hollywood. Well, Lord’s hunch was right. The following year, the actor appeared alongside Gary Cooper in Man of the West.

Jack Lord and Elizabeth Montgomery standing behind Gary Cooper, who is sitting on a sofa
Jack Lord, Elizabeth Montgomery, and Gary Cooper. Photo by Warner Brothers / Getty Images

This was actually the second time the two appeared in a film together, the first being the 1955 film The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell. Lord, however, didn’t know Cooper just from acting. He had actually met the famous actor while he was in school and selling Cadillacs.

A Good Memory

Cooper had actually stopped by Lord’s work one day to take a look at an old Duesenberg that was on display at the dealership. The car had once belonged to Cooper, and he just wanted to pay it a visit.

Alan Rafkin, Melodie Johnson, and Jack Lord on the set of a film together dressed up in fancy clothing
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive / United Archive / Getty Images

Seeing that Lord was an aspiring actor at the time, the two men had a lot in common and ended up going out for lunch at Schrafft’s in New York. On the set of their first film together, Lord asked Cooper if he knew who he was. “Yeah. You’re the guy who likes Duesenbergs,” Cooper replied. The two remained friends until Cooper died in 1961.

He Holds a Notable Place in James Bond History.

While Lord is well-known for his role in Hawaii Five-0, he was actually part of another iconic series. In the first James Bond Film, Dr. No, Lord played Felix Leiter, the CIA ally of 007. The 1962 film was set in Jamaica, foreshadowing his role as a law enforcement officer on a tropical island.

Jack Lord and Sean Connery on the set of Dr. No standing in a storage unit
Jack Lord and Sean Connery on the set of Dr. No. Photo by Sunset Boulevard / Corbis / Getty Images

Oddly enough, Lord was only in one Bond film and was never asked to reprise his role. Sources vary as to why, but many people believe it was because producers feared that Lord would upstage Sean Connery. In the second installment, Goldfinger, Lord was replaced by actor Cec Linder.

A Country Crooner

Before landing his role on Hawaii Five-0, the actor’s biggest TV role was in Stoney Burke, a Western that ran for only one season in 1962. The series, which was about a rodeo ace, really sparked Lord’s interest in the industry.

Jack Lord posing with a horse
Jack Lord in ‘Stoney Burke.’ Photo by ABC / Getty Images

So, after the series ended, Lord decided to take singing lessons. He formed a group he called The Wanderers and then hit the real-life rodeo circuit. The group sang a mix of gospel and country songs, and Lord was always around to sign autographs after the show. One time, he drew such a massive crowd to Iowa that he earned $250,000 for the show!

Just Keep Going

While Lord seemed to make lemonade out of lemons everywhere he went, this was still a difficult time for the actor. He was so excited to finally have his own show. Lord felt like he had finally made it in Hollywood. So, when Stoney Burke was canceled after only one season, the actor was crushed.

The cast of Stoney Burke, including Jack Lord sitting around a white picket fence
Photo by Bettmann / Getty Images

Did he not have what it takes to be a leading man? By his own admission, Lord handled this period of his life badly. After contemplating throwing in the towel, his wife reminded him that “It’s not what happens in life but how one responds to what happens that counts.”

Pulling Himself Up

After taking singing lessons and touring the rodeo circuit with his music group, The Wanderers, Lord finally had enough confidence to get back into acting. He began making guest appearances in popular TV series, such as Ironside and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Jack Lord and others around a guy with his head down on a table in a scene from The Doomsday Flight
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive / United Archives / Getty Images

He also landed roles in several made-for-TV movies. It was even rumored that Star Trek offered Lord Kirk’s role in Star Trek after firing the original actor from the pilot episode. But according to these sources, Lord had high salary demands, so producers ended up going with William Shatner. But that’s okay because Hawaii Five-0 was right around the corner.

When Fiction Imitates Life

In 1968, Lord finally caught his big break! He landed the lead role on Hawaii Five-0: Detective Stephen McGarrett. Those who knew Lord personally believed that McGarrett was just an “amped-up” version of Lord.

Jack Lord with a police radio standing outside of the driver's seat door
Jack Lord in Hawaii Five-O’. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: CBS

Not only was he an actor on the series, but he also a co-producer and directed a few episodes. Although this was all Lord ever wanted, the job was very demanding. On the one hand, he loved being an unofficial ambassador for the State of Hawaii. He also loved reading and editing the scripts. However, the pressure seemed to be too much at times.

Dealing With the Pressure

Some people on the set used to call him an “egotistical tyrant.” But they had to understand that Lord wasn’t just an actor on this set. He was also a co-producer and co-owner, bearing a lot of responsibility.

Jack Lord answering a phone while another man sits on a desk in a scene from Hawaii Five-O
Jack Lord in ‘Hawaii Five-O.’ Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

These pressures increased dramatically after Leonard Freeman, the series’ creator and executive producer, died. Not only was Lord saddened by the loss of a friend and colleague, but a lot of Freeman’s responsibilities fell on his shoulders. It was now Lord’s job to ensure that a 52-minute episode of Hawaii Five-0 was finished every eight days.

Love for Poetry

Although Lord, and all of those around him, felt the pressure of making a hit TV series, the actor still enjoyed his time on set. As a lover of all things art, Lord was a huge fan of the written word and decided to share his passion with the other people on set.

Jack Lord standing by a tree in a scene from Hawaii Five-O
Photo by Film Favorites / Getty Images

During lunch breaks, Lord would often recite famous poetry to the cast and crew members. Lord was reportedly fond of e.e. cummings, and everyone looked forward to listening to Lord recite some of his poems. Lord’s passion for poetry also made it onscreen. In the episode Leopard on the Rock, his character recites a bit of Rudyard Kipling.

A Great Husband-Wife Team

From his trademark blue suit to his bold Hawaiian shirts, detective Steve McGarrett was a true fashion icon. Well, those clothes didn’t come from a studio wardrobe department, like most costumes back in the day.

Marie De Narde and Jack Lord photographed on the way to an event through a window
Photo by Art Zelin / Getty Images

Seeing that his wife, Marie De Narde, was a fashion designer before she married Lord, a new show means that she could pursue her passion for fashion once again. De Narde crafted and tailored every single one of McGarrett’s costumes on the show. Very impressive! Maybe we have her to thank for bringing Hawaiian shirts into style during that time.

He Truly Loved Hawaii

Lord absolutely loved the state of Hawaii. In fact, he spent the rest of his life there after retiring from acting. He served as the grand marshal of the Pa’u Riders at the Aloha Day Parade in 1979. This was a huge deal, especially since Lord was not a native Hawaiian.

Jack Lord wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a hat next to Jack Lord wearing a suit and tie
Photo by PA Images / Getty Images

It just goes to show that the people of Hawaii loved the actor as much as he loved them. “This is considered an honor, even for Hawaiians,” Lord wrote. “It was the first time in the history of the parade that a haole has been so honored and one that I shall treasure as long as I live.”

“Five-O” Term Came from the Show

Have you ever wondered where the slang term for police came from? Well, believe it or not, Five-0 originated from this TV series! The series’ creator decided to call it Hawaii Five-0 to pay homage to the 50th state of the United States.

Jack Lord standing by a cop car holding the radio
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

In the show, the fictional police division was given the nickname Five-0, and the nickname spread. Seeing that the show was the first crime show to run for longer than a decade, the term “Five-0” began to catch on and eventually became slang for police in general. Pretty cool, right?

Putting Things Into Perspective

Just to put everything into perspective, the state of Hawaii had only been a state for nine years when the series first premiered in 1968! It’s crazy to think about because that’s not that long ago! Fun Fact: If you measure Hawaii from east to west, it is actually the United States’ widest state.

Jack Lord and others on the set of Hawaii Five-O
Photo by Bettmann / Getty Images

The islands, which is the largest island chain globally, sits roughly 2,000 miles from the coast of California. It is also interesting to note that only 7 of Hawaii’s 132 islands are inhabited.

Lord Was Third Pick

While Lord will forever be known for his role as Steve McGarrett, producers actually had their eyes on a different actor before Lord was cast. They wanted Richard Boone, the star of Have Gun- Will Travel. However, for one reason or another, the actor turned it down.

Jack Lord standing with James MacArthur in front of a wall of medication
Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: CBS

Then, producers thought of casting the legendary Gregory Peck. Whether Peck turned down an offer is unclear, but what we do know is that Lord was the one who finally got the role in the end. Good thing too! We can’t imagine a better actor for the part!

Questionable Filming Locations

The first season of Hawaii Five-0 was actually filed on a rusted-out Quonset hut. If you don’t remember what those are, allow us to jog your memory. They were those steel structures that resembled massive tubes that had been sliced in half, which began popping up all along the Pacific coast during WWII.

Jack Lord talking with Louisiana State Tigers players on the set of Hawaii Five-O
Jack Lord behind the scenes of Hawaii Five-O. Photo by Martin Mills / Getty Images

The rickety old place was reportedly infested with rats and tended to chew up the production’s cables. Can you imagine? Luckily for everyone on set, production moved to Fort Ruger until the eighth season before moving to a studio at Diamond Head for the final four seasons.

A Hit Theme Song

Not only was the scenery beautiful and super important for setting the tone of the show, but Morton Stevens’ surf track, which was played in the opening credits, was equally important. The song was very popular among fans and was eventually covered by the Ventures.

Barbara Eden dancing while Don Ho plays the guitar
Barbara Eden and Don Ho circa 1968. Photo by Bettmann / Getty Images

The same year that the show premiered, their cover peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. But the Ventures weren’t the only ones to cover the extremely catchy tune. Hawaiian crooner Don Ho also released his own version, called You Can Come with Me.

That’s the Ilikai Hotel!

The opening credits are filled with unbelievably beautiful shots of the island as the camera races through the sky to reach Lord, aka detective Steve McGarrett. The actor is standing on a balcony of a penthouse suite called the Ilikai Hotel, located on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.

Helen Kuoha Torco hula dancing in the opening credits
Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: CBS

Fun fact: The hula dancer seen in the opening credits earned $150 for her work. A few years later, she gave up her passion for dancing and became a business technology professor at the Windward Community College in Honolulu.

The Famous Director

Reza Badiyi was a famous Iranian-born director who came to the U.S. to study film at Syracuse University. Well, his studies paid off because Badiyi went on to become the “Godfather of American television.” Not only did he direct countless hours of popular TV series, but he also had a knack for directing opening montages.

Reza Badiyi standing next to a poster celebrating his life achievements
Photo by Noel Vasquez / Getty Images

He directed the opening montage for Hawaii Five-0, but he’s also responsible for the Mary Tyler Moore Show’s intro. According to Mary Tyler Moore herself, Bdiyi came up with the idea of having her toss her hat into the air.

Not Without Controversy

While critics and fans alike fell in love with Hawaii Five-0, there was one particular episode that everyone had a problem with. It was so horrifying that the episode was banned. The episode, which originally aired on January 7, 1970, was called Bored, She Hung Herself. It was about a lady who practiced a form of “yoga” with a rope and ended up dying.

Jack Lord and Paul Wendkos wearing scrubs standing in a hospital in a scene from Hawaii Five-O
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive / United Archives / Getty Images

Well, audiences were so unaccustomed to seeing a character being put in that position that several people complained. Then, somewhere in America, someone tried this same form of yoga and ended up passing away herself. From then on, the episode was permanently banned.

Police Officer in Real-Life

Besides Lord’s Steve McGarrett, Chin Ho Kelly, played by Kam Fong, was the most familiar face of the fictional police unit. Fong was the perfect actor for the role. In fact, the Honolulu native also worked as a police officer in the Honolulu Police Department from the ’40s until the ’60s!

Kam Fong as Chin Ho Kelly in Hawaii Five-O
Source: Pinterest

That’s two decades’ worth of experience! These years working as a police officer must have made his job as an actor much easier as he had a lot of experience to rely on. Ironically enough, Fong initially auditioned for the role of villain Wo Fat.

The History of Wo Fat

We have some fun facts about Wo Fat, the series’ reoccurring bad guy who was a rogue communist agent of the People’s Republic of China. We have some fun facts about him too! The name Wo Fat, who the remarkable Khigh Dhiegh played, was actually taken from a famous restaurant in Honolulu’s own Chinatown neighborhood.

Jack Lord holding a key outside of a prison cell with Wo Fat standing inside in a prison uniform
Photo by Bettmann / Getty Images

While Wo Fat only appeared in eleven episodes of the series, he was loved by fans. Dheigh even portrayed the villain in the 2010 reboot of the series. Fun Fact: A few years ago, the Wo Fat building was on sale for a whopping $4 million!

Lack of Shared Moments

It was no secret that Wo Fat was Steve McGarrett’s greatest nemesis. The series was finally all about the detective finally getting his hands on the notorious villain. But did you ever notice that the two characters were barely on the TV screen at the same time?

Khigh Dhiegh handcuffed with Jack Lord standing next to him in front of a metal fence
Khigh Dhiegh and Jack Lord. Source: Twitter

In fact, during the show’s 12-year run, Lord and Dheigh were hardly ever in the same scene. We know this isn’t exactly an important fact about the show, but we thought it was worthwhile to note. Okay, so onto the next fact!

The Magnum PI Connection

When Hawaii Five-0 finally came to an end in 1980, the network needed to think about what to do with the production facilities at Diamond Head. After all, they had spent a lot of money on the set. Instead of tearing it down, why not create a new series that is also set in Hawaii?

Tom Selleck and Roger E Mosley standing by a helicopter next to the ocean in a scene from Magnum PI
Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

This is how Magnum PI was born. But the same filming facilities aren’t the only connection between the two shows. They also had the same fictional world. In episode six, titled Skin Deep, Magnum identifies himself as the “McGarrett of Five-O.”