Until his death last Thursday, James MacArthur was the last surviving star of the original “Hawaii Five-O.” We take a fond look back at the first fab “Five-O” foursome.
When news broke that James MacArthur had died, cries of “Book ‘em, Danno!” resounded across cyberspace. MacArthur, of course, played Danny “Danno” Williams on the classic cop show “Hawaii Five-O” and had been the last surviving star of the original “Five-O.” His passing would seem to mark the end of an era.
While the stars of the first series are gone, the “Five-0” lives on in a new generation of Hawaiian cops determined to book ‘em. The reboot of “Hawaii Five-0” (with a zero replacing the letter O of old) premiered in September 2010. But before we pass the reins, let’s take a look back at the “Five-O” stars we’ve loved and lost.
Jack Lord (1920 – 1998) was the star of the original show (although some would argue that his hair was the real star). Born John Joseph Patrick Ryan, he was a well-rounded kid, with early skills in painting, horseback riding, and football—the last of which earned him a scholarship to NYU. He earned his degree in fine arts and then began a stint in the Merchant Marine. As an actor, he worked on Broadway, in movies, and on TV—and a few years before “Hawaii Five-O,” was offered a chance to play Captain Kirk in the first “Star Trek” series. When Lord requested a bit too much compensation (including 50 percent ownership of the show), the role went to William Shatner instead.
That might be just as well, because Shatner was an iconic Kirk, and it left Lord available to take his biggest and most recognizable role—Detective Steve McGarrett of “Hawaii Five-O.” The leader of a team of officers who bring down criminals, secret agents, and crime rings, McGarrett is also the character who brought us the show’s famous catchphrase—“Book ‘em, Danno!” Hazy memories may make us remember that order coming at the end of every show, but in fact it was only used on some episodes. McGarrett was just as likely to say “Book ‘em—Murder One” or plain old “Book ‘em.”
Kam Fong Chun (1918 – 2002)—or Kam Fong, as he was billed on the show—was actually born Kam Tong Chun. His first teacher taught him to write his name incorrectly, and after years of confusion, he gave up and legally changed it to the incorrect version. Chun was a Hawaii native who worked at the Pearl Harbor Shipyard and happened to be an eyewitness to the famous 1941 attack there. Later, he became one of Honolulu’s best-known character actors—and served in Honolulu’s police department—before being cast on the show that would bring him nationwide recognition.
Chun’s “Hawaii Five-O” character, Chin Ho Kelly, was the Hawaiian-Irish family man who quietly got the job done. McGarrett’s third in command, he was known for his affirmatives (“OK, Boss”) and his stern look. After Chun decided to leave the show in its 10th season—because he thought it was getting too predictable—Chin Ho’s character was killed while on an undercover mission. “It was a life that was worth it,” his last words went. “It was a life that mattered.”
Zoulou (his preferred spelling) or Zulu was also a native Hawaiian, born Gilbert Lani Kauhi (1937 – 2004). He was an accomplished surfer and was well-known in Waikiki as a “beachboy” and a DJ.
Zoulou appeared on the first four seasons of “Hawaii Five-O” as Kono Kalakaua, the burly sidekick. Descended from Hawaiian royalty, Kono was unexpectedly quiet, reserved and ethical. Zoulou didn’t leave the show by choice—he was fired after loudly complaining that his character’s stereotypical portrayal was racist (the “‘yes boss, no boss’ routine,” in his words). However, James MacArthur considered him a beloved co-worker and recalled how Zoulou helped the rest of the cast pronounce Hawaiian words in the dialogue.
And then there’s good old Danno, James MacArthur (1937 – 2010), the last of the “Five-O” detectives to stick around. An L.A. native, MacArthur was a football player in school, as well as the child of show-biz parents—screenwriter Charles MacArthur and actress Helen Hayes. As a young man, he worked extensively on stage and in films, but he—like the others we’ve looked at—is known best for one iconic role.
MacArthur was given the role of Danny Williams after the original actor cast in the part didn’t play well with test audiences who viewed the pilot. Producers remembered MacArthur’s good work in the movie “Hang ’em High” and brought him on. As McGarrett’s second in command, Danno was an expert in defusing bombs (a skill which often came in handy), a handwriting expert, and a favorite for undercover work. When MacArthur decided to leave the show after its 11th season, the 12th and final season went on as if he had never been there—no explanation for the departure was offered by the show, and McGarrett never again mentioned his name.
The new generation of “Hawaii Five-0” includes Alex O’Loughlin (“Moonlight,” “Three Rivers”) as McGarrett; Scott Caan (son of James Caan, he played Turk Malloy in the “Ocean’s 11” trilogy) as Danno; Daniel Dae Kim (Jin from “Lost”) as Chin Ho; and a gender change with Grace Park (“Battlestar Galactica”) as Kono.
Will the new “Hawaii Five-0” make it to future seasons? Reviews and numbers are favorable so far, and folks love the show’s good-looking cast. Even if it doesn’t have Jack Lord’s distinctive hair or James MacArthur’s boyish charm working for it, the new show has retained one really crucial piece of the “Five-O” legacy: that awesome theme song. It just might do the trick.
Note: As of May 2010, the “Hawaii Five-0” reboot is still cruising. Now in its 9th season, the show has seen some actors come and go, though stars O’Loughlin and Caan remain. Will it make it to 12 seasons like its predecessor? Stay tuned!