Original 'Hawaii Five-O' Cast: Secrets Revealed About the 70s Detectives in Paradise

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Book ’em, Danno! When the original Hawaii Five-O cast wrapped up their final case in 1980, their show was the longest continuously running police show in television history. For 12 seasons, fans were whisked away on thrilling adventures that started with its opening credits, which were full of quick-cut shots of Hawaii’s crashing waves, hula dancing and scenic sunsets, as well as a close up of its magnetic star, Jack Lord as Detective Steve McGarrett, posing handsomely on a balcony high above the city, contemplating the crime he’d soon be fighting on the streets below.

The series, which Lord also produced, was shot on location in Hawaii, and the actor knew that the Aloha State’s lush and exotic locales would be a big draw to viewers. “It’s costing us 25% to 30% more to film here than in Hollywood. But we feel it’s worth it because we’re getting a fresh kind of hot look from this new environment,” Lord said. That set the stage for later series, like Tom Selleck’s Magnum P.I., to follow suit.

Even Hawaii Five-O’s theme song made a huge splash, and if you’ve ever tried to surf, we bet you were humming it the second your toes hit the water! Composed by Morton Stevens, the song was so catchy that the rock band The Ventures released an album in 1969 titled after the show, and their version of the theme song made it all the way to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. The iconic surfer tune even became a dance hit in the U.K. during the ’70s!

The international appeal of the show, in fact, was unprecedented, and it was seen in 80 countries and had over 300 million viewers globally. As production manager Bernie Oseransky explained of the show’s initial goal, “The idea originally was not to be a typical police show, it was to do unusual crimes — crimes that would go through the Pacific.”

To that end, the program landed in Hawaii and its cast was incredibly diverse, with many of its actors being locals who were new to acting. That was balanced out by a cavalcade of high-profile guest stars who appeared, including Ed Asner, Susan Dey, Tab Hunter, Sal Mineo, Leslie Nielsen, Sally Kellerman, Christopher Walken, Patty Duke, Buddy Ebsen, William Shatner and more.

While a 2010 to 2020 CBS reboot, which starred Alex O’Loughlin, Scott Caan and Daniel Dae Kim, was popular with both audiences and critics, the original remains a much beloved classic of American television. Read on to find out some fun facts about the original Hawaii Five-O cast and what they were up to before and after the series.

Jack Lord as Det. Steve McGarrett in the Hawaii Five-O cast

Jack Lord (Det. Steve McGarrett)
1968/1980 United Archives / Contributor // Silver Screen Collection / Contributor

Born John Joseph Patrick Ryan, the actor took his stage name when he was getting into acting in the early ’50s. He appeared on the New York stage (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), in films (1958’s God’s Little Acre, 1957’s Tip on a Dead Jockey, 1962’s Dr. No) and in various TV roles (Have Gun, Will Travel, The Untouchables), eventually getting frustrated by being typecast in villain roles. He, of course, soon rode the wave of Hawaii Five-O’s success for its 12 seasons, though he often received criticism about being egotistical and hard to work with from other actors.

“Sometimes, certain stars are kind of a headache, like Jack Lord,” Happy Days’ Marion Ross, who’d guest-starred on Hawaii Five-O a few times, told the Television Academy Foundation. “I thought Jack Lord was difficult. He would sort of pick on people,” she shared.

While Kam Fong, who played Detective Chin Ho Kelly, admitted that Lord was “a strict taskmaster, a perfectionist,” he pointed out the veteran actor’s more giving side, too. “I learned quite a lot from him, and so did others,” Fong said. “We always had a lot of local actors on the show who were inexperienced, and he helped them a lot. He would yell at them, but always to help them learn.”

Once the iconic series ended, Lord largely retired from acting and got into real estate and painting, an early passion of his. His artworks have been displayed in some top institutions, including the Whitney Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. He stayed out of the public eye as much as he could, his wife Marie De Narde told Inside Edition, because “he didn’t like to talk about himself.… He was a private person.” Lord died at his home in Honolulu in 1988 at the age of 77.

James MacArthur as Danny “Danno” Williams

James MacArthur (Danny “Danno” Williams) Hawaii five-O cast
1960/ 2006 Silver Screen Collection / Contributor // Bobby Bank / Contributor

He’ll always be remembered for playing Detective Sergeant Danny Williams, the “Danno” to whom Jack Lord would say “book ’em” in the Hawaii Five-O cast. “He said ‘book him’ to others in the cast, but I guess he said it to me the most,” the actor said in a 2007 interview, adding, “It wasn’t anything we really thought about at first. But the phrase just took off and caught the public's imagination.”

Before that iconic role, MacArthur, the adopted son of playwright Charles Arthur and actress Helen Hayes, had a long career in show business, having appeared in Disney’s The Light in the Forest (1958), which led to a multi-picture deal with the company that included two 1960 films, Kidnapped and Swiss Family Robinson. That same year, he appeared on Broadway with Jane Fonda in Invitation to a March, and scattered TV and film roles followed, including his 1968 turn as the preacher in Clint Eastwood’s Hang ’Em High.

He left Hawaii Five-O a year before it was canceled, and small roles on TV (The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, Fantasy Island) and the stage followed, as did a pivot to the business world. MacArthur died at age 72 in 2010.

“James was a great actor, admired by so many,” the updated Hawaii Five-O’s executive producer Peter Lenkov said in a statement at the time. “Since the early development of our reboot, I had hoped to include James in the show, in a cameo or a recurring role.… Alas, that will never happen now and today I join millions of fans mourning this great loss.”

RELATED: ‘Murder She Wrote’ Cast Secrets, Plus The Latest Clues About the Movie Reboot!

Zulu as Det. Kono Kalakaua in the Hawaii Five-O cast

Zulu (Det. Kono Kalakaua) Hawaii five-O cast
1968 moviestillsdb.com/CBSProductions

A former United States Coast Guard turned comedian, Gilbert Francis Lani Damian Kauhi — known as Zulu — was born on the Big Island of Hawaii. In addition to comedy, he dabbled in music, playing in the Sons of Hawaii band and working as a disc jockey before landing his role as Hawaii Five-O’s Det. Kono Kalakaua, always generously helping his co-stars pronounce certain Hawaiian words in the script. After his run with the show ended after its first four seasons, he continued to sing and perform comedy at various Hawaiian clubs and hotels. The performer died in 2004 at the age of 66.

Kam Fong Chun as Det. Chin Ho Kelly

Kam Fong Chun (Det. Chin Ho Kelly) Hawaii five-O cast

Another local talent in the Hawaii Five-O cast, Kam Fong was born in Kalihi, Hawaii, and he was employed as a boilermaker at Pearl Harbor when the naval base was attacked in 1941. Three years later during World War II, a pair of military bombers crashed into his home, killing his first wife and two children.

He later became a police officer and served for 16 years, at which time he also began to dabble in acting, landing bit roles in small movies. He left the force in 1960 and took up real estate agent and worked as a disc jockey before landing his defining role as detective Chin Ho Kelly on Hawaii Five-O.

His run lasted 10 seasons until his character was tragically killed off. The actor’s son Dennis carried on the family legacy and starred as Sgt. Duke Lukela on the Hawaii Five-O reboot, noting in an interview that “watching my father's success with Five-O gave me a lofty goal” of becoming an actor. The elder Chun, who made a run for governor of Hawaii in 1989, passed away in 2002 at the age of 84. When his character was killed off on the show in 1978, his final words were, “It was all worth it.” "We think those words sum up our father's life," Dennis said upon his father’s death. "It was a life that was worth it. A life that mattered.”

Richard Denning as Governor Paul Jameson

Richard Denning (Governor Paul Jameson) Hawaii five-O cast
1942/1968 John Springer Collection / Contributor // moviestillsdb.com/CBSProductions

After winning a radio contest titled “Do You Want to Be an Actor?”, Denning did just that.

Born as Louis Albert Denninger Jr., he changed his name upon landing a contract with Paramount, as the studio didn’t like his last name’s similarity to gangster John Dillinger’s. He starred in a string of science-fiction films in the ’50s (including 1954’s Creature From the Black Lagoon), and he also starred in 1948 as Lucille Ball’s husband on My Favorite Husband, the radio show that led to the series I Love Lucy, when Ball’s real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, took over.

In 1957, he appeared in An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. He’d all but wrapped up his career and was retired in Maui when Hawaii 5-O producer Leonard Freeman talked him into playing the fictional governor, promising limited hours of work and that Denning wouldn’t need to be in every episode. “I'm very grateful for a career that wasn't spectacular, but always made a living or filled in in-between. I have wonderful memories of it, but I don't miss it,” Denning said during a 1991 interview, years after his acting career ended. Before he died at the age 84 in 1998, he served for some time as an executive director of the Boy Scouts of America.

Harry Endo as Che Fong in the Hawaii Five-O cast

The Colorado born Endo was living and working in Hawaii for a bank and filming a commercial for them when he was approached for his future role as forensic scientist Che Fong on Hawaii Five-O. After his run on the series, he landed some small roles on other shows (Magnum P.I., Jake and the Fatman, and Murder, She Wrote) before stepping away from the acting industry. Endo died at the age of 86 in 2009.

Herman Wedemeyer as Det. Duke Lukela

Herman Wedemeyer (Det. Duke Lukela) Hawaii five-O cast
1968, Hawaii Five-O castmoviestillsdb.com/CBSProductions

“Squirming” Herman Wedemeyer was born in Hilo, Hawaii, and was a gifted football player throughout his school years, which led to him being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. After

briefly playing for a pro team, he served on the Honolulu City Council and in the Hawaii House of Representatives before landing as Duke Lukela on Hawaii Five-O in 1971, which was just one of a small handful of screen roles he had. (He’d later play a coroner on one episode of Magnum, P.I. in 1981.) “I treasured acting with him. He was a popular fellow on the set. I was impressed with his humble nature. He was unassuming, very personable…not what you'd expect,” said co-star Harry Endo upon the athlete-actor’s death in 1999 at the age of 74.f

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