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The Rat Pack's Man in Hawaii: Eddie Sherman

After its first season of episodes, Hawaii Five-O producer Lenny Freeman revealed to Eddie his intention to take Five-O back to the Mainland. Freeman had been unsuccessful in finding a suitable sound stage for the show in Hawaii. Eddie arranged a powerhouse meeting with developer and financier Hiro Yamamoto and lawyer, former senator and businessman Sakae Takahashi. Yamamoto and Takahashi were able to convince Governor Burns to cooperate, and construction began on a brand new sound stage. Eddie was named president of the facility, and as a gift, Yamamoto told Freeman he would give him some shares of stock in the new studio. Freeman declined, citing a conflict of interest as the primary tenant of the studio, but Yamamoto insisted, and said he would place the shares in a file in his office, on permanent hold for Freeman, should he ever want them.

Fade out, fade in: a few years passed. Hawaii Five-O had become one of the CBS network’s most solid and reliable hits.

Excerpted from his book, “Frank, Sammy, Marlon & Me”

I was with Paul King one night in his room at the Kahala Hilton while he was packing for his flight to L.A. King was the CBS executive attached to the show. He was also a writer and producer for the network.

Turning to me, Paul said very seriously, “Sorry to tell you this, Eddie, but your friend Lenny is in big trouble.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

King said that he was tipped off that Lenny Freeman had stock in the Hawaii studio, and that, without question, it was a conflict of interest. The facts would be reported to CBS, and Freeman would have to be dealt with by the network.

I asked how King found out. At first, he was reluctant to tell me. Finally, after much prodding, he relented and informed me that someone told Jack Lord that he had seen a file in Hiro Yamamoto’s company office that contained Freeman’s stock in the studio. Lord, in turn, informed CBS.

I raced home, called Lenny in Beverly Hills and related the story.

Calmly, Freeman asked me to do the following: get a letter from Hiro and pre-date it to the time the studio was built. In the letter, Lenny wanted Hiro to explain about the shares that he offered—tell the facts as they actually happened, including explaining that the stock certificates would be in his files any time Lenny wanted them.

Hiro did just that, and I mailed the letter to Lenny. When the CBS bosses eventually called Lenny for an important meeting a few weeks later, he brought along his briefcase with that letter.

Sure enough, the CBS suits brought up the matter of the stock certificates. They told Lenny that he could be charged with improper conduct and so forth. At the right moment, Lenny whipped out the letter and explained what happened. The red-faced brass quickly offered their apologies.

Then, Lenny told the executives they had better read their contract with him. Hawaii Five-O, he said, was introduced on the TV screen before every episode as a “Leonard Freeman Production in association with CBS.”

That, in effect, meant that Lenny had control of the show, including who could be hired—and fired.

Lenny informed the CBS brass that he would be getting on a plane to Hawaii right away, and the first order of business upon landing would be to visit Jack Lord and fire him.

“I don’t need the star of my show stabbing me in the back,” Lenny said.

After he arrived, Lenny and I had breakfast at the Kahala Hilton. “Now, wait here,” he told me. “I’m going next door to Jack’s apartment and fire that son of a bitch. When I come back in a few minutes, you can announce that the new top cop on the series will be Lloyd Bridges.”

I waited.

And waited.

Finally, Lenny returned.

“Well?” I asked.

He sat down, sighed and said, “Have you ever seen a grown man cry?”

After Lenny confronted Jack, the Five-O star nearly became hysterical. He said he did what he did because he thought it was in the best interest of the show. He said he didn’t mean to get Freeman in trouble. According to Lenny, Jack then prostrated himself on the floor, grabbed Lenny around the ankles, begged for forgiveness and sobbed.

“I just couldn’t fire him,” Lenny said, “On the positive side, he’s a hard worker. He’s dedicated to the show and does a first-class job. But I told him to just stick to his work and mind his own business—that one more stunt like this would be cause for dismissal.”

With that crisis averted, Five-O continued its roaring success. And my friendship with Lenny Freeman continued strong.

* * *

One of McGarrett’s police gang in Five-O was a big, burly Hawaiian professionally known as Zulu, whose real name was Gilbert Kauhi. Zulu was a popular Hawaiian entertainer and nightclub comedian. He was always in demand. Audiences loved him, and he became one of Five-O’s favorite personalities.

The show gave him international exposure and fame. His career was skyrocketing. No doubt, Zulu had a big future.

Then, in 1973, he made a fatal mistake. While shooting a street scene in downtown Honolulu, Zulu spied the show’s publicity man, Len Weisman. Len was a Hollywood veteran who once worked for the legendary Howard Hughes. On the Five-O set, Weisman answered only to Jack Lord.

Zulu walked over to Weisman between takes and began needling him about not getting enough publicity. Weisman explained that he only worked for Jack.
Zulu increased his vitriol at Weisman for not publicizing him more. The needling inexplicably turned into some vicious, anti-Semitic remarks.

Weisman was stunned at the attack. He didn’t know what to say. Those who witnessed the verbal fireworks were also stunned. Nobody could figure out what caused it all. Weisman, verbally battered, retreated to his office.

When Jack Lord returned to Five-O headquarters after finishing his scenes, he saw Weisman with his head resting on his desk. Jack asked what was wrong.
“Oh, nothing. I just don’t feel well,” said Weisman.

That answer was not good enough. Jack knew better. He wanted to know what the problem was, and kept after Weisman to tell him. Finally, Weisman explained what had happened with Zulu.

Jack hit the roof. He immediately went to the phone, called Lenny Freeman in Los Angeles and said he would not return to the set until Zulu was off the show. Permanently.

Zulu quickly got the word. He was through. Fired.

A few days later, Zulu came to my office at the Honolulu Advertiser. He was heartbroken. Totally dejected.

“I really didn’t mean anything,” he told me. “I like Len. I just got mad at not getting more recognition on the show. That’s all.”
He asked for my help. He wanted to explain his side of the story.

I told Zulu it was too late. He had really committed show biz harakiri.

News of his anti-Semitic attack against Jack Lord’s publicity man was all over Hollywood. Suddenly, Zulu’s future engagements for various personal appearances were cancelled. Professionally, he was treated like he had a contagious disease. Doors slammed in his face. The poor man was devastated.
He never worked on another TV show again. Overnight, Zulu went from a thriving show business career to professional oblivion.

* * *

More behind-the-scenes tales from the Five-O series: Bernie Oseransky, head of production for the show during its entire twelve-year run, recalled the time Jack screamed at Bill Finnegan, who produced the show for many years. Jack told Finnegan to “Get off my island.” Of course, Finnegan refused

Jack’s “order.” So Jack boycotted the show for a week until Hawaii Governor George Ariyoshi intervened and talked him into returning to work.

Jack involved himself in every aspect of the show’s production. He was a perfectionist and expected everyone to measure up to his exact standards. He also involved himself in many employees’ personal matters. Once, while walking near the Diamond Head sound stage, he passed a carpenter working on the production set and said hello to him. The carpenter, obviously somewhere else in his mind, didn’t return the greeting. Jack took this as a slight and had the man fired.

Basically, Jack was a loner. He seemed to trust only his wife, Marie. She was his everything. They were totally devoted to each other.

* * *

Jack Lord—born John Joseph Patrick Ryan—grew up in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York and was, perhaps, Hawaii’s most famous export. Many people believed that there was an actual Hawaii Five-O police unit because of Lord’s solid characterization and the show’s gritty realism.

When the production ceased after twelve years and almost three hundred one-hour dramas, Jack shut himself off from just about everyone except his wife. He seldom ventured from his plush Kahala apartment, purchased during the early days of the show for $163,000—thanks to a loan from CBS. Today, that apartment would sell for many millions of dollars.

In his last days, Jack would occasionally be seen walking along the beach near his home, or shopping at Kahala Mall’s Star Market. My last conversation with Jack was while he sat behind the wheel of his twenty-year-old Cadillac parked outside the shopping center. His car was showing signs of rust. He favored Cadillacs because he once was a car salesman for the company in New York during his days as a struggling actor. Jack was waiting for Marie, who was doing a grocery run inside the market.

Jack kept asking me the same questions, over and over, interspersed with various statistics about Five-O. It was very sad and disturbing to see his obvious mental deterioration.

Not long after that, on January 21, 1998, Jack Lord died of congestive heart failure. He was seventy-seven.

Eddie Sherman is a retired newspaper columnist and lives in Honolulu.

July 2015