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Jack Lord Biography


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Birth Name: Jack Lord
Born: 12/30/1920
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA
Death Place: Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Died: 01/21/1998


Born John Joseph Patrick Ryan in Brooklyn, NY on Dec. 30, 1920, "Jack" was the son of Ellen and William Ryan, a steamship company executive. Educated at New York-area schools like St. Benedict Joseph Labre School and John Adams High, Jack set his sights on a career as an artist and painter early on. In his teens, he worked for his father - whose business had suffered greatly due to the Great Depression - as a freighter crewman during summer breaks from school. Inspired by the shores of the Mediterranean and Africa, the aspiring artist honed his skills with sketches and paintings of these exotic locales. By now completely enamored with a life on the sea, Lord enrolled in maritime studies at the Fort Trumbull U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New London, CT. There he earned the rank of ensign before entering into service during World War II, first building bridges in Persia with the U.S. Corps of Engineer, and later, onboard European transport vessels with the Merchant Marines. After the war, he remained with the Merchant Marines and returned to Fort Trumbull, where he assisted in the production of training films. It was then that Lord first considered acting as an interesting, potentially viable occupation. After pursuing a degree in Fine Arts at New York University and teaching art with his brother Bill, Lord became more determined to succeed as an actor.

Recently married to fashion designer Marie L. De Narde - a woman several years his senior - Lord began training with legendary acting coach Sanford Meisner at the revered Neighborhood Playhouse, even as he earned a living selling cars to pay the bills. Still using his given surname of "Ryan," he made his film debut with a small part in the anti-communist espionage drama "The Red Menace" (1949). Other bit parts in B-movies like "Cry Murder" (1950) and "The Tattooed Stranger" (1950) soon followed. In 1954, the newly-christened Lord, who felt compelled to adopt a stage name after discovering the existence of another actor named Jack Ryan, made his Broadway debut in a production of "The Traveling Lady," for which he won a Theatre World Award. The following year, he replaced actor Ben Gazzara in the role of Brick for the Broadway mounting of Tennessee Williams' Southern Gothic potboiler "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." At the same time, Lord began making multiple appearances on such popular television anthology series as "Armstrong Circle Theatre" (NBC/CBS, 1950-1963) and "Studio One" (CBS, 1948-1958).

On film, Lord was cast as Elizabeth Montgomery's doomed husband in "The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell" (1955), a movie that placed him alongside Western screen idol Gary Cooper for the first time. He later appeared as Robert Taylor's financially-strapped war buddy in "Tip on a Dead Jockey" (1957) then worked with Cooper once more as the vicious, unhinged outlaw Coaley in "Man of the West" (1958). That same year, Lord joined Vic Morrow as one of Robert Ryan's treasure-seeking sons in the highly controversial (for its time) adaptation of novelist Erskine Caldwell's "God's Little Acre" (1958). Rapidly gaining visibility, he also picked up a substantial role in "The True Story of Lynn Stuart" (1958), playing a drug smuggler targeted by Betsy Palmer's titular undercover narcotics agent. After dozens of quest turns on popular shows like "The Untouchables" (ABC, 1959-1963), "Bonanza" (NBC, 1959-1973) and "Rawhide" (CBS, 1959-1966), Lord became the first actor to play CIA operative Felix Leiter opposite Sean Connery's Agent 007 in "Dr. No" (1962). Originally intended to reprise the role for 1964's "Goldfinger," Lord's reputed insistence on more screen time and greater compensation led to the part being recast.

Lord's first regular series starring role was as the champion rodeo rider "Stoney Burke" (ABC, 1962-63), a stoic characterization he based on the performances of Gary Cooper. Though a well written and acted show, "Stoney Burke" lasted only a season, a victim of the country's growing disenchantment with the Western genre. Briefly considered for the role of Capt. Kirk on the classic sci-fi series "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69), the character was ultimately offered to William Shatner after Lord and series creator Gene Roddenberry failed to come to terms. He moved away from cowpoke roles to more law enforcement types with his turns in the crime dramas "The Doomsday Flight" (NBC, 1966) and "The Counterfeit Killer" (1968). When offered the headlining role on another series, Lord jumped at the chance and signed on as the star of "Hawaii Five-O" (CBS, 1968-1980) playing the lantern-jawed Lt. Steve McGarrett. A by-the-book crime drama about a fictional state police force working directly for the governor of Hawaii, the series - the first to be filmed entirely on the island state - became a solid hit for the network. With its breathtaking locations, wildly popular drum-pounding theme-song, and McGarrett's trademark phrase of "Book 'em, Danno," the show achieved pop-culture status long before the end of its exceptional 12-year run.

Having directed several episodes of "Hawaii Five-O," Lord executive produced, directed and starred in "M Station: Hawaii" (CBS, 1980), a naval adventure about U.S. efforts to recover information and materials from a sunken Russian submarine off the island's coast. Originally planned as a pilot for a post-"Five-O" series, the effort was not picked up by the network. After his famed series ran its course, Lord retired completely from acting - repeated attempts to bring him on as a guest star on another popular Hawaiian-based series, "Magnum P.I." (CBS, 1980-88) met with a resounding silence. Instead, Lord chose to concentrate on his and his wife's various philanthropic efforts, in addition to his renewed passion for painting. A talented and prolific artist, his paintings appeared in more than 40 museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Paris' Biblioteque Nationale, and the Library of Congress. Maintaining a reclusive lifestyle at his home in Honolulu, Lord was rarely seen in public during his later years. On Jan. 21, 1998, he died of complications due to congestive heart failure. Actor-artist Jack Lord was 77 years old.

By Bryce Coleman