A Most Uplifting Hour With Al Harrington
by Jerry Pickard, firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer is not exactly sure how many interviews to date he's been privileged to have with Five-0'ers of various stripes. There have been a few; a lot face-to-face and others courtesy of Alexander Graham Bell's revolutionary device by voice alone. Each one was really terrific, regardless of how it was conducted.
It was especially unfortunate, however, that the circumstances for this one did not permit an in-person meeting with the truly incredible 'persona' who played Ben Kokua during an all-too-brief few years. Seeing his expressions and other non-verbal forms of conveying ideas and reactions, would have been a most useful bonus. Nonetheless, for sixty minutes early one Sunday morning in April '06, this relentless, "ink-stained" chronicler of many of the show's performers, etc., enjoyed a wonderful session of "talk-story" with Mr. Harrington.
He was reached on O'ahu
that day as over a month of almost non-stop, damaging rain finally began to let
up. Not three weeks before, the writer had been present in
As has been the writer's experience when speaking in some depth with people of Polynesian lineage, the interchange on this occasion was neither flippant nor superficial -- it was caring and sincere. We touched on a number of topics and issues close to Al's heart, with respect and consideration. To get to know this unique man even a little is to become aware of his life-long concern and passion for the difficult 'kuleana' of indigenous peoples in various places. The time we conversed, ended with a greatly enhanced appreciation for the causes he has pursued and is continuing to strive for, seemingly tirelessly.
It won't be the purpose of this treatise, to delve deeply into Al's somewhat colourful biography and numerous performance credits...those are covered at length elsewhere. Rather, the hope is to leave the reader with a better understanding of his times in Five-0 and perhaps, some of the inner workings and motivation of this totally committed gentleman.
Al left his native American
In the late 60's he was speaking at an athletics banquet when Five-0's ubiquitous Ted Thorpe spotted him. He was asked to read for a small role (presumably in Season One's "The Box", and got it at once. A number of lesser parts became his too, until the big break in '72. With a void caused by Zulu's somewhat unplanned departure, the show wanted to find another Polynesian to fill the spot. Leonard Freeman gave Al a kind of "offer of first refusal," and the latter took it, becoming Ben. 'Kokua' means help or cooperation, incidentally, which Al Harrington provided to the show at a needful time.
So-called "turning points" can change a
life drastically and for Al Harrington,
For virtually everything that followed, he credits Mr. Freeman (along with Jack Lord, James MacArthur and Kam Fong). Through them, he said, he received crucial insights about the commercial aspects of performing like product marketing and timing. Five-0 gave his life a special flavour and inspired completely new directions. And in so doing, it positively influenced at least two family members, with his sons going into careers like advertising and sports announcing.
Al's realistic awareness of the socio-political backdrop during much of Five-0's original airing came out during our discussion. When asked why he didn't perhaps "do more" with the Kokua character, his reply came without hesitation. Middle America, the target audience for the series, really wasn't all that interested in smaller ethnic groups gaining notoriety, he said. Instead, he pointed out, with all the upheavals related to the Vietnam war, protests and uprisings on college campuses and elsewhere, and a generally unsettling atmosphere, some symbol of stability was the goal of much of the population. Steve McGarrett's consistently strong authoritarianism and upholding of "old" values in the struggle toward victory over all the evils abounding, was the focus, and as such in the 'ensemble piece' of the fictitious elite state police force, it sold well.
Al felt he did what he could in presenting Ben as a sympathetic connection, but he did not want to risk over-stepping any boundaries, implicit or otherwise. The too early passing-on of Mr. Freeman was regretted in this context, he mentioned. That was because the series creator had a unique ability to gauge the true meaning of what was going on in the country (and indeed, the world), and what the viewing public really wanted. In time, Al believes, the role of the Polynesian in the series might well have expanded. Yet even today, his primary feeling toward his Five-0 period is one of deep gratitude, with no regrets about what did or did not seem accomplished.
This is not to say that it was all work and no play. With audible chuckles he recalled numerous instances when, among Kam, James and himself, specific bets would be exchanged as to who would be the first to flub lines or otherwise cause a scene to require a re-take. Five dollars was the amount of the stakes, and when the bet was offered, the actor about to speak in close-up, unmistakably heard it, almost guaranteeing some kind of flummox. Al had only kind words about 'Jimmy,' recalling the freely-offered (and accepted) coaching from this trained and seasoned actor who helped "all us neophytes!" As well, he fondly remembers one Irish director in particular (Michael O'Herlihy?) who visited the series regularly and contributed greatly in many ways. And when asked about favourite episodes, Al said he found that any appearance of Khigh Dhiegh signified, for him, an exceptional show.
Eventually, however, the time came to move on. Al
went into the
There has been, of course, the time on the mainland
since the mid-90's. Al won some great parts, primarily
depicting various American Indian roles. These helped him to understand that
group's specific plights in contemporary society, mainly in terms of civil
rights issues. Surviving the insanities of the
All this notwithstanding, his absolute love of the
50th State, and particularly the native Hawaiians, shone through virtually
everything he shared. As a young man performing service work for the Mormon
mission, he returned to
He has travelled
world-wide. But returning home is invariably the highlight of his many
pilgrimages, he said, because of the tremendous gratitude he feels, first as an
American enjoying the freedoms and benefits of this country, and second,
because the unique culture which is Hawai'i, is a
part of America. That grave wrongs were committed against
At the time of our conversation, Al was actively
backing Senator Daniel Akaka by committing full resources to support this
distinguished gentleman's re-election campaign. Al's passion in this sense was
wholly unmistakable. He asserted that Sen. Akaka has in fact represented the
State and most notably, native Hawaiians' causes and concerns, extremely well
One might gather that a great deal was packed into this relatively brief telephone exchange, and that would be at best a dire understatement. As our time drew to a close, Al talked about how the process of education has changed since he was a teacher. Aspects like the relationship between labour & management, nationalization vs globalization, as well as the profound impact of the Internet, which has opened up the frontiers of knowledge far more than anyone could have imagined a relatively short while ago, were brought up. He feels the need is now greater than ever, for the best teachers there can be so that students can receive quality opportunity for rounded learning in the context of a democratic civilization.
Al hinted that although he's not yet begun to
actually write it, there could be a book in the works. Material has begun
accumulating in his mind if not elsewhere. He hopes it would encompass a
non-traditional history of
For Five-0 fans all over, Al
commented that he consciously considers it a blessing to "still be above
ground" as he put it, each waking day. He exhorted everybody to be grateful for life and to
enjoy it. Al made special mention of the Freemans,
being most appreciative for their encouragement and the many opportunities
afforded him through the existence of the show. And finally, he said he was
touched beyond words by the unbelievable legacies/endowments left by Jack and
Al is one who donates considerably too. He is thanked most sincerely for all that he has humbly given of himself over a remarkable lifetime. Me ke aloha pumehana nui nui, kanaka!
Some Elicitations From Elissa
Catching Up With Elissa Dulce
by Jerry Pickard email@example.com
First, an assurance. An affirmation that goes out especially to all the other red-blooded guy fans. Elissa most definitely hasn't lost "it." Not by any measure, not by a long shot. In fact, in the vivid estimation of this one-time wannabe almost hunk (who now exemplifies geekdom to da max, sob), Elissa's got more "it" than was even the case way back then. And that, good folks, is no mean feat, trust me!
But, enough comforting of those few (ahem) fantasizers among us. Bringing things into updated perspective, let it be known that Elissa is now a very proud, doting tutu-wahine, or granny. Yup, when she made her entrance at a Zippy's Family Restaurant for our April '06 meeting, planted securely in her arms was 10-months old grand-daughter Teihirangi. This little charmer, having a Maori-flavoured moniker and being a big light of her grandmother's present life, actually joined in the interview, which was something of a first for your humble reporter. Her happy jabberings throughout the hour we were together, liberally punctuated our conversation. But in reviewing the taped record, I felt reasonably confident the main thrust of our discourse had been well preserved.
aside (as she has been described on various sites), Elissa
truly is a remarkable woman in so many of ways. She has acting credits in film
productions like Moon Over Paradise (originally called 'Good-bye Paradise'
before Joe Moore--also of Five-0 fame--sold the rights) and No Man Is An
Island, as well as small-screen ventures such as Magnum P.I./Baywatch Hawaii
(recurring roles), Jake & The Fat Man, and Barnaby Jones, among others. She
was also in
But where the big-time stuff all pretty much began
was on our very own Five-0. And how did Elissa get
there? Back-track to around when the movie
So, what was her experience like there? As with most others, so much depended on one's relationship (or
lack of same) with Jack Lord. Elissa shared
that she enjoyed working with him and overall, found
him a very kind man. In the years since, she has come to better appreciate
Jack's preoccupation with trying to maintain a no-nonsense environment on the
set, mindful of the huge monetary investment that was at stake in the show's
success. She acknowledges that for Lord, the running of a tight ship during
production was paramount because to do otherwise, to openly tolerate an
abandonment of his strict standards, would have led to unacceptable loss of
control and ultimately, chaos in his mind. This is how, in retrospect, she
figures he saw things. She now empathizes more than before, perhaps, how
difficult it must have been for him, never quite getting used to the fooling
around and playful banter that almost always permeates group/social settings in
One particular Five-0 filming incident came to mind
during our talk-story, she shared. There was a challenging scene on
One of her first speaking parts, however, occurred in Banzai Pipeline. There, she had to be adversarial with McGarrett, and apparently did a bang-up job of it. She gave him more lip than the script called for, even pointedly mimicking McGarrett at one stage (with Jack's encouragement). He liked it so much that it ended up in the final take.
She indeed remembers Jack as a gentleman always, never swearing or embracing vulgarity in any form. Let McGarrett refer to women as "dames & broads," but that was not Jack, she clarified.
He definitely remembered Elissa
after the series was over, as he cast her for M-Station
Although Elissa doesn't currently keep up any regular contact with fellow Five-0 alumni, she fondly recalls Moe Keale in particular, for his total lack of ego. And she especially enjoyed doing scenes with occasional guest star Leslie Nielsen (e.g. in We Hang Our Own). For the referenced episode, she was offered a more prominent role than was usually the case. Unfortunately, her boss at the Ala Moana Hotel's Hawaiian Hut, where she was holding steadier employment as a dancer, refused to allow her the extra time off needed. Elissa decided to go to the Big Island for the part anyway, and when the shoot was over, she came back to her regular job, only to find it no longer available to her. I sensed that she regretted the incident, understandably, but felt she did the right thing, at the end of the day.
Five-0 was indeed pivotal to her career, she asserted, because at the time there were few opportunities for actresses like her, of Japanese-Filipino lineage (compared with the present, she pointed out). Whenever any chance to perform came up, she unhesitatingly took it. Even now, although she has other vocational duties (including baby-sitting!), she continues to take acting classes, to keep her skills sharp for any future productions she might like to try for. Elissa noted that not long before she sat down with me, for example, she'd been tapped by LOST casting lady Marg Doversola (who of course did local casting during Five-0's latter stages), to audition for a possible recurring part. Unfortunately, Elissa was unable to follow up on this chance owing to a major prior commitment off-island.
I asked for her views on why the series lasted so
long. Her response was immediate: it was mainly because of the times, she said.
When Five-0 began,
We talked a bit about the writing that produced the plots. Overall, Elissa suggested, by today's standards Five-0's situations and actions by characters would appear almost cartoon-like But, it should always be borne in mind that back then there was tremendous public outcry about the violence the show was seen to portray, and nowhere was the howling more vociferous than in the Islands themselves. (Your reporter, as a UH Manoa student in Five-0's earliest days, can well vouch for that recollection...fortunately, a more comprehensive perspective prevailed, eventually!)
Elissa also emphasized that the wide spectrum of themes, very relevant to the times then and many often enduring to the present, touched viewers in a very special way. The fact that the good guy virtually always won at the end, provided a needed assurance to a very wary, old-values-in-jeopardy TV-watching public, she stressed.
Besides her acting roles, her dancing prowess has taken her many places as part of Polynesian "trouping around," including with the Disney organization across the mainland. As well, she has been part of shows headlined by Zulu and Danny Kaleikini, to name just a couple. In '97 she enjoyed a role on the never-released CBS recycled Five-0 pilot, when she got to revel again in working with Moe, Zulu, Kam Fong and Jim MacArthur. Should the Five-0 movie actually become a reality in the near future, she could see George Clooney as a great choice for the lead, she confided.
As our time together wound down, I asked Elissa if she had any particular message for the show's numerous fans. After thinking a bit, she offered this:
"So many speak of the 'old
days' with a sweet and tender feeling. On behalf of those of us who were privileged to be a
part of this unique phenomenon we call Hawaii Five-0, I hope the fans will help
to keep the memory of its positive message and legacy alive for as long as
possible." She also expressed the hope that maybe some day another series,
both set in
Sadly, all too soon it was time for the still-babely Elissa and grand-baby to 'hele on,' but meeting her and having the reminiscences and insights that we had, will remain with me for a long, long time. Incidentally, if anyone wishes to drop her a line, she asked this be done through myself and I will gladly pass it along.
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See you in October, 2006
Be There! Aloha!