Miller: Everybody knows that Steve McGarrett only takes orders from the governor and God - and occassionally even they have trouble.
--Hawaii Five-O, “Cocoon (Pilot)” (9/20/68)
Since this week marks the 51st anniversary of the fiftieth state to join the union (which may make mine the first generation not to have a state added in their lifetime), I thought I’d do a little breakdown of one of the most dynamic sets of opening credits ever to hit the small screen.
Opening credits were considered pretty important for a long time. With some shows (e.g. Patty Duke, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, Star Trek), the credits were a means of entry for the new viewer: “Here’s the setup; now you know all you need to know to understand the conceit of the show.” Others (e.g. I Love Lucy, Donna Reed Show, Lost in Space) were just billboards for the stars of the show. Nowadays, they just cut into the potential commercial/storytelling time, so they’re either very brief (Community, Parks and Recreation) or nonexistent, running entirely over the opening scenes (later seasons of Everybody Loves Raymond, and I noticed last night that The Soup runs ALL of its credits during the beginning of the show).
Hawaii Five-O was different, though: It provided the billboard for the stars but also let you know that HAWAII was one of the show’s stars. Let’s take a look at the opening sequence, which (other than the show’s cast) changed very little throughout the show’s 12-year run. Remember that the show had a “teaser,” which provided the early setup for that week’s story. From the teaser they’d do what they call a “smash cut” to the opening shot:
OK. Ready to do some breakdown? Let’s go. The credits, incidentally, were created by director Reza Badiyi, who also designed the credits for the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
We’d get this shot of the wave and the show’s title would emerge from the curl. This was the first ten seconds of the opening credits, which ran nearly a full minute. It was originally used in a 1967 film called Surfari, about which even Wikipedia knows nothing, but I can tell you that among the cast is a guy named Skipper Fats, playing himself. (You’d think that a guy with a name like that would be a natural to play Alan Hale Jr.’s role on Gilligan’s Island, wouldn’t you?) From here we go to several shots of the water, then a couple of aerial shots of Hawaii, including a quick look at Diamond Head. Another one is a sweeping fly-by view of the Aloha Tower Marketplace. The shot at left is from the credit sequence; the shot at right is a more recent ground-level view. Tourists can take an elevator to the tenth floor to get a 360-degree view of Honolulu Harbor and Hawaii in general. After this, we’re treated to a fast zooming-in shot of the top balcony of the Ilikai Hotel, upon which our star, Jack Lord is standing. As we close in on him standing in that penthouse balcony, there’s a quick reverse angle and the zoom continues from the other side as he turns around to face the camera. He gives you only the barest hint of a smile, and if it weren’t for a breeze blowing his hair, you’d think that it was a freeze-frame. From here we do a swing-dissolve to a shot of a car passing under the camera, and the camera turns to follow, essentially turning the image upside-down (this image was a screen shot I got from YouTube, and it was the best I could do).
After this are perhaps the most iconic shots of the entire bit.
The next shot is a young Hawaiian lady running down the beach, and she appears to be pulling a clip or some such out of her hair. This would be model Elizabeth Logue, whose real name is Elizabeth Louise Malamalamaokalani White Logue. Just sayin’. She was the poster girl for Hawaiian tourism starting back in 1960, and she was also Miss Air Force ROTC 1959, but most Americans probably first saw her in the photo to the right. This is the October 8, 1965 issue of Life Magazine. (Hover your mouse over the photo to see the cover text.) Can’t get enough of her? She’ll be back.
Another quick series of shots of water, and we do a bunch of what the Hollywood folks call jump-cuts, zooming in on the “Lady Columbia” statue at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as “Punchbowl National Cemetery”. It got the latter name because of its location in Punchbowl Crater, which was previously used for human sacrifice. So, human sacrifice in a cemetery…that’s pretty efficient. Lady Columbia is standing at the top of a stairway (as can be seen in the longest shot of the sequence), on the bow of a ship, holding a laurel branch. One of the cool things about this sequence is that the jump cuts are synchronized with the drumbeats. From here we go to a quick series of shots: a profile shot of a girl looking up, who appears to be Elizabeth Logue again (I’m not positive but it looks like her), then a boy looking at the camera. The boy, incidentally, is named Mel Kinney, and he’s 13 years old in that shot. In later years, it appears he became kind of a big deal in the sport end of surfing. Then there’s a VERY dramatic shot of Ms. Logue, positively rocking the head-turn toward the camera. I’m willing to bet that millions of men, from 1968 through 1980, used that shot as their one and only reason to take their families on a trip to Hawaii, just on the off chance that a hot Hawaiian chick would turn and look at them in just that way, with exactly that expression. Hell, she died in 1988 and I’d probably still go to Hawaii hoping I could nail her. (UPDATE: As you can see from the comments section, I've heard from a relative who notes that Ms. Logue is still alive and well and living under a different name. Also see my follow-up comments about how a little extra research confirmed this and how this mistake apparently propagated.)
We’re next treated to several images of a jet airplane through a fish-eye lens. I think this is mostly because United Airlines was the carrier that flew the cast and crew back and forth from the mainland. Whenever you see a plane in the show, it’s always obviously United; however in the credits you can’t really tell. On the other hand, this theory of mine is not original; I got it from here:
After the plane shots, there are several quick still shots of a sunset, zooming in and out, again in time with the music (no screen shots because I couldn’t be bothered), and next we see a close-up shot of a Hula dancer’s hips:
The thing that always fascinated, yet bothered me was the fact that this shot ran for a few seconds, then did a freeze-frame, then another freeze-frame almost immediately, then continued on till the end. It wasn’t in time with the music and seemed to have no real purpose. Why were those freeze-frames in there, dammit? I have no real answer except: because this shot appeared during a scene in the pilot, and the freeze-frames happened there, too. There were a couple of times that the pilot used this technique, and in each case it was for no apparent reason. Here’s a bit of trivia: The hula girl’s name is Helen Kuoha-Torco, and according to her, the brief scene in which she appeared took 16 hours to shoot. She later became a professor at Leeward Community College but has since retired. And we only know all this because the shot came from the pilot, where her face can be seen, too.
More zooming: several repeated zooms on this red neon sign, which my research tells me was once called Tops Restaurant. Tops is not to be confused with another place called Tree Tops Restaurant, which appears to still be around. I was unable, however, to find out what’s there now. Tops, however, does appear to elicit some fond memories in people, and I’ve even found a few obituaries of people who worked there, so apparently it held some measure of fame. Whether that’s because of Hawaii Five-O is another matter. From the Tops Restaurant we do yet another zoom, on a blue police light. This is the really old-style light, where the reflector rocks back and forth rather than spinning 360 degrees. Nowadays they’re equipped with strobe-style lights, so they don’t even rotate anymore, more’s the pity. At this point, by the way, we’re at the 41-second mark and haven’t seen anyone in the cast besides Jack Lord. All of that changes now, as we get:
James MacArthur running down a hallway and freeze-framing as his credit appears on-screen. “With” and “as” are a Very Big Deal in Hollywood contracts, for what that’s worth. (Update: Merry just reminded me of something I forgot to mention: James MacArthur’s mother was very famous, and appeared in a Season 4 episode. Go do your own research.) After our first view of Danno, there’s a closeup of a pair of hands loading a revolver and spinning the chamber. If you look carefully, though, you may notice something’s not quite right. The spot in the middle of the cartridge is where the gun’s firing pin strikes the cartridge. All of the cartridges have depressions in them—which means that these bullets have already been fired and the gun is therefore being loaded with spent shells. Oh well.
Next up: Zulu as Kono! It’s a pretty cool shot of him charging up a gangplank, and again we get the freeze-frame as the graphic pops on. It’s probably the most action we ever see out of this guy during the series, as he spends a lot of time just standing there stock-still and spouting his lines. This shot is also from the pilot. Zulu’s real name was (I’m not making this up) Gilbert Francis Lani Damian Kauh, so it’s small wonder that they called him “Zulu”.
A quick blurry shot of police lights, and we get our last credited cast member: Kam Fong as Chin Ho. At this point, with “Zulu as Kono” and “Kam Fong as Chin Ho”, you have to think that the producers are just screwing with our heads. And, maybe they are. Kam Fong appears to have done this shot specifically for the credits, given the way he does a full-body turn to face the camera. He kind of rocks it, too, but not like Elizabeth Logue. Although he plays a Chinese type on the show, he was a Hawaiian native, and ponder this for a minute: he was at Pearl Harbor for three days straight after the attacks on December 7, 1941, and he lost his entire family in June of 1944 when a couple of B-24s collided and rained down burning debris on his neighborhood. He re-married and had four more kids before he and his wife died within six months of one another in 2002. And his second wife predeceased him, so he was widowed twice. That’s kind of harsh, even for an arbitrary universe.
Finally, we get to the last shot, which is a night view of the street looking back from the seat of a police motorcycle, again freezing when the graphic appears. According to Wikipedia, this street is in Waikiki, and the motorcycle is heading west. But it’s Wikipedia, so do with it what you will. This shot is also used in its entirety during the closing credits of at least the first season; later on they switched to the shot of the locals in the outrigger canoe.
For those of you who aren’t aware, CBS is bringing the show back this fall (Kono is a woman! Chin is being played by Jin from LOST! The title will have a zero instead of a letter O!). I’m not sure why, but my feeling is that if they just leave the theme music intact, that’s going to be half the battle to success. At any rate, I’m trying to think positively.
Finally: while several of the pictures are screen shots I grabbed, a bunch of the pictures came from a site called BigBob.com, and I’m not even sure that Big Bob remembers that those pics are there, since they’re not linked from his home page.
So there you have it: a very lengthy, almost scholarly, view of the opening credits of Hawaii Five-O. Did I spend too much time on this post? You bet your ass. But tell me what you thought anyway.