Thought of the Day

May 4, 2012

Was Hawaii Five-O‘s Steve McGarrett the first professional character on television whose subordinates addressed him by his first name?

It’s common these days to address your boss by his or her first name.  But in 1968, I wonder if viewers weren’t startled by the fact that Dan-O and the other cops called their boss “Steve” rather than “Captain McGarrett.”  I guess The Lord was confident enough in his authority to let a little faux egalitarianism float through the offices of Five-O.

Can anyone think of an earlier series in which characters addressed their boss this way, rather than by rank or as “Mr.” or “Mrs.”?

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31 Responses to “Thought of the Day”

  1. stuartgalbraithiv Says:

    Well, how about STAR TREK? By the third season, Spock and McCoy called theirs “Jim.” On MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE too, for that matter. Maybe it was a Desilu thing…


  2. Bewitched’s Darren Stephens always referred to his boss as “Larry,” though you could argue that’s because they had a more congenial relationship beyond the parameters of work. But Det, Adam Flint of Naked City referred to his superior, Lt. Parker, as “Mike” quite often, so it does give one pause.

  3. Lee Says:

    Definitely true at Desilu…Peggy called Mannix “Joe” starting in 1968 also. And Spock and McCoy were using “Jim” well before that.

    Della called him “Perry” back in 1957.

  4. Lee Says:

    A few more:
    Everyone on The Dick Van Dyke Show calls them “Alan” and “Mel.” On Ironside, the Chief calls the Commissioner “Dennis.” On The Phil Silvers Show, Henshaw and Barbella call Bilko “Ernie.” (Or in Barbella’s case, “Oynie.”)

  5. Stephen Bowie Says:

    I figured there would be some examples I hadn’t thought of. I should crowd-source posts more often! It’s interesting that all of the shows you’ve mentioned are remembered fondly in part because of the (often implied) friendships between these characters.

    I’m thinking of The Untouchables now … did the other Feds call him Eliot? Chester usually used “Muster Dillon,” of course, but didn’t he also sometimes call him Matt when the chips were down?


    • I think the other ‘touchables did refer to Ness as “Eliot.” But if there’s a Gunsmoke episode where Chester calls Matt anything but “Muster Dillon” I don’t know about it. (Festus called Dillon “Marshal” in his early appearances before switching over to “Matthyoo.”)

    • Lee Says:

      Funny, I was just coming back to mention The Untouchables.

      I think the motivation varied. In most cases, it did illustrate a strong underlying friendship that was key to the show. In others (e.g. Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables, and Hawaii Five-O), I think the first-name calling gave the impression of warmth and friendship that might not otherwise have been noticed. In a few cases (e.g. Dick Van Dyke and Bewitched), I think it added a layer of irony. The bosses were selfish and unreasonable men, but everyone was on a first-name basis.

      • Lee Says:

        One more reason was to differentiate relationships. On Burke’s Law, for example, Tim says “Captain Burke,” but Les always calls him “Amos.” Both have friendly relationships with him, but the different forms of address illustrate that they weren’t exactly the same.

      • Stephen Bowie Says:

        Yeah, all of that seems pretty astute.

        This point caught my attention during my last round of Hawaii Five-O because McGarrett is such a hardass — you’d expect them to address him by his title, or even “sir.” It’s really shrewd that the show has the cops call him Steve, even as they’re otherwise kissing his ass and literally jumping every time Lord barks an order. Not only does it suggest a personal basis for the cops’ loyalty, but it marks McGarrett’s ego as professional rather than personal (i.e., he’s a stickler for results but indifferent to formality).

  6. Mike Cline Says:

    Della Street and Paul Drake called lawyer Mason “Perry.”

  7. Stephen Bowie Says:

    So basically everybody called the boss by his or her first name on TV in the 50s-60s. I stand corrected.

    Was it that way in real life, though? Because the nasty old ladies at my local post office still go by “Mrs.” (or more often “Miss”) So-and-So.

    • D.B. McWeeberton Says:

      But are there any 50s-70s doctor shows where the docs are ever addressed by their first names by subordinates? I would bet not.

    • Lee Says:

      Very interesting question. I grew up in the late ’70s and ’80s and my parents only used first names at work. But maybe that was just a post-McGarrett world…

      Also, don’t yield the larger point so easily. I think a lot of other early television shows featured more formal workplace address.


      • We probably aren’t factoring in gender into the equation. Connie Brooks (Eve Arden) called her boyfriend Philip Boynton (Robert Rockwell) “Mr. Boynton” even when they weren’t at Madison High (right out of a Jane Austen novel). (And “Mr. Conklin” was always that.)

        Also, I don’t recall Private Secretary’s Susie McNamara (Ann Sothern) ever referring to her boss Peter Sands (Don Porter) by his first name.

  8. Mike Doran Says:

    Unless I’m remembering wrong, Steve McGarrett didn’t have a rank as such; he was simply in charge of Five-O by fiat of the Governor.His aides were hand-picked, probably from people he’d worked with before in other areas; they came from a friendship slot, and were likely on a first-name basis with McGarrett long before Five-O.

    On The FBI, Inspector Erskine always addressed Arthur Ward, his nominal superior, as ‘Arthur'; they were contemporaries, so that made sense. Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover, when referenced at all, was always ‘The Director'; this was real-life Bureau protocol.

    Finally:
    Della Street and Paul Drake addressed Perry Mason as ‘Perry’ as far back as the ’30s, in the original books.
    In real life, people who worked for Erle Stanley Gardner called him ‘Uncle Erle'; make of that whatever you will.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      I would’ve sworn that McGarrett was a captain, but I guess I’m wrong about that, too. Wikipedia says his rank was lieutenant, which doesn’t sound right, either. My memory is that whenever he was introduced by his title, it was usually “Detective McGarrett.”

      That’s right about Lew Erskine calling his boss Arthur, but does anyone remember how Erskine’s subordinates (or the regional FBI liaisons) addressed him? Did Stephen Brooks and William Reynolds call him Lew?

      I’m actually thinking now that I may have this backwards, and that it may be more common — now that American police forces have a more paramilitary structure and attitude — for the cops on shows like Law & Order to use “lieutenant” or “captain” to address their superiors.

      • D.B. McWeeberton Says:

        I know Stephen Brooks’ character called him Lew–of course, he was engaged to his daughter until she (and their relationship) was written out of the show.

  9. Toby Says:

    Not sure about your question. I just wanna thank you for a picture of McGarrett. That’s thought enough for me.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Yeah, you got me: I was really just looking for an excuse to post that screen grab. Secure in his masculinity, was The Lord….

      • Vrinda Says:

        Stephen, I know you don’t mean any harm, but referring to Jack as “The Lord” is very offensive. It enforces that rumor that Jack was bullying and controlling people on the set, which is not true.

  10. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    Barney Fife called his boss “Anj.”

  11. Larry Granberry Says:

    If you want to go WAY back, Clark Kent and Lois Lane on the old “Adventures of Superman,” always called Perry White by his first name.

    Another example – Alan Brady on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Always called Alan by his staff.

    • D.B. McWeeberton Says:

      But Jimmy Olsen didn’t, did he?

      • Larry Granberry Says:

        I think he always called him “Chief.”

      • Mark Speck Says:

        Not sure what Jimmy called Perry White, but he always referred to Clark as ‘Mr. Kent’ and Lois as ‘Miss Lane’.

        Looks like another reason to break down and finally get The Adventures of Superman on DVD…LOL!!

  12. Mark Speck Says:

    I believe McGarrett’s proper title is ‘Commander’, which is what Governor Denning calls him in the new Five-O.

    Of course, there was McGarrett’s classic response to a villain who called him a lousy cop: ‘Don’t you EVER call me cop…the name is McGarrett and the first name is Mister!’

    In one episode, “A Sentence to Steal”, McGarrett had to set an undercover cop straight about how to address him…I forget what the guy, played by Rudy Ramos, called him, but McGarrett told him to address him as ‘Steve’ or ‘McGarrett’, but not by the improper name that he used.

    As for the FBI, yes, both Stephen Brooks and William Reynolds referred to Erskine as Lew, but Shelly Novack, his last-season partner, always called him Inspector.

    Just thought of a couple more…Howard Duff and Ben Alexander on Felony Squad more often than not addressed the Captain as Frank (Captain Nye, played by Frank Maxwell) or Ed (Captain Franks, played by Barney Phillips).

    EVERYBODY on Dan August called Chief Untermeyer (Richard Anderson) by his first name, George!

    And both of Lt. Mike Stone’s partners on Streets of San Francisco were on a first-name basis with him.

  13. Mark Speck Says:

    And here’s one I’m surprised you didn’t think of, Stephen…Ben Gazzara’s Arrest & Trial character referred to Lt. Bone (Noah Keen) by his first name, Carl!

  14. Mark Speck Says:

    Sorry to be a pain, but I thought of one more…Kojak always called his boss, Lt. McNeil, by his first name, which I believe was Frank.


  15. Thought? What thought? I can’t read anything because I am so mesmerized by that photo.

  16. Paul Nuthall Says:

    I think there’s a touch of the urban legend about this one. In the 1950s Dragnet, other cops refer to Sgt. Friday as Joe, and Friday even addresses Chief of Police Brown as ‘Thad’ (his first name) in some episodes and the 1954 movie.


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