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TVue One (13 July 1969)

"Helen Hayes' Boy Becomes His Own Man"

by Harvey Paek

James MacArthur, a young actor who starred in some major Walt Disney motion pictures, seems to be taking a backward step as far as his career is concerned by accepting second billing to Jack Lord in CBS’ on-location police series Hawaii Five-O.

MacArthur concedes this possibility, but points out that he was signed for the series after the pilot was made and the sale to the network completed so he had very little bargaining leverage on billing. In addition, he notes, when the role of Danny Williams came along, coupled with the suggestion that he leave Hollywood and move to Hawaii for many months of the year. Jim had just been through a divorce and was psychologically ready to accept anything which might get him out of town during the customary period of adjustment.

“I don’t really consider the second billing a comedown,” smiled Jim.

“After an actor has done a few years of films for Disney the chance to play a cop is a wonderful opportunity to overhaul the image. After all, I’m getting to old to be a wide-eyed juvenile in Spencer’s Mountain or films like it.”

We met with James MacArthur one morning during his brief visit to New York City. MacArthur, the son of actress Helen Hayes and the late newspaperman playwright Charles MacArthur, was raised in nearby Nyack, New York, and he had taken a brief side trip to visit with the nurse who had helped raise him and many old friends he still has in the Nyack area.

“I really get a kick out of going back,” he explained. “I guess I still consider Nyack home.”

The social life on Hawaii isn’t bad, says MacArthur, what with a new cargo of female tourists checking in every weekend.

“Of course you can only do so much surfing and swimming, but the show itself keeps me so busy I don’t have that much time for relaxation. I think when you’re putting in the hours required for a TV series it doesn’t matter where you’re living ... it’s a rough routine. We made Swiss Family Robinson in Jamaica <sic> but hardly a part of the island where visitors go voluntarily.”

At the moment the actor’s salary is being supplemented by an unexpected windfall. Some years ago his mother assigned him all royalties from his father’s plays and an extremely successful revival of the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur comedy-drama The Front Page is currently the best thing on Broadway and playing to packed houses.

The production is grossing $45,000 a week and the standard author’s royalty is 10 percent.

“I’m only sorry I won’t get a chance to see it,” confessed the actor who was virtually between planes. “Right now I’m negotiating to lease the TV rights to another one of their plays, Twentieth Century to Italian television.”

When he first came upon the TV scene as the star of a highly regarded live drama Deal a Blow directed by John Frankeheimer back in the mid-fifties, people in the business hailed James MacArthur as a second generation theatrical great. It may have been a premature evaluation and too much for a young actor to live with but now, as the co-star of a series filmed under the Hawaii sun, MacArthur may be finding his own niche in the business and will be known as a competent actor and not as somebody’s little boy.

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