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Merrill Lynch Advisor (Spring 2004)

"Aloha, Hawaii — How Hawaii Five-O's James MacArthur found help booking a secure financial future"

by Matthew Fenton

In 1958, after Harvard sophomore James MacArthur had finished the second of five films for the Walt Disney Studio — among other roles, he played Fritz in The Swiss Family Robinson and David in Kidnapped — the studio’s avuncular founder advised the young star to invest in Disney stock. “So I did,” remembers MacArthur, who is now 66. “And three years later, when it had run up a few dollars, I sold it.” MacArthur laughs ruefully, contemplating the fortune that might have been.

Soon after, MacArthur left Harvard to pursue an acting career full time. And ever since he has relied on a professional advisor to make investment decisions. In 1980, as Hawaii Five-O — the TV series that brought MacArthur fame for his role as detective Danny Williams, and the phrase, “Book ‘em, Danno” — was nearing its end, MacArthur searched for a firm he could trust in the long term. “I had been with a company that seemed to change its name every six months,” he remembers. “So when my broker retired, I looked elsewhere.”

“For a couple of years,” MacArthur remembers, “Scott Swift, a Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor in Reading, Pa., had been managing an account for an old friend of mine. I was already interested in the firm, because my mother had been godmother to Anne Regan,” wife of former Merrill Lynch Chairman Donald Regan. In fact, MacArthur later realized that he and Swift had met years earlier, when Swift played football for the University of Hawaii and MacArthur was filming Five-O. “I was in a store a few days after a game in which I had been injured,” Swift recalls, “and one of the biggest celebrities in Hawaii asked me how I was doing.”

“We must have been doing something right,” MacArthur says of Hawaii Five-O, still the longest-running police drama in television history. “Those were some of the best years of what has been a very good life.”

MacArthur grew up far from Hollywood, in Nyack, N.Y., on an estate overlooking the Hudson Valley with his adoptive parents Charles MacArthur, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and playwright, and Helen Hayes, the legendary “first lady of the American theater.” Among frequent guests to the estate — which was called Pretty Penny “because my father said that’s what it had cost” — was his uncle John D. MacArthur, the insurance magnate whose name, along with that of his wife, Catherine, graces the foundation they started, famous for the MacArthur “genius” grants and its support of public broadcasting.

But with his uncle’s fortune going to charity, and with parents who “weren’t interested in the mechanics of finance,” MacArthur knew, even as a young man, that he would have to plan for his own future. “By the time I met Scott,” he recalls, “I had accumulated some capital and was at an age at which I was interested in generating income. But even though I was risk averse, I was interested in growth stocks. And I had an old-fashioned idea that dividends were a good thing.” For Swift, that meant a portfolio made up of both value and growth stocks, combined with a variety of fixed-income investments. “That way,” MacArthur explains, “I have limited exposure to any one investment.”

One measure of success, of course, is the numbers. But another gauge is the relationship that Swift and MacArthur have built. The two speak once a week, “though sometimes a lot more,” says MacArthur. And he runs everything by Swift, even decisions that have nothing to do with investments, like buying a new car.

Three of MacArthur’s adult children now have accounts with Swift (the fourth is invested in real estate and “doesn’t want to hear about stocks,” MacArthur says), as do six of his grandchildren. “When Scott and I talk about the future, we’re talking about me, my children and their families,” he says.” It’s the kind of relationship and the kind of advice I can’t put a price tag on.”

James MacArthur

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