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Hong Kong TV Times (18-24 June 1976)

"MacArthur's Movable Feast: Going First Class All the Way"

Story by Frederick King Poole - Pictures by Hugh Van Es

Most people who attain limited celebrity become instant boors. There have been actors in Hongkong recently who won’t go into public without putting on their make-up. And there are amateurs around town who are constantly preening and waving to non-existent fans.

And so it was fascinating to observe how a real celebrity, with a witty perspective on his position and a compassionate empathy with his admirers, can handle real adoring throngs.

James MacArthur, best known for what may be the least of his accomplishments -- he is the handsome cop, Danny Williams, on Hawaii Five-O -- was in town to shoot a curious episode about how Hawaii’s totally fictitious state police strike unit thwarts a plot to subvert China. Midway through the shooting, the cast had a Saturday off. For MacArthur, who had been here before as a civilian, it was a day in the life of an old Far Eastern hand.

With one overriding exception: he has such a following in the Colony that he is one of the few people on earth who cannot blend into Hongkong’s weekend crowds.

The day began with breakfast, early for the locals but late for the visitors, at the Furama with Chun Kam Fong, Five-O’s super sleuth, Chin Ho, who is as celebrated here as MacArthur.

Other members of the party included MacArthur’s friend, the lovely Valerie Ransone, former CBS correspondent and Washington power broker, who was putting together the Far Eastern links in a new alternative radio service, The Information Network, of which she is president, principal shareholder, chief correspondent and board chairman. It also included the Dutch photographer, Hugh Van Es, who speaks American English with the tones of a Five-O villain.

There were the usual polite tourists coming over to the table to get autographs, and say what a happy surprise it was to have Five-O in town to relieve the tedium of sight-seeing and watch-buying. A crowd assembled on the Furama steps while Van Es took mug shots of Kam Fong, then Kam went his mysterious way while the rest of the group walked over to the Star Ferry.

“What the hell,” said MacArthur, “let’s go first class.”

On the ride over it seemed as if there were no more obtrusive stares than usual for a party of foreign devils, but on the Kowloon side Van Es had his cameras out and it seemed as if a very large percentage of the world’s one billion Chinese had assembled to have their pictures taken surrounding MacArthur, who is known here by the name “Tang Lee,” which means “the Prophet.”

The first stop was a camera store, where the group watched Valerie buy a Pentax, a Sony tape recorder, a Polaroid ... She was still buying things while the owner and his staff were lining up to get into Van Es photos with the Prophet, and I was getting a deep backgrounder on the afternoon’s Happy Valley race meeting from an apparently knowledgeable gentleman from Kuala Lumpur.

Next, a fast dash up to Lindy’s. MacArthur, Harvard ‘60, had for many years been frequenting significant delicatessens from New York to Los Angeles. Lindy’s, he pronounced, had it right.

He somehow pulled off the feat of graciously taking care of the fans who came over without losing the train of the conversation. The talk was good. MacArthur is, among many other things, an art collector and a world traveller who operates in uncharted terrain with Land Rovers. For a time he was in Vietnam under combat conditions.

From Lindy’s it was a short walk through streets littered with fans to a shoe store on Caernarvon Road. Valerie needed hand-made shoes. The owners needed autographs.

One reason MacArthur can carry off the fan scene -- strong character aside -- is that he has been around it all his life. He has been on the stage since he was five years old <sic>. His father was the playwright Charles MacArthur, co-author of Front Page, his mother is Helen Hayes. While an underclassman at college he was making more than his professors by working in Disney films during the summer holidays.

Shoes led to shirts. With the skill of a Nepali sherpa, MacArthur was leading the party through the maize of Mirador Mansion to a long lost tailor he had discovered, much in the manner of Stanley, the previous week. With considerably more style than the missionary Livingston would have shown, the tailor greeted the party with much needed cold beers.

MacArthur remarked that the tailor, whose past experience was apparently with men’s wear and was now making the most of fitting Valerie with a sexy pink blouse, had “the fine hands of a surgeon.”

The tailor, to everyone’s happy surprise, just happened to have a very good friend in the jewelry business.

It was actually ten very good friends, all lined up behind a counter with eyepieces, somehow giving the impression they were the last rat-faced men doing business in Beirut. Valerie was about to purchase a ring with 38 different colours of jade when it suddenly occurred to everyone that something was off here. This was the only stop of the day where the Prophet had not been recognized.
So the party made a run for it, and found sanctuary in the basement of the Sheraton at the excellent art gallery run by the talented Tang sisters (no relation) -- who between wrapping prints for Valerie had their pictures taken with MacArthur.

It had been noticed that during the run from the jeweller’s Valerie was limping. Unlikely as it sounds for such a beautiful and healthy young lady, she seemed to be suffering from the gout. The Tang sisters produced a vial of snake ointment. No charge.

Because there was now a wounded member, the party chose the easiest course and betook itself to the bar of the Sheraton. When Tang Lee showed up, the Sheraton turned on the charm en masse, and the service was up to the multinational best.

MacArthur was recounting a trip into the heart of Africa. Then he was saying something about several “late, great Mrs. MacArthurs.” Valerie was saying something about breeding politicians. MacArthur was requesting the pick of the litter.

And so the party was on the run again. The sun was low. Adoring fans looked ominous. It had been a long day. It was a toss-up whether to take a taxi through the harbour tunnel back to the Furama or use an ambulance.

MacArthur was last heard saying, “Darling, please be careful where you apply the snake ointment.”

James MacArthur, Kam Fong, David Tomlinson

James MacArthur

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