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Hollywood Screen Parade (September 1963)

"My Mother Tried Psychology On Me ... Once"

By Jack Patton

James MacArthur said, and from the look on his face, you just knew it had ended in disaster, even before he went on. “I must have been about six or seven, and I was running around the lawn trying to hit the dog with a stick. I was doing this because we had a dog that every time they gave me a cookie, he’d come up behind me, this dog, and put his paws on me and send me sprawling. Then he’d eat the cookie. And he used to lie in wait for me to get a cookie. So he got my cookie one day and I got a stick and was running after him. Mother was sitting in this low chair sunning herself. And she said, ‘Don’t hit the dog. Hit me. I’m a bad mother.’ So I did! Right across the shins. And then she chased me around the house five or six times until she caught me. That was her one experiment in psychology.”

The subject came up when Jim was talking about his son, Charles.

“How to defeat your son psychologically,” he laughed. “That’s the big thing at the moment. He’s two. And it’s really a mental battle, more than a physical battle. You have to know when to be firm. You have to know when to be soft. You have to know when to let him do things. Of course, most of this is just ... I don’t know ... you play it by ear,” he decided. “Then you can notice if he’s beginning to get nervous. Like he went through one period when he had tantrums. For about a week, he’d have them. And we’d try to stop them by appeasing him, things like that. And then finally we decided the only thing to do was to let him have them. The next time he had one, he got on the floor screaming, and we just let him stay there. We watched television, did other things, walked around him, stepped over him, let him scream. Pretty soon he looked up and found nobody was paying any attention and that was the end of that. He never did it again.

“My son has a stubborn streak, which I know I have always had,” Jim said, when encouraged to compare little Charles’ early years to his own youth. “Like you say ‘Don’t touch that!’ And he puts his hand out and you take the object away. Then he looks you right straight in the eye and he very slowly takes his finger and puts it back on the object, like he’s challenging you. His hands get kind of red because every time he does it, I give him a slap on the hand.

“What kid isn’t reprimanded?” he laughed. “I was reprimanded ... for smoking. And, when I got hold of it, for drinking. You know. But there was never any one big traumatic experience. My earliest remembrance is walking out on a roof when I was three and my father spanking me very hard -- the only time I can ever remember of him really spanking me.”

Jim, born Dec. 8, 1937, is the son of actress Helen Hayes and the late newspaperman-playwright, Charles MacArthur. He was raised in an artistic environment, among creative people, and has been exposed to the theatre all his life.

“I never just said to myself, ‘I want to be an actor.’ I guess that being around it all of the time had the most influence on my decision, or rather my being an actor,” he said. “When I was young my parents kept me away from the theatre. Nevertheless, there were opportunities for walk-on parts and I made my acting debut at the age of eight, as a Welsh boy in The Corn is Green in a summer stock production at Olney, Maryland. But since more acting would have kept me away from school, this was discouraged.”

School for Jim was the Allen Stevenson School in New York and Solebury School in New Hope, Pa. At Solebury he played football for three years, captained the basketball team, and played second base on the baseball team. While there he also met the girl who later became an actress and his wife, Joyce B. Collins Bulifant. Jim also studied at Harvard University, where he majored in history, but left in his sophomore year.“I enjoyed my first year at Harvard very much,” he said. “But in the second year I suddenly realized that I didn’t know what direction I was going in. I thought it would be much better for me to quit then instead of sliding through for two more years.”By then he’d done summer stock and TV, Strike a Blow (CBS), his best TV role, was made into a movie in 1956, titled The Young Stranger, and starred Jim. Kidnapped, Third Man on the Mountain, Swiss Family Robinson and The Light in the Forest followed for Disney. Then came The Interns (Col.), currently gathering raves abroad, and Spencer’s Mountain (Warners). His To Be A Man, with Van Heflin, is yet to be released.

“The Interns was fun to make,” Jim said. “They might make a sequel to it, you know.”

It was bound to come up, the question of whether or not it’s an advantage for a young actor to have famous parents.

“Yes and no,” Jim said thoughtfully. “One advantage is you may get a chance before someone else in the beginning. A disadvantage is you may fall on your face harder than someone else. In all fairness, I would say it’s helped me, though my mother never actually used her influence and got me any jobs. There was naturally an interest in me when I started because I was the son of a famous actress. For any reason that people wanted to see me when I started -- this was definitely in my favor.”

Jim went to Paris when his mother starred there in Skin of Your Teeth.

“I was a very important member of the company,” he recalled. “I was in charge of making the thunder backstage on a pair of kettledrums!”

But making thunder or acting, Jim feels he’s unable to criticize his own work.

“I always find myself watching myself so much that I really don’t have time to evaluate my performance,” he said, adding: “To my way of thinking I have a long way to go before I can sit back and look at myself on the screen and say ‘That’s It!’”

Jim’s mother has her own way of offering him criticism or advice.

“Her approach is, well, say we go to see a picture of mine, and she says: ‘Well, you learned something that time, didn’t you?’

“The theater in New York is in bad shape,” Jim said, explaining his move to the Coast. “You get a play, and it might close out of town. There used to be TV, but now it’s out here in Hollywood. Besides, Joyce likes it here. Last time she came back from New York, she said she got claustrophobia. And it’s great for kids. I’ve bought a home in Tarzana, which is in the Valley section of Los Angeles.”

Would he tell us about it?

“You haven’t got enough tape,” he laughed, and plunged ahead.

“I’m now living in the most beautiful house in California. Naturally you have to be in love with a house to buy it, but we really both just went ahhhh when we saw this place. It’s not new; it’s 23 years old. The walls are two-feet thick stone. The floors are polished wood. It’s kind of like an English manor house. It has wisteria vine, magnolia and honeysuckle growing in the front patio. It has a little guest cottage, one room and a bath. The master bedroom is huge; has a fireplace. Charlie’s room has a fireplace. And the kitchen -- I’m not in it that much but my wife tells me it’s out of this world. It has a walk-in freezer, like a butcher store. This house is going to be there 50 years from now, and you know a lot of buildings that will be put up next year will be falling down. Mother came out to see it. She thinks I’m going to debtor’s prison!

“She’s been doing a two-man tour, back and forth across the United States for six or eight months. She and Maurice Evans in An Evening with Shakespeare.

“They’re playing one-night stands and split weeks. And they’re traveling in a bus. They got a big bus, took all the insides out and fit it up into two compartments. There’s a bedroom for her and her maid, and one for Maurice Evans and his valet or dresser. And there’s a living room section where you can read. It’s air-conditioned, the whole works. They’re supremely happy. They play one night in one town, get back in their bus and go to sleep and wake up in another town. Of course, they play complete weeks here and there in big cities. But Mom hasn’t done this kind of touring for a long time.”

Sometimes Jim’s a contradiction: “I have a very serious nature,” he says, then talks about the pet alligator he and his roommate kept at Harvard and walked in the Harvard yard -- “till the dean told us we couldn’t walk him any more.”

Always he’s honest, even to admitting that “downbeat foreign movies leave me cold,” that he gets stagefright “every opening night.”

There’s no doubting he’s where he belongs, where he wants to be.

“I act because I enjoy it. To me it’s work -- but it’s doing what you want to do.” That’s Jim MacArthur.

James MacArthur, Stefanie Powers

James MacArthur, Helen Hayes

Mimsy Farmer, James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur, Joyce Bulifant

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