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Midweek Magazine (9 September 1987)

"Destined to be 'Danno' Forever"

by Eddie Sherman and Cheryl Deep

“Book ‘em, Danno.”

Danno hasn’t booked any new criminals in years, but mention the TV series Hawaii Five-O to most people and that’s the line they’ll recite. It’s a badge James MacArthur -- the real life Dan Williams -- wears with good humor.

This is fortunate, since he’s not likely to shake it. The show’s weekly syndication audience is now a whopping 100 million worldwide, and “Book ‘em, Danno” sticks to MacArthur like chewing gum to a shoe.

“I don’t think anyone connected with Five-O believed the show would last as long as it did,” the 49-year-old MacArthur says. “It is probably one of the three longest running series in the history of TV.”

What was the magic of Hawaii Five-O? The girls wore miniskirts, the guys wore flower print bell bottoms. A distinctly ‘70s flavor floats through the episodes, like smoke from a hash pipe. Yet viewers don’t seem to mind the time warp -- as long as good keep triumphing over evil.

“Nobody really knows what makes a hit TV show,” MacArthur explains between sets of tennis at the Diamond Head courts near his home. “In the case of Five-O, I believe it was a combination of many ingredients -- timing, chemistry, Hawaii.”

MacArthur credits the “morality play” aspects of the series for its longevity. Producer Leonard Freeman takes laurels for the show’s creation. “He was a writer,” MacArthur says. “He came up with solid stories. We were living in a tumultuous time, when the world was upside down. Freeman produced a show that was black and white, the good guys versus the bad guys.

“And we had that chemistry.”

Leonard Freeman died in 1974. Hawaii Five-O lived. For 11 years, MacArthur spent most of his time filming here. When the show went off the air in 1980, he used his new-found free time to stretch his acting wings, soaring again into movies, Broadway and community theater.

Meanwhile, reruns of Five-O continue wowing audiences around the world.

MacArthur has watched himself play Dan Williams (with someone else’s voice) in Ecuador, Argentina, Turkey, China, and Japan.

“I just can’t believe how multi-lingual I am,” he says (in English). “You should hear the guy who dubs me in Japan. I like him the most. He has a high squeaky voice.

Travel is a MacArthur hobby and not just to watch Five-O reruns in foreign hotel rooms. He has circled the globe a few times, with stops in Russia, China, South America, Europe, and Australia. Airplanes aren’t always his preferred means of transportation. He once drove a Land Rover from London to South Africa, a grueling journey of five months and 18,000 miles.

Less exotic trips fall in the business rather than pleasure category. MacArthur is known among his peers as a sharp businessman with a nose for opportunity, an opinion his Harvard education would support. “I own real estate here and in Florida,” he says, “to grow soy beans. I just sold a farm in Missouri, and I own a ski lodge in Colorado with some Honolulu partners.”

As a part-time Oahu resident, MacArthur and his family live here about one half of the year. He is married to former golf pro Helen Duntz and they have a 22-month-old son, Jamie.

“I love being a father again,” MacArthur says. “Sure helps keep you young.” MacArthur’s two other children, from his first marriage, are in their 20s.

MacArthur and Duntz enjoy tennis and golf. “She’s even taught me a few things about golf,” MacArthur says of his wife. His athletic abilities surface on the tennis court and he often plays in tennis tournaments to raise money for charities.

Duntz’ tips may improve his golf swing, but MacArthur learned theater from his parents. His mother is actress Helen Hayes, acclaimed as the “First Lady of the American Theatre.” His father was playwright Charles MacArthur, who wrote The Front Page, a spoof of 1920s yellow journalism. The comedy/murder mystery became the most successful of Charles’ string of Broadway hits.

When his father died, James inherited the rights to the play, a comfortable income.

But MacArthur doesn’t keep all the profits. “I give a percentage of the earnings to the Motion Picture Home,” he says simply. The charity helps needy, retired actors meet their expenses, some of whom MacArthur has worked with in his long line of movie and TV appearances. His credits include Battle of the Bulge, Hang ‘Em High, The Untouchables, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Alcatraz, and even guest appearances on Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

“Many opportunities have come my way,” MacArthur admits. “But it’s hard to sustain a successful acting career today. When the major studios flourished many years ago, an actor was groomed, developed, and worked frequently at his craft. The studios really took care of their actors.

“Today,” he continues, “actors are very much on their own.”

MacArthur may be on his own, but with a playwright father and an actress mother, theater becomes, in MacArthur’s words, “the family business.”

“I grew up in it,” he says matter-of-factly. “I took it for granted that this was what the family worked at.” As a youngster, it was sometimes hard work -- with little coddling. His first acting job was in the play The Corn is Green. The 8-year-old <sic> MacArthur was greener than the corn.

From Broadway baby to talented teen, he worked along the Great White Way and in rural summer stock. One of his long-running Broadway hits was Life With Father. Summer theater, though, stretched his muscles as much as his imagination. He often “acted” as set painter, lighting director, and even parking lot attendant, learning the family business from the asphalt up.

Born into theater, with greasepaint running through his veins, MacArthur still listens when stage shows call. “Every once in a while, I have to get back to my roots,” he says. The root he unearthed this summer was the classic Arsenic and Old Lace. MacArthur is starring int he play and touring the Mainland with it.

When Arsenic’s final curtain falls, he’ll hop a ship to Mexico with Hayes. “I’ll be taking my mother on a cruise through the Panama Canal, starting from Fort Lauderdale,” he says. “We’ll get off the ship in Acapulco and drive to the little town of Cuernavaca, where she has had a home for 25 years.”

When he says adios to Mexico, MacArthur will return to his home on Oahu, an island he first saw on his way to Vietnam in 1968, around the time of the Tet Offensive. MacArthur’s job then was to entertain troups for the USO, lifting the morale of GIs at the Cambodian border.

He had no lingering first impression of the Island’s beauty from that brief layover. It was too dark. The transport landed at 1 a.m. and took off at sunrise.

And MacArthur bid Hawaii aloha, for what he thought might be forever.

Leonard Freeman thought otherwise.

“A couple of months after I returned from Vietnam, I had a call from Leonard asking if I’d be interested in playing Dan Williams in the series Hawaii Five-O,” MacArthur says. “Frankly, it was just a good time for me to come to Hawaii. I had just gotten divorced and I wanted to get away.”

Here was a chance to see Hawaii from sunup to sundown. “I thought even if the show only lasted a year, it would be fun,” he says. “I had no idea it would run for 12 years. Or that now, 20 years later, I’d still be in Hawaii, even part time.”

Hawaii’s full-time resident from the same production is Jack Lord, who played the show’s central character Steve McGarrett. “Jack was perfect as McGarrett,” MacArthur says, and the two have kept in touch over the years. Most recently they have been discussing Lord’s current project, a Hawaii Five-O movie of the week.

“He asked if I’d like to do it,” MacArthur says. “Of course the answer was yes. I understand CBS has approved the project. Now we just have to find the right script.”

Whatever the rest of the script says, television history has already written the closing line.

“Book ‘em, Danno.”

James MacArthur on cover of Midweek Magazine

James MacArthur, Jamie MacArthur, H.B. MacArthur

James MacArthur, Jamie MacArthur, H.B. MacArthur

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