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Photoplay (June 1971)

"Helen Hayes Discusses: How We Taught Our Son to Love"

By Fredda Dudley Balling

When Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur decided to adopt a child, they agreed that the youngster should be brought up without prejudice -- that he should be taught each individual with whom he would come in contact during the rest of his life, is of value. In his presence they would never criticize or denigrate another person.

Jimmie’s friendships began early. Agnes Moorehead’s account of her first meeting him bears repeating. Helen Hayes met her at the door, right forefinger across lips to signal quiet. “Come see what we’ve got,” Miss Hayes whispered excitedly, leading the way to the newly equipped nursery. “He’s just four days old! <sic>”

Miss Moorehead looked, and Jimmie looked right back, obviously enchanted by Miss Moorehead’s magnificent head of titian hair. “May I hold him?” she whispered. Permission granted, Miss Moorehead not only held him, she changed his three-cornered trousers -- a fact about which she kids him to this day.

From so intimate a beginning, it is no wonder that Jimmie grew up regarding “Aunt Agnes” as one of the most delightful, affectionate, and amusing human beings in the world. Awe never entered into their relationship, a fact that astounds those who regard Miss Moorehead as a goddess of the theatre.

“Aunt Agnes” was only one of the many surrogate relatives. There was “Aunt Kit” (Katherine Cornell), “Uncle Cary, Uncle Jerry, Uncle Clark, Uncle Gary, Uncle Ben, and Uncle Jimmie” (Grant, Jerome Kern, Gable, Cooper, Hecht, and Stewart). He had friends.

“Why do you have to leave me every day?” he once asked Mom.

“Because I have to go to work,” she answered off-handedly. She went on to explain that everyone who was well and strong must work. Work was a blessing that wise people enjoyed. He, too, would work when he was ready, and that was the crux: doing a good job with a happy heart.

One of Jimmie MacArthur’s close friends describes him as the most totally unpretentious man who ever grew up in the midst of three decades of theatrical colossi. “He hasn’t a grain of star-itis in his system,” is the friend’s assessment.

He adds, “Today you hear a lot about democracy in action, about accepting every individual on the basis of human worth ... Jimmie seems a little puzzled by the furor. As far as he’s concerned, there’s nothing novel in the idea.”

True, the MacArthurs had the advantage of ideal circumstances in bringing up Jimmie, but they gave him something else -- love and respect for humanity.

James MacArthur, Helen Hayes

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