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Playboy (January 1984)

"Father Knows Best"

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Playboy,the children of several famous men (including Ronald Reagan, Henry Fonda, Walter Cronkite, and Gerald Ford) were asked to share advice or anecdotes about their fathers.

James MacArthur (son of Charles MacArthur, co-author of The Front Page): I can think of one piece of advice he gave me, but it’s rather frivolous. When I was about 18, I had done a TV show, Climax. It had been directed by John Frankenheimer, and the following year, a movie was made out of it that won an award at a European film festival. It was a good show and got a lot of good reviews. But there was one that wasn’t so good. I said to my father, “Gee, it’s funny that all the other reviews are so good and this one isn’t. I think I should write a letter and complain.”

He looked at me and said, “Son, never get into a peeing contest with a skunk.”

He was not the kind of father to take you on a fishing trip. If he couldn’t sleep, he’d wake me up at one a.m. and we’d sit up talking until around four. When I was about 11 years old and through with school for the summer, my father said, “How would you like to go to New Mexico and live on a ranch?” We lived in New York and, of course, I thought that sounded great.

Ten days later, I got on a plane -- one of those milk-run jobs and a 15-hour flight. We stopped in every little town between New York and New Mexico. We finally landed and I got off the plane. But there was nobody there to meet me. So I called my father: “I’m in New Mexico and no one came to pick me up.”

There was a long silence and then my father said, “Oh, my God. I forgot to tell them you were coming.”

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