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Ashtabula Star-Beacon (4 February 2003)

"Actor enjoys reading, even while pumping gas"

by Chris Foreman

James MacArthur is such a voracious reader he says he keeps books in the back of his car so he has something to do while he’s getting gas.

“My idea of going to hell is somewhere where there are no books,” the 65 year-old actor told an audience of about 180 at Edgewood High School Monday night.

With such an affinity for reading, MacArthur perfectly fit into an initiative by the public libraries in Ashtabula and Trumbull counties encouraging residents to read Conrad Richter’s The Light in the Forest.

MacArthur, who starred as True Son/Johnny Butler in the 1958 Walt Disney film adaptation, charmed a crowd sprinkled with readers of all ages with stories from the film set and his acting projects afterward, including a 12 year <sic> stint on Hawaii Five-O.

Set in the late 18th century, Forest follows a young man who had been kidnapped by Indians as a baby and raised as the son of a chief. Despite becoming a respected member of the tribe, True Son is returned to his biological parents according to the conditions of a treaty.

Although he described Richter’s novel as sobering, MacArthur said he doesn’t repudiate the movie for altering intricate parts of the book and adding two love stories.

“Walt Disney was not a merchant of sadness,” said the actor, who appeared in four <sic> Disney films.

MacArthur began the Forest shoot as a 19-year-old history major at Harvard, earning the role after impressing entertainment mogul Walt Disney with his work in The Young Stranger. MacArthur reported he has maintained close relationships with much of the cast, but found returning to school a little awkward.

“Try getting a date in 1957 sporting a mohawk,” MacArthur said, joking “...I went back to Harvard with a bald head. It was better than a mohawk. That would have really got them.”

In a question session afterward, many asked about MacArthur’s famous household, being that he was adopted by Charles MacArthur and Helen Hayes.

“She was a pillar of strength for me all my life,” MacArthur said of his mother, who is known as “the first lady of the American theater.” “I think about her constantly.”

James MacArthur

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