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Stars and Stripes (December 1971)

"Hawaii 5-0's MacArthur on the Road: This Air Force Life Is Pretty Wild"

By Mary Ann Reese

“Hey, aren’t you a film star?” asked the little English lady serving tea to several dozen U.S. airmen awaiting a certain flight from London to Wiesbaden.

Hawaii 5-0, isn’t it? I used to watch your show.”

“Used to? Why don’t you watch it any more?” asked James MacArthur, feigning indignation. The handsome, blue-eyed, 33-year-old player on the cops-and-robbers television program that now boasts viewers in 36 countries autographed a scrap of paper which she promised to frame.

“I’ve never met a film star before,” she sighed, blushing slightly.

“Are you somebody?” she asked, peering at MacArthur’s companion, who was hiding behind dark glasses which concealed the ravages of four days of intercontinental travel -- U.S. Air Force style.

The companion tried to pass himself off as Paul Newman, but the tea lady wasn’t fooled. As it turned out, it was Edward S. Shaw, whose claims to fame include naming 100 flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream, and getting $2,000 in annual residual checks for movies in which he never appeared. He also produced Richard Burton’s movie Hammersmith Is Out.

Fatigue that only four days of flying, traveling and partying can bring dulled the senses and there was some argument about what day it was. Then there was the question of what town it was.

“This Air Force life is pretty wild,” mused MacArthur. “I’ve had two hours sleep in four days -- and I can’t remember when I ate last. But it sure is fun.”

He hopped a Military Airlift Command flight from Honolulu, the day his fourth season in the Hawaii series ended. Forty hours later, after stops at Rota, Spain, and Frankfurt, he arrived in London to judge four plays in the final round of the first USAFE drama festival.

MacArthur and Shaw (they call themselves the dynamic duo) are sharing the judging responsibilities with USAFE recreation director Louis Smith, of Wiesbaden. They watched the first production, Mary, Mary, at Bentwaters, England.

They were also to judge Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? staged by the Wiesbaden American theater group, T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party at Karamursel, Turkey, and Semi-Detached by David Turner at Torrejon, Spain.

On December 18 they will announce the USAFE Oscar awards, presenting the top honors themselves.

“We were looking for a link between the theater and the younger generation - somebody well known,” said Smith, explaining how MacArthur was picked for the critic’s seat. “We’re making a concerted effort to improve USAFE’s recreational program -- and feel the drama clubs deserve some recognition.”

Although this was the first USAFE event of its kind, Smith hopes it will become an annual event.

Meanwhile, it had been a long day’s night for MacArthur, who was nearly asleep on his feet.

A post-theater party with the Bentwaters thespians didn’t break up until midnight, then there was the long, foggy drive to London. The next morning there was barely enough time to rush to Piccadilly and buy a new silver Jaguar with red interior (“It’s a discount if you show up in person, you know”).

At Bentwaters there was much of the first-night butterflies as the curtain opened on Mary, Mary.

“It’s not often I’ve sat in the critic’s seat,” MacArthur told the cast of the play, which won over two other U.K. productions. The judges and the players - David Saults, Lois Wehmeyer, Karl Wullschlager, Earl Bullock and Kay Titmas - and director Kathleen Egan, sipped beers and nibbled stuffed eggs. They were joined by English little theater producers from nearly Felixstowe.

MacArthur praised the production but suggested the lighting could be improved and Shaw was “very impressed” with the kissing scenes -- “amateurs usually screw up the kissing scenes.”

MacArthur comes on in person like he does in his role as detective for the Hawaiian police force -- calm, cool, not without sex appeal and almost embarrassingly polite.

He must have been asked “How’s your mother?” at least two dozen times during the evening, but he always kept his answers polite until he finally ventured one, “Just fine. How’s yours?”

His mother is the distinguished 71-year-old stage actress Helen Hayes, whom he will visit in New York City for Christmas.

“She still keeps busy,” says her curly-haired, blond son. “Now she’s working on a television production of Harvey with James Stewart.”

MacArthur, whose films include The Interns, Spencer’s Mountain and Battle of the Bulge claims living in Hawaii has changed his life.
He’s settling down eight months of the year in sun-drenched Honolulu, and the rest of the time traveling and skiing. He has lived in Hawaii four years -- longer than he has stayed anywhere in a long time.

“I’ve started visiting museums and galleries these days, and I’m teaching myself a lot about art. I do some studying at the Honolulu Academy.”

He belongs to a club, plays tennis, and has a circle of friends he says he will be sorry to leave one day. “But being an actor, I have to follow the moon. I’m nomadic anyway.”

Isn’t he tired of his detective role after four years?

“No. It’s a steady income. I’ll have to reevaluate what I’ll do after next season when my contract ends. But it’s very pleasant.”

Hawaii 5-0 is remarkable because it is the last of the old-fashioned cops and robbers films. It’s played with the straight Jack Webb formula of long gone whodunits. Yet its appeal is international, spreading to Formosa, Japan, Germany, Spain and countries in South America.

“We’d fall on our face if we tried to do Mission Impossible,” said MacArthur.

He attributes part of the international success of the show to the fact it is set in Hawaii -- “That’s a magic word -- like Disney.”

The cast works closely with the Honolulu police, and all blue-suiters in the TV series are actual cops who work as actors on their days off.

“You want to hear about my fantastic career?” ventures Shaw, 33, who gets nervous if he has to stay quiet too long. He was a veteran of 40 TV shows and 10 motion pictures before he declared himself a bad actor and turned to other pursuits -- like public relations and advertising.

He gives a hilarious impersonation of his career -- the actor who trembles at the thought of a camera, freezes in the bright lights, pleads with script writers to cut his lines.

“I’m so bad I’ve been cut out of more movies than most actors have been in. I was in Critics Choice and my mother was so disappointed because they destroyed all the film I was on. I was even cut out of PT109 and all I had to do was be a radar operator.

“I still collect residual checks on both. They’re a painful reminder that I can’t act.

“Oh, well, there’s always the ice cream.”

To show its appreciation, the company whose flavors he christened is giving Shaw 40 three-gallon tubs of ice cream for Christmas.

“But I can’t eat them,” he sobbed, patting his ample waistline. “I’m on a diet.”

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