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TV Picture Life (October 1971)

"James MacArthur's Rendezvous with Death"

By Bonnie Kinzlow

The sun’s warmth felt strong and reassuring to Jim MacArthur as he stretched his solidly built form on the sand. The ocean’s crashing against the reef was a welcomed indication that he was back again in the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaii Five-O was about to start filming for the new season, and Jim wanted to take a few hours to let the heat of the sun bake into his muscles -- before turning them back to the task of acting.

He and his bride Melody had spent a pleasant four months in their gracious hill-top home near Los Angeles. Jim had left Hawaii at the end of the production schedule with an avid hunger for the winter sports that would be available on the mainland.

Now, back on Hawaiian shores, with the memories of exciting ski weekends in his mind, he was glad to feel the warmth of the sun, its balmy effect on his sore muscles, glad the winter was over.

Jim MacArthur has always been a skier. His love for the slopes has taken him year after year to the various locations known for perfect ski conditions across the country -- even though Jim is aware of the fact that all the major studios don’t want their actors to participate in what could be very dangerous activities.

When he and Melody were dating, she quickly learned that if she was to keep up with Jim, she must maintain at all times an appreciation of snow and the recreational pastimes that go with it.

But winter sports nearly did Jim MacArthur in this year. As he lay stretched out in the sunshine, he could still feel the momentary fear that passed over him when he lost perspective between his love of skiing, love of ice-skating and his love of his profession.

In his mind, he relived the feeling of power that gripped him as he breezed down the shimmering white slopes, the wind reaching for his form ... but his skis too swift to let it catch him.

The sensations of speed and aloofness that came over him whenever he had executed a good run down a difficult slope made the whole day worthwhile.

And then he fell, tumbled, twisted. For a moment Jim was stunned.

The momentum of the fall and the shock it created seemed incredible at first. The wind was knocked out of him ... he could barely breathe.

Jim carefully tested his limbs to make certain nothing was broken. He sighed with relief as he discovered all his bones seemed in order and he was able to maneuver himself from the sprawled position on the hillside.

“Stiff? Oh, yes,” he told friends later. “I felt it the next day.” He also felt the effects of the fall for weeks to come. He had twisted his neck during that day, and even as he packed to return to work, the pain worried him. Why was it so persistent? And what would it mean if it didn’t disappear soon?

“That wasn’t bad enough,” sighed Jim later, telling friends about the malady. “Later, Melody and I were learning how to dance on ice skates. I fell down and really banged up my leg.”

As he boarded the plane for Hawaii, although he tried valiantly to disguise the pain, Jim still hobbled slightly from the accident.

It had been a bizarre fall. Jim and Melody had taken Jim’s son, Charlie skating at the ice rink not far from the MacArthur home in the San Fernando Valley.

“We’ve been taking him skating for a long time,” Jim explained.

“We all love it. But I’ve never been much good at skating backwards. I slipped.”

And he fell with a powerful thud on his hip bone. Bruised and in pain, he found that just packing to return to the Islands was a major task.

“I’m really a sight for sore eyes,” laughed the muscular actor.

“Between my neck and my leg, I’m kind of a mess.”

At that point, bride Melody had been trying to talk Jim into seeing a doctor, but he was convinced his muscles were merely bruised and would heal by themselves.

Jim’s mental anguish over the injuries must have paralleled those his body felt, for his role on Hawaii Five-O is an important part of his life and career. “I’d hate to do anything that would cause problems for the show,” he grinned.

Jim MacArthur has spent his life building a professional reputation for himself.

His acting debut was at age eight in a summer stock production in Olney, Maryland. In the twenty-three years since that thrilling moment on the small stage in Maryland, Jim has made impressive progress in all phases of acting - television, movies and the Broadway stage.

As most offspring of famous Hollywood celebrities will tell you, living down the family name -- or living up to it as in Jim’s case -- is a major undertaking.

Being the son of Helen Hayes may have made life a little easier in some ways for young actor Jim. In others, the road was only that much rockier.

“Let me tell you how tired I get of having ‘nepotism’ yelled at me,” one famous Hollywood offspring once said. “You have to work your head off just to prove that you are worth your wages. You have to bend over backwards just that much further to avoid the charge of nepotism. I really think it would be lovely just once to be able to check in to work, do the job like Joe Blow might do it and then go home. As it is, a good job isn’t good enough. You have to do a great job just to get people to finally realize that you are capable or talented, not just someone’s kid.”

Through roles in movies like The Interns, To Be A Man, and Spencer’s Mountain, Jim MacArthur gradually proved to the entertainment world he was in fact a good actor and was willing to work hard to make a place for himself in the industry already in such awe of his parents.

When Hawaii Five-O came along, it was an obvious opportunity for Jim to further the reputation he’d garnered. But, of course, there were a few set backs to the series, as well.

The star of the show was Jack Lord, and Lord has never been known for his shy, self-demeaning manner. At first, working with the seemingly gruff actor may have been strenuous for Jim and his cohorts on the show.

Eventually, however, all members of the cast managed to achieve a good, solid rapport, and everyone quickly attained a sense of respect for each other. The fear of the mighty Lord was soon dissipated.

Since that time the series has done nothing but good for Jim MacArthur. For one thing, it has given him the opportunity to put down roots in Hawaii, and while he claims it is the kind of place a person like himself could only live parttime, he still admits that life under the sun is “the healthiest life I know.”

Summers arrive and Jim’s son, Charlie, the product of Jim’s first marriage, moves in with the MacArthurs. Jim claims their memories of the weeks passed in the surf and on the beaches “are only the fondest of memories. It’s the kind of life you think you could only dream of.”

With Jim, Melody and Charlie, however, it is a reality.

Jim candidly admits that Hawaii Five-O made the whole situation possible. If he were questioned about it in depth, he would most likely also admit that his quiet years in Hawaii -- especially the first two -- gave him a sense of perspective that he badly needed at the time.

When the series went into its initial production season, Jim was muddling through a painful divorce from his first wife, actress Joyce Bulifant. Some people who knew James well felt that the strong sense of familial responsibility with which his own parents had reared him confused him. He could not fathom a divorce in his own marriage.

There was no question that he was bitter and disenchanted, and each day that passed for him in the rambling New England-style home perched atop a sloping green hill was a painful experience.

The opportunity to head for Hawaii, to bury himself in work during the day and in the wonders of the Island paradise in the evenings only helped soothe the ache.

As the months went by, the throbbing in his heart gradually lessened and he regained a perspective on life. He came to realize that sometimes young people make mistakes by marrying in their youth and out of enthusiasm. As the individuals grow into mature human beings, especially if they are independent as both Jim and his former wife Joyce were, maturity can create a split right through what seemed to be a marriage made in heaven.

A devout family man with a burning sense of responsibility for his two children, tiny Mary and young Charles, Jim had a difficult time reconciling himself to the turmoil that had entered his life.

Only after months of self questioning and long walks, long meditation sessions with himself, was Jim able to quiet that inner turmoil.

Hawaii Five-O had given him innumerable opportunities -- he realized it so well. It had given him personal as well as professional uplifts that he had needed and wanted so badly.

Now, with the reminders of the winter’s accidents nagging at him from time to time as he busily packed for the annual return to the Islands, Jim made a vow. “I’m just going to have to be more careful next year. I can’t afford to be in pain while I’m shooting.”

Deep down inside, his conscience was undoubtedly saying, “I owe too much to this show and the producers to toss it away with one spill on the slopes or on the ice rink.”

A deep thinking and intelligent young man, a nostalgic and sensitive actor as well, Jim MacArthur knows how to differentiate the important things from the less important facets of life. Winter this year taught him some crucial lessons in that regard.

James MacArthur

Melody Patterson, James MacArthur

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