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TV World (February 1959)

"On My Own "

by Eve Michaels

"It's almost time we stopped referring to Jim MacArthur as Helen Hayes' son," a New York critic wrote not too long ago. "He's got so much talent he can stand on his own two feet."

Later that day the critic received a telegram from Helen Hayes that read, "I second the motion!" She then went on to say, "I've been hoping someone would take your point of view because I've never wanted Jim to feel he couldn't do it on his own."

This all goes back to last spring when young Jim amazed everyone with his overwhelming acting talent. He enacted a teen-aged stutterer who masqueraded as a deaf-mute to avoid speaking on a Studio One hour. Reviewers acclaimed Jim's performance as a great feat. Some critics insisted it was one of TV's finest dramas. The title of the show? Tongues of Angels.

Jim's performance led his mother to comment: "His performance was extraordinary. I do feel self-conscious talking about him -- because I'm a severe acting critic. But I don't think his performance was an accident, one of those things that just happen. It was a performance which required so much thinking and understanding and emotional control. An awful challenge, to say the least, and Jim showed he was a really fine actor."

Besides his many television performances on dramatic programs, Jim starred recently in The Light in the Forest for Walt Disney.

First, Jim points out his love of acting brought about a problem which he hopes he has dealt with sensibly.

Soon as he began to act, Jim says, his interest in the stage and screen grew and grew. Acting obsessed him. He ate, drank and slept the theatre.

This past year, while he was in his sophomore semester at Harvard, he made the decision to leave school and devote himself to acting.

"Oh, but that was a tough decision to make," Jim says nervously, "because I believe in education. I love learning, but I found I couldn't concentrate on so many subjects with this acting bug buzzing in my ear all the time. I tried to study. I'd read Einstein, but all I could think of was how I might have improved a scene I did on TV. So I started asking myself, 'Is this going to help me out in later life?' and I'm sure I should have come up with an answer but I didn't.

"Now, don't get me wrong," Jim added. "I'm not saying everyone should quit school if they can't think of an answer to this question. I had something concrete to leave school for. Also, I should admit I found a lot of things at Harvard very exciting. I read books I'd only heard of -- "Moby Dick" and "The Divine Comedy" and "War and Peace" and all sorts of Greek classics. I had a misconception about these books. I thought they were dry. This isn't true. Just because a book's a classic doesn't make it dry. All the while I was reading them I was spellbound!"

Jim then explained that since he couldn't concentrate on his studies, his grades began falling. "Why should I be afraid of the truth?" he said. "I was failing!"

"Come to think of it, I've never been much of a student. It goes way back to the day when I was sent to a small school on a farm when I was seven years old. I've lived away from home a good deal because I went to private schools. When I was eight years old {sic}, I made my acting debut in The Corn Is Green. I played the Welsh boy, and that gave me a good dose of the show-biz fever. Ever since I've been a so-so student.

"Then, as I gre into my early teens, I began playing in summer stock during my school vacations, and by the time I was sixteen, I knew acting would play a very big role in my life. Sure, I did a lot of other things in summer stock -- building scenery and fixing the stage lights and parking the cars."

For a while, however, Jim confessed he was sidetracked from his love for the theatre. When he went to Solebury High School in New Hope, Pennsylvania, he began playing football, and his interest in athletics grew and grew. For three years he played on the team. In his senior year he was captain not only of the football team but of the basketball team, and he was the star second baseman on the baseball squad.

Then, when he graduated from school {sic}, he was offered the opportunity of playing in The Young Stranger {sic} for television, and he accepted, and the excitement of the showbusiness world took hold of him and he left his athletics behind him.

"Although I'm still nuts about most sports -- only from a spectator's viewpoint. I do a lot of water-skiing. When we were making The Light in the Forest, Fess Parker gave me a lot of water-skiing pointers -- and so whenever I want to relax, I go flying across the water.

"A lot of people would think this might not be relaxing. But with acting you use your mind so much that when you get involved in a physical activity you find yourself sort of refreshed."

Jim entered Harvard after his successful television performance in The Young Stranger. However, he says, "I don't like to admit it because I guess everybody's heart should be in a wonderful school like Harvard, but I could never get with it. So I began thinking maybe I should take some time off, a couple of years maybe, and do some traveling. You know -- see the world and get to know different kinds of people and then come back home. Maybe my mind would be settled by then.

"But this is a tough step to take by yourself. And I'm not one to go to a headshrinker because I don't believe in them. Why? Well, the idea of talking over my problems with a total stranger is pretty revolting to me -- and after all, that's what psychoanalysts are!

"So what did I do?" Jim said. "I went to my father's doctor. My father's dead, and his doctor has always told me to feel free to see him whenever anything bothered me. I told him I didn't have any drive at school. I didn't give a hoot about my studies. I told him I was flunking exams. I told him everything -- all about my interest in acting! And he was wonderful. A real understanding guy, someone who wanted to help me see the truth. We talked for three hours about what I should do, and I believe we came up with the right solution."

The doctor told Jim it was ridiculous to go through college simply for the sake of saying he graduated. A person went to college to broaden himself, to heighten his knowledge of the world. There were other ways, the doctor told Jim, of getting knowledge. So many people in the world were self-educated, and perhaps a little self-education was what Jim's spirit craved.

"My instinct -- or intuition, if you want to call it that -- about traveling was right. The doctor agreed I should take some time off and travel on my own and meet different people. He didn't tell me to quit school -- and he didn't tell me not to quit. He said I would figure out what was right for me all by myself. But he discussed everything with me so intelligently I knew then and there that it wasn't wrong for me to leave and go out on my own for a couple of years.

So Jim did it, made his break with school.

"But you never know at first, though, if you've done right or wrong," Jim says. "So far, I've got to admit, I don't feel I've done anything wrong. In spite of what some people have told me (friends, at that!)."

Jim points out about some acquaintances of his parents who shrugged their shoulders and complained about his lack of discipline at college. They nagged about the foolishness in today's younger generation and how much better things were in the old days when kids were forced to do things.

"But I'm not a sociologist," Jim says in his own defense. "All I know is that I made an honest decision. I thought it all through and decided I should try it out on my own. Maybe my parents' acquaintances are right, I don't know. I'm not saying I have all the answers. But I did leave school with the door open. I can always go back. The profs told me to return whenever I wanted. And, if I go back, I like to think I'll get more out of it because I'll want it then."

Jim admitted he usually kept such personal thoughts and feelings to himself, but he believed this was a problem a lot of young people faced, and he wanted to help them understand it through his own trials and tribulations.

"One thing, though -- if you can believe it! I read more now than I did when I was at school. I'm crazy about a French novelist, Albert Camus, and I've been catching up on everything he's ever written."

On actors Jim lists three favorites: Paul Muni, Michael Redgrave and Sir Laurence Olivier. "They have that great ability to lose themselves in the part. They make me believe the character they're portraying. I like Marlon, alright, but he's a personality actor. I can never forget he's Marlon, if you know what I mean."

On actresses Jim expressed preference for Deborah Kerr, Bette Davis and Academy Award winner Joanne Woodward.

Now, about Jim's love life. Jim's steady girl since his days at Solebury High School in Bucks County has been Joyce Bulifant, and they'll be married by the time this gets into print. Their favorate dating pastimes? Going to the movies and to the theatre, having a bit to eat afterward in the intimate coffee houses all over New York.

So far, Jim's been busy with acting assignements that he hasn't had a chance to travel on his own. This past summer he filmed Third Man on the Mountain, a movie on mountain-climbing in Switzerland.

"But I hope someday soon to get away on my own and think for a while. When I say on my own, I don't mean by myself alone. I mean on my own with Joyce after we're married. Because I'm of the opinion that the right gal helps straighten a guy out and gives him strength to follow the call of his convictions."

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

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