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Warren Tribune Chronicle (5 February 2003)

"Actor sheds light on early role in movie"

By Andy Gray

How did the area libraries get James MacArthur to come to Trumbull County?

Did someone make the call to-- "Book 'em, Danno?"

Yes, the actor best known for his years on Hawaii Five-O didn't get away without answering a couple of questions about playing a fictitious cop in the 50th state, but most of the people who came to Lakeview High School Tuesday were interested in hearing about one of the actor's first jobs.

MacArthur starred in the 1958 film version of Conrad Richter's novel The Light in the Forest, which was selected for the reading series One Book, Two Counties, and he shared stories about making the movie in the second of two lectures in northeast Ohio.

"Thank you for the warm reception, if not warm weather,'' said MacArthur, who left 90-degree temperatures in Palm Desert, Calif., to come to Ohio. His sandy-colored hair now is white, but the 65-year-old actor still is readily recognizable as boyish cop Danny Williams.

MacArthur gave a brief history of Col. Henry Bouquet and his dealings in the mid-1700s with the Native Americans who lived on the land that became Ohio. That same history inspired Richter to write his story about a boy captured by Indians at age 4 and his difficult readjustment when he is returned 12 years later to the white family he doesn't remember.

Richter's story originally was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post.

"Richter liked to hide out, be somewhere else where nobody knew him so he wouldn't have to put on a good face if the reviews were bad,'' MacArthur said. "I know how he feels.''

The story was a hit. Right after it was published, Walt Disney offered Richter $2,000 for the film rights. Richter countered with $15,000, but he lost his nerve overnight and said he would accept $7,500. Disney bought the concept but not every aspect of Richter's story. The boy in the novel is trapped between two worlds and never truly fits in either one. The film version adds a love story, a clearer delineation of good vs. evil and a happy ending for Johnny Butler/True Son.

Walt Disney is not a merchant of sadness,'' MacArthur said. "... I don't repudiate the alternate ending. There were over 200 captives (returned by the Indians). Who's to say that ending couldn't happen.''

MacArthur had fond memories of making the movie, which was shot in Tennessee rather than Ohio because the film company needed wide expanses of undeveloped land. Tennessee had that, but it also had jiggers <sic>, and the loincloth-clad MacArthur was an exposed target for the tiny bugs.

"I was running around half naked in my Indian outfit scratching like crazy,'' he said.

The costumes coupled with his Indian haircut (shaved sides and bushy top) made him a unique sight in the South.

"In 1957, you try getting a date while wearing a Mohawk,'' he said.
Working with Disney was a pleasure, MacArthur said. On his first job with the studio, Disney himself gave him a three-and-a-half hour tour of Disneyland, and he was a hands-on studio head with The Light in the Forest and all Disney films.

Every picture on the lot, Disney did the final cut,'' MacArthur said. "He had the magic, he was the master.''

MacArthur said playing Butler/True Son had a particular resonance for him. MacArthur was the adopted child of Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hayes and playwright and screenwriter Charles MacArthur. He never knew his real

At age 21, his mother asked him if he wanted to see the adoption papers to give him a clue about his background.

"I took the documents and threw them into the fireplace unread,'' he said. "And I couldn't help but think of True Son and Johnny Butler.''

James MacArthur

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