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Amarillo Sunday News-Globe (12 July 1987)

"Acting comes naturally for MacArthur"

by Kay Mohr

The late Spencer Tracy, when asked about acting, is credited with saying: “Just know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.”

James MacArthur’s ability to sidestep onstage props stems from very impressive genes. His mother is first lady of the theater, Helen Hayes, his father the late playwright-journalist, Charles MacArthur, co-author of The Front Page and other scripts.

The reddish-haired MacArthur is currently starring in The Foreigner at Amarillo’s Country Squire Dinner Theater at Sunset Marketown.

Besides his innate stage skill, MacArthur makes for an irresistible interview.

Although he has appeared in numerous movies and theater productions, many of his younger fans probably remember MacArthur best for his role of Detective Dan Williams on the long-running television series Hawaii 5-0.

In 1968 Leonard Freeman, creator of the CBS show, called MacArthur to offer him the part. For the next 11 years, the performer spent his working hours responding to “Book ‘em, Dano.”

In fact, he still owns a home in Hawaii near Diamond Head as does his long time co-star, Jack Lord.

Hawaii 5-0 was one of the first television shows to film on location. The copycats of this different breed of cat were canceled one after another.

“Those in the business thought they could just shoot a show in Hawaii or the Caribbean and attain instant popularity,” MacArthur said. “They all went down in droves because just scenes of palm trees and beaches can get pretty boring.”

According to MacArthur, the series never was intended to be a travelogue.

“The first year we actually did a lot of night shooting and the writers weren’t even allowed on location.”

The actor believes part of the show’s early success was due to its timing with the Vietnam War.

“It was an hour of sanity with the good guys winning, a situation where the world was right side up,” MacArthur said.

He left the show a year before its last season. His life since then has not been spent “totally as an actor.”

One of his special interests is traveling. MacArthur’s travels have taken him to Russia, China, Europe, Africa and “swinging in a hammock down the Amazon River” in South America.

He drove a Land Rover from London to Africa, camping across the Sahara Desert and avoiding land mines from Idi Amin’s rule of Uganda.

A friend of MacArthur’s accompanied him on the trip and almost proved to be trouble instead of help.

“Amin’s men were shooting on sight so we stayed clear of Uganda but after we left Kenya, my friend said he was glad to get out of that country because he was on Jomo Kenyatta’s death list,” MacArthur said with a chuckle. “I said, ‘Now you tell me.’”

MacArthur has been at home on the stage since boyhood.

“My mother insisted that I have a normal upbringing,” he said. “I had opportunities to be in stage productions during the school year that she wouldn’t let me do, but during the summer she gave her approval.”

He attended Harvard University with the goal of being an archeologist.

“But I found out that bones with flesh are more interesting than bones without.”

Those pesky genes took over again and by the time MacArthur was 21 he had appeared in five movies including Kidnapped, Third Man on the Mountain, Swiss Family Robinson and The Light in the Forest.

He created the part of “John Boy” in Spencer’s Mountain which later became the hit television show The Waltons.

After The Foreigner, MacArthur’s next project will be a national Broadway tour of Arsenic and Old Lace.

He has still another project which is pretty fresh off the drawing board, so to speak. Father of two grown children, a son, 27, and daughter, 22, MacArthur and his golf-pro wife -- H.B. Duntz -- are the parents of a 22 month-old boy.

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

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