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Honolulu Weekly (9 February 2005)

"Book 'Em"

By Becky Maltby

James MacArthur will forever be known as Danny "Danno" Williams on Hawaii Five-O. But the son of the "First Lady of American Theater" (Helen Hayes) and award-winning playwright Charles MacArthur, has shared the screen with Henry Fonda, John Mills, Clint Eastwood, Richard Widmark, and Sidney Poitier. Still, that track record doesn't prevent MacArthur from participating in local theater. Splitting his time between California and O'ahu, he's in town to co-direct (with Bill Ogilvie) his father's 1934 <sic> comedy Twentieth Century for Diamond Head Theatre, opening this weekend.

Tell us about Twentieth Century. Your father wrote it? My father and Ben Hecht. They wrote a lot of things together -- The Front Page, the screenplay for Gunga Din, the screenplay for Wuthering Heights. Twentieth Century was on Broadway in 1932 and ran for about 160 performances. It closed the day Roosevelt shut the banks. Well, the banks close, ain't nobody going to the theater, right? Then it was made into a movie with John Barrymore and Carol Lombard.

Is this an adaptation? No. The play sat for quite a while. There are so many characters, it's too expensive to put on stage. You just can't pay all the actors. So Ken Ludwig, [who's] a student of old plays, said "How about if I work on an adaptation, cut down the play so it can get done more?" So I entered into a deal with him and it was done on Broadway last spring with Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche.

Is that the version DHT is doing? No. I thought, well, why not do the original if we can afford it? I didn't like to have to cut it. Nothing against Ken's version -- but I'd much rather get my teeth into the original.

Did you ever work with your mom? Oh yeah. She did Hawaii Five-O. And she used to have a home in Mexico -- once they shot Tarzan [there] and they called us up. So we did a Tarzan together. She had to ride an elephant in the damn thing. She was 75 or something like that.

Do people still say "Book 'em, Danno" to you? I don't look like Danno. With my white hair ... and my walker [laughs]. Actually I played 18 holes of golf today. I'm a tennis player, very active that way. No, people don't really recognize me. There's such a difference. My God, it was 35 years ago.

Do you ever watch the old reruns? Sure -- I can't remember what happens.

How was working with Jack Lord? Jack was fine. The thing nobody understands is that because he played McGarrett he had this ... thing, but [creator] Leonard Freeman ran the show. Lenny was the boss. Period. If he didn't like one word in a scene, it was reshot. He created the show. You know, he fired Jack once.

How long did that last? Until Jack got on his knees and begged to come back [laughs].

James MacArthur

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