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Movie Stars Parade (May 1957)

"James MacArthur: No Stranger to Love or Tears"

By Diane Redfield

The nice-looking boy with the blond crewcut walked slowly down the hospital corridor. From the back he gave the impression of being athletically built, square-shouldered and strong. Hesitating, he made as if to press the elevator button, then decided against it and headed back to the staircase. His face, revealed in that unguarded moment, was distraught, bewildered -- and tear-stained. Those square yet boyish shoulders, meant for filling out a football uniform or gracing a tuxedo, were bent under with the weight of a man’s sorrow.

At 18, James MacArthur was face to face with death, for the second time in his life: first he’d lost his sister Mary to polio; now he’d have to learn to live without his dad.

Yet, griefstricken as he was, young MacArthur had behind him the memory of so much love that he was able to go on.

Maybe he couldn’t recall exactly the wonderful moment when Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur had chosen him from among all the other babies up for adoption -- he was barely one year old -- but he had certainly heard the story enough times.

And there was the time when he was eight and made his stage debut as a small boy in The Corn Is Green, in summer stock at Olney, Maryland. His sister, Mary, had coaxed him into trying for the part and Jamie, though he didn’t know what most of his lines meant, ran around as they had told him, saying Welsh words. He must have been pretty good because his dad said he’d “ ... turned out to be a hell of an actor.”

Then it was back to grammar school -- public school not private; his parents didn’t want him to be pampered -- in Nyack, New York. Nyack and the beautiful hilltop house where he’d had so many good times and met so many fabulous people, stage people who adored his famous mom, writers like Alexander Woollcott, Ben Hecht, Robert Benchley.

Could he ever forget the baseball games on the spacious lawn (he still follows the sport) or the lonely ride down to New York City to try out for a TV program -- and the decision not to sign the contract because it called for seven hours of rehearsal and he thought that was too much time for a boy of twelve to have to give up when he could be playing baseball? Mom and dad had trusted him even then to make his own decisions.

It was just about that time that Mary had died, a crushing blow to Jamie. It subdued him a lot, so that even now he’s a quiet, thoughtful boy. The next summer, maybe as a tribute to the sister he’d lost, or perhaps seeking to forget, he’d returned to the footlights, playing young John in Life With Father, at Falmouth, Massachusetts.The carefree years at Allen Stevenson School in New York and Solebury School in New Hope, Pennsylvania flew by, Jamie was on the football team, was captain of the basketball team and played second on the baseball team. He’d also made his TV debut the summer he was seventeen, in a play which won the Christopher Award, and had been offered the lead in a movie version, The Young Stranger. Graduation was approaching, he’d been accepted at Harvard: all was right with the world the night he received a phone call from his mother to hurry home -- his father was dying.

The rest is known. When Charles MacArthur died, the world lost a wonderful, literary madcap -- but Jamie lost the man who had been the most important person in his life. Quietly, determined to be of as little trouble as possible to his heartbroken mom, he returned to school, was graduated in June, 1956 and went to Hollywood.

Film folk, meeting him at a cocktail party, took to him on the spot. With his mom beaming proudly in the background, Jamie impressed them with his informal poise, intelligent conversation and alert sense of humor. At his elbow stood pretty, blonde Joyce Bulifant, his New York girl friend who’d been invited too. Joyce was wide-eyed. The attention, the photographers’ bulbs, the famous people left her gaping.

But Jamie, child of the theater and its excitement, no stranger to the sorrow that must always accompany happiness and good times, took it all in stride. Hardly a man in years, he’s known great love -- and great tragedy. Outwardly, he’s calm, armed to meet each thing as it comes; but inside seethes the excitement of youth and the promise of the future.

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

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