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Senior World Magazine: James MacArthur

by James MacArthur

April 3rd

I decided to write this particular interview with myself for one main reason. As I write I am in the middle of a five-hour flight to Honolulu. Now, going to Hawaii is always a very pleasurable experience, but in this case it was also most unexpected. Twenty-nine years ago at almost the same time, I was winging my way to Hawaii to begin the new TV series Hawaii Five-O, created by Leonard Freeman for CBS. The show starred Jack Lord, myself, Zulu, and Kam Fong, with other actors playing occasional repeating roles such as Richard Denning, who played the governor.

We were all thrilled and happy when, a few years later, we were one of the top shows not only in the U.S., but in England, Germany, Japan, and played in some 80 countries around the world. The state of Hawaii could never have afforded the worldwide publicity that Five-O brought to it. Tourism figures exploded, hotels were constructed, thousands of jobs were created, and CBS was spending millions into the Hawaiian economy in what was the cleanest, non-polluting industry in the world.

It took 12 years for Hawaii Five-O to die of old age, and I don’t think it would have even then if our boss Leonard Freeman had not passed away. But even today reruns play all over the world to millions of people. So, I suppose it should have some as no surprise when the phone rang and my agent said, “CBS is starting Five-O again.” Still, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I wondered why they were calling me, as I figured my gun-toting days were over. Well, I was right! They wanted me to play the GOVERNOR! Governor Dan Williams ... my old character in the show had become wily and political ... no more booking for this Danno!

The new show, written and produced for CBS by Stephen J. Cannell, will star Gary Busey and Russell Wong. The format will be familiar but not identical. There is no McGarrett -- in short, it will be a Five-O of the 90s, not the 60s. Also, I am happy to report there was nary a bad word or bared bosom in the pilot script. Hurrah for Steve Cannell! I was very happy that many of the old actors of Five-O were included in the pilot. You can see Kam Fong and Zulu and Herman Wedemeyer, as well as Harry Endo and Moe Keale ... so many good friends! Will the show make it into the fall schedule? Who knows? All we can do is try to make as good a show as possible, then the chips will fall where they will.

April 8th

On the plane from Hawaii to mainland with four days of whirlwind shooting behind me. I can report that the new Hawaii Five-O is going to be a very interesting show. Gary Busey plays a wonderful, offbeat character, while Russ Wong, a very handsome young actor, is very solid in the new team. Elsie Sniffen, a Hawaii beauty with a smile that will light up a room; Steven Flynn, who can have a very impish quality; and Andy Bumatai, one of Hawaii’s real funny performers, fill out the cast.

Our director, Bradford May, does a rare double. He is also the cinematographer! We had a wonderful crew, mostly from Hawaii, who are really hoping a good long-time series will come back to their shores. I think the hardest part for me was constantly being called “Sir” or “Mr. MacArthur” ... funny what happens when you get white hair!

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