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James MacArthur Official Biography and Website Introduction

Welcome and Thank You for visiting The Official James MacArthur Digital Scrapbook. Below is a quick overview to help get you started before you begin your perusal of the individual pages of our site.

In a career spanning six decades, James MacArthur developed a body of work which is wonderfully dynamic in both scope and range. Portraying everything from crazed killer to stalwart defender of law and order, frustrated teenager to cynical senior supervisor, he has appeared in numerous films, television programs, and stage productions since his career officially began back in 1955.

Although he had been performing in parts during summer stock productions since 1949, making his stage debut in The Corn Is Green, his "real" acting career did not begin until he starred as the complex and misunderstood teenager in John Frankenheimer’s Deal a Blow.

Broadcast live on the Climax! television anthology series, the program told the story of Hal Ditmar, a relatively ordinary youngster on the verge of manhood who finds himself caught up in a snowballing world of trouble with his parents, the law, and virtually everyone in authority after a minor infraction of the rules at a movie theater.

The story was so well-crafted and MacArthur’s performance so compelling that a year later it was remade by Frankenheimer into his first theatrical release, The Young Stranger. The movie received much critical acclaim and earned its star a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Film Award nomination as Most Promising Newcomer (1958) and won a film festival in Switzerland.

Next up was the Disney movie of Conrad Richter’s novel, The Light in the Forest. Set in the late 18th century in the burgeoning United States, it told the tale of a young man who had been kidnapped by Indians as a baby and raised as the son of a chief. A respected and accepted member of the tribe, the boy known as True Son is ripped away from the only life he has ever known and forced to return to his biological parents due to a treaty signed by people of whom he has no knowledge and who cannot possibly have any interest in his individual welfare. His subsequent struggles to find out exactly where he fits in and to gain the trust and sanction of his new community are told in a way which is as wrenching and relevant to today’s society as it was then. The corollaries between this story and the custody battles which seem to occur with alarming frequency in our own time are strong and thought provoking. It seems the question regarding when in a child’s life his biological parentage begins to be outweighed by the environment in which he is being raised is one which has yet to be answered. The depth with which MacArthur imbued the role makes his performance both truthful and unforgettable.

Before its release in theaters, The Light in the Forest was preceded by three more appearances in live teleplays, including another outstanding performance in the Studio One production of Tongues of Angels as Ben Adams, a young man with a devastating stuttering problem who pretends to be a deaf/mute in order to hide his infirmity.

A string of meaty roles quickly followed, including the Disney classic films Kidnapped, Third Man on the Mountain, and Swiss Family Robinson; television programs such as The Untouchables, Bus Stop, and Wagon Train; and two more live teleplays. As sociopathic killer and racketeer Johnny Lubin in The Untouchables episode Death for Sale, MacArthur for the first time portrayed an unsympathetic character. The heart-stopping realism of his performance provided definitive proof of his abilities as a multi-faceted and talented actor.

In what he described in one interview as his first “mature” role, he then appeared as a doctor-in-the-making in The Interns, turning in a fine performance as a somewhat naive young man who grows up rather quickly when presented with several tough choices and life-defining situations.

After that came more television, the underrated yet stirring film, Cry of Battle, and Spencer’s Mountain, the highly successful precursor to the popular television series The Waltons. Once again, in both films, MacArthur played young men whose lives are changed by circumstances beyond their control and who must dig deep within themselves to find the inner strength and fortitude to deal with those events.

Having by now amassed an impressive list of film and television credits in addition to stage performances on Broadway and other venues, MacArthur then turned to the pivotal role of Ensign Ralston in the tense and nerve-wracking Cold War yarn, The Bedford Incident. His performance as the eager to-please and earnest young officer carried a subtlety and intensity hard to believe of someone not yet thirty years old.

The role of William Ashton in the light-hearted romance, The Truth About Spring came next, almost immediately followed by yet another coming-of-age performance as Lt. Weaver in the blockbuster WWII saga, The Battle of the Bulge.

Westerns and war dramas predominated the next phase of MacArthur’s career with appearances in television programs such as Branded, 12 O’Clock High, Gunsmoke, Combat!, Hondo, Bonanza, and Death Valley Days, in addition to the films Ride Beyond Vengeance, Mosby’s Marauders, and Hang ‘Em High.

It was his appearance in this last which would ultimately lead him into the role of Dan Williams in Hawaii Five-O. When Leonard Freeman found himself looking for a replacement to play complex sidekick to Jack Lord’s powerful Steve McGarrett, he went looking for the young actor he remembered from just two or three days' work on his low-budget spaghetti Western.

The juxtaposition of MacArthur’s still-boyish good looks with his ability to bring a convincing toughness and sincerity to the role made him one of the best-remembered and well-admired actors of 60s and 70s popular television. Even today, more than twenty years after the program stopped production, it is broadcast in syndication in markets all over the world. Its ‘Book ‘em, Danno’ catchphrase is still as much a part of our popular culture as that famed line from another show of the same era: ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’

Departing Five-O prior to its 12th and final season, MacArthur’s appearances became less frequent, yet still memorable. He was featured in such popular television shows as The Love Boat, Vegas, Fantasy Island, and Murder, She Wrote and starred in two made-for-television movies: Irwin Allen’s The Night the Bridge Fell Down and Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story. His poignant portrayal of hapless Walt Stomer in the latter provided a fine example that his skills as an actor had not waned in the twenty-five years since that first television appearance.

He concentrated on the stage for a while then, performing in productions such as Arsenic and Old Lace, A Bedfull of Foreigners, and Love Letters as well as the occasional live appearance at charity and celebrity sporting events. In 1998, after nearly a decade away from television screens, he took up the role of Frank Del Rio in the Family Channel movie Storm Chasers: Revenge of the Twister.

With the new century, MacArthur returned to a more active professional schedule, continuing to make a number of personal appearances to sign autographs and greet fans, as well as several speaking engagements such as northeast Ohio's One Book, Two Counties: An Evening With James MacArthur, The Cinema Audio Society Annual Awards Banquet, and AdventureCon in Knoxville, Tennessee. In addition, he was featured in several television specials and interview programs, including Emme & Friends, Entertainment Tonight, Inside TVLand, and Christopher Closeup.

The increasing popularity of the DVD market has seen the re-release of Swiss Family Robinson and Battle of the Bulge, with a new behind-the-scenes documentary narrated by MacArthur and a lengthy on-screen interview covering many aspects of his career. Planned for re-release in July 2003, the 1956 version of Anastasia included an on-screen interview with MacArthur discussing his mother, Helen Hayes, and her work in that movie.

April 2003 marked his return to the stage as Father Madison in Joe Moore's original play Dirty Laundry. On 6 November 2003, the Hawaii International Film Festival chose James MacArthur and Hawaii Five-O as the recipient of their annual Film in Hawaii award, an honor both well-deserved and especially significant, coming as it did from the people and the State of Hawaii.

In 2005, James MacArthur co-directed a revival version of Twentieth Century, a play co-written by his father, Charles MacArthur, and Ben Hecht, and first produced in 1932. The play ran from 11-27 February 2005 at the Diamond Head Theatre. In 2008 and 2009, he appeared as the guest speaker at the Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival, discussing Swiss Family Robinson and Kidnapped. On 20 April 2008, he was one of that year's recipients of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Gold Circle Award, a tribute to his more than 50 years in stage, film, and television. His last two public appearances were at autograph shows in Chicago (Hollywood Collectors, March 2010), and Los Angeles (Hollywoodshow, April 2010).

In the final years of his life, Jim divided his time between his homes in Southern California and Honolulu. He enjoyed playing tennis and golf on a regular basis, reading voraciously, spending time with family and friends, and travel. He continued to lend his celebrity to charitable causes and made frequent appearances at golf tournaments and other public functions. One of the highlights of his later years was his biannual trip to St. Andrews, Scotland, for a week of golf and camaraderie with a small group of close friends. Although tentative plans had been made for him to appear in a guest-starring (and possibly recurring) role in the 2010 Hawaii Five-0 reboot, those plans never came to fruition. He did, however, "pass the baton" in a heartfelt message of good will and hope for success which was read at the premiere of the new series in Honolulu on 13 September 2010.

On 28 October 2010, while in Jacksonville, Florida, James MacArthur's time among us came to its conclusion. Memorial services were held in Nyack, New York; Palm Desert, California; and Honolulu, Hawaii. His grave is located in Oak Hill Cemetery, Nyack, New York, alongside his mother, father, sister, and grandmother. His ashes were spread in an area of the Pacific Ocean adjacent to his Honolulu condominium during a traditional Hawaiian ceremony on 29 January 2011.

Presented on the following pages is a comprehensive summary of the performances mentioned above as well as many others. Included are broadcast dates, cast listings, story synopses, images, video clips, and other assorted bits of information. In addition, there are newspaper and magazine articles, excerpts from pressbooks, and other items of note. You'll find menus at the top and bottom of each page to help guide you through the site. A comprehensive CV is located here. There is also a photo index, an articles and interview index, and a video clip index. If you're still unsure where to find something, try our search feature. You can view our copyright statement here, and our privacy statement here.

We hope you enjoy browsing through our pages and delight in the discovery of things both old and new to you. When you have finished, it would be greatly appreciated if you would take a moment to give us your impressions of our site or suggestions for its improvemen via email.

First published 4 August 2001; last revised 29 January 2011.

© 2001-11 curator@jamesmacarthur.com. All rights reserved. Please email for reprint permission.

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