James MacArthur: American actor (1937 - 2010) | Biography
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James MacArthur
American actor

James MacArthur

James MacArthur
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American actor
Was Actor Stage actor Television actor Film actor
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender male
Birth 8 December 1937, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Death 28 October 2010, Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, USA (aged 72 years)
Star sign Sagittarius
Spouse: Melody Patterson (1970-1975)Joyce Bulifant (1958-1967)
Relatives: Charles MacArthurHelen Hayes
Harvard University
Solebury School
Allen-Stevenson School
Theatre World Award 1961
The details (from wikipedia)


James Gordon MacArthur (December 8, 1937 – October 28, 2010) was an American actor with a long career in both movies and television. MacArthur's early work was predominantly in supporting roles in films. Later, he had a starring role as Danny "Danno" Williams, the reliable second-in-command of the fictional Hawaii State Police in the long-running television series Hawaii Five-O.

Early life

Born in Los Angeles, MacArthur was the adopted son of playwright Charles MacArthur and his wife, actress Helen Hayes. He grew up in Nyack, New York, along with his elder sister, the MacArthurs' biological daughter Mary, who died of polio in 1949. He was educated at Allen-Stevenson School in New York, and later at the Solebury School in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where he starred in basketball, football, and baseball.

In his final year at Solebury, MacArthur played guard on the football team; captained the basketball team; was president of his class, the student government, and the drama club; rewrote the school's constitution; edited the school paper, The Scribe; and played Scrooge in a local presentation of A Christmas Carol. He also started dating a fellow student, future actress Joyce Bulifant; they were married in November 1958 and divorced nine years later.

MacArthur grew up among people of literary and theatrical talent. Lillian Gish was his godmother, and his family's guests included John Steinbeck, John Barrymore, Harpo Marx, Ben Hecht, Beatrice Lillie, and the humorist Robert Benchley (whose grandson, Jaws-author Peter Benchley, was three years behind James at Allen-Stevenson).

Acting career

Early career

His first radio role was on the Theatre Guild on the Air, in 1948. It was the premier radio program of its day, producing one-hour plays that were performed in front of a live audience of 800. Hayes accepted a role in one of the plays, which also had a small role for a child. Her son was asked if he would like to do it and he agreed.

MacArthur made his stage debut at Olney, Maryland in 1949 with a two-week stint in The Corn Is Green. His sister Mary was in the play and telephoned their mother to request that James go to Olney to be in it too. The following summer, he repeated the role at Dennis, Massachusetts, and his theatrical career was underway.

In 1954, he played John Day in Life with Father with Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney. He became involved in important Broadway productions only after receiving his training in summer stock theatre. He worked as a set painter, lighting director, and chief of the parking lot. During a Helen Hayes festival at the Falmouth Playhouse on Cape Cod, he had a few walk-on parts. He also helped the theatre electrician and grew so interested that he was allowed to stay on after his mother's plays had ended. As a result, he lit the show for Barbara Bel Geddes in The Little Hut and for Gloria Vanderbilt in The Swan.


In 1955, at the age of 18, he played Hal Ditmar in the television play, '"Deal a Blow," an episode of the series Climax! directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Macdonald Carey, Phyllis Thaxter, and Edward Arnold. The critical response was excellent, with the New York Times saying he "performed splendidly."

The following year Frankenheimer directed the movie version of the play, which was renamed The Young Stranger (1957), with MacArthur again in the starring role. Again, his performance was critically acclaimed, earning him a nomination for Most Promising Newcomer at the 1958 BAFTA awards.

In late 1956 it was announced MacArthur would make Underdog, based on a novel by W. R. Burnett, alongside his mother and Susan Strasberg but the project never materialized.

MacArthur returned to TV to appear in World in White (1957) and episodes of General Electric Theater, Studio One in Hollywood, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse.


MacArthur was selected by Walt Disney to star in The Light in the Forest (1958), playing a white man raised by Native Americans. In April 1957, he signed a three-picture deal with Disney. On Light in the Forest he was paid $2,500 a week. This went up to $3,000 a week for the second film and $3,500 for the third, although he could not be forced to work other than during his summer vacation at Harvard, where he was studying history.

Disney executives liked his performance and cast him in Third Man on the Mountain (1959), playing a young man who climbs the Matterhorn. His mother had a cameo.

Deciding to make acting his full-time career, he left Harvard in his second year to make two more Disney movies, Kidnapped (1960) alongside Peter Finch, and Swiss Family Robinson (1960) with John Mills. The latter was especially popular. He was named a possibility for Bon Voyage but ended up not appearing in the final film.

MacArthur made his Broadway debut in 1960, playing opposite Jane Fonda in Invitation to a March, for which he received a Theatre World Award. Although he never returned to Broadway, he would remain active in theatre throughout his career, appearing in such productions as Under the Yum Yum Tree, The Moon Is Blue, John Loves Mary (with his then-wife Joyce Bulifant), Barefoot in the Park, and Murder at the Howard Johnson's. He also released several records in the early 1960s, scoring two minor hits with "(The Story of) The In-Between Years" and "The Ten Commandments of Love," both of which peaked at number 94 in the Billboard Hot 100.

MacArthur gave a particularly chilling performance as baby-faced opium dealer Johnny Lubin in The Untouchables episode, "Death For Sale." He was in Bus Stop and Wagon Train. He returned to features as one of several young actors in The Interns (1962), Columbia's popular medical drama.

He did episodes of The Dick Powell Theatre, Sam Benedict, and Arrest and Trial, then made Spencer's Mountain (1963) at Warner Bros. with Henry Fonda and Cry of Battle (1963) in Philippines.

In 1963, he was nominated for the "Top New Male Personality" category of the Golden Laurel Awards 1963. That year he starred in and produced a pilot for a series about a writer, Postmark: Jim Fletcher, but it was not picked up.

He guest starred in Burke's Law, The Eleventh Hour, and The Great Adventure. After an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour he did The Truth About Spring and The Bedford Incident, both in 1965. His role in The Bedford Incident was of a young ensign who became so rattled by the needling of his captain (Richard Widmark), that he accidentally fired an ASROC at a Soviet submarine, thus creating a nuclear incident when the submarine returned fire, resulting in the destruction of both vessels.

In Battle of the Bulge (1965), he again played the role of a young and inexperienced officer. MacArthur was in Ride Beyond Vengeance (1966) and guest starred in Branded, Combat!, Gunsmoke, Hondo, Insight, Death Valley Days, Bonanza, and The Virginian. In 1966, he guest-starred as Lt. Harley Wilson in "The Outsider," episode 20 in the second season of Twelve O'Clock High. He co-starred with his mother in the 1968 episode "The Pride of the Lioness" on the Tarzan television series.

MacArthur returned to Disney to make Willie and the Yank (1967) for television, released theatrically as Mosby's Marauders. He had a role in The Love-Ins (1967) for Sam Katzman.

His had a brief but memorable appearance in the Clint Eastwood movie Hang 'Em High as a preacher.

Hawaii Five-O

Hang 'Em High was written by Leonard Freeman, who was producing a new police procedural, Hawaii Five-0. Tim O'Kelly was originally cast as Jack Lord's assistant but test audiences thought he was too young, so MacArthur was given the role. MacArthur said the producer "told us, 'We can be a big hit. This is a morality play. It's good versus evil and the good guys are going to win.' That was during the Vietnam era, and I think many people were looking for something like that."

MacArthur said Lord "said 'book him' to others in the cast, but I guess he said it to me the most. It wasn't anything we really thought about at first. But the phrase just took off and caught the public's imagination."

Appearing in the show made MacArthur very wealthy. He invested much of his earnings in Hawaiian real estate.

Bored with Hawaii Five-O, MacArthur left the show in 1979, one year before it ended. "It was just time," he said. "I called the producer from South America and told him I was heading down the Amazon River...."

"I grew bored," he explained. "The stories became more bland and predictable, and presented less and less challenge to me as an actor."

William Smith, who replaced him on the show, claimed MacArthur quit "because Jack Lord wouldn't let him have a dressing room. He had to change in the prop truck for eleven years."

After Hawaii Five-O

After leaving Hawaii Five-O, McArthur guest-starred on such television shows as Time Express, Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Walking Tall, The Littlest Hobo, Vega$, and Superboy, as well as in the miniseries Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story (1980) and The Night the Bridge Fell Down (1983). He appeared in A Bedfull of Foreigners in Chicago in 1984 and in Michigan in 1985. He followed this with The Hasty Heart before taking a year out of show business.

In 1987, he returned to the stage in The Foreigner, then played Mortimer in the national tour of Arsenic and Old Lace with Jean Stapleton, Marion Ross, and Larry Storch. In 1989, he followed another stint in The Foreigner with Love Letters and in 1990–1991, A Bedfull of Foreigners in Las Vegas.


Throughout his career, MacArthur had also found time for various other ventures. From 1959 to 1960, he partnered with actors James Franciscus and Alan Ladd, Jr. in a Beverly Hills telephone answering service. In June 1972, he directed the Honolulu Community Theatre in a production of his father's play The Front Page.

For a period in the 1990s, he was part owner of Senior World publication, where he would write the occasional celebrity interview. He continued to appear at conventions, collectors' shows, and celebrity sporting events. A keen golfer, he was winner of the 2002 Frank Sinatra Invitational Charity Golf Tournament.

He also appeared in television and radio specials and interview programs. His latest appearances included spots on Entertainment Tonight, Christopher's Closeup, and the BBC Radio 5 Live obituary program Brief Lives, in which he paid tribute to his Hawaii Five-O castmate, the late Kam Fong. In 1997, MacArthur returned without Jack Lord (who was in declining health) to reprise his character, who had become Hawaii's governor, in the 1997 unaired pilot of Hawaii Five-O which starred actor Gary Busey.

In April 2003, he traveled to Honolulu's historic Hawaii Theatre for a cameo role in Joe Moore's play Dirty Laundry. Negotiations were underway in summer 2010 for MacArthur to make a cameo appearance in the new CBS primetime remake of Hawaii Five-O at the time of his death, a role that eventually was given to Al Harrington . On the November 1, 2010, episode, MacArthur's death was mentioned in a short tribute that played before the start of that episode.

In 2001, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.

Personal life and death

MacArthur's first wife was Joyce Bulifant. On the set of The Angry Breed (1968), MacArthur met actress Melody Patterson, who became his second wife. They wed on Kauai in July 1970 and divorced five years later. His third wife was former LPGA golfer Helen Beth Duntz. MacArthur had two daughters and two sons.

MacArthur died on October 28, 2010, at the age of 72 of unspecified causes, in Florida.


Year Title Role Notes
1953 Take the High Ground!
1955 Climax! Hal Ditmar Deal a Blow
1957 The Arthur Murray Party Self April 30, 1957
1957 The Young Stranger Harold James "Hal" Ditmar
1958 General Electric Theater Johnny Dundeen The Young and the Scared
1958 Studio One Jim Gibson Ticket to Tahiti
1958 Studio One Ben Adams Tongues of Angels
1958 The Light in the Forest Johnny Butler / True Son
1959 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse Jamsie Corcoran The Innocent Assassin
1959 Third Man on the Mountain Rudi Matt
1959 Wagon Train Waiter The Jenny Tannen Story, Uncredited
1960 Kidnapped David Balfour
1960 Night of the Auk Lt. Mac Hartman
1960 Swiss Family Robinson Fritz Robinson
1960 The Play of the Week Lieutenant Max Night of the Auk
1961 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Johnny Butler / True Son Archive footage
Light in the Forest: True Son's Revenge
1961 The Play of the Week Lt. Max Hartman Night of the Auk
1961 The Untouchables Johnny Lubin Death for Sale
1961 Bus Stop Thomas Quincy Hagan And the Pursuit of Evil
1962 Insight Jim Brown The Sophomore
1962 Wagon Train Dick Pederson The Dick Pederson Story
1962 The Interns Dr. Lew Worship
1962 The Dick Powell Show Jack Doffer The Court Martial of Captain Wycliff
1963 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Rudi Matt Archive footage
Banner in the Sky: To Conquer the Mountain
1963 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Rudi Matt Archive footage
Banner in the Sky: The Killer Mountain
1963 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color David Balfour Archive footage
Kidnapped: Part 1
1963 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color David Balfour Archive footage
Kidnapped: Part 2
1963 Sam Benedict Bert Stover Some Fires Die Slowly
1963 Spencer's Mountain Clayboy Spencer
1963 Arrest and Trial Deke Palmer A Shield is for Hiding Behind
1963 Cry of Battle David McVey
1963 Burke's Law (1963 TV series) Larry Forsythe Who Killed the Kind Doctor?
1963 The Eleventh Hour Mason Walker La Belle Indifference
1963 The Great Adventure Lieutenant Alexander The Hunley
1964 The Great Adventure Rodger Young Rodger Young
1964 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Dave Snowden Behind the Locked Door
1965 The Truth About Spring William Ashton
1965 The Bedford Incident Ensign Ralston
1965 The Virginian Johnny Bradford Jennifer
1965 Battle of the Bulge Lieutenant Weaver
1966 Ride Beyond Vengeance The Census Taker
1966 Branded Lt. Laurence A Destiny Which Made Us Brothers
1966 12 O'Clock High Lt. Wilson The Outsider
1966 Gunsmoke David McGovern Harvest
1967 Dateline: Hollywood Self June 19, 1967
1967 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Cpl. Henry Jenkins Willie and the Yank: The Deserter
Willie and the Yank: The Mosby Raiders
1967 Combat! Jack Cole Encounter
1967 The Love-Ins Larry Osborne
1967 Mosby's Marauders Cpl. Henry Jenkins
1967 Insight Billy Thorp Some Talk About Pool Rooms and Gin Mills
1967 Hondo Judd Barton Hondo and the Mad Dog
1967 Tarzan Dr. Richard Wilson The Pride of the Lioness
1967 Bonanza Jason 'Jase' Fredericks Check Rein
1967 Death Valley Days Kit Carson Spring Rendezvous
1968 Death Valley Days Kit Carson The Indian Girl
1968 Hang 'Em High The Preacher
1968 The Angry Breed Deek Stacey
1968 Premiere Russ Faine Lassiter
Hawaii Five-O Det. Danny Williams 259 episodes
1971 The Movie Game Self June 28, 1971
July 4, 1971
1971 Hollywood Squares Self April 12, 1971
1972 Hollywood Squares Self March 6, 1972
1973 Hollywood Squares Self January 1, 1973
1977 Battle of the Network Stars III Self
1978 Battle of the Network Stars IV Self
1978 Fantasy Island Fantasy Island The Funny Girl/Butch and Sundance
1979 Time Express Dr. Mark Toland Garbage Man/Doctor's Wife
1979 The Love Boat Chet Hanson The Spider Serenade/The Wife Next Door/The Harder They Fall
1980 34th Annual Tony Awards Self
1980 Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story Walt Stomer
1980 The Love Boat Scott Burgess The Caller/The Marriage of Convenience/No Girls for Doc/Witness for the Prosecution
1981 Fantasy Island Bob Graham The Heroine/The Warrior
1981 Vega$ Jerry Lang Heist
1981 Walking Tall Father Adair The Fire Within
1981 The Littlest Hobo Jim Haley Trail of No Return
1983 The Scheme of Things Self
1983 The Night the Bridge Fell Down Cal Miller
1983 The Love Boat Paul Krakauer I Don't Play Anymore/Gopher's Roommate/Crazy for You
1984 Murder, She Wrote Alan Gephardt Hooray for Homicide
1985 The Love Boat Marc Silver Vicki's Gentleman Caller/Partners to the End/The Perfect Arrangement
1989 The Adventures of Superboy Hogan Birdwoman of the Swamps
1991 JFK uncredited David McVey Archive footage Cry of Battle
1991 American Masters Self Helen Hayes: First Lady of the American Theatre
1994 The Wonderful World of Disney: 40 Years of Television Magic Self
1997 Hawaii Five-O (1997 TV pilot) Governor Danny Williams Unsold pilot episode
1997 Light Lunch Self 70 Super Cops
1998 Storm Chasers: Revenge of the Twister Frank Del Rio (final film role)
2002 Swiss Family Robinson: Adventure in the Making Narrator Special thanks
2002 Inside TVLand: 40 Greatest Theme Songs Self
2002 Inside TVLand: Cops on Camera Self
2005 The 100 Greatest Family Films Self
2006 The 100 TV Quotes and Greatest Catch Phases Self
2007 Entertainment and TVLand Present: The 50 Greatest TV Icons Self
2008 The Age of Believing: The Disney Live Action Classics Self Grateful thanks
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 19 Jan 2023. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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