A computer in New York City got James MacArthur -- who likes to surf not far from his apartment near Diamond Head, Honolulu -- his job as Jack Lord's assistant in CBS's Hawaii Five-O.
Another actor played the part in the original, movie-length pilot of the projected television series. Before this went on the air last fall, it was shown to an audience of 1200 in New York. Each viewer held a dial which, when turned one way or the other, indicated what he liked or disliked in the film as he watched it unreel. The dials fed into a computer which showed that the audience definitely disapproved of the actor who played Lord's young assistant. It was not that they actually disliked him.
Subsequent questioning revealed that they felt he was too young to hold down an important job in the fictional Hawaii Five-O unit. Thus, Leonard Freeman, creator and executive producer of the series, replaced the young actor with MacArthur. They had worked together in the motion picture "Hang Em High", and MacArthur, then 30, was old enough for the job yet youthful enough to attract the young viewers TV shows are looking for.
It was probably refreshing -- certainly different -- for James MacArthur to be helped to the role by a computer. All his professional life he has been known as the son of Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur, the late playwright; and there have been rumblings that this fact helped account for his success as an actor -- featured roles in movies since he was a student at Harvard more than 10 years ago.
Concerning this, Jim has said, "Being the child of two celebrities in the theater has many advantages. You're exposed to contacts. You get to read for parts that other actors never even hear about. But ultimately no one can do the job for you. You're on -- alone. And concerning his famous mother, her son says simply, "To you, she is Helen Hayes. To me, she was always just Mom." He adds, "What Mom did was as natural to me as it was to my friends that their fathers worked in offices or their mothers taught school and about as important -- which is to say that it was not very important at all."
At first, Mom was not enthusiastic about his becoming an actor. When he was 7 and offered a small part in a play, Miss Hayes said, "No! No! Jamie is going to have a normal child-hood!" But a year later he made his dramatic debut, playing a Welsh boy in a summer-stock production of "The Corn is Green" at Olney, Md. Although today Jim MacArthur describes his childhood as "normal", he is speaking relatively. Born in Los Angeles and adopted by the MacArthurs as an infant, he was raised in Nyack,, N.Y., in a big Victorian frame house with a back yard sloping down to the river. There he and his elder sister, Mary, a talented actress who died of polio at 19, met such family friends as Ben Hecht, who was a neighbor, Harpo Marx, John Barrymore and Robert Benchley.
Since Charles MacArthur was assistant to the chief of the Chemical Warfare Service in Washington during World War II, most of Jim's early memories are of his mother: "When I was very young, she insisted on spending at feast one evening a week with me. Whenever that evening came, she would go off to the kitchen alone. Mom would turn off all the lights and tell me stories." As for his father, he has said, "He didn't much like the role of disciplinarian. He was pretty relaxed about life. I remember him, when I was older, saying, in all seriousness, "Do as I say, not as l do'."
Young Jim spent most of his growing years in boarding schools ("but my parents wrote to me every day"). At one of them, Solebury School in Bucks County, Pa., he met a pretty blonde, Joyce Bulifant, whom he married in 1958. (She became an actress and the mother of MacArthur's son, Charles, now 8, and MacArthur's daughter, Mary, 3. The couple are divorced.) He also played baseball, basketball and football.
Although he continued acting during summer vacations, it was not until he was a sophomore at Harvard that he decided to become a full-time professional. He had said, "I'll finish school," but finding Cambridge, Mass., dull and depressing, he headed for Hollywood. His mother took his decision philosophically, saying, "I'd rather have an actor son than a crazy, mixed-up Harvard graduate. By the time he was 21. Jim had appeared in five movies, almost as many as Helen Hayes made in her entire career. A British critic wrote, "If we must have a rat race for the throne of the late James Dean, the boy for my money is James MacArthur."
It has not quite worked out that way. Perhaps Jim looks too much the stocky, square-jawed, clean-cut American young man, with none of the introverted, tortured mystique of James Dean. He is glad to be playing second lead in Hawaii Five-O "because it gives me a change. James MacArthur gets a chance to play somebody not on a motorcycle." Perhaps, because he was brought up so close to it, he does not take his chosen profession seriously enough. He says, "You're an actor, you're nothing." But producer Leonard Freeman says, "He's strong enough to throw a car around, but he is also a sensitive actor."
Perhaps it is because he is atypically modest about himself. Last winter, when lie returned from a USO "handshaking tour" of Vietnam, he said, I was a little dubious before I went. But if your face is familiar, you don't have to be a big star. They appreciate your being there because they know you don't have to be there." Or perhaps his mother put it best when she wrote in her memoirs, "Charlie and I, with all our fears and all our mistakes, managed to bring up a man."
Which is exactly what the computer was looking for.