James Macarthur

James Macarthur


Also Known As
James Gordon Macarthur
Birth Place
Los Angeles, California, USA
December 08, 1937
October 28, 2010
Cause of Death
Natural Causes


A boyish juvenile lead before assuming one of the most iconic roles in the history of television police dramas, James MacArthur played Danny "Danno" Williams of "Book 'em, Danno" fame on 11 seasons of "Hawaii Five-O" (CBS, 1968-1980). The adopted son of actress Helen Hayes, he made his acting debut opposite her on the radio, and later became the youthful star of several live-action adven...


A boyish juvenile lead before assuming one of the most iconic roles in the history of television police dramas, James MacArthur played Danny "Danno" Williams of "Book 'em, Danno" fame on 11 seasons of "Hawaii Five-O" (CBS, 1968-1980). The adopted son of actress Helen Hayes, he made his acting debut opposite her on the radio, and later became the youthful star of several live-action adventures for Walt Disney Pictures, including "Swiss Family Robinson" (1961). He was a frequent guest star and supporting player in films and on television before landing the role on "Five-O," which kept him in the limelight for over a decade before leaving the program. Though MacArthur never found a follow-up project with the same degree of visibility, his body of work included enough popular favorites to ensure him a lasting degree of fame.

Born Dec. 8, 1937 in Los Angeles, he was adopted by acclaimed stage actress Helen Hayes and her husband, famed playwright Charles MacArthur - best known for co-writing with Ben Hecht the comedies "The Front Page" and "Twentieth Century." The couple named him James Gordon MacArthur and raised him in Nyack, NY. The leading lights of the American stage were a constant presence in his house during his early years; Lillian Gish was his godmother, while figures like John Barrymore, John Steinbeck, Robert Benchley and Harpo Marx were frequent guests. MacArthur himself made his performing debut at the age of 11 in a radio drama opposite his mother. A year later, he joined his sister Mary in a production of "The Corn is Green," which led to other stage productions. During this period, he also gained an invaluable education in backstage work as a set painter and sound and lighting technician.

MacArthur's big break came with an episode of the CBS anthology series "Climax!" (1954-59). John Frankenheimer directed the episode "Deal a Blow," which concerned a young man whose life is thrown into turmoil by an impulsive act. The story was later turned into a Frankenheimer-helmed feature retitled "The Young Stranger" (1956). MacArthur received critical praise for his performance, as well as a BAFTA nomination for Most Promising Newcomer, which launched his career in features. He was an earnest and athletic lead in two live action adventures for Walt Disney Pictures: "The Light in the Forest" (1958) cast MacArthur as a young American colonial boy who is kidnapped by a Native American tribe and raised as one of their own, while "Third Man on the Mountain" (1959) concerned a young Swiss boy who attempts to climb the mountain that killed his father. The movie also served as the inspiration for the popular Matterhorn ride at Disneyland.

MacArthur made both films during breaks from his freshman year of studies at Harvard University, but left college during his sophomore year to make his two biggest features for Disney. "Kidnapped" (1960) starred MacArthur as Robert Louis Stevenson's young hero who is shanghaied by unscrupulous seaman funded by his uncle to prevent him from attaining his father's fortunes, and Peter Finch as the Scottish swordsman who defended him. "The Swiss Family Robinson" saw MacArthur as the athletic Fritz, the eldest son of the shipwrecked family. The latter film was the highest grossing theatrical release of its year.

As he passed from his teen years into young adulthood, MacArthur attempted to branch out into more substantial characters than the earnest young men he had played for Disney. He made his Broadway debut opposite Jane Fonda in 1960's "Invitation to a March," and returned frequently to the stage throughout his career. Television offered him broader roles - most notably as a vicious killer on "The Untouchables" (ABC, 1959-1963) - but for the most part, he was cast as men struggling to assume adult roles and responsibilities, like his young doctor under fire in "The Interns" (1962) and a spoiled businessman's son who comes of age while fighting the Japanese Army during World War II in "Cry of Battle" (1963). In 1963, he was the eldest son of Henry Fonda's large brood in "Spencer's Mountain," which was based on the same source material as "The Waltons" (CBS, 1972-1981).

MacArthur worked steadily in supporting roles throughout the 1960s; he was a young American lieutenant who escaped the massacre of Allied troops in "The Battle of the Bulge" (1965) and an inexperienced Navy ensign on board a submarine stalking a Soviet vessel in "The Bedford Incident" (1965). In 1968, he took a small role as a preacher in Ted Post's "Hang 'Em High," a violent Western starring Clint Eastwood. The film's producer, Leonard Freeman, was also casting for a new crime series he was overseeing for CBS, and called on MacArthur to play the sidekick to Jack Lord's established police detective. The series was "Hawaii Five-O," which would be MacArthur's steady job for the next 11 years.

MacArthur was actually not the first person cast as Danny "Danno" Williams; in the series pilot, Tim O'Kelly played the role, but Freeman replaced the actor with MacArthur when the show went to series. Danno's job was to provide youthful exuberance and physicality to the investigations of the Five-O team, as well as lightness to the moody presence of Jack Lord as the team's chief, Steve McGarrett. The character's most lasting contribution to popular culture was his naming in McGarrett's frequent catch phrase, "Book 'em, Danno," which he uttered to MacArthur at the conclusion of most cases. MacArthur left the lucrative series before the start of its twelfth and final season. He had grown tired of the role, which had grown repetitive over the years. He then resumed the career he had enjoyed prior to the creation of "Five-O": a supporting player and occasional lead in episodic television and live theater. As the decades passed, his screen appearances grew fewer, so he devoted his time to business ventures and golfing, as well as the occasional retrospective on "Five-O" or his Disney films.

In 1996, he reprised his role as Danno on a pilot for a remake of "Hawaii Five-O" produced by Stephen J. Cannell. In the never-aired project, Danno had risen to the position of Hawaii's governor. The state later honored him with its annual Film in Hawaii award as part of the 2003 Hawaii International Film Festival. MacArthur died on Oct. 28, 2010 at the age of 72. At the time of his passing, he was reportedly planning to make a guest appearance on the revived "Hawaii Five-O" (CBS, 2010- ).

Life Events


Made his performing debut at the age of 11 in a radio drama opposite his mother


Made his stage debut with a two-week stint in "The Corn Is Green"


Starred as a complex and misunderstood teenager in an episode of the CBS anthology series "Climax!"; the episode "Deal a Blow" was directed by John Frankenheimer


Reprised role for Frankenheimer's film version, which was renamed "The Young Stranger"


Left Harvard to appear in the Disney films, "Kidnapped" and "Swiss Family Robinson"


Made his Broadway debut, playing opposite Jane Fonda in "Invitation to a March"


Had a memorable role as a vicious killer on "The Untouchables" (ABC)


Cast as the eldest son of Henry Fonda's large brood in "Spencer's Mountain"


Played Danny 'Danno' Williams in the CBS series, "Hawaii Five-O"; left the series before the start of its twelfth and final season


Had a brief but memorable appearance in the Clint Eastwood movie, "Hang 'Em High"


Returned to the theater in "The Lunch Hour" with Cybill Shepherd


Played the lead role of Hildy Johnson in a production of "The Front Page," which was co-written by his father in the late 1920s


Starred in the made-for-television movie, "The Night the Bridge Fell Down"


Acted in the Family Channel movie, "Storm Chasers: Revenge of the Twisters"


Had a cameo role in Joe Moore's play "Dirty Laundry," playing a priest accused of molestation


Co-directed a revival version of "Twentieth Century," a play co-written by his father, Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht


Movie Clip

Love-Ins, The (1967) - The Joe Pyne Show Richard Todd is professor Barnett, who’s resigned over students being expelled for printing a hippie newspaper, James MacArthur and Susan Oliver cheering him on, as he appears with the real California talk-radio and TV pioneer Joe Pyne, in producer Sam Katzman’s The Love-Ins, 1967.
Love-Ins, The (1967) - Tomorrow's Times Just Richard Todd, as professor Barnett, who’s taking in the hippie scene in San Francisco, having quit his job to protest the expulsion of his students for publishing an underground newspaper, mostly liking what he sees, in producer Sam Katzman’s low-rent The Love-Ins, 1967.
Love-Ins, The (1967) - Trippin' To The Wonderland Professor Barnett (Richard Todd) is now buying into his role as guru to a hippie community, and Elliott (Mark Goddard) is charging admission for this event, where Larry (James MacArthur) gets worried as Patricia (Susan Oliver) wants more acid, the band not credited, in The Love-Ins, 1967.
SwIss Family Robinson - Raft Father (John Mills), Mother (Dorothy McGuire) and the boys (James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran) head for shore, followed by dogs, in Swiss Family Robinson, 1960.
Swiss Family Robinson (1960) - Tiger As the Robinson family (John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran) comes ashore, they deal with immediate business, unaware of a nearby predator in Swiss Family Robinson, 1960.
Swiss Family Robinson (1960) - Livestock Having rescued livestock from the shipwreck, Father (John Mills), Fritz (James MacArthur) and Ernst (Tommy Kirk) run into trouble heading back to the island in Swiss Family Robinson, 1960.
Swiss Family Robinson (1960) - New House Father (John Mills), Fritz (James MacArthur), Ernst (Tommy Kirk) and Francis (Kevin Corcoran) show Mother (Dorothy McGuire) their new island home in Disney's Swiss Family Robinson, 1960.
Interns, The (1962) - Orthodox Heathen Shortly before he became "Jed Clampett," Buddy Ebsen did this nice turn as the senior doctor counseling young Dr. Otis (Cliff Robertson), object of a complaint, in The Interns, 1962.
Interns, The (1962) - Student Nurse Otis (Cliff Robertson) and the interns have set up Lew (James MacArthur) with the cute new nurse Gloria (Stefanie Powers), in the kids' ward at Christmas, in The Interns, 1962.



Helen Hayes
Actor. Adoptive mother.
Charles MacArthur
Screenwriter, director, playwright. Adoptive father.
Mary MacArthur