Hawaii Five-O is the only network series filmed entirely in the fiftieth state. The 2,500-mile trip from Honolulu to the California homes of many members of the show is a little beyond commuting distance. So actors like James MacArthur have had to spend more time in the "island paradise," during the last three seasons, than at what many of them from California still call home.
Travel posters would have you believe that life in the islands is all surfing in the sun, sunning on the sand, or sipping exotic fruit drinks from pineapple shells while lounging beneath palm trees. Is that the way it is for those making a TV series in Hawaii?
Jim, who plays Danny Williams on Hawaii Five-O, grinned. "Hardly," he said. "We work harder there than we would in Hollywood. Really! We put in a six-day week. The unions wouldn't allow that in Hollywood. But such union rules don't apply in Hawaii. Many guys working on the show want to get in as much time and money as they can; so we not only have a 'one-day week end,' but we start shooting each day at 6:30 a.m.!
"I've done a lot of location work in my career — in England, Spain, Switzerland, in the Philippines and the West Indies. When you're on location, usually everybody is put up in a hotel; after work each day, everyone gets together at the hotel and has a ball. But working on Hawaii Five-O is not like that. After all, actors who come from the mainland to do the series spend about eight months each year on the islands. How long can a party last?
"So, almost everybody in the crew brings his family to live with him. Some now live there all year. Others 'settle' there for roughly three quarters of the year, then return for a 'visit' to their homes. However we choose to work it, all of us live in Hawaii as we do in Hollywood — except we all work harder.
"I bought an apartment in Honolulu and live right under Diamond Head. My wife and I love Hawaii, but there's one tough thing about it. My wife, Melody [whom Jim married in July 1970], is an actress. She was in the F Troop series. But since Hawaii Five-O is the only series being made in Hawaii, there's nothing for her to do professionally. So she's starting to cook like crazy, just to fill up the time, I guess. She's a good cook! And we couldn't have much of a marriage if she were in Hollywood and I was in Hawaii, could we?"
Life in Hawaii for actors like James MacArthur may not be all leis and luaus, but it isn't all drudgery either — at least not for all twelve months of the year. During the four months that he can leave the role of Danny Williams behind him, Jim gets in a lot of scuba diving, surfing, sailing, and skiing. Since the mountains in Hawaii are high but never snow-capped, Jim and his wife flew to Mexico to ski not long ago. During a month's vacation there, when they weren't schussing down snow-covered slopes, they were wandering afoot through dusty Aztec Indian ruins around Cuernavaca.
For a summer visit in Honolulu with their father, Jim's two children by a former marriage, Charles, ten, and Mary, five, flew over from the mainland. "They love it," said Jim. "My boy is a surfer. He's better than I am. I've had him scuba diving. He has a ball. We go to the beach, have picnics, and go fishing. But we don't catch anything. Everyone always seems to be catching fish except us. I don't think we really care, though. Despite the hard work, it's been a relaxed life in Hawaii."
More relaxed in Hawaii, perhaps, than in Tarzana, California, where Jim still maintains a house. "There I have an orchard of fruit trees," he said, "and I spend my time taking care of them — trimming them, fertilizing them. . . . There's always something to do."
But whether in Honolulu, Cuernavaca, or Tarzana, the active life seems to suit Jim just fine. "I don't like to program myself," he declared. "If I liked to program myself, I'd be in a bank, checking retirement benefits. I have nothing against that for someone who wants to do it, but there's a big world out there."
Why did Jim get into dramatics in the first place? Might as well ask Henry Ford II why he's so interested in cars. Jim's mother is the eminent actress Helen Hayes, and his late father was Charles MacArthur, a newspaperman and a writer of comedies.
Jim was only eight when he made his first professional appearance as an actor in a summer stock theater production of The Corn Is Green. While still attending school, Jim made frequent TV appearances and has played on Broadway, as well as appearing in such movies as Swiss Family Robinson and The Battle of the Bulge.
During our talk, Jim spoke with great affection about both his famous parents. "My father and I were very close," he said. "He was a good talker and I've always been a good listener. Unfortunately for me, he died in 1956, just when I was on the threshold of being able to understand what he was talking about."
Police-type series have a habit of appearing — and disappearing — on TV even faster than other shows. One reason that CBS's Hawaii Five-O has lasted so long is probably because it is set in Hawaii. When the show first began, its creators decided to use as much of Hawaii's spectacular scenery as possible. The islands offer plenty of interesting background shots, and the landscape of Hawaii offers a relief from the usual auto chases seen in such programs. Here the operatives of Five-O — the official designation of Hawaii's police investigative unit — frequently have to forego squad cars. Often, they go island-hopping in speed boats and helicopters while chasing the crooks.
Hawaii Five-O's performance goes against a trend that many in the industry take for granted. Instead of its ratings gradually dropping each season, Hawaii Five-O's have steadily risen. Jim agreed that the setting may have something to do with it. "We do have Hawaii," he admitted. But he felt that there are other reasons, too. "We have a fast pace and, by and large, excellent scripts," he said. "And at the risk of sounding immodest, we have good actors and good guests.
"The series also owes a lot to its producers. We've found some very capable actors in Hawaii who have appeared on the show. Some are as talented as anyone we could get anywhere. But if the producers have any doubts about local talent being able to fill a part, they don't hesitate to put an actor on a plane — wherever he is — and bring him in."
Jim, of course, had already indicated another "secret ingredient" of Hawaii Five-O's success formula: a lot of hard work in the land of tanned tourists and happy hula girls.