James MacArthur dies at 72; actor played ‘Danno’ on ‘Hawaii Five-0'

James MacArthur, right, starred in the 1960 version of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped," with John Laurie.
James MacArthur, right, starred in the 1960 version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped,” with John Laurie.
(© Walt Disney Productions / © Walt Disney Productions)

James MacArthur, an actor best known for portraying Det. Danny “Danno” Williams on the original " Hawaii Five-0,” the TV series that turned “Book ‘em, Danno” into a national catchphrase, has died. He was 72.

MacArthur, who also appeared in the classic Disney film “Swiss Family Robinson,” died of natural causes Thursday in Florida, said his agent, Richard Lewis.

From 1968 to 1979, MacArthur appeared on “Hawaii Five-0" as the chief assistant to Det. Steve McGarrett, played by Jack Lord, who often ended episodes of the police drama by uttering the famous line.

“He said ‘book him’ to others in the cast, but I guess he said it to me the most,” MacArthur told Florida’s Bradenton Herald in 2007. “It wasn’t anything we really thought about at first. But the phrase just took off and caught the public’s imagination.”

A year before “Hawaii Five-0" ended its run in 1980, MacArthur left the hit show a wealthy man. He had invested his earnings, often in Hawaiian real estate, and only occasionally appeared on television after that.

Born Dec. 8, 1937, in Los Angeles, James Gordon MacArthur was the adopted son of Helen Hayes, an actress who was dubbed the first lady of the American theater, and Charles MacArthur, a playwright and screenwriter who co-wrote the play “The Front Page.” His older sister, Mary, died of polio at 19 in 1949.

His parents tried to keep their young son away from the theater, but he often had opportunities for walk-on parts, he told The Times in 1962, and he debuted on stage when he was 8 as a Welsh boy in “The Corn Is Green” in summer stock in Maryland.

He attended Harvard University but eventually left to pursue a film career that featured him as a tortured teen in such dramatic films as “The Young Stranger” (1957) and “Light in the Forest” (1958), one of four Disney movies he made.

MacArthur also starred in Disney’s “Third Man on the Mountain” (1959) as a Swiss boy determined to climb the Matterhorn and in “Kidnapped” (1960), a historical adventure set in old Scotland.

In the well-received 1960 movie “Swiss Family Robinson,” he played one of the sons of the shipwrecked family that builds a life on a tropical island.

Decades later, MacArthur recalled in The Times that the cast became one happy family while filming on location on the island of Tobago in the West Indies.

“Everybody was having fun,” MacArthur said in a 2002 Times interview. ""I was like 20 or 21, and I was on this island with pirate ships and was playing poker with Sessue Hayakawa,” who portrayed the captain of the band of pirates.

MacArthur played Hayley Mills’ first boyfriend in “The Truth About Spring” (1965) and later joked: “I gave Hayley her first screen kiss. Somebody had to do it.”

He had a small role as a preacher in the Clint Eastwood western “Hang ‘em High,” a 1968 film written by Leonard Freeman, who produced “Hawaii Five-0.”

When the “Hawaii Five-0" pilot was screened for a test audience, they liked the show but thought Tim O’Kelly, who was cast as Lord’s assistant, was too young for the role. Freeman asked MacArthur if he would like part.

“I read a script and said, ‘Heck, yes,’ ” MacArthur said in 2007 in the Bradenton Herald.

By its third season, the series was one of the top 10 most-watched shows.

Freeman “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 in the 2007 interview.

After leaving “Hawaii Five-0,” his most prominent role was the 1980 TV movie “Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story,” in which he played a rare non-sympathetic character, according to the AllMovie internet database.

He also acted with his mother in a 1980 episode of “The Love Boat.”

More recently, he had co-directed a revival at the Diamond Head Theatre in Honolulu of “Twentieth Century,” a play his father co-wrote.

As of 1997, MacArthur was semi-retired and living in Palm Desert. He also often spent time in Hawaii “in one of the best investments he ever made,” he told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 2003 — a Diamond Head condo he bought to live in during the early years of “Hawaii Five-0.”

His marriages to actresses Joyce Bulifant and Melody Patterson ended in divorce.

MacArthur is survived by his wife of more than 25 years, Helen Beth Duntz, a former professional golfer; four children, Charles P. MacArthur, James D. MacArthur, Mary McClure and Juliette Rappaport; and seven grandchildren.

Services were being planned in Nyack, N.Y., where he grew up; Palm Desert; and Honolulu.