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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 11, 2005

Stepping back into the 'Twentieth Century' scene

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Tom Holowach, Dennis Proulx and David Farmer are on board in "Twentieth Century," beginning tonight at Diamond Head Theatre.

Brad Goda


A comedy by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, produced by Diamond Head Theatre

Premieres at 8 p.m. today; repeats 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 27

Diamond Head Theatre


diamondheadtheatre.com, 733-0274

Featuring: Dennis Proulx as Oscar Jaffe, Brenda Lee Hillebrenner as Lily Garland, John Hunt as the conductor, Gordon Ing as Grover Lockwood, Laurie Tanoura as Anita Highland, David Farmer as Owen O'Malley, Tom Holowach as Oliver Webb, Allen Cole as Flanagan, Barbara Kaneshiro as Dr. Johnson, Earll Kingston as Matthew Clark, Mary Hart as Sadie and Gene DeFrancis as George Smith

You can, apparently, go home again.

James MacArthur, who splits time between Honolulu and Palm Desert, Calif., has been here more than a month or so, mounting his late father's romantic comedy "Twentieth Century."

With Bill Ogilvie, a veteran of local theater, MacArthur is co-directing Diamond Head Theatre's revival of the original script of the popular play by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht. It's the first time in three decades he's been involved in an Island production.

"It's been about 30-odd years and a different play (last time it was "The Front Page"), but it's nice to be back," said James MacArthur, widely known as Detective Danny Williams, as in "Book 'em, Danno," on the "Hawaii Five-O" TV series that ran 12 years on CBS and is still airing in syndication.

"My father wrote the play in 1931, and it's a funny romantic comedy," said MacArthur. "Romance never goes out of style, and we've assembled a very nice cast of actors."

The production premieres tonight at Diamond Head.

Somewhat "retired," Mac-Arthur — whose mom was the late actress Helen Hayes — said it's great to occasionally to rise from the mothballs to do something fun.

"I'm real happy to be doing this," he said. "I don't get a chance very often to go to work and hear my father's words."

The play, revived last season on the Broadway stage in an adaptation by Ken Ludwig with Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche in the lead roles, focuses on successful but egomaniacal director Oscar Jaffe, who has transformed chorus girl Lily Garland into a leading lady. As she heads for Hollywood with stardom beckoning, his career slides; he boards a train, the Twentieth Century Limited, where he runs into her, and tries to coax the temperamental star to do another show together.

"The first time I saw this play was more than 50 years ago," MacArthur said. "At that time, the stars were Gloria Swanson and Jose Ferrer."

He opted to follow the original script in remounting the classic.

"Besides, I own (the rights to) the play," said MacArthur.

Though it's a family property, MacArthur said he has no inside track or secret notes that his father might have left.

"But I remember going with him and talking about the play, so I have a sense that I'm connected to his ideas," he said. "I really have a sense of his world. I was a little rugrat in those days."

MacArthur said he did some research, going through all his dad's papers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Recalling "Five-O," Mac-Arthur said it's a quiet thrill to be remembered with reverence for a role he originated on that groundbreaking series starring Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett.

"Who'd have thunk?" he chuckled. "We were all young when the show started; my hair's white now. Life's a funny thing."

"The last season I stayed, I just saw the show going downhill," he said. "It was after Lenny (Leonard Freeman, the driving force behind the crime drama) died, and I didn't think the stories, the writing, were as good as the earlier years, so I left on a high. I had enough. It was not a contract dispute with CBS or anything like that."

The show bowed in September 1968 and ran through April 1980, with MacArthur bailing out after the 1979 season.

He said he has frequent chats with Rose Freeman, widow of Leonard Freeman.

As for the bandied-about big-screen version, he has reservations. "Rose says they're still tuning up the script," said MacArthur. "I tend to believe it's tough to match the original TV shows."

There have been attempts to capitalize on various long-running tube series, with theatrical films falling short of the mark. Over the years, such shows as "Starsky and Hutch," "S.W.A.T.," "The Brady Bunch," "Mod Squad" and "The Flintstones" have transferred to the big screen, with disappointing results.

"Of course, if you have a Tom Cruise, you can make 'Mission: Impossible' work," MacArthur said.

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.