James MacArthur thought his wife of more than two decades was hard-headed and overly practical, but their marriage was the longest a woman had ever held him down.
James MacArthur is perhaps best known for portraying Danny "Danno" Williams in the long-running TV series "Hawaii Five-O." He had many fans and enjoyed fame in his lifetime, and it was all because he had been fortunate enough to have been adopted by two living legends.
Their names are Helen Hayes, a famous actress, and her husband, Charles MacArthur, who has collaborated with the likes of Ben Hecht to write what some consider the most remarkable American stage comedies of all time, "The Front Page" and "Twentieth Century."
Picture of actor James MacArthur [left]. Actor James MacArthur, wife Helen Beth Duntz and son Jamie MacArthur attend Victoria's Magazine "A Star in Our Crown" Gala on May 18, 1992 at Essex House in New York City [right] | Photo: Getty Images
Given their own artistic predilections, it's not shocking that James, who constantly got exposed to their creativity, developed a taste for showbiz. He grew up to become a good actor, and he was married three times before he passed away. Here are details about his personal life and marriages.
JAMES MACARTHUR'S FIRST MARRIAGE TO AN ACTRESS DIDN'T LAST LONG
The first woman MacArthur was involved with was Joyce Bulifant. The two met when he was just 15, but their first meeting was nothing romantic, and Bulifant did not like it one bit.
It happened one cold morning as she rushed to English class after horsing around for too long with her friends in the Solebury's school cafeteria.
She had arrived at the classroom building with some time to spare, so she stopped to catch her breath, and after composing herself, she tried the doorknob, but it refused to budge.
Portrait of James MacArthur circa 1960 | Photo: Getty Images
MacArthur stood on the other side of the door with a mischievous grin on his face as he held the doorknob in place on the other side. Thinking to outsmart him, Bulifant had run around to the other side, but he had gotten there first and repeated his action.
This infuriated Bulifant, but there was little she could do until the boy got tired of playing with her and moved on.
After the final bell rang, she started scolding him, so he opened the door, and as she walked past, he said, "Okay, goody-goody. Run to class!" — according to Bulifant; she held a grudge against him for weeks.
Portrait of James MacArthur circa 1957 | Photo: Getty Images
MacArthur had a reputation for being a troublemaker, which worsened his standing with Bulifant, who burned with righteous anger, but one day, she was forced to put that on the back burner when he invited her to lunch with his famous mom.
After that lunch, she expressed disappointment in his manners and walked away, having made a friend with his mother. Later on, a friend revealed that MacArthur had a thing for her, and soon after that, she acted on the Intel, beginning her journey with the actor.
The relationship blossomed into something more after the two graduated High school until one day they got engaged. The actor broke the news of the engagement to his mother Helen Hayes on Mother's Day.
Portrait of James MacArthur circa 1957 | Photo: Getty Images
The woman had not been surprised because the two were high school sweethearts, and she had been happy. Then, a couple of weeks later, the Bulifants also gave their blessings, and the wheels were set in motion.
The ceremony was slated to happen in 1960 but was moved up a little – to the time MacArthur's picture was finished – on November 2, 1958.
Around the time of their marriage, MacArthur had just started out as an actor and was putting in long hours, so they only had three days for their honeymoon.
They had wanted more, but there was a lot to do, especially for MacArthur, who had secured a role in "Far Away the Train Birds Cry" — a crucial play.
Helen Hayes and James MacArthur at the 89th Birthday Party for Helen Hayes on October 10, 1989, in New York | Photo: Getty Images
Bulifant also got signed for a role in "Tall Story" because she needed something to occupy her, and she believed it would be fun to be in a play at the same time as her husband.
Unfortunately, MacArthur's play was put on hold indefinitely while Bulifant was tied down with "Tall Story," which meant he had to spend what could have been 21 days of honeymoon time by himself in a bachelor apartment at the Chateau Marmont while she stayed back in New York.
He stayed loyal through those three weeks, maintaining his public image, and it was obvious to everyone, including the press, that he considered her his whole life.
Publicity photo of James MacArthur from the premiere of the television program Hawaii Five-O | Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Later on, Bulifant's career got her on the big screen as an actress at first, then as a director. She is known for appearing in "Airplane!" (1980), "Dirty Love" (2005), and "American Playhouse (1980). She also had a recurring role as "Marie Slaughter" on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
It was not easy for both entertainers to be together while building their careers, but fortunately, they had help from Helen Hayes. For instance, she was the one who facilitated the couple's meeting when he had to leave for Switzerland to film Disney's "Third Man on the Mountain."
Bulifant was alone in Pipersville, but even though she dreaded the days and nights to come without her husband, she understood why they were apart — location shooting is a crucial part of an actor's job, after all.
Portrait of American actor James MacArthur in the television series 'Hawaii Five-0,' on June 10, 1968 | Photo: Getty Images
The renowned actress, Helen Hayes, could tell her daughter-in-law was feeling lonely, so she called her frequently to talk about letters they'd gotten from her son. During one of those calls, Bulifant confessed how much she missed her fiancé.
"I'm so miserable; I miss Jim so much. It doesn't feel right to be away from him," she said, and moved by her honesty, Hayes offered to take her on a trip to Europe, and seeing MacArthur was one of the side attractions. A week later, they were in Zermatt, where he was working, then that night, they had a great meal followed by a dance.
When Bulifant returned to their home in the US later, she no longer felt bogged down by her fiancé's absence, but that was only the beginning because as MacArthur's career boomed, the more he stayed away from home.
Headshot of James MacArthur, in a publicity portrait issued for the US television series, 'Hawaii Five-0', USA, circa 1975 | Photo: Getty Images
It was not voluntary, and he had loved her, but he had gotten himself bit by the acting bug and was all about letting the creative juices flow. Still, things were great in the first six years of their marriage.
"Certainly the competitive thing was there," MacArthur once said, referring to how long it took Bulifant to achieve fame compared to him.
Actor James MacArthur, in a publicity portrait issued for the US television series, 'Hawaii Five-0', USA, circa 1969 | Photo: Getty Images
However, what ultimately caused their split was the distance that always seemed to separate them even after they had kids. "The distance that separated us simply proved to be too much of a strain on both of us," he said.
They sought help professionally seven years into the marriage, but it did little to stop the separation that happened two years later. He said:
"In a marriage, there is always one person who wants out and one person who doesn't, and that's where the hurt comes in. The marriage counselor could spot that right off the bat."
Helen Hayes and James MacArthur at the Spirit of America Gala on December 13, 1990, in Beverly Hills | Photo: Getty Images
It took him three years of courtship to prove his seriousness to Beth, who he nicknamed HB (short for Hard Boiled). According to the actor, his mother had been unconcerned about what was happening between him and his wife, instead funneling all her concern towards their children's welfare.
"She didn't give a [expletive] about Joyce or me. She was completely concerned about our two children," MacArthur said. Nobody knows who among the two pushed for a divorce, but soon after they parted, MacArthur fell for another woman.
Helen Hayes and James MacArthur at the Kennedy Child Study Center Benefit Dinner on October 10, 1991, in New York | Photo: Getty Images
JAMES' SECOND MARRIAGE AND A WHIRLWIND JET–SET ROMANCE
A few months after his divorce from Bulifant, MacArthur attended a party with a close friend, and there he met the second woman he would marry. Her name was Melody, and they had both known there was something there when they looked in each other's eyes and "something clicked."
After a few days, the actor worked up enough courage to call her and ask her to the movies, which she agreed to, thus beginning their romance.
Helen Hayes and James MacArthur sitting together on January 1, 1955 | Photo: Getty Images
About the call, he said, "That was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. You remember that I had been married for nine years and was a father of two children, so it'd been a long time since I had called a girl for a date."
Soon after, she was introduced to his kids, and they all got along because of her background as an only child. The woman, who was also an actress, admitted that she felt a sting of envy when she learned that both kids would spend about a month of their summer vacation with MacArthur while she remained on the mainland.
Actor James MacArthur attends St. Clare's Hospital Kickoff Luncheon on October 6, 1993 at Sardi's Restaurant in New York City | Photo: Getty Images
However, she changed her mind after deciding he had all the right as their father — especially given how much he always cared for his kids.
She was right; MacArthur had been very invested in his kids, and so were his ex-wife and their parents. It was his love for the two kids that made him decide his first divorce would be as painless as possible. He once said:
"We neither wanted to hurt the children. We had really had something for each other, and we earnestly didn't want to lose it"
Helen Hayes and James MacArthur at the Fourth Annual Kennedy Center Honors on December 5, 1981, in Washington | Photo: Getty Images
Not much is known about why the actor and Melody got divorced in 1977, but the following year, MacArthur was involved in a whirlwind romance with a girl 18 years younger than him. Her name was Michelle Felice, and they met when he was 41 while she was 23.
They were introduced by her boss, and they immediately hit it off. Speaking about MacArthur, she said, "Jim's a very loving person." Despite the fact their relationship never resulted into marriage MacArthur still had this to say about her:
"Michelle makes me feel fantastic. She's got such terrific vitality and a great sense of humor. She's so much fun to be with, and we both like doing the same sort of exciting things."
Helen Hayes and James MacArthur attend a premiere in Los Angeles, circa 1956 | Photo: Getty Images
JAMES FINALLY MET A WOMAN WHO MANAGED TO KEEP HIM
MacArthur met his third wife because of his passion for golfing; She had been on an LPGA tour when she hurt her back and had been teaching Hawaii on her time off.
Her name was Helen Beth, and after MacArthur joined her and one of his other female friends for a game of golf, he decided they would have a small wedding. He said:
"On the 17th hole my friend said, 'Well, how'd you like her?' And I said, 'It'll be a small wedding...'"
Actor James MacArthur, wife Helen Beth Duntz and son Jamie MacArthur attend Victoria's Magazine "A Star in Our Crown" Gala on May 18, 1992 at Essex House in New York City | Photo: Getty Image
It took him three years of courtship to prove his seriousness to Beth, who he nicknamed HB (short for Hard Boiled), and they went on to have a child named Jamie.
The actor had always been serious with the woman because he knew she was the one he had been waiting for. "This is the girl I wish I'd met years ago. You know when it's right -- and it's wonderful," he said about her.
James MacArthur at the Copacabana for the annual St. Vincent's Midtown Hospital fundraising dinner on June 20, 2005 | Photo: Getty Images
Their shared love for golf and even tennis is great for their relationship, and the actor has admitted that he has been able to pick up a few things from the talented woman. Their child received the best of MacArthur because he was no longer tied up for too long, so they had time to spend bonding.
He even compared it to his acting days, saying, "I can't tell you the joy I'm having with my little guy and my wife, the "Hawaii Five-O" days were great, but this is better than anything." MacArthur and Helen remained wedded in marital bliss for 25 years up until MacArthur sadly passed away in 2010.