Thursday, October 28, 2010

So Long, Danno

James MacArthur, the youthful actor forever known as “Danno” after eleven seasons on HAWAII FIVE-0, died today in Florida at age 72. The cause of death given was natural causes.

MacArthur was actually not originally cast as Danny Williams, the number-one sidekick to Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett. Tim O’Kelly (TARGETS) played Williams in the 1968 pilot episode, “Cocoon,” but MacArthur took over the role thereafter and stuck with the series until 1979. He left the show after its eleventh season, and FIVE-0 limped along one year without MacArthur until its 1980 cancellation.

HAWAII FIVE-0 would fit nicely with much of today’s network schedule, thirty years after it left CBS; in fact, a remake of the series premiered on CBS last month with Scott Caan (OCEAN’S ELEVEN), the son of movie star James, cast as Danno. FIVE-0’s emphasis on dynamic plots and exotic Hawaiian culture left little time for backstories, leaving it to the actors themselves to create strong characters through their performances.

Because of episodic television standards of the period, as well as—let’s face it—Jack Lord’s reported reticence to share the spotlight, FIVE-0’s supporting actors, which also over the years included Kam Fong as Chin Ho Kelly, Zulu as Kono, Herman Wedemeyer as Duke, and Al Harrington as Ben Kokua, received few opportunities to shine alone. Even MacArthur, an accomplished star of Disney movies and the scion of Hollywood royalty (his mother was Helen Hayes), rarely got an episode of his own.

Perhaps MacArthur’s finest performance as Danny Williams was in the third-season episode “Beautiful Screamer,” which aired December 2, 1970. Rarely seen since then, because it was not included with most syndicated packages until HAWAII FIVE-0 was digitally remastered in the 1990s, “Beautiful Screamer” provides one of the few cases to impact the Five-0 team on a personal level.

Two beautiful young women who are friends with each other are strangled to death. One of them is Danny’s girlfriend, Jane Michaels, played by a gorgeous Anne Archer, making one of her first TV appearances at age 23. The killer is Walter Gregson (Lloyd Bochner), a cold bastard who wants to murder his rich wife (a dishy Laraine Stephens) and strangles the other women to make it appear as though a psycho is on the loose.

Scripted by Stephen Kandel, an excellent writer with a gift for offbeat plotting, and directed by Tony Leader, “Beautiful Screamer” allows McGarrett to step aside and let Danno run the investigation. It’s certainly the most emotional acting MacArthur ever did on the series and a nice showcase for a somewhat stiff performer who must have relished the chance to play something with more meat to it.

1 comment:

Hal said...

Melody Patterson's ex, and therefore, a lucky bastard, even though he's dead. R.I.P. Danno.