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Actor Barry Cutler Remembers James MacArthur, actor and son of Helen Hayes.

Via Off-Ramp commentator Barry Cutler:

Jim MacArthur once told me about a scene he was shooting as a child actor in a Disney film.  He was on a raft, floating down river, as the supernumerary natives rehearsed along the riverbanks chanting, "Oom bah guy yah!  Oom bah guy yah!"  Walt Disney walked over to little Jim, placed a hand on his shoulder and asked, "Do you know what oom bah guy yah, oom bah guy yah means, Jim?"  The little boy replied, "no, Mr. Disney, what does it mean?"  After a moment, Mr. Disney replied, "it means f--- you, Jim, f--- you, Jim."

Later in life, while working on the first incarnation of Hawaii Five-O, Jim fell in love with Hawaii.  And he learned to much prefer the local Hawaiian natives who, instead of saying, "Oom bah guy yah", said "Aloha, Makata."

The other day I attended Jim's memorial in Palm Desert.  I hadn't seen him for several years.  We'd met about a quarter of a century ago, performing together at a dinner theatre in San Antonio, Texas.  He took me under wing and we became sporadic friends.

Perhaps the main reasons I hadn't seen much of him was our strongly divergent political points of view.  He was a diehard Republican.  He had photos in his home at the inaugural balls of various Republican presidents, going all the way back to when he accompanied his parents, the wonderful playwright, Charles MacArthur, and the great actress, Helen Hayes, to Dwight D Eisenhower's ball.  There were other photos of him shaking hands with Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.  He played golf with celebrity Republicans. He once told me Vice President Dan Quayle wasn't as dumb as people thought he was.  My response, as a Liberal Progressive, was, well, maybe not as dumb, but pretty damned dumb.

Jim wore his celebrity lightly - a warm, friendly fellow who liked to hang out, have fun, and share his good fortune.  And, early in our relationship, we would tease one another about our political differences - he always the sharper and wittier tease.

However, at some point, probably in the nineties, I found it more difficult to be playful about such differences.  I stopped teasing and started arguing.  I came to believe that each and every individual's political opinion, no matter how insignificant it might seem in the grand scheme of things, contributed to the political climate.  And, rather than being light-hearted about such things, my heart often became an angry fist.  Still does.

Not long after Barack Obama was elected, a mutual friend invited me to meet with her and Jim.  I was reticent because I feared Jim might be teeming with sarcasm and our friend, wanting to have a good time, decided it would probably be best if I didn't come.  And, while we've exchanged some emails and greeting cards, that was my last chance to see Jim.

For much of the memorial service, I was very uncomfortable.  Aside from being a Liberal Progessive I am also an agnostic Jew.  The service took place in a large, beautiful Presbyterian Church.  There were lots of prayers, psalms and distributed bread and wine.  I had never known Jim was that religious and I was grateful for that.  His political beliefs were hard enough for me to take.  However, for first time in my life, I enjoyed bagpipes.  There was a band of bagpipes.  They reminded me of Jim, when we first met, and he played bagpipes in the play we performed.  Of course, back then, they still sounded awful.

Toward the close of the memorial, after some of Jim's children spoke, three of his friends also spoke.  They went back much further than I.  One friend, perhaps his oldest, gave a very moving talk, sprinkled with loving laughs about Jim's Republicanism and his witty verbal assaults on Liberal friends.  I figured the speaker was a fellow Republican.  Following him was a mutual friend, the woman who had invited me to see Jim that last time, who is very Liberal.  She gave a funny and gentle speech, remembering a time when her son, a godchild to Jim, had spent a few days with his godfather.  When the child returned home, he told his mom, "Rush is right."  She said it took quite some time to deprogram him.

Afterward, at the reception, I told my friend how uncomfortable I'd been, feeling like the only Liberal Progressive agnostic Jew in a sea of religious right-wingers.  She punched a hole in that, pointing out that when the bread and wine had been distributed, there were several Jews sitting near her who did not partake.  She had lifted her wine cup to them and toasted, "mazel tov!" 

She then introduced me to the fellow who spoke before her, who seemed to be one of Jim's oldest and closest friends, and a fellow Republican.  I repeated my line about feeling alienated as a Liberal Progressive agnostic Jew and, due to that, wondered how Jim and I had ever been able to be friends.  He laughed and told me that he too was a Liberal Progressive agnostic Jew.

And at that, my fisted heart momentarily relaxed, and I realized I'd blown it.  Both Jim and the man with whom I was speaking had been forgiving and, well, capacious enough, to maintain a long and loving friendship, despite their great differences.  And I felt the loss.

Aloha, Makata.