The photo at right is from the website of actor James MacArthur, who was known for his role as Detective Danny Williams ("Book 'em Dano") on the Hawaii Five-O TV series (1968-1979). Pictured at right are his foster parents, former Chicago journalist, playwrite, screen writer, and author Charles MacArthur and his wife, stage and film actress Helen Hayes.
Charles MacArthur and fellow Chicago journalist Ben Hecht were the authors of the The Front Page, the classic comedy about politics, the Cook County Court House, and reporters in Chicago. The play was revived on Broadway and on TV many times and was also made as a movie at least four times.
Charles was born on November 5, 1895 in Scranton, Pennsylvania and was the youngest of seven children of an evangelist. One of his brothers was John D. MacArthur who was previously profiled in this Illinois Hall of Fame series. John was one of America's richest men when he died and the founder of Bankers Life and Casualty and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago.
Right after high school in 1913, Charles moved to Oak Park, Illinois to work for The Oak Leaves, a community newspaper that still exists today as part of the Pioneer Press/Sun-Times News Group. The paper was then owned by two of his older brothers and was run by his older sister. At age 19 in 1914, Charles went to work for the City News Bureau of Chicago. His articles appeared in The Chicago Daily News and in The Chicago Daily Tribune as it was then called.
In 1916, Charles joined the First Illinois Cavalry on a mission to the Mexican border with Gen. Black Jack Pershing in the effort to capture the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa. The Illinois militia went home but Charles went to France in 1917 as a soldier in the 149th Field Artillery of the Rainbow Division.
Charles returned to Chicago after World War I to work for the Chicago Herald and Examiner. His editor was Walter Hovey who was almost certainly the inspriation for the character Walter Burns, the editor of reporter Hildy Johnson's newspaper in The Front Page. MacArthur was a widely read reporter whose copy was exciting in the competitive journalistic style of the 1920s.
In 1920 Charles married Carol Frink who was also a reporter for The Herald-Examiner. But the marriage did not last and Carol was not with him when he moved to New York in 1924 to try his hand at writing plays. Ben Hecht, author of 1001 Chicago NIghts, also moved to New York in the middle 1920s for the same reason. Not only did MacArthur and Hecht collaborate on The Front Page, but they also wrote several more plays together that were successful on Broadway. Charles married his second wife Helen Hayes in 1928. She was originally a child actress from Washington, DC then named Helen Hayes Brown. By 1928 at age 28, she was already a Broadway veteran of 18 years standing since her youngest role was at age 10.
Charles served in the US Army a second time during World War II as an officer in the chemical corps. At the end of the war he was a Lt. Colonel. Charles and Helen Hayes suffered a huge loss when their daughter Mary died at age 19 in 1949 from Polio. The couple focused on work and the life of their adopted son James. After many years of productive writing for stage, screen, and TV, Charles died in New York in 1956. His wife Helen Hayes, was a native of Washington, DC and she was often called the First Lady of the American Stage. She went on alone for another 36 years after Charles died until her own death in 1993. But she did live to see the TV and movie success of their son James.
The Front Page was first produced on Broadway in 1928 and had several revivals. The film versions were The Front Page (1931), His Girl Friday (1940), The Front Page (1974) and Switching Channels (1988).
For a list of movie projects associated with Charles MacArthur, see his listing here on the Internet Movie Database. For movies of his wife Helen Hayes, click here for her page. For movies and TV shows of their adopted son James MacArthur, click here for his IMDB page.
For the Broadway credits of Charles MacArthur, see his credits on the Broadway Database by clicking here. For the Broadway stage credits of his wife Helen Hayes, click here.