Fred MacMurray: Family Man


In this age of one parent families and dysfunctional homes, it is rare to find a loving and caring model home, much less two in one lifetime. But that is the very story of Fred MacMurray's personal life. The product of a broken home himself, Fred excelled as a husband and father to two loving families. Here are their stories.

Maleta and Fred MacMurray in Hollywood In 1935, Fred travelled from the Broadway stage in New York to the Silver Screen in Hollywood. As stated earlier, his mother Maleta had been driven out to California in 1929 by Fred. She was having health problems and that was when Fred took the cross country job as a musician with the CALIFORNIA COLLEGIANS. The job helped to pay for her medical bills. Eventually, the CALIFORNIA COLLEGIANS would make their way east to the stages of Broadway. It was during their stint in the musical ROBERTA that Fred MacMurray would become enchanted by the raven haired chorus girl, Lillian LaMont. Lillian was a tall, shapely beautiful girl who had obtained some fame in New York as a fashion model. Even though both were on the shy side, there was an instant chemistry. After getting over their initial timidness, the two were inseparable talking for hours on how they would furnish their apartment and window shopping for china in the wee hours of the morning on the streets of New York. But Hollywood called and the two would be parted. While starting out, Fred would share an apartment with his mother (See picture of Fred and mother Maleta, left). Although Fred received his weekly checks from the studio, the lack of work and uncertainty as to any future in films only helped to fuel his desperate loneliness for Lillian. He had been saving those very checks to either bring Lillian out to California or to wherever he would eventually end up (possibly back to New York or to a prearranged job back in his hometown of Beaver Dam, WI). But a string of hits in late 1935, convinced Fred that it was time to reunite with Lillian.


Fred and Lillian

In 1936, Lillian would travel to Hollywood. They picked up exactly where they left off in New York: inseparable. In fact one story has it that Fred's devotion to Lillian almost cost him his stardom. It seems that as Fred's star rose, such a rugged good looking leading man became quite the sought after dinner guest. The powerful Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parson's arranged such a dinner party. To say no to Louella was tantamount to a Hollywood kiss of death. Louella would act as matchmaker for all her guests determining who should be seen with whom. Fred received the call for his attendance. When told he would not be able to bring Lillian, he respectfully declined the invitation. Louella was incensed. Fred, of course, believed the fuss was all over nothing. Throughout his career, Fred found the Hollywood system of star making to be inane. But Studio executives immediately stepped in and knowledgable of Louella's wrath insisted Fred personally call Louella. He did so extending a heartfelt apology as he explained his deep felt relationship with Lillian. Fortunately, Louella accepted the apology and all was forgiven. Fred and Lillian's romance continued to blossom but ever the cautious man Fred would not even take the initial step of popping the question. Instead he came up with the novel idea of a trial engagement. So, if things worked out during the trial period, then the two could get engaged. Well, obviously the time passed successfully for Hollywood was shocked to learn that the practical Fred MacMurray stole off on the night of June 20, 1936 to Las Vegas, Nevada to elope with Lillian. Friends and coworkers were amused to think that the sensible Fred would do such a rash thing until they were brought back to reality with the news he had taken his mother along on his elopement. The couple were devoted to each other. They would adopt two children, Robert and Susan. By all accounts, it was one of the most loving family units in the Hollywood community. This was despite an illness which would haunt Fred, Lillian and children Susan and RobertLillian throughout the marriage at times keeping her bedridden for weeks on end. During such times, a very attentive Fred and mother Maleta(herself subject to illness) would tend to the household. Lillian would finally succumb to the illness on the eve of the couple's 17th anniversary. Fred was devastated. He could hardly go on. The only comfort he found was in the company of his children. Finally, friends persuaded him to return to work believing it to be the best medicine. He headed off for Hawaii to film THE CAINE MUTINY. After all, Lillian had enjoyed reading the script and had encouraged him to take the part. But after filming, he would return to his old melancholy until John Wayne called and insisted he attend a costume party. Then the sparks flew again...


Fred and June Haver in WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE Before we get back to John Wayne's party, a little background information is necessary. In 1945, Fred MacMurray starred in a Twentieth Century Fox film called - WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? It was a musical co-starring Joan Leslie and an up and coming young actress named June Haver. June recalls the picture and Fred vividly. She remembers telling her mother how all the good ones were taken referring to Fred. She said "why can't I meet a man like him." Her mother would reply "what do you mean?" June said, "Well he is shy and stays rather to himself but he is so pleasant and friendly to everyone on the set. And he is so considerate. He calls his wife and children every day from the studio lot to see how they are doing." You see, although June's star was growing brighter picture by picture, her personal life was not as stellar. An early marriage had ended quickly in divorce. She believed cupid had finally shot the right arrow when she met and became engaged to Dr. John Duzik, the dentist to the stars. But a long lingering illness finally took his life. June had stayed by his side day and night during the fatal sickness. Now devastated, June gave up the Hollywood scene to find solace behind the walls of a convent. Although maintaining a deeply Catholic commitment, June succumbed to a physical illness forcing her from the nunnery. She returned home to Hollywood to be near her family. Friends concerned over her well being encouraged her to get out. She declined all offers until she received a call from (your ahead of me, now) John Wayne.

Wedding Picture of June and Fred Now, we can get back to the party. Fred arrived early and joined in playing with the band. June arrived with friends. It is said that as soon as she walked in the door Fred and June's eyes met. Fred jumped off the Bandstand. He took June's hand and they spent the evening alone just talking to each other. It was as if two kindred lost souls had finally found one another. The two became one immediately. Two months later, they would accompany each other on a Hollywood junket to Mardi Gras in Rio among rumors that the two would certainly be engaged by the time of their return. The rumors proved false but only as to the timing. For on June 28,1954, the two would be married in Ojai, California. An age difference of 18 years would have many insiders predicting doom within months. But all the naysayers were proved wrong as the months turned into years. In 1956, Robert and Susan were now grown and in the process of leaving home. June kept dropping hints of how empty the house felt. But Fred now in his late forties balked at the idea of a new family. He explained to June how he had raised one family and was looking forward to spending these next years travelling and spending time alone with June. However June was persistent. One evening Fred found himself at a dinner attended coincidentally by mostly obstetricians. The doctors informed the MacMurrays that they often had patients who because of circumstances were willing to give up their babies for adoption. Once again, Fred's reaction was cool to say the least or so it would seem. For a week later on May 7, 1956, Fred took off to play golf; June took off to have her hair done.Fred, Laurie, Kate and June In the middle of the hair appointment, June received a phone call from Fred. The phone call went something like this, "Hi Junie are you sitting down, I just got a call from Doctor Prucher and he says he has a baby for us to adopt. Junie, are you sure your sitting down because it's not one, it's twin girls." June called it the greatest thing that ever happened to the couple and whatever apprehension Fred had shown in the past melted away the first time he laid eyes on those two baby girls, Kate and Laurie. Once again, he became devoted to family life often citing that his rejection of work was based on its interference with his time with June and the kids. So, the marriage predicted to end in months became one of Hollywood's longest, lasting 37 years. A loving marriage and family that would last until Fred's death in 1991.


Fred At Home In His StudioAce Skeet Shooter Fred MacMurray Fred MacMurray's versatility was not limited to the sound stage. He was a true modern renaissance man. At home or in his many hobbies, Fred proved he could excel in just about anything he set his mind to from painting a landscape to shingling his roof. As soon as he arrived in Hollywood, Fred showed his prowess in matters outside the studio walls. Up to the year 1935, the best shots in Hollywood were Clark Gable and Andy Devine. Gable, recognized as the premier skeet shooter, would at his best hit in the range of fifty out of one hundred. Once Fred entered the competition, he smoked all contenders. He consistently hit scores in the nineties and one time reached a perfect score of 100 out of 100. It seems that rabbit hunting back in Beaver Dam, WI. proved to be a fertile training ground for his later years in Hollywood. Always the outdoorsman, Fred's vacations would consist of hunting and fishing trips accompanied by old high school pals from Beaver Dam.

Fred also had a passion for painting. This talent revealed itself at the early age of ten when Fred won a sketching contest. In fact, in the late 1920's when Fred lived in Chicago, he would take art classes at THE ART INSTITUTE with the intent that one day he might make a living as a commercial artist.

GolferFred MacMurray was also one of Hollywood's finest celebrity golfers. With his low handicap, he was a popular sought after partner in the most famous celebrity PRO-AM events like THE BING CROSBY PRO-AM at Pebble Beach and The BOB HOPE DESERT CLASSIC in Palm Springs. His usual golf buddies included Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

Fred at Home in the Kitchen

Fred was also very at home in the kitchen. He would take gourmet classes to hone his skills. June said, "The first major adjustment I had to make in our marriage involved the role of Fred in the kitchen....The fact is that Fred is a born cook. Instinctive but messy. He can use every utensil in the kitchen, fixing just one meal. When he is through, the place may look like an after-the-bomb site, but the food is superb....Fred came by his talents honestly by hanging around his Grandma Martin's stove (in Beaver Dam, WI.) when he was a boy. One of the first things she taught him was how to make sauerkraut.... The wild smell permeates the whole house, but who cares? Fred's gastronomic contentment comes first."

Early in his career, Fred MacMurray saw fit to invest his money in real estate. One of the most successful of those investments was a sprawling ranch up in Northern California. The ranch was not the usual Hollywood facade to depict the star as a gentleman farmer. It was an ongoing working cattle farm. It was noteworthy for its excellence in producing prize winning angus steers. Fred would spend as much time as possible working the ranch and using it as a retreat to get away and spend time with his family.

Fred & June at RanchFred with Blue Ribbon Steers

The above only reflect a few of the numerous skills Fred possessed. He was an expert fly cast fisherman, woodworker (It was considered quite a coup to receive a piece of furniture produced out of the MacMurray woodshop), an expert tanner of leather goods and just a basic handyman, jack of all trades.

In the final analysis, Fred MacMurray's title as AMERICA'S FAVORITE DAD is well deserved not only for his genuine portrayal of widower Steve Douglas on the TV series MY THREE SONS but even more so for the excellent example he set as husband, father and home provider in real life.

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