MacMurray: The Beaver Dam Years


Maleta Martin MacMurrayIn the beginning of our story, around the turn of the century in a small town in South Central Wisconsin called Beaver Dam, there lived a girl named Maleta. She was a member of one of the most prominent families in the community. The Martins ran the local bottling company, soda shop, tavern and telephone company. Maleta Martin possessed both beauty and charm. Few lads escaped her enchantment. But it would be to the dismay of her kin that Maleta's heart would be won by a concert violinist who was passing through town. The boy was not without local ties being the son of the minister at the local Presbyterian church. But being the preacher's son was not enough to overcome the stigma associated with being a part of that show business crowd. The family did not approve. Though such an obstacle was not enough to extinguish the heart flames of this modern day Montague and Capulet coupling, soon they would elope to Chicago. It was then off on the concert circuit for the two of them.

Fred, Jr. and Frederick, Sr. But, two soon became three when on August 30, 1908, Frederick Martin MacMurray,Jr. was born in Kankakee Illinois. The concert circuit was a difficult place for a mother and a newborn child. It was determined the two should return to Beaver Dam, WI. for a more stable lifestyle. Returning to Beaver Dam was not an easy choice for Maleta. Her father still held her in disfavor and although allowed back in the Martin household, Maleta and Fred, Jr. stayed in the frontroom quarters occupied by her sister Hazel, not the main living quarters. As the early years passed, Maleta and Fred, Jr. would move about following Frederick Sr. Promises of permanent homes in Madison, WI. and California were broken. Along the way Frederick Sr. introduced Fred Jr. to the violin. It would not prove a suitable instrument for the young child yet it would fuel an interest in music that carried through in him for the rest of his life. Frederick, Sr. tried to settle down but his wanderlust could not be squelched. At the age of five, Fred Jr. (now called Bud) would see his father for the last time. It was back to Beaver Dam for good now.

Randall McKinstry and Bud MacMurray BDHS Fullback Bud MacMurrayBud would thrive in Beaver Dam making lifelong friends like Randall McKinstry pictured at left. Following in his mother's footsteps, Bud became one of the most popular boys in the city. His athleticism was renowned having earned 12 letters in 3 years. He excelled in football, basketball, track and baseball. With Maleta still struggling to make ends meet, Bud worked in the local factory, cannery, funeral home and played saxaphone almost nightly at a local speakeasy with another lifelong friend Mynie Bartell. His musical talents were now beginning to flourish. He participated in the school orchestra and American Legion Band. Considered one of the State's finest fullbacks and punters, Bud landed a scholarship to attend Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. But, in his first semester, he saw more action on the football field and playing sax in local bands than in the classroom. After one semester, he would leave for Chicago in hopes of securing work in Big bands. BDHS BANDNot yet ready for the elite bands, Bud spent his time picking up gigs wherever possible mainly in The Loyola University area and selling vacuum cleaners and sporting goods. It was then by chance that in 1929, Bud's mother and aunt Hazel needed someone to drive them to California to see their ailing mother. Bud volunteered and the rest as they say is HOLLYWOOD HISTORY. But before stardom came Bud's way, the story winds from Motion Picture extra work to Vaudeville to Broadway. But that story will have to wait for another page. If I get enough requests, I will add a page about it in the future.

Grand Marshal Fred MacMurrayFred (Bud) MacMurray would always hold a special place in his heart for Beaver Dam and specifically for the friends he made here. Any opportunity available, whether in magazine articles or in radio interviews, Fred would mention his years growing up in Beaver Dam. His movies even referenced Beaver Dam. In REMEMBER THE NIGHT, his baby photo and high school graduation picture from Beaver Dam High School grace the walls and piano in his family's home. In FOLLOW ME BOYS, he enters town as a member of MURPH'S MELODY COLLEGIANS (an indirect reference to his local band MAC'S MELODY BOYS and his later vaudeville band THE CALIFORNIA COLLEGIANS). But his greatest movie tribute to Beaver Dam occurred in PARDON MY PAST (the only movie Fred produced). The plot revolves around two GIs, Fred and William Demarest, fresh out of the army, heading to Beaver Dam, WI. to start a mink farm. Beaver Dam is mentioned no less than EIGHT times in the movie. Fred would return to Beaver Dam on numerous occasions over the years, usually coming in unannounced. He did not care for a lot of hoopla. Fred would quietly come, visit with friends and leave just as quietly. One occassion where that was not possible was in 1941 when the city celebrated its Centennial. Fred was asked to be the grand marshal of the parade. He was working on a movie and was not sure whether he would be able to make it. Fred asked the director, cast and crew if they would all work overtime for a few days. All agreed. The day before the festivities, Fred learned he would be able to attend. He spent all night on a plane from Los Angeles into Chicago. From there, relatives drove the 4 hours down, picked him up early in the morning and drove him four hours back to Beaver Dam so that he could participate in the parade that afternoon. A picture of Fred in the parade appears above. This is but one of the many great stories associated with Fred MacMurray and the kindness he extended to his hometown and its residents.

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