Having gotten his TV feet wet, Fred would make his next appearance on October 11,1953 when he joined Tony Martin, Dick Powell, Kirk Douglas and Dan Daily on the Jack Benny Show. The show JAM SESSION is now legendary as one of the funniest episodes of Benny's long running series. This show is available on video and continues to be one of the biggest sellers of Benny's shows.
His next appearance aired on October 10, 1954 on the debut of good friend George Gobel's variety show. Fred and George had such a good time on the show, Fred would continue to appear on George's first and last show of the season over the run of the series. Fred MacMurray became known as George Gobel's "electronic zipper" because he opened and closed each season.
The next few years would find Fred popping up now and then on anthology series like: GE Theater, Screen Director's Playhouse and The 20th Century-Fox Hour. But in 1958, Fred would make an appearance that would be if not a milestone for television certainly one for the MacMurray family. Fred guested on the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. This would mark a reunion of sorts with Fred and William Frawley. The two friends had co-starred 23 years earlier in Fred's second picture CAR 99. But more importantly it marked the first and only small screen TV series appearance by Mrs. MacMurray: the lovely June Haver. The one time movie star had given up her career to become Mrs. MacMurray and make a home for their family. This show is also a very popular selling video.
Fred MacMurray would continue guesting on TV shows and doing an occasional movie. He had shunned doing a series. He was being sought for some very high profile shows. Fred was offered the Elliott Ness role in the UNTOUCHABLES and Earl Stanley Gardner had personally tabbed Fred as his first choice to play Perry Mason. But each series script would be returned with a very polite thank you but no thank you. You see, Fred had just started a second family. He wanted to spend time with them. Also, his interests of golf, hunting, fishing, painting and woodworking would all suffer significantly if he became tied down to a starring role in a series for seven to eight months a year. But then one day, he received a script from Don Fedderson. It was a half hour situation comedy about a widower left to raise three sons. The household would be rounded out by the addition of the maternal grandfather to act as housekeeper. Once again, the script was returned with a kind rejection. But, Fedderson would not take no for an answer. He had devised a scheme of shooting (later to be dubbed "The MacMurray Way") whereby Fred would only have to work three months per series year. It would require all the scripts to be written prior to the season's start of production. Within the three month period, the show would shoot all of Fred's scenes. The other actors would come back to finish their scenes sometimes months later. With this scheme and the added benefit that long time friend William Frawley would play the Grandfather, Fred finally agreed to star in series television. In the fall of 1960, MY THREE SONS premiered on ABC starring Fred MacMurray as widower Steve Douglas. The sons were played by Tim Considine as MIKE, Don Grady as ROBBIE and Stanley Livingston as Chip. The series was an immediate success. It earned a Golden Globe award in 1962. Over the series run several cast changes occurred. William Frawley would succumb to illness and pass away in the fourth season. He would be replaced by another long time friend of MacMurray's, William Demarest as Uncle Charlie. After five years, Tim Considine left the show to be replaced by Barry Livingston(Stanley's real life brother). Barry played Ernie the neighbor kid who would be adopted by the Douglas family. Year five would also see the show switch to CBS. As the boys grew older, marriages were inevitable. Robbie wed Katie (played by Tina Cole). Even Steve got into the act marrying Barbara (played by Beverly Garland) who was accompanied by her young daughter Dodie (played by Dawn Lynn). Chip would elope with Polly (played by Ronne Troup). And the final additions would be young triplets(the Todd triplets) born to Robbie and Katie. So from a relatively small beginning cast of five characters, the final season saw the cast balloon to 12 (thirteen if you count Tramp). The series was known for a genuine gentle warmth as the Douglas family solved its problems every week in a half hour. MY THREE SON's twelve year run makes it the second longest running situation comedy in TV History.
After MY THREE SONS, Fred MacMurray went into semi retirement popping up occasionally on a talk show, variety show or Made For TV Movie. Fred appeared twice on The Tony Orlando and Dawn show in 1972. In 1974, he starred as the patriarch of a newspaper family in the TV movie - THE CHADWICK FAMILY. A year later he would star in the TV movie BEYOND THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE(see photo at left). Other appearances included Bob Hope specials, The Andy Williams show and the Mike Douglas Show. His trusting and familiar face would be sought after for commercial endorsements. In the 1970's, Fred became the national spokesperson for Greyhound Bus Lines. But it will always be the legacy of MY THREE SONS for which Fred MacMurray will be most fondly remembered in the medium of television. The moniker of AMERICA'S FAVORITE DAD is a fitting one for both the success he achieved on the series and the tenderness and understanding with which he treated his own four children in real life. One final note: Fred MacMurray was the only leading man of his caliber from the golden era of movies to make a successful transition from screen to TV (other than in a musical variety format). The likes of Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Bing Crosby all failed. This alone again gives credence to the versatility and talent of this underappreciated star.
HOME PAGE | HOMETOWN | MOVIE STAR | TV STAR | FAMILY MAN | EMAIL