I was nearly two years old when MY THREE SONS premiered on ABC in the Fall of 1960. I don't really remember much about watching it first run in those early years but, because we did, it feels like it was always there. Especially since it would remain there for the next twelve years.
Actor Fred MacMurray had been in films for three decades, a star for most of that time, in comedies, dramas, westerns and musicals. He had major roles in TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE, MURDER, HE SAYS and the classic DOUBLE INDEMNITY. He was still appearing in major roles such as THE CAINE MUTINY, THE APARTMENT and THE SHAGGY DOG leading up to his TV series. According to many reports, his face had also been the visual inspiration for that of Captain Marvel in comics.
When he accepted the role on MY THREE SONS, he used his movie star leverage to have a provision added to his contract that all of his scenes for the season would be shot in two big lumps so he could then go off and play golf or make movies the rest of the time. Somehow, in spite of the fact that this meant all the episodes were shot out of sequence, the editors made the odd idea work and Fred came across as quite the wonderful TV sitcom father.
In the series, he was a relatively recent widower, living with his late wife's father, Bub, who helped take care of his three sons, Mike, Robbie and Chip. Bub was played by veteran Bill Frawley whose career had been saved from alcoholism by his many successful years on I LOVE LUCY, thanks to Desi Arnaz.
In 1965, however, the actor was forcibly and somewhat bitterly retired for health reasons. That wasn't the only change as oldest brother Mike, played by actor Tim Considine, chose to leave, also, and was given a big send-off with a wedding to his character's longtime girlfriend, played by Meredith MacRae. He was rarely mentioned and never seen again.
The kid with the glasses was a friend of Chip's named Ernie Thompson who, after Mike's departure, was adopted by the family, keeping the "three sons" aspect intact. Chip was played by Stanley Livingston and Ernie was his real-life brother, Barry.
Another veteran scene-chewer, Bill Demerest, came on as Bub's brother Charlie and soon made the housekeeper role his own. This supposedly was the cause of much consternation to Frawley who died not long afterwards. Around this same time, the show switched both to CBS and to color episodes!
Here's the core group--with dog Tramp--from the period I best remember the series as a favorite!
As with any show with longevity, things were tried to make MY THREE SONS combination of comedic and semi-dramatic shows more up-to-date. One was a steady girl for now oldest son Robbie in the form of singer Tina Cole, of The King Cousins.
Tina's Katie quickly won over the audience and she and Robbie were wed, allowing for the show to deal with the less-controversial problems of young marrieds. Eventually, Katie became pregnant and had...wait for it...three sons. Triplets!
The fan magazines made much at the time of the on and off-screen friendship between semi-teen idol Grady and his new co-star. Both were attached to others in real life and insisted that they had just quickly become very close friends.
Around this time, the series caught a bit of a second wind with even MacMurray seeming to devote more energy to it. His patriarch character met and married a new woman who had a young daughter named Dodie! Cult favorite actress Beverly Garland became a regular as the new wife with young and toothless Dawn Lyn as the sole girl child. A year later, even Chip was given a steady romance in the form of actress Ronne Troup.
In the late seventies, not that long after the series finally ended in 1972, the cast reunited (along with the cast of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY) for a nostalgic clipfest. Even Tim Considine and Meredith MacRae showed up!
The young boys on the show grew up with a real affection for each other and both Considne and Grady were treated like actual brothers to the Livingstons ever after.
After MY THREE SONS, Don Grady worked mainly on his first and most true love, music. He died on June 27th, 2012. Rest In Peace.