My Three Sons

My Three Sons is a situation comedy about a Scots/Irish-American family (Douglas/ O'Casey), that ran from September 29, 1960, to August 24, 1972. My Three Sons chronicles the life of an aeronautical engineer and widower Steve Douglas, played by Fred MacMurray, and his three sons. This seemingly simple premise was a huge hit and a cornerstone of the CBS lineup in the 1960s. With 380 episodes produced, it is second only to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as television's longest running (live-action) family sitcom.

The show began on ABC in black-and-white. The first season, consisting of thirty-six episodes, is particularly remarkable for having been directed in its entirety by Peter Tewksbury, who also produced and occasionally scripted the programs. These early episodes held to no specific generic type, so that any episode from one week to the next might be comedic or dramatic or, in one or two cases, surprisingly innovative. An early highlight is the fourth episode, "Countdown," written by David Duncan, which chronicles the Douglas family's attempts to wake up, prepare for the day, have breakfast and get out of the house by a common, agreed-upon time, all carefully synchronized to a televised rocket launch countdown -- to comical and often ironic effect. Tewksbury's episodes are also unusual for their fearless use of cross-talk in depicting the chaotic Douglas household, a full decade before Robert Altman was credited with innovating such aural realism in feature films such as M*A*S*H* (1970). Tewksbury returned to directing feature films after concluding the season.

The show moved to CBS for the 1965–66 season after ABC would not commit to the expense of producing the program in color. Along with the change in networks and the transition to color, other changes happened during 1965: William Frawley played "Bub" O'Casey, the boys' maternal grandfather, until he was declared too ill to work by Desilu Studios and the producers could no longer find insurance for him. They took a gamble on Frawley for half a season, until a suitable replacement could be found. He was replaced by William Demarest who played his brother Charley. According to the storyline, Bub fell in love with Ireland while the gang visited the Emerald Isle the previous season and went back to help his Aunt Kate celebrate her birthday. Shortly after Bub left, Charley dropped by unannounced to pay a visit and stayed on as housekeeper. According to Frawley's biography Meet the Mertzes, he was never pleased with being written out of the show. Frawley died a short while later in March 1966 at age 79.

Tim Considine, who had worked with MacMurray on The Shaggy Dog, played oldest son Mike and did not renew his contract after a falling-out with Executive Producer Don Fedderson over his wish to direct but not co-star in the series (he did direct one of the last black and white episodes). Considine was into car racing, which his contract forbade. The character was written out with Meredith MacRae who had played his fiancee and (in his last episode) new wife.

To keep the show's title plausible, the show's head writer George Tibbles fashioned a three-part story arc where youngest brother Richard (better known as Chip - and played by Stanley Livingston) had an orphaned friend named Ernie Thompson (played by his real-life brother Barry Livingston) who was awaiting adoption because his foster parents were to be transferred to the Orient. When Steve offers to adopt Ernie, he faces antagonism from Uncle Charley who can foresee nothing but more work with another boy. Ultimately Charley comes to the rescue when the adoption agency's criterion that there must be a woman in the home causes a stall in negotiations. (In the storyline, the judge determined that the intent of the law is to make sure a full-time caregiver would be present; with Uncle Charley meeting that role, he assents to a legal fiction declaring him "housemother" to the Douglases.)

While the three sons were always central to the storyline, several major changes happened by the late 1960s. In 1967, the family moved from the Midwest to California, settling in Los Angeles. Robbie (Don Grady) married his classmate/girlfriend Katie Miller (Tina Cole). Two years later, Steven re-married, taking widowed teacher Barbara Harper (Beverly Garland) as his wife; she had a 5-year-old daughter, Dorothy aka Dodie (Dawn Lyn), so Steven now had a stepdaughter. Also, the last 1 1/2 years of the series featured fewer appearances of both Don Grady and Stanley Livingston, Grady's character was written out of the show at the end of the eleventh season which allowed for his wife Katie and their triplet sons (named Charles, Steven, and Robert) to remain within the Douglas household the following season (with Robbie supposedly working on a bridge construction in Peru), while Chip and his teen wife Polly (who eloped after Polly's strict father initially refused to accept the marriage) had moved into their own apartment. With a large cast of regulars, storylines were centered around different family members from episode to episode. At this point the program's narrative focus was that of blended families.

The series' cast had several music connections. MacMurray began his career as a saxophone player during the 1930s, and sometimes played it on the series, as well as clarinet. Actress Tina Cole (Katie) was born into the King Family, a popular 1950s-60s group. Ronne Troup (Polly) was the daughter of musician/composer Bobby Troup (Emergency!), who wrote the song "Route 66," and Dawn Lyn is the younger sister of popular 1970s idol Leif Garrett. Don Grady (Robbie) composed and produced music, having created a successful Las Vegas venue for Phantom of the Opera star Michael Crawford.

Main cast

Recurring cast

  • Cynthia Pepper (born 1940) played Jean Pearson, a girlfriend of Mike Douglas', in the initial season. The following year, she starred in her own 26-week series, Margie, which followed My Three Sons on the Thursday ABC schedule. The character Margie was a teenager in the Roaring Twenties.
  • Peter Brooks, Hank Ferguson (1960-63)
  • Ricky Allen, Sudsy Pfeiffer (1961–1967)
  • Hank Jones, Pete (1964–1966)
  • John Howard, Dave Welch (1965–1967)

Production schedule

Fred MacMurray was the only actor to appear in every episode of the series. Reportedly, MacMurray's contract stipulated that he work only 65 days per year. His scenes for each season were produced in two blocks of filming. He would report to the Desilu-Gower lot in late May and work thirty-five days (five days per week, weekends off), then take off for 10 weeks. He would then return to complete his remaining 30 days of shooting and was finished altogether around Thanksgiving. MacMurray's ten-week hiatus in the middle of each season's production schedule freed up the actor to follow other pursuits, while the filming of scenes with the other cast members continued. In short, all episodes were filmed out of sequence. This sometimes produced noticeable continuity problems onscreen, especially as the boys grew and changed styles. William Frawley, for one, never felt comfortable with this filming method, having grown accustomed to filming I Love Lucy in sequence.


My Three Sons was created by George Tibbles and produced by Don Fedderson Productions throughout the show's run, with MCA Television co-distributing the series during its 1960-65 ABC run. When the series moved to CBS in 1965, the latter network assumed full production responsibilies (in association with Fedderson Productions) until the end of the series in 1972. CBS now holds the series' copyright. CBS Paramount Television presently owns distribution rights to the entire series (including the more widely seen and aforementioned 1965-72 CBS episodes). The color episodes were syndicated during the 1970s; the earlier black-and-white episodes were seen on Nick-at-Nite in the 1980s, as the color ones were during the 1990s.

DVD Release

On September 30, 2008, CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment will release My Three Sons: Season 1, Volume 1 on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time. Season 1, Volume 2 is scheduled to be released on January 20, 2009. However, both releases have been reworked to eliminate licensed musical and sound assets, to the disappoinment of long-time fans of the series.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The First Season: Volume 1 18 September 30 2008
The First Season: Volume 2 18 January 20 2009

External links

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