My Three Sons

My Three Sons
My Three Sons
My Three Sons opening titles
Genre Sitcom
Starring Fred MacMurray
William Demarest
Don Grady
Stanley Livingston
Barry Livingston
Tim Considine
William Frawley
Meredith MacRae
Tina Cole
Beverly Garland
Dawn Lyn
Ronne Troup
Daniel, Joseph, and Michael Todd
Theme music composer Frank De Vol
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 12
No. of episodes 380 (184 Black & White, 196 Color)
Executive producer(s) Don Fedderson
Producer(s) Edmund L. Hartmann
Peter Tewksbury
George Tibbles
Running time 25 minutes
Production company(s) Don Fedderson Productions (1960–1972)
Gregg-Don, Inc. (1960–1965)
MCA Television (1960–1965)
CBS Productions (1965–1972)
Original channel ABC (1960–1965)
CBS (1965–1972)
Picture format Black-and-white (1960–65)
Color (1965–72)
Audio format Monaural
Original run September 29, 1960 (1960-09-29) – August 24, 1972 (1972-08-24)

My Three Sons is an American situation comedy. The series ran from 1960 to 1965 on ABC, and moved to CBS until its end on August 24, 1972. My Three Sons chronicles the life of a widower and aeronautical engineer named Steven Douglas (Fred MacMurray), raising his three sons.

The series was 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. Disney producer Bill Walsh often mused on whether the concept of the show was inspired by the movie The Shaggy Dog, as in his view they shared “the same dog, the same kids, and Fred [MacMurray]”[1].



The pre-CBS cast of My Three Sons, circa before 1966, the year of Frawley's death

ABC years

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. Tewksbury's episodes are also unusual for their use of cross-talk (a way of having the voices of off-screen characters heard in the background of the soundtrack, just under the voices of the main characters), 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). An example of Tewksbury's use of cross-talk 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 returned to directing feature films after concluding the season because the producers could not handle his perfectionist attitude which was costing thousands of dollars in lost time and reshoots.

Directors throughout the series

As mentioned above, Peter Tewksbury directed the first season. The succeeding director, Richard Whorf, took over the reins for one season and was in turn followed by former actor-turned-director Gene Reynolds from 1962 to 1964. James V. Kern, an experienced Hollywood television director who had previously helmed the 'Hollywood' and 'Europe' episodes of I Love Lucy continued in this role for two years until his untimely death in late 1966, aged 57. Director James Sheldon was also contracted to finish episodes that had been partly completed by Kern in order to complete that season. Fred De Cordova was the show's longest and most consistent director of the series (108 episodes) until he left in 1971 to produce The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Earl Bellamy rounded out the series as director of the show's final year.

CBS years

My Three Sons moved to the CBS television network 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, William Frawley, who played "Bub" O'Casey, the boys' maternal grandfather, was declared too ill to work by Desilu Studios and the producers could no longer find insurance for him. Frawley continued in the role until a suitable replacement could be found at midseason. He was replaced by William Demarest, who had played his hard-nosed brother Charley part way through the 1964–65 season (the last on ABC). According to the storyline, Bub falls in love with Ireland while visiting the Emerald Isle and goes back to help his Aunt Kate celebrate her 104th birthday. Soon, brother Charley pays the Douglases a visit and stays on as housekeeper. In his biography, Meet the Mertzes, Frawley says he was unhappy being written out of the show and held a grudge against Demarest for taking his job. Frawley died a short while later in March 1966 at age 79.

Tim Considine, who had worked with MacMurray on The Shaggy Dog, had 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). According to Considine (Pat Sajak Show, August 1989), he was devoted to car racing, which his contract forbade. The character was written out, along with Meredith MacRae, who had played his fiancee, in a wedding episode that was the premiere of 1965–66 on CBS. After the "Mike Douglas Kiss-Off", Mike is mentioned briefly in several color episodes (including in which Ernie becomes an adopted foster child), but otherwise is only indirectly referred to again in subsequent seasons and never seen again, even at at Robbie's and his Dad's weddings.

To keep the show's title plausible, the show's head writer, George Tibbles, fashioned a three-part story arc in which an orphaned friend of youngest brother Richard (better known as Chip and played by Stanley Livingston), Ernie Thompson (played by his real-life brother, Barry Livingston), awaits adoption when his current foster parents are transferred to the Orient. Steve offers to adopt Ernie but faces antagonism from Uncle Charley, who can foresee nothing but more work with another boy. Ultimately, Charley comes to the rescue when a law stating that there must be a woman in the home stalls Ernie's adoption procedure. (A judge overseeing the case determines 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 take place by the late 1960s. In 1967, the family moves from the fictitious town of Bryant Park in the Midwest to California, settling in Los Angeles. Robbie (Don Grady) marries his classmate/girlfriend, Katie Miller (Tina Cole). The following season, 1968–69, the newlyweds discover that Katie is pregnant, and she gives birth to triplets (three sons, of course) named Robert, Steven, and Charles. Although originally played by sets of uncredited twins, these babies were played uncredited by Guy, Gunnar, and Garth Swanson. The most familiar triplets in the show's last two seasons are played by Michael, Daniel, and Joseph Todd. The following year in the tenth season, 1969–1970, Steven re-marries, taking widowed teacher Barbara Harper (Beverly Garland) as his wife; she brings with her a 5-year-old daughter, Dorothy aka Dodie (Dawn Lyn), so Steven now had a stepdaughter whom he also subsequently adopts. Also, the last 1½ years of the series feature 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 to remain within the Douglas household the following season (at first Robbie was supposedly working on a bridge construction in Peru, but later drafted into military service). Chip and his teen wife Polly (Ronne Troup) (who elope after Polly's disciplinarian father refuses to sanction the marriage) move into their own apartment. With a large cast of regulars, the show's storylines are centered on different family members from episode to episode. At this point the program's narrative focus is that of blended families.

At the end of the 1970–71 season (the show's eleventh year), My Three Sons was still garnering healthy ratings. By the spring of 1971, it had finished in 19th place. For the series' twelfth season, 1971–72, CBS initially decided the show would remain on Saturday nights, but its time slot would be moved from 8:30 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. At the last minute, CBS President Fred Silverman ordered that My Three Sons be moved to Monday nights at 10:00 P.M. and that the hugely popular All in the Family be scheduled for Saturday nights at 8:00 P.M. As a result, the ratings for My Three Sons plummeted.

In addition to the time changes for the twelfth season, a new four-part story arc is introduced with MacMurray in a second role, that of his cousin, the Laird (Lord) Ferguson McBain Douglas of Sithian Bridge. The voice of English actor Alan Caillou is dubbed for MacMurray's as Lord Douglas. The plot centers around Lord Douglas's arrival in Los Angeles from the family's native Scotland, in search of a First Lady to marry and return with him to Scotland. He finds Terri Dowling (Anne Francis), a waitress at the Blue Berry Bowling Alley. While initially reluctant to give up her life in America and return to Scotland as royalty, she finally accepts. This storyline is a continuation of a plot idea that originally began in the fourth season, when the Douglases visit Scotland on the pretense of having been told they had inherited a castle in the highlands.

With such a late time slot, after regular viewers were in bed, the show finished the season outside the Top 30. To save the series, CBS programming switched it in midseason to Thursday nights at 8:30 P.M. Nevertheless, My Three Sons ended its prime-time run in the spring of 1972 after twelve years on the air. Fred MacMurray, bitterly disappointed, protested the show's cancellation to CBS programming chief Fred Silverman, but to no avail.


Main cast

Recurring cast

  • Cynthia Pepper, Jean Pearson (1960–1961)
  • Peter Brooks, Hank Ferguson (1960–1963)
  • Cheryl Holdridge, Judy Doucette (1960–1961)
  • Lesley-Marie Colburn, Frieda (1964–1965, uncredited)
  • Ricky Allen, Hubert 'Sudsy' Pfeiffer (1961–1963)
  • Hank Jones, Pete (1964–1966)
  • Bill Erwin, Joe Walters (1962–1964)
  • Doris Singleton, Helen Morrison (1964–65) and Margaret Williams (1970)
  • John Howard, Dave Welch (1965–1967)
  • Joan Tompkins, Lorraine Miller (1967–1970)

Musical connections

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 successful Las Vegas venues for Phantom of the Opera star Michael Crawford and pop star David Cassidy. Grady also played drums in the 60s pop group Yellow Balloon.


Ranking in Nielsen Ratings

  • Season 1 1960–1961–#13 (12,177,600 viewers)
  • Season 2 1961–1962–#11 (11,993,085 viewers)
  • Season 3 1962–1963–#28 (10,563,000 viewers)
  • Season 4 1963–1964–#27 (11,300,400 viewers)
  • Season 5 1964–1965–#13 (13,438,500 viewers)
  • Season 6 1965–1966–#15 (12,816,300 viewers)
  • Season 7 1966–1967-Not in the Top 30
  • Season 8 1967–1968–#24 (11,787,360 viewers)
  • Season 9 1968–1969–#14 (13,281,000 viewers)
  • Season 10 1969–1970–#15 (12,753,000 viewers)
  • Season 11 1970–1971–#19 (12,500,800 viewers)
  • Season 12 1971–1972-Not in the Top 30

Production schedule

The series was initially filmed at Desilu Studios in Hollywood and at the start of the 1967–68 season, the cast and crew up-anchored and began filming the series at the CBS Studio Center in Studio City, California. The reasons behind this move were because actress-comedienne Lucille Ball had sold her studios to the Gulf + Western conglomerate, who owned Paramount Pictures, so Don Fedderson Productions, who produced My Three Sons (along with Family Affair starring Brian Keith), had to quickly make other arrangements for filming. The move also necessitated moves in the show's storyline as well.

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 35 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. Evidence of this is very apparent in several episodes, where plotlines had MacMurray's character on a business trip (e.g. "Small Adventure") or spending much of his time at the office (e.g. "Soap Box Derby"). This allowed him to seemingly take part in the entire episode with limited or no interaction with the other regulars during filming. 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.[citation needed]


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 responsibilities (in association with Fedderson Productions) until the end of the series in 1972. CBS now holds the series' copyright. CBS Television Distribution presently owns distribution rights to the entire series (including the more widely seen and aforementioned 1965–72 CBS episodes).

Nick at Nite aired My Three Sons from 1985–1991; the episode packages they aired were the Seasons 1–5 & Season 12 package. The Seasons 6–11 episodes were later aired on TV Land in the late 1990s.

In 2000, TV Land briefly aired the black & white episodes again, using the same syndication episode rights that were on Nick at Nite during the 1980s.

As of late 2004, Paramount/Viacom removed the color episodes for US-Domestic syndication. Currently, only 148 episodes are being distributing for syndication in the US-Domestic market.

In 2009, FamilyNet began airing the program as a lead-in for its Happy Days and Family Ties program block, which ended in February 2010.

As of March 2010, The program is now broadcast weekday mornings on the Me-TV network.

DVD releases

CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released the first two seasons of My Three Sons on DVD in Region 1.[2][3]

All releases have been reworked to eliminate licensed musical and sound assets, although the original theme tune has been left unaltered. In other words, the background musical score for most episodes (which were originally stock music from the Capitol Records library) was replaced with more modern, synthesized music. This has caused a huge debate as when the same episodes are shown on television, they still include all music intact. This situation should change when the later seasons eventually come to DVD as Frank DeVol was the in-house composer and the later episodes should not need to be rescored.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The First Season: Volume 1 18 September 30, 2008
The First Season: Volume 2 18 January 20, 2009
The Second Season: Volume 1 18 February 23, 2010
The Second Season: Volume 2 18 June 15, 2010


External links

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