My Three Sons

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Not to be confused with My Three Suns.
My Three Sons
My Three Sons opening titles
Genre Sitcom
Starring Fred MacMurray
William Frawley
William Demarest
Don Grady
Stanley Livingston
Barry Livingston
Tim Considine
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
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 12
No. of episodes 380 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Don Fedderson
Producer(s) Peter Tewksbury (1960-61)
George Tibbles (1961-62)
Edmund L. Hartmann (1962-72)
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)
Distributor Viacom Enterprises (1971–1995)
Paramount Domestic Television (1995–2006)
CBS Television Distribution (2007–present)
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 widower and aeronautical engineer Steven Douglas (Fred MacMurray) as he raises his three sons. The series originally featured William Frawley as the boys' live-in maternal grandfather, Bub O'Casey. William Demarest, playing Bub's brother, replaced Frawley in 1965 due to Frawley's health issues. In September 1965, eldest son Mike marries and is written out of the show; to keep the emphasis on "three sons", a new son named Ernie is adopted. In the final years of the show, Steven Douglas remarries and acquires a young stepdaughter named Dorothy (AKA "Dodie").

The series was a cornerstone of the ABC and CBS lineups 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 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 ABC cast of My Three Sons, with William Frawley, circa 1962.

ABC years[edit]

The show began on ABC in black-and-white. The first season, consisting of thirty-six episodes, was directed in its entirety by Peter Tewksbury, who also produced and occasionally scripted the programs.[2]

These early episodes held to no specific generic type, so that any episode from one week to the next might be either 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). Using this clever directorial twist, Tewksbury realistically portrayed the chaotic, fast paced, and ever changing sequence of events; coordinate and conflicting, that was the daily routine of living in the Douglas household. 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.

During the 1964 fall season, William Frawley, who played "Bub", was declared too ill to work by Desilu Studios, as the company was informed that insuring the actor would be too costly. 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 (great) Uncle Charley part way through the 1964–65 season (the last on ABC). According to the storyline, Bub returns to Ireland to help his Auntie Kate celebrate her 104th birthday. Soon after, brother Charley visits the family and stays on as guardian/housekeeper. Charley, a cello-playing merchant marine, was a soft-hearted curmudgeon, who proved to be a responsible caregiver. Frawley left the series before the end of the 1964-1965 season. Coincidentally, his fellow supporting player from I Love Lucy, Vivian Vance was also leaving her sitcom The Lucy Show at that time after having co-starred with Lucille Ball on that program for three years. Ironically, Frawley's last television appearance would be in October, 1965 on The Lucy Show when he made a cameo appearance as a horse trainer in the episode "Lucy and The Countess Have a Horse Guest" which also featured special guest star Ann Sothern. He died a short time later in March 1966 of a heart attack at the age of 79

Don Grady with Frawley's replacement William Demarest in My Three Sons (1969).


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.[3]

CBS years[edit]

My Three Sons moved to the CBS television network for the 1965–66 season after ABC would not commit to underwriting the expense of producing the program in color. Along with the change in networks and the transition to color, Tim Considine, who had worked with Fred MacMurray on The Shaggy Dog, and who had played the oldest son Mike had chosen not to renew his contract due to a clash with executive producer Don Fedderson over his wish to direct but not co-star in the series; however, Considine 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 Sally, in a wedding episode that was the premiere of the 1965–66 season on CBS. After this episode, which was the program's first in color, Mike is mentioned briefly in only four succeeding episodes (including one in which Ernie becomes adopted), and is never seen again, even at Robbie and Steve's weddings. In the episode "Steve and the Huntress" (first aired January 27, 1966), Mike is specifically mentioned as teaching at a college.

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 (AKA 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 finds Ernie a bit grating, and forecasts major headaches over both Ernie and his dog. Ultimately, it is Charley himself, who comes to the rescue, when a law stating that there must be a woman in the home stalls Ernie's adoption procedure. (A judge rules that the intent of the law is to make sure a full-time caregiver would be present, and Uncle Charley fills the bill. Charley then assents to a legal fiction declaring himself the "housemother" to the Douglases.)[4]

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). Tina Cole, in fact had appeared in different roles on two previous episodes of My Three Sons - "The Coffee House Set" from the fifth season (November 19, 1964) and "Robbie and the Little Stranger" from the sixth season (February 17, 1966). The following season, 1968–69, the newlyweds discover that Katie is pregnant, and she gives birth to triplets 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, Steve remarries, 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 1 1/2 years of the series features 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 (as a structural engineer Robbie was working on a bridge construction in Peru, and then in the military). Chip and his teen wife Polly (Ronne Troup) (who eloped after Polly's disciplinarian father refused to sanction the marriage) move into their own apartment.

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 majority of its run, the show had aired on Thursday nights, whether on ABC or CBS.[5] In 1967, it moved to Saturday nights. A 1971 television pilot with Don Grady and Tina Cole called Three of a Kind, then retitled Robbie, about Robbie, Katie and the triplets moving to San Francisco, was filmed but not picked up as a series.[6] The final MTS episode of the 1970-71 season titled 'After the Honeymoon' actually set up the premise for this pilot. The guest stars were Richard X. Slattery and Pat Carroll who were featured as the landlords of the apartment block Robbie and Katie move into. However, Don Grady had informed the producers of his intention to leave the series and pursue a new full-time career as a composer which he ultimately did.

For the series' twelfth season, 1971–72, CBS moved My Three Sons to Monday nights at 10:00 P.M. 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) Fergus McBain Douglas of Sithian Bridge. The voice of English actor Alan Caillou is awkwardly dubbed over MacMurray's. 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.[7]

With a later time slot, the show finished the season outside the Top 30. To save the series, CBS moved it in midseason back to Thursday nights at 8:30 P.M, its old time slot. Nevertheless, My Three Sons ended its prime-time run in the spring of 1972 after twelve years on the air. CBS also aired Daytime reruns starting in September of 1971 (only the CBS color shows), for approximately one season.


Main cast[edit]

Recurring cast[edit]

Musical connections[edit]

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–1960s 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.


My Three Sons had 36 episodes in the first two seasons. The series had more than thirty episodes in the first eight seasons; the episode output then decreased by two episodes until the eleventh season, which had twenty-four episodes, along with the twelfth season. The first five seasons were filmed in black & white, then after the move to CBS, it was filmed in color for the remainder of its run.

Broadcast history[edit]

NOTE: The most frequent time slots for the series are in bold text.

  • Thursday at 9:00-9:30 PM on ABC: September 29, 1960—June 20, 1963
  • Thursday at 8:30-9:00 PM on ABC: September 19, 1963—May 20, 1965
  • Thursday at 8:30-9:00 PM on CBS: September 16, 1965—May 11, 1967; January—April 13, 1972
  • Saturday at 8:30-9:00 PM on CBS: September 9, 1967—March 20, 1971
  • Monday at 10:00-10:30 PM on CBS: September 13—December 20, 1971
  • Thursday at 8:30-9:00 PM on CBS: January 13, 1972 - August 24, 1972 (NB: Reruns from April 20, 1972 - August 24, 1972)


  • 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[edit]

The series was initially filmed at Desilu Studios in Hollywood, but 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, hence the family's move from the fictitious town of Bryant Park to North Hollywood, California, although the town is never officially mentioned, simply just the city of Los Angeles.

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]


Although Don Fedderson gets the credit, 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 airing. 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). The show did not get syndicated until September of 1976, and then only the CBS colored episodes aired while the Black and White ABC episodes did not air on broadcast TV at all.

Nick at Nite aired My Three Sons from November 3, 1985 to October 28, 1991 with episodes from Seasons 1-5, and season 12. The Family Channel also aired only the black and white episodes from September 7, 1992 to July 30, 1993. The Seasons 1-3 episodes had the Original Chevrolet closing credits. The Seasons 6–12 episodes were later aired on TV Land in the late 1990s and on Odyssey in the early 2000s. 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.

Since fall 2004, only Seasons 6-10 are being distributed for syndication in the US-Domestic market, though very few stations air the show anymore. 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.

Since 2012 only the color episodes from Seasons 6-10 of the program have been currently broadcast in heavy rotation on weekday mornings on the Memorable Entertainment Me-TV network and the closing credits for most Me-TV reruns show the sponsor tags including the ones for Kellogg's.

Reunion special[edit]

MacMurray and most of the cast took part in Thanksgiving Reunion with The Partridge Family & My Three Sons, which aired on November 25, 1977. The retrospective special looked back at the history of My Three Sons and The Partridge Family (other than featuring single parents with a large family, the two series had no narrative link). The special was notable for featuring footage from early black and white episodes of My Three Sons that, at this point in time, were not in syndication. While most of the collected casts gathered in a studio to reminisce, Demarest appeared in a brief pre-taped segment.

DVD releases[edit]

CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released the first two seasons of My Three Sons on DVD in Region 1.[8][9]

All releases have been reworked to eliminate licensed musical and sound assets. Although the original theme tune has been left unaltered, the background musical score for most episodes (which were originally stock music from the Capitol Records library) was replaced with more modern, synthesized music. The Capitol licensing agreement only covered broadcast rights, not home video rights, and clearing the music for DVD with the individual composers as necessary was deemed cost-prohibitive.[10] This situation may change if 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


  1. ^ Fred MacMurray: The First Disney Legend
  2. ^ Peter Tewksbury at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ "My Three Sons - Full cast and crew". Retrieved 2013-09-08. 
  4. ^ Season 6, Episode 3 - Brother, Ernie
  5. ^
  6. ^ Terrace, Vincent Encyclopedia of Television Pilots, 1937–2012 McFarland
  7. ^ Season 4, Episode 2 - Scotch Broth
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Shostak, Stu (06-18-2014). "Interview with Michael Schlesinger". Stu's Show. Retrieved 2014-06-22.

External links[edit]