Fred MacMurray – An Affable Actor

Day 115 of Colourisation Project – August 30

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born this day, August 30, 1908, Frederick Martin “Fred” MacMurray was an American actor who appeared in more than 100 movies over a career spanning almost 50 years from 1930 to the 1970s. He is perhaps most widely recognised as the affable Steve Douglas, the widowed patriarch on the 1950s TV series, My Three Sons, which ran from 1960–1972.

Fred MacMurray

Publicity Still (The Texas Rangers) 1936 – Fred MacMurray – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

MacMurray is likely the most underrated actor of his generation. Starting out in vaudeville at age of 18, he went on to become one of Hollywood’s busiest and highest paid actors of his time, commanding a salary of $420,000 per picture.

MacMurray had the knack of making his craft look like easy work. He excelled in comedic roles such as The Shaggy Dog (1959), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), and was equally successful in dramatic roles, including golden oldies like Billy Wilder’s film noir classic Double Indemnity (1943), with Barbara Stanwyck, and The Caine Mutiny (1954), with Humphrey Bogart.

However, it was through TV’s My Three Sons that his endearing persona is steadfastly ingrained in the minds of most baby boomers.  What you don’t know perhaps is the unorthodox way in which the show was shot over its long run of 12 years. MacMurray had a dream contract on My Three Sons where it was stipulated he only had to work 65 days a year on the series. At his insistence, two marathon blocks of month-long shoots were undertaken so that the remainder of the year could be devoted to his busy schedule in films.

This arrangement, which came to be known as the ‘MacMurray Method’, forced the producers to film all episodes out of sequence throughout the show’s entire run and was often the cause of much confusion for his cast-mates.

MacMurray would do all of his scenes first, then disappear until the following season; all kitchen scenes for example would be done together, then all the upstairs hallway scenes, where a lot of the action seemed to take place, would be shot and so on. Cast regulars needed to have haircuts once a week in order to maintain continuity and guest stars would often have to return months later to complete an episode.

Though it must have been a logistical nightmare for the shows producers, this arrangement worked reasonably well. Until that is, the arrival of Dodie played by Dawn Lyn.  Her adolescent growth spurt proved problematical. Her upper front teeth grew out irregularly during the entire 1969-’70 season. The continuity was anything but. As young viewers we probably didn’t notice this detail but if you go back and look at old episodes you will see that her teeth went from being barely visible in scenes with MacMurray to being overtly visible in scenes shot in the later months without him.

Also as a result of this arrangement, the supporting cast often had to shoot their scenes opposite a prop person off camera instead of MacMurray. So much for a happy family!

With 380 episodes produced, it was second only to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as television’s longest running sitcom. The first five seasons were filmed in black & white, then color for the remainder of its run.

MacMurray who was married to actress, June Haver retired in 1978. He suffered a stroke in 1988 and battled leukemia for more than a decade. Following complications from pneumonia, MacMurray died on November 5, 1991, in Santa Monica, California aged 83.

He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6421 Hollywood Blvd.

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“The two films I did with Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity (1944) and the The Apartment (1960), are the only two parts I did in my entire career that required any acting.” – Fred MacMurray

 

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