WEIRDLAND: Memories of Fred MacMurray: article and video

Friday, July 19, 2013

Memories of Fred MacMurray: article and video

Fred MacMurray is one of the most successful American film actors of the 20th century. From 1935 until 1973 he was the star, or one of the stars, of more than 80 films. Along with his amazing career longevity Fred proved to be very versatile, working successfully in different genres. In addition to his comedic skills, he was also one of the great romantic leads of his day. Considered by some to be a lightweight, the truth is that even when he played opposite the likes of Colbert, Lombard, Hepburn, Stanwyck, Dunne, Arthur, and Crawford, he was never overshadowed.

Because his screen persona is multi-faceted, he is hard to define as an actor. Warm, down-to-earth and comforting to be around, he could also be the consummate cad. Always taken for granted, the critics didn’t champion him, and he never received a major industry award. Only by looking back on the whole of his long and amazing career can we begin to see and understand his remarkable achievement.

Fred MacMurray was born in Kankakee, Illinois, on August 30, 1908. He was the son of concert violinist Frederick MacMurray, and Maleta Martin, the most popular girl in small Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. His parents’ marriage didn’t survive the backbreaking concert schedule that his father, Frederick, undertook to support the family. Fred was an all-American boy. He excelled at sports. His height made him a natural for basketball, and he also was a key player on the Beaver Dam High School football team. In all, Fred would win ten letters for athletics in high school, and a scholarship to Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin to play football. (It is fondly remembered in Beaver Dam, even today, how Fred kicked a 45-yard field goal to win a football game against arch-rival Portage.)

Fred was influenced from an early age by music. Before his father left the family, and ultimately Fred’s life, young Fred had made his stage debut playing violin opposite his father. It was an experience which terrified Fred, (“I trembled and I shook”) and he developed stage fright from the experience. He also found that, unlike his father, he didn’t take to the violin, but enjoyed piano, guitar, and especially the saxophone which he played in the high school band. In the summers, when Fred wasn’t working part time for the Malleable Iron Range Company, or canning peas at the local Beaver Dam cannery, he was playing in a band with his high school buddy Myron Bartell. Fred later recalled that the two spent the summers of 1923 and 1924 playing at a “gin joint” on the shores of Beaver Dam Lake. Bartell would play piano and Fred would be on his saxophone and together they would play outside the front door to attract customers. After graduation from high school, Fred began his short-lived career at Carroll College. Even though he received a scholarship, it paid only for tuition and books, and nothing else. To earn extra money Fred took a job playing sax with a six-piece band called Tom Joy’s Gloom Chasers. The band ended up playing five nights per week at the Blue Mounds Inn, and Fred wouldn’t get home until it was nearly five a.m. “I didn’t have to tell them I couldn’t do jazz bands and football and classes—they told me,” Fred later declared.

After leaving Carroll College, Fred went to Chicago, where he planned to study art at the Chicago Art Institute. An aunt allowed him to sleep on a sofa at her home while he attended school. He spent his days looking for a job and nights taking classes. He found that he didn’t really enjoy his job working as a salesman at the Marshall Fields department store and that his true love was still music. He soon ditched his gig at Marshall Fields and joined a band called The Royal Purples, which played out of Loyola University. Fred played several months worth of dates around the Chicagoland area, but without getting anywhere as a musician. When his mother decided to visit his grandmother, who had moved to California, Fred offered to drive her there, and give the Golden State a try. Fred and his mother settled in Southern California and lived for a time with Fred’s grandmother. He got a job in a pit orchestra in a Los Angeles theater and, meanwhile, was encouraged by several people to take a stab at acting. He registered with central casting and got occasional work as a film extra. Despite his tall (now 6’ 3”) good looks and wavy dark hair, his natural shyness did him in. On one picture, a director noticed him and asked if he would be willing to say a line. It was a moment of truth that most extras hoped for, but not Fred. He would recall adamantly telling the director, “No!”

One day while playing with the pit orchestra in the Los Angeles theater, Fred was complimented by members of a stage band on the bill, an act called The California Collegians. It so happened that a member of the Collegians had suddenly quit. They had noticed that Fred could read music, and offered him a job with their band, since none of them knew how to read music. Fred eagerly accepted. The Collegians didn’t only play music. They often worked vaudeville theaters where they did “bits of business.” Fred later recalled that they would pretend to be seals and “go flippering across the stage.” The Collegians did so well on the vaudeville circuit that they were cast by legendary Broadway producer Max Gordon for the show Three’s a Crowd.

Three’s a Crowd was a revue starring comedian Fred Allen, Clifton Webb (the movie actor, known then in the early 1930s for his dancing) and torch singer Libby Holman. Soon Fred was singled out by Holman. At one performance an actor to whom Holman was to sing the torch song “Something to Remember You By” didn’t show up and Holman needed a tall, good-looking man to sing to. Fred got the job. He was dressed as a sailor awaiting the whistle of his ship when Holman begins the ballad. His back is to the audience most of the time. At the end of the song he faces Holman and utters the line, “See you later, Baby.” Fred would recall, “I was so self conscious I wanted to break away and stumble off stage.” It was Fred’s first real introduction to his future career.

In 1933 it was producer Max Gordon to the rescue again with another Broadway show. In 'Roberta,' The Collegians would appear as the band of Huckleberry Haines (Bob Hope, in his big break). They did various pieces of business with Hope, as well as a few numbers. After a rather disappointing preview in Philadelphia, the show proved to be a big hit in New York. One of the big reasons for the show’s success was the introduction of a new song, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (by Jerome Kern).

The “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” number was introduced by a bevy of show girls and one in particular caught Fred’s eye. She was a dancer named Lillian Lamonte, and Fred later said, “When I saw her, I got smoke in my eyes.” In their spare time Fred and Lillian (or Lily, as he called her) would go for long walks and take in the movies. They soon found themselves falling in love. Fred did the test, playing a scene from Roberta, and later told Lily that he thought it was a “disaster.” A few days later, however, word arrived that Paramount wanted him for a standard seven-year contract with options every six months.

Fred returned to California as a contract player with Paramount Pictures, one of the biggest and busiest movie studios in Hollywood. He was earning around $75 per week and living with his mother. In the first months of his contract he did little more than take acting and diction lessons and appeared in occasional screen tests with other struggling actors. He was finally loaned out to Warner Brothers to appear in a comedy starring Charlie Ruggles called Friends of Mr. Sweeney. The role did little to advance his career, and he returned to Paramount feeling that his option would not be renewed.

At this point he was assigned to a film, again on loan out, at RKO, called Grand Old Girl, with Mary Carlisle and May Robson. Fred was cast as the male juvenile lead. He played a truck driver who romances Carlisle, but as Fred would later recall, “the important thing is that I could say my lines and munch popcorn at the same time.” Indeed, it was his ability to munch while speaking which brought Fred to the attention of director Wesley Ruggles. Ruggles, the brother of actor Charlie Ruggles, was preparing a Paramount film to star one of the studio’s most important actresses, Claudette Colbert. Ruggles was in need of a leading man. His first choice, Franchot Tone, was not available, and Cary Grant was considered too British to play the all-American part of the platonic reporter friend of Colbert in the film, which would be retitled The Gilded Lily. Ruggles discussed the problem in casting this part with his brother Charlie, who told him about a young man, Fred MacMurray, he had just worked with in Friends of Mr. Sweeney that he felt “had something.” Wesley Ruggles trusted his brother’s instincts and screened both Friends of Mr. Sweeney and Grand Old Girl. He came away impressed by Fred’s naturalism on film—yes, he was raw, but he definitely had potential. He also came away impressed by the scene in Grand Old Girl in which Fred ate popcorn in a believable way while delivering his lines.

That was important because in The Gilded Lily there is a running plot point where the platonic friends debate such vital issues as “popcorn vs. peanuts” while munching same. Ruggles told the Paramount front office about his decision to cast the young contract player in the new Claudette Colbert comedy The Gilded Lily, but the front office was under whelmed by the prospect of teaming their big star with an untried talent. Ruggles realized that he would need to enlist the support of Colbert. He said to her that there was a new actor on the lot that “all the girls are crazy about” and asked her to screen Grand Old Girl. Colbert did and came away feeling the same as Ruggles.

When Fred was told to report to the set of The Gilded Lily as Claudette Colbert’s new leading man he said that he felt as if “all the air was sucked out of me.” He couldn’t believe that a star of Colbert’s magnitude would want him as her leading man. After a sleepless night, Fred arrived in the morning for the first day of shooting with a severe case of nerves that Colbert could detect a mile away. When they were introduced to one another Fred was still shaking and Colbert said, “Now, what are you so frightened about?” Her positive attitude helped put Fred at ease. Colbert would later say that she found Fred “adorable.” She helped him with line delivery and feeling at ease in front of the camera, but one thing she couldn’t help with was the love scene. All through Fred’s career he would enact dozens of love scenes with many different leading ladies, but he was always ill at ease. Fred would later explain, “sometimes a writer writes a scene where a guy says ‘Hi’ to indicate his love for the girl —I play those scenes very well.” “I like Mr. MacMurray,” Louella Parsons wrote. “He has a certain appealing wholesomeness.” The film was honored as one of the ten best of the year by the National Board of Review. The success was a great break for Fred and also for Paramount which now had a brand-new leading man who could work well with their many top leading ladies, without being blown off the screen by them. There was something special about his masculine presence. Perhaps growing up in a house with so many women shaped him in a unique way. Good looking and athletic, Fred was never threatening or overbearing. Soon he was in demand by other actresses charmed by his comforting masculinity.

Katharine Hepburn and director George Stevens choose him to be her leading man in the RKO adaptation of the popular Booth Tarkington novel, Alice Adams. This film, which also proved very successful, went a long way toward furthering Fred’s romantic image. Film historian Foster Hirsch commented on the Hepburn-MacMurray teaming: “In Alice Adams and Woman of the Year, Stevens uncovered a lovely naturalness beneath Katharine Hepburn’s usual hauteur; pairing her with straightforward, homespun actors like Fred MacMurray and Spencer Tracy. Stevens released her from her mannerist excesses.”

There was one other key teaming during the 1930s that Fred enjoyed with an actress—the delectable and beautiful Carole Lombard. Fred made four films with Lombard between 1935 and 1937. While they cannot be considered the best of Lombard’s great comedy films of the 1930s, they are quite good and very funny. The best of the lot was the first, Hands Across the Table. Leisen originally wanted Gary Cooper for Hands Across the Table but, as was the case with Franchot Tone and The Gilded Lily, Cooper was unavailable. Leisen decided to go ahead with Fred, but still thought that he was rather raw. Leisen found that Fred still fought occasional nerves when facing the camera, and enlisted Lombard to help loosen him up. Fred had an immediate rapport with Lombard and was both fascinated and amused by her well-known penchant for profanity.

Fred MacMurray and Lillian Lamont return to Los Angeles from their honeymoon in Hawaii aboard the Matson liner Malolo, July 1936.

Lily, who came out to California once it became clear that Fred was no flash in the pan, and married him in 1936, asked him if he enjoyed working with Carole Lombard. Fred replied, “I’ve never heard anybody use such language—man or woman—she’s wonderful!” While Fred was becoming well known as a dependable light leading man in romantic comedies opposite such high-powered leading ladies as Lombard and Colbert, he also showed his versatility. There was the romantic drama The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), with Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda; and the adventure-comedy Thirteen Hours by Air (1936) with Joan Bennett.

Fred began the ‘40s in style with one of his best films, the romantic comedy-drama Remember the Night, opposite Barbara Stanwyck. This would be the first of four films that Fred would make with Stanwyck, and while the high point of their screen collaboration would be 1944’s Double Indemnity, both actors are outstanding in this Preston Sturges-scribed and Mitchell Leisen-directed film. Stanwyck plays a woman arrested for shoplifting just before Christmas. Fred plays the prosecuting attorney who tricks Stanwyck’s public defender, an old blowhard, to orate so long that the case is held over, thus keeping her in jail until after the holidays. Fred feels guilty and arranges her bail. As it turns out, both have mothers in Indiana, so he offers to drive her home. At her mother’s house, she is cruelly rejected, so Fred takes her home with him where she can see can enjoy a real family Christmas.

From 1940-1944, Fred was incredibly busy because so many leading men had joined the military. During these years Fred made twenty films. He was loaned out frequently: to Twentieth Century-Fox for Little Old New York, opposite Alice Faye; to Columbia, for the delightful Too Many Husbands, with Jean Arthur; to Warners for Dive Bomber, with Errol Flynn; and back to Columbia for The Lady Is Willing, opposite the very willing Marlene Dietrich, who made no bones that she wanted to bed her handsome co-star. (Just as she had done with other leading men, including Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart.) Director Mitchell Leisen told Dietrich to keep her hands off because Fred was “too much in love” with Lily.

Fred was then cast as Joan Crawford’s leading man in the final film of her long-running MGM contract, Above Suspicion. It was in late 1943 that Fred began production on the finest film of his career, one of the authentic classics of the American cinema and perhaps the best film noir of all-time, Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. Co-written by Wilder and hard-boiled crime novelist Raymond Chandler (who often feuded during the writing process), Double Indemnity tells the story of a slick insurance salesman, Walter Neff, who always has one eye cocked for a good-looking dame. He doesn’t have to look far when he goes to the home of a customer, Dietrichson, and finds the man’s sexy and seductive wife, Phyllis. He’s only too willing to work on Phyllis instead—and how. What he doesn’t realize is that Phyllis is more than ready to go to work on him. Taking full advantage of her sex appeal, she convinces him to murder her husband. Neff, for his part, cooks up a plan which would pay Phyllis “double indemnity” on her husband’s insurance policy. They think they can get away with murder, but Edward G. Robinson’s insurance investigator, Barton Keyes, smells a rat, and their scheme begins to unravel.

When Double Indemnity was released in the summer of 1944, it was an immediate box office and critical success. Fred’s performance, so different from what he had ever done before, was lauded. Variety pointed out that Fred had “never been better.” His hard-boiled, smug, jive-talking Walter Neff is one of the best performances of 1944, but when the Academy Award noms were announced he wasn’t on the list of nominees for best actor. Instead, Paramount put its money behind Bing Crosby’s easy-going Father O’Malley in the even more popular Going My Way. If Fred’s Walter Neff was the triumph of a fine actor bravely exploring new territory, Father O’Malley was just a typical Crosby character with a priest’s collar added. Nevertheless, the safe role won Crosby the Oscar.

Fred MacMurray and Helen Walker in "Murder, He Says" (1945) directed by George Marshall

After filming Double Indemnity Fred’s long-term contract with Paramount was almost over. Fred wanted more say in the roles he played. The final film of his Paramount contract is one of his best comedies, the daffy Murder, He Says, in which Fred plays a pollster who is looking for a missing colleague and runs afoul of Marjorie Main and her murderous hillbilly brood. Released only a year after Frank Capra’s similar black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, Murder, He Says stands on its own. In fact, critic Pauline Kael believed that Murder, He Says was superior to Arsenic and Old Lace. Certainly Fred’s performance is more modulated than Cary Grant’s constant mugging and actually funnier because of it. (Grant, perhaps the greatest comedy film actor of all-time, was never happy with his performance in Arsenic and Old Lace.)

Joan Leslie was also impressed working with Fred. She found him very helpful to her and willing to rehearse, which was something that director Gregory Ratoff frowned upon. When asked why all the great leading ladies of her time wanted to work with Fred MacMurray, Leslie replied, “He was tops! A very good actor who made a splendid appearance... if it was a Fred MacMurray picture it would be fun —he could do it all.”

Paulette Goddard and Fred MacMurray in "Suddently It's Spring" (1947) directed by Mitchell Leisen

Over the next few years Fred’s screen offerings as a freelancer were a decidedly mixed bag. He returned to Paramount for a final film for director Mitchell Leisen, and a good one it was, Suddenly, It’s Spring, opposite Paulette Goddard; and then to Universal, opposite Claudette Colbert, for one of his biggest box office hits. In The Egg and I the Colbert-MacMurray chemistry proved potent as ever and audiences were delighted. The film with its bizarre and colorful characters hatched a load of laughs, and launched a series of low-budget programmers starring two supporting players, Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as Ma and Pa Kettle.

The best that could be said of Singapore was that it at least allowed Fred a new, young, and attractive leading lady in Ava Gardner, but it wasn’t enough to redeem a tired plot involving amnesia, exotic locations, and missing jewels. His final film with Claudette Colbert, Family Honeymoon, convinced both of them that they had seen better days and they mutually decided that this would be their final teaming. He was then teamed with Irene Dunne in Never a Dull Moment, which reminded viewers and critics alike of the similarly-themed and more successful The Egg and I.

After appearing opposite Claire Trevor in Borderline, a film which steered and erratic course between comedy and film noir, Fred made a wonderful screwball comedy called A Millionaire for Christy opposite a surprisingly funny and blonde Eleanor Parker. But the film’s box office failure convinced Fred that his kind of comedy was becoming passe.

In the early ‘50s Fred’s personal life took a front seat to his film career. Fred had always been devoted to his wife Lily who, during the course of their 17-year marriage, was often in frail health. He was also close to his adopted children, Susan and Robert. When the family wanted to get away from Hollywood they would pack up and move off to Fred’s ranch along the Russian River in Sonoma County, California. In 1951, Lily’s heart and kidneys began to weaken, and Fred put his career on hold. Lily was bedridden for much of the time and Fred spent considerable time with her reading and keeping her company, but Lily was also convinced that Fred needed to return to work to keep his own morale up. In her last months Lily could do little more than lie in bed and read, and one of the items she read was the script for The Caine Mutiny that producer Stanley Kramer had sent to Fred’s attention. Lily recognized that the film, based on a best-selling novel, would be a huge success and urged Fred to play the role of the opportunistic Lt. Tom Keefer. Just after Fred signed on to play Keefer, Lily died, leaving Fred devastated.

The Caine Mutiny had an all-star cast led by Humphrey Bogart as Capt. Queeg, a naval officer experiencing battle fatigue. Van Johnson was Lt. Maryk, who takes command of the USS Caine away from Queeg in order to save the ship during a typhoon. Jose Ferrer plays Lt. Barney Greenwald, a Navy lawyer who defends Lt. Maryk at his court martial. Despite his successful defense of Maryk, Greenwald is disgusted with himself for the part he played in Queeg’s court room disgrace. Confronting MacMurray’s Lt. Keefer, who, under oath, denied his role leading up to the mutiny, Greenwald throws a drink in his face. The film was, as Lily predicted, a big hit.

Following The Caine Mutiny, Fred stayed on at Columbia where he was signed to star in another film like Double Indemnity. Pushover gave Fred yet another chance to show his dark side, playing a cop who goes bad because of his lust for a woman. This time the blonde femme fatale is played by Kim Novak. One of the reasons Fred was signed for his part was because studio head Harry Cohn wanted to make sure that Novak had a strong leading man who could help the new leading lady in her first starring role. Novak always gave Fred credit for boosting her confidence with his help and sensitivity. Fred, for his part, knew firsthand how difficult it was to be a new actor in an important role in a major film, and was only too willing to help the young and inexperienced Novak. On New Year’s Eve 1953 Fred was invited to a party thrown by his friend John Wayne, but he wasn’t much interested in going. He never was a big partygoer, and besides it was only five months since Lily died, and the thought of New Year’s Eve without her was difficult. Fred’s business manager, Bo Roos, and his wife urged him to go and “take his mind off of things for a while.” Finally, Fred agreed, but only if he could take his sax. Fred was sitting in with the band at the party when bubbly blonde actress June Haver danced past the bandstand with handsome British leading man Laurence Harvey. Fred did take notice of Haver and later, when everyone was sitting down for dinner, he sat next to Haver, who also was dateless. They ended up talking much of the night and found that in their mutual sorrow they had much in common. From that day forward they began to see each other constantly, and their relationship was solidified when Haver accompanied Fred, and several other stars, in the spring of 1954 on a goodwill tour of Latin America.

Just days after the one-year anniversary of Lily’s passing June Haver became Mrs. Fred MacMurray, and with the exception of working with Fred in a special starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1958, she retired from show business to devote her time to Fred and her two stepchildren. According to Debbie Reynolds, Fred had fallen in love with June in a big way. Eventually, June and Fred would adopt two little red-headed girls, Laurie and Kate, to complete their family.

Fred was happily contemplating a new career as a Disney leading man when Billy Wilder reentered his life in the fall of 1959. In The Apartment, a satire of sex in the business place, Wilder had cast Jack Lemmon in the pivotal role as a corporate nobody who is pressured to lend his apartment as a trysting place for married executives. Shirley MacLaine is cast as an elevator girl who is one of the corporate mistresses. Burly character leading man Paul Douglas was cast as philandering boss J.D. Sheldrake, but unfortunately, Douglas collapsed and died of a heart attack just prior to filming. Wilder put out an SOS call to Fred offering him the part of the amoral Sheldrake. Once again Fred was reluctant to play a heavy for Wilder, especially now that he was working with the family-friendly Walt Disney. “He told me he couldn’t do it,” Wilder later said, “he was making movies for kids now and he just couldn’t spoil this image by playing a rat. I told him he could and would and he did—and he was superb.” Jack Lemmon later said that Fred was “terrific” as Sheldrake and his casting actually improved the film: “the fact is that the Sheldrake character had to be attractive enough to make a girl like Shirley fall for him, and Fred was able to do that better, I felt, than Paul Douglas, fine actor that he was. Fred made it work out wonderfully.” The Apartment went on to be a very big hit when it was released in 1960, and was later named the Best Picture by the Academy. Both Lemmon and MacLaine were also nominated, but, as had been the case with Double Indemnity, Fred was overlooked despite his first-rate performance.

With a schedule of 65 days per year and excellent money, Fred finally decided he would be a “fool” to turn it down and signed on to play the role of Steve Douglas. This decision added to Fred’s professional resurgence when My Three Sons debuted in the fall of 1960 and became one of the most successful new shows of that year. In fact, My Three Sons would win high audience ratings for much of its twelve-year (1960-1972) run. In taking on this role in a television series, Fred accomplished something else. He proved that an actor could have, simultaneously, successful careers in both television and movies. Up to that time film stars pretty much stayed away from TV series work. The few film stars who did go to television did so after their film careers had pretty much drawn to a close, such as Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy. Fred was an exception because between the years 1961-1967 while he was starring in My Three Sons on television, he was making films for Walt Disney studios that became big box office hits. In this respect, Fred was even more successful than his more prestigious contemporaries such as Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda who never had his level of success in a TV series.

The second peak of Fred’s career was in some ways more successful than his initial peak of stardom. He found a whole new generation of fans, who had absolutely no idea who the romantic leading man of the 1930s and ‘40s was, but who loved his harried and wise father figure in My Three Sons. They responded to his Disney creations as well, especially his wacky college prof who discovers flying rubber (“Flubber”) in The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and its equally successful sequel Son of Flubber (1963). Then there was his small-town storekeeper who contributes to his community by becoming a scoutmaster in the underrated Follow Me, Boys! (1966). In between there was the slightly risque (by Disney standards) Bon Voyage! (1962). He also played the “First Gentleman” married to the first woman president (Polly Bergen) in Kisses for My President (1964, the only non-Disney film that Fred made during this period). His final film of this productive decade, the elaborate musical-comedy The Happiest Millionaire (1967), had him slightly miscast as an overbearing millionaire fitness nut.

After My Three Sons went off the air in 1972 (co-star Beverly Garland would recall that Fred was disappointed losing the show because it was “his thing”), Fred eased into semi-retirement. He kept his name before the public by appearing in television guest shots on variety shows, specials, and award shows, such as annual presentations of the American Film Institute Life Achievement Awards to such friends and co-workers as Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck and Billy Wilder. As for himself, he would not receive much recognition. His industry colleagues continued to take him for granted and seemed to believe he just played himself. His wife, June, later would say that Fred didn’t let that bother him because he got his satisfaction from the people of all ages who continued to recognize him on the street or send him fan mail by the hundreds each month. In the mid-1980s he did receive two awards that meant a great deal to him. The Walt Disney organization presented him with the first “Disney Legends” award for his contribution to the Walt Disney organization. And his home state of Wisconsin inducted him into the Wisconsin Performing Hall of Fame in a ceremony he attended in Milwaukee.

At the ceremony his wife June read a poem she wrote in his honor: “From Beaver Dam here is a man, not a mouse/I’m glad to have this man around my house.” During the course of the evening film clips from some of Fred’s best films were shown as well as scenes of him as Steve Douglas in My Three Sons. The award presentation was made by David Zucker and Fred, looking fragile, and overwhelmed by the honor, simply said, “Gee, I’m glad I came —I’m honored” and went on to invite the folks who were attending from his hometown of Beaver Dam to visit him: “Just knock on my door and say ‘Beaver Dam.’” Shortly after Thanksgiving, 1987, Fred had a recurrence of throat cancer he thought he had conquered in the late ‘70s. He underwent treatments and the cancer seemed to go into remission. But then, just after Christmas of 1988, he suffered a stroke which partially affected his right side and his speaking. He underwent months of physical therapy and his doctors said he had recovered about 90%, but he remained weak for the remaining two years of his life. Yet, he never let it affect his good nature and humor.

In these final years his “sons” from My Three Sons kept in touch with him. Don Grady, who played Robbie, the middle son, was a special favorite of Fred’s and he recalled, “I would call his house to speak to him.” He recalls that the final time he spoke with Fred, “he couldn’t make it down the stairs to talk to me, but his humor never failed him—he had it to the end.” In early November 1991 Fred’s health took a turn for the worse and he developed a urinary track infection which quickly turned into a serious blood infection. A day after entering the hospital with June and his two daughters at this side (his son Robert, who lived in Hawaii, and daughter Susan, who lived in Arkansas, were en route) Fred peacefully died. He was 83 years old. His passing became front page news and led evening newscasts.

A week after Fred’s passing People magazine did a cover story on Fred, and Fred’s TV son Don Grady summed up for many the effect Fred MacMurray had on people of all ages. He recalled a reunion of Disney Mousketeers (of which Grady was one) held at the Hollywood Bowl. There were various celebrities in the audience, including Fred. One by one they were introduced, mostly to polite applause, but when Fred was introduced, Grady said that “You heard the entire bowl go ‘Ahhhh!’ and this warm gush came out of everyone.” Grady had never truly understood the effect Fred had on people until that moment. On his 80th birthday Fred was asked how he wanted to be remembered. He replied in his usual simple way, “Fondly.” He got his wish. -The remarkable Fred MacMurray By Charles Tranberg Source:

The main thing about MacMurray was that he never considered himself a star. He didn't have to put that on. That's what made him a wonderful character. He was friendly, but he was not intimate. He kept to himself a great deal without seeming to be out, he just--he was like that; he never held you off at arm's length, but at the same time you couldn't get to him because of his -he had a protective quality like a layer of varnish all over him that kept people from boring in. I think he was always appreciative of the fact of what good fortune had happened to him.

At one time, I guess he thought he was going to be a musician all of his life, and then suddenly he's brought to a major studio and becomes a major leading man. He never got caught up in the trappings of Hollywood, and I think all of that came from the midwestern beginnings and the solid input that he had from his family. He was one of those what I call an honest actor. He was a self-contained person. That's highly unusual for an actor. He had inner strength. He was very strong. He didn't want to let people in on what he was thinking all the time and I think that definitely came across on screen. Fred was the best thing that ever happened to June Haver, and I must say probably the reverse is true, too. Best thing that happened to Fred was June. Source:


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this marvelous homage to one of my favorite actors. It is a shame that he didn't receive more recognition during his lifetime, but what counts is the sterling legacy he left us to enjoy.

Elena W said...

you're very welcome, Chris, I am glad you enjoyed my article!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this article very much. Fred MacMurray was always a favorite of mine. He was always so strong minded and seemed so secure in doing the right thing. He was a great example of how to live your life.