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Rick2400

Fred MacMurray

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I'm currently reading Fred MacMurray's biography, which is available on Amazon. Mr. MacMurray was not only handsome (according to the females of his time), but also a very clean-cut, straightforward man. Never unfaithful to his first (or second) wife, disciplined in his work, and quite charming as well as talented. My generation (early-50s) knew him best as Steve Douglas from the long-running "My Three Sons"; I knew that Mr. MacMurray had also had a decades-long film career - mostly with Paramount, yet he had done films at all other studios (Columbia, RKO, 20th Century Fox, MGM). He actually shunned TV work, and was quite instrumental in setting his own shooting schedule during the "My Three Sons" years; Fred MacMurray was also one of the wealthiest actors in the Industry, as he was frugal, yet that frugality paid off! I personally have always admired him as a father figure. I did meet him once in the late-'80s, briefly. He didn't look well, yet his mind was still sharp. Anyway, I recommend the book.

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I'm currently reading Fred MacMurray's biography, which is available on Amazon. Mr. MacMurray was not only handsome (according to the females of his time), but also a very clean-cut, straightforward man. Never unfaithful to his first (or second) wife, disciplined in his work, and quite charming as well as talented. My generation (early-50s) knew him best as Steve Douglas from the long-running "My Three Sons"; I knew that Mr. MacMurray had also had a decades-long film career - mostly with Paramount, yet he had done films at all other studios (Columbia, RKO, 20th Century Fox, MGM). He actually shunned TV work, and was quite instrumental in setting his own shooting schedule during the "My Three Sons" years; Fred MacMurray was also one of the wealthiest actors in the Industry, as he was frugal, yet that frugality paid off! I personally have always admired him as a father figure. I did meet him once in the late-'80s, briefly. He didn't look well, yet his mind was still sharp. Anyway, I recommend the book.

 

One story I read (and liked) was that when they were casting Robbie's new wife on My Three Sons, Fred's wife June Haver is the one who selected Tina Cole to play Katie Douglas. It had to be someone who was wholesome and would not cause problems in the marriages of any of the male actors. 

 

Fred and June appeared together on an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour before his regular sitcom began.

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I always heard that Fred made his fortune by pulling off  bogus insurance scams. ;)   Actually, Fred was just very wise to invest in real estate, and he had the good fortune to live during the times when the land values boomed.  Fred was a better actor than he's often credited for, usually playing nice guys but at his best playing not so nice guys ( Walter Neff, Lt. Keefer, Mr. Sheldrake). Fred fits in with those nice guys make the best villains theory of mine. ie, Widmark, Ryan , Duryea,, Palance, etc.

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My generation (early-50s) knew him best as Steve Douglas from the long-running "My Three Sons"; I knew that Mr. MacMurray had also had a decades-long film career

 

I knew him only from Disney movies and as the last of the Ozzie Nelsons (unless you count Mr Brady) in MTS, which I found old hat even as a tot in single digits. I was stunned to learn he'd previously been a big movie star in tough thrillers and even westerns! lol

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Fred was a better actor than he's often credited for, usually playing nice guys but at his best playing not so nice guys ( Walter Neff, Lt. Keefer, Mr. Sheldrake).

 

Personally I wish all the junior officers in Caine could have been recast. Robert Francis (forced on the film by Harry Cohn) is just awful, while FM and Van Johnson, though not bad, are not exactly right either. FM is too much the everyman to play the condescending intellectual.

 

Fred fits in with those nice guys make the best villains theory of mine. ie, Widmark, Ryan , Duryea,, Palance, etc.

 

I suspect there are a number of co-stars that might dispute your categorizing of Palance as a nice guy.

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Personally I wish all the junior officers in Caine could have been recast. Robert Francis (forced on the film by Harry Cohn) is just awful, while FM and Van Johnson, though not bad, are not exactly right either. FM is too much the everyman to play the condescending intellectual.

 

 

I suspect there are a number of co-stars that might dispute your categorizing of Palance as a nice guy.

I agree. MacMurray was perfect as Neff and Sheldrake. You'd think he would have sought out more parts like that, but his fans didn't want him to, and I guess he acceded.

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I am going to make a controversial statement that will quickly take this thread to a 1,000 views. Are you ready? LOL

 

This thread, already in its initial stages, shows that people do not really have a deep understanding and appreciation of MacMurray's screen work-- because their go-to comments are overwhelmingly about Disney, Walter Neff and Steve Douglas. I would bet you that most fans cannot even name one of the characters he played in all those Claudette Colbert movies. Or who his most frequent costar was in westerns.

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I am going to make a controversial statement that will quickly take this thread to a 1,000 views. Are you ready? LOL

 

This thread, already in its initial stages, shows that people do not really have a deep understanding and appreciation of MacMurray's screen work-- because their go-to comments are overwhelmingly about Disney, Walter Neff and Steve Douglas. I would bet you that most fans cannot even name one of the characters he played in all those Claudette Colbert movies. Or who his most frequent costar was in westerns.

Not being able to name his characters doesn't mean I haven't seen the Colbert movies, or weren't considering them in doing my recent post.

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Not being able to name his characters doesn't mean I haven't seen the Colbert movies, or weren't considering them in doing my recent post.

This thread is proving one of my theories-- that the majority of classic film fans do not go very deep into the material. This is why people like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford keep getting placed on the TCM schedule-- because the programmers feel the fans know only the biggest names and even then, only their most famous movies. 

 

Why wasn't Fred MacMurray picked as a Star of the Month before Robert Redford? Because Redford is at this point a bigger household name. And when people mention MacMurray, they think Disney-Walter Neff-Steve Douglas. But they can associate even more things about Redford.

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This thread is proving one of my theories-- that the majority of classic film fans do not go very deep into the material. This is why people like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford keep getting placed on the TCM schedule-- because the programmers feel the fans know only the biggest names and even then, only their most famous movies. 

 

Why wasn't Fred MacMurray picked as a Star of the Month before Robert Redford? Because Redford is at this point a bigger household name. And when people mention MacMurray, they think Disney-Walter Neff-Steve Douglas. But they can associate even more things about Redford.

The fact that Redford is also an accomplished director didn't hurt his cause.

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The fact that Redford is also an accomplished director didn't hurt his cause.

Though none of his directorial efforts have been chosen for his tribute in January.

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I am going to make a controversial statement that will quickly take this thread to a 1,000 views. Are you ready? LOL

 

This thread, already in its initial stages, shows that people do not really have a deep understanding and appreciation of MacMurray's screen work-- because their go-to comments are overwhelmingly about Disney, Walter Neff and Steve Douglas. I would bet you that most fans cannot even name one of the characters he played in all those Claudette Colbert movies. Or who his most frequent costar was in westerns.

 

Hmmmm....interesting, TB. 

 

It sounds as if you might be suggesting that Fred was somewhat in the same vein as George Brent, and who as is often mentioned around here, seemed often cast in order to not upstage his female costar. Would this be the case here? And if it is, you might have a valid point.

 

(...though of course Fred's derriere will probably never attain the status of George's enough to get its own TCM website thread) LOL

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Yeah, like most "boomers", I was only familiar with MacMurray from MY THREE SONS.  For the longest time, I thought the only real movie he made was KISSES FOR MY PRESIDENT.   When I saw it, I thought his movie career was just taking OFF!  But over the years, I saw THE EGG AND I and other old MacMurray movies, and was knocked out by his performance in DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

 

The belief was, for a long time,that just like Steve Douglas on the TV show, Macmurray too, played saxophone, and did indeed play the saxophone melody on the show's theme music.  Don't know if that's true, but that's typical.  many still believe that it's ANDY GRIFFITH whistling HIS TV show's theme in the opening.

 

Sepiatone

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The belief was, for a long time,that just like Steve Douglas on the TV show, Macmurray too, played saxophone, and did indeed play the saxophone melody on the show's theme music.  Don't know if that's true, but that's typical.  many still believe that it's ANDY GRIFFITH whistling HIS TV show's theme in the opening.

I don't know about the opening theme, but there is an episode where he plays sax on camera. Whether or not it's dubbed, who knows. But MacMurray was an accomplished musician before he got into the movies. He plays the concertina and sings in THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS. 

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One of the reasons that Fred MacMurray is perhaps not better remembered for his comedies is that there are no classics from that genre on his resume. No My Man Godfrey or Lady Eve to be found there.

That certainly doesn't mean that there is no MacMurray comedy that could not be recommended, though. Right at the beginning of his film career he appeared opposite Lombard in Hands Across the Table, a genuinely charming romantic comedy (with much of the charm coming from Carole). They played well enough off each other, though, that they would be reteamed three more times, with two of those rematches in comedies.

The one MacMurray comedy that I think is massively neglected and underestimated is the hilarious Murder He Says, a 1945 mixture of hillbilly farce and murder mystery, that works surprisingly well on both levels. Helen Walker is an engaging leading lady (there's a treasure hunt, as well, a la Ghost Breakers, a film referenced in the dialogue at one moment).

The film features a whip cracking Marjorie Main as the head of a homicidal clan who take a decidedly casual attitude toward knocking off strangers who stumble upon their property. Peter Whitney also scores well as a pair of muscle bound, pea brained hillbilly twin sons of Main. The only way to tell one from the other is that one has a crick in his back and can be, if hit just right, temporarily immobilized with a silly expression on his face.

In the midst of all this anarchy and murder and hunting for treasure is Fred MacMurray as an insurance salesman who stumbles across the hillbilly property and has to connive his way out of being knocked off, as well as finding that treasure. MacMurray brings a great affability to his part, a bit of an innocent but with enough brains to outwit the family (which, admittedly, doesn't take much with those two lunkhead twins).

The murder aspects of the film give it a certain potency, at times, and strength to differentiate it from most other comedies produced at the time. Not a lot of mystery thriller comedies involving hillbillies around, I think. Murder He Says is quite a gem, far and away my favourite MacMurray comedy.

As a demonstration of his versatility as an actor, it's interesting to contrast the likeable character he plays in this film, as opposed to Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, a dark performance done shortly before.

 

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Murder He Says, for my money, MacMurray's funniest comedy

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One of the reasons that Fred MacMurray is perhaps not better remembered for his comedies is that there are no classics from that genre on his resume.

 

 

Going to disagree with that. The main reason MacMurray is not better remembered for his motion picture comedies by TCM viewers is because most of those films were made at Paramount where he was under contract for many years. And TCM is not always good about acquiring titles outside the Turner Library. So it's a visibility issue. 

 

In terms of comedies, REMEMBER THE NIGHT is on a par with anything that anyone else ever did. And so is TAKE A LETTER DARLING (a battle of the sexes farce with Rosalind Russell).

 

For those who want to see his skills as a musician check out AND THE ANGELS SING, which gives him several great numbers with Dorothy Lamour and Betty Hutton. Meanwhile, proving his skill at adventure drama, take a look at THE FOREST RANGERS, a big hit in its day, that has him on-location as a firefighter with Susan Hayward. 

 

There are a lot of Paramount classics on this man's resume that simply aren't played on TCM.  'Out of sight out of mind' is what's happening.  DOUBLE INDEMNITY is the token Paramount film that TCM airs, to pretend that it is covering its bases.

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Fred MacMurray most certainly knew his standing in terms of his career...

It's widely known that he was a talented saxophone player, but what I'm getting at is his status as an actor. By the 1950s he was too old for leading man roles (and he knew this); hence, by the end of that decade he began taking on more patriarchal roles, or in some cases, secondary roles. He was first approached for a regular TV role in 1959, when My Three Sons was in its embryonic stage. His close friend Robert Young, busy at the time with Father Knows Best, warned MacMurray initially to "stay away from [TV] series work...too grueling!" MacMurray, after several requests from (producer) Don Fedderson, relented and went on to do the show with strict contract stipulations, known as the "MacMurray Method", in that he, MacMurray, would never work past a certain time of the day.

But I'm giving away too much...read the book.

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 He was first approached for a regular TV role in 1959, when My Three Sons was in its embryonic stage.

 

 

Actually FM had been approached in 1957 to play Perry Mason. But he decided that an hour long series was too much of a workload.

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Wow! I'm startin' to get the idea that Fred was...well...kind'a lazy!

 

(...though I can certainly empathize with that, as the wife says my "honey do list" is growin' longer by the day AND somethin' about my spendin' way too much time on this here keyboard talkin' about old movies!) ;)

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Wow! I'm startin' to get the idea that Fred was...well...kind'a lazy!

 

(...though I can certainly empathize with that, as the wife says my "honey do list" is growin' longer by the day AND somethin' about my spendin' way too much time on this here keyboard talkin' about old movies!) ;)

You can never spend too much time talkin' about old movies! 

 

But seriously, doing a weekly TV show is a lot more work than doing a movie. 

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But seriously, doing a weekly TV show is a lot more work than doing a movie. 

 

Very true. And which brings to mind all the physical ailments incurred by television actors with long running programs, such as David Janssen and James Garner.

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I really like Fred MacMurray and wish he been honored as a SOTM before Redford.  His "bad guy" portrayals are a treasure and his comic turns are grand as well.

 

Lydecker

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...Just like in the movies, the TV show has the male star hooking up with women who are much younger

than he is. And when Steve finally did get hitched again, he married an

actress, Beverly Garland, who was almost twenty years his junior.

 

 

True Vautrin, however I always thought MacMurray looked good "for his age" during this period and seemed more youthful than his years, especially considering this was an era years before the idea of "Sixty is the new fifty"(and so on) came about.

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faceinthecrowd, on 14 Oct 2014 - 1:30 PM, said:

 

But seriously, doing a weekly TV show is a lot more work than doing a movie.

 

It depends. A three camera sitcom is a relatively soft gig. Many stars, especially actresses, try to get them as it allows for a regular schedule (because of little if any location work) enabling a more stable home life if you have children.

 

Very true. And which brings to mind all the physical ailments incurred by television actors with long running programs, such as David Janssen and James Garner.

 

Garner discussed this in his Playboy interview, mentioning Janssen and James Arness by name.

 

If you watch Gunsmoke, you can see the series gradually evolve from leading-man dominated, to equal time with support and guest stars, and eventually to episodes with support and guest stars only, Arness appearing only in the wraparounds (which, in the MacMurray tradition, could be filmed in bunches on the marshal's office set). This was done at Arness' insistence, in order to minimize his workload.

 

Something similar was attempted on Rockford, less successfully, with Bo Hopkins coming in briefly as a lawyer friend of Jim's. This did not work out, partly because it's hard for a loner private eye to share the burden. Much of the genre's impact derives from the solitary, crusading PI asking  questions to get at the truth. So Garner often ended up in virtually every scene in some episodes.

 

And since it was an action show, there were many fight scenes. All that aggravated Garner's knee problems from Korean War wounds (Arness had been wounded at Anzio -- after surgery one of his legs was left shorter than the other) and an old University of Oklahoma football injury. Some Rockford episodes have chase scenes on foot where you can actually see Garner limping -- not running with a slight impediment, but fast-walking, almost stumbling after bad guys who are zipping away. It's almost comical.

 

Barry Morse, Lt Girard on The Fugitive, said nothing made Janssen happier than to see him on the set -- his presence meant that, because their characters seldom shared scenes due to the show's format, Janssen's workload would be lightened considerably. Janssen had injured his back as a high school pole vaulter, and his condition was inevitably worsened by the inevitable fight scenes.

 

Compare these examples to William Shatner on Star Trek, who was infamous was wanting to be the center of attention in every episode, sometimes even demanding speeches intended for other characters be given to Captain Kirk. It was this egotistical attitude that inspired the ST cast to give him the nickname "Shat".

 

Still, you can't criticize his willingness to work...

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I think that another reason why Mr. MacMurray has not been named SOTM before is possibly because many of his films were done at Paramount.

It would still be possible to feature him because he had plenty of films at other studios after his contract with Paramount ended. Plus, they could try to get Paramount titles for one night out of four. That's not unreasonable. He should be SOTM.

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