Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Fred MacMurray

Frederick Martin MacMurray was born in Kankakee, Illinois on August 30, 1908.  He was the son of a music teacher and the nephew of a vaudeville performer,  Growing up, he was constantly exposed to the world of show business.

Like his father, he had an interest in music.  He attended Carroll College in Wisconsin on a full scholarship.  There he played the saxophone in a number of college bands.  Ironically though, he never graduated.

By 1930, he was already a featured vocalist and clarinet player.  That year, he recorded with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra on their song "All I Want is Just One Girl."  You can hear him croon it out here.  He also recorded with George Olsen on two hits, "I'm in the Market for You" and "After a Million Dreams."

After a brief stint on Broadway, MacMurray went to Hollywood, where work came quickly.  In 1935, he co-starred with screen legend Claudette Colbert in The Gilded Lily and with Joan Crawford in Above Suspicion.  That same year, he did his first of four films with icon Carole Lombard.  Not bad for a newbie in Hollywood.

Though often cast as the nice guy, MacMurray preferred roles that went against type.  He'd get that chance in 1944 with Double Indemnity, in which he played a philanderer out to murder and replace Barbara Stanwyck's husband.  Later in 1954, he played Lieutenant Thomas Keefer in The Caine Mutiny, another less than favorable character.  Click on each title for a clip.

In 1960, MacMurray was cast in the role for which he is most famously remembered, Steve Douglas on the sit-com My Three Sons.  It was an instant success for CBS and would run for 12 seasons.  Watch the series intro here.

MacMurray was still appearing in films during this period, including The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and its sequel Son of Flubber (1963).  In order to accommodate his hectic schedule, MacMurray used his star power to provide himself with a condensed filming schedule on the sit-com.  Each season, all of his scenes were filmed in two month-long production blocks and filmed before any of the other actors on the show.

When the series ended, MacMurray was able to settle down and live off his investments.  He seldom acted, but did appear in the occasional commercial (see Trivia below).

MacMurray was a lifelong smoker.  He suffered from throat cancer in the 1970s and later again in the late 1980s.  In 1988, he suffered a stroke, which left him paralyzed on the right side of his body.  He ultimately died of pneumonia on November 5, 1991.  He was 83 years old.

Fred MacMurray was entombed at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Rest in peace, Fred.

  • In 1939, Fawcett Comics artist C.C. Beck used MacMurray as his model for the superhero Captain Marvel.  Today, that character is known as Shazam.

  • Fred MacMurray: A Biography, was released by author Charles Tranberg in 2007.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • By 1943, MacMurray was not only Hollywood's highest-paid actor but also the fourth highest-paid person in America!

  • In 1987, MacMurray was the first person to ever be honored as a Disney legend.  Ironically, the modern Disney fan has no idea who MacMurray was.

  • In the 1970s, MacMurray appeared in a series of spots for Greyhound Lines.  You can watch one here.  Later, he was a pitchman for the Chisenbop educational system for children.  Check it out here.  It's pretty sad.

  • MacMurray loved the outdoors and bought a ranch in L.A.s Russian River Valley.  When he retired from show business, he enjoyed painting, fishing and skeet shooting on his property.  He also raised prize-winning cattle and grew a variety of crops, including apples, alfalfa and watermelon.  When he passed away, the land was sold to Gallo, which planted vineyards bearing the MacMurray Ranch name.  His daughter still lives on the property and is actively engaged in the wine community.

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