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Fred MacMurray Poster

Biography

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Overview (5)

Date of Birth 30 August 1908Kankakee, Illinois, USA
Date of Death 5 November 1991Santa Monica, California, USA  (pneumonia, pulmonary edema, sepsis syndrome, urinary tract infection, chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
Birth NameFredrick Martin MacMurray
Nickname Bud
Height 6' 3" (1.91 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Fred MacMurray was likely the most underrated actor of his generation. True, his earliest work is mostly dismissed as pedestrian, but no other actor working in the 1940s and 50s was able to score so supremely whenever cast against type.

Frederick Martin MacMurray was born in Kankakee, Illinois, to Maleta Martin and Frederick MacMurray. His father had Scottish ancestry and his mother's family was German. His father's sister was vaudeville performer and actress Fay Holderness. When MacMurray was five years old, the family moved to Beaver Dam in Wisconsin, his parents' birth state. He graduated from Beaver Dam High School (later the site of Beaver Dam Middle School), where he was a three-sport star in football, baseball, and basketball. Fred retained a special place in his heart for his small-town Wisconsin upbringing, referring at any opportunity in magazine articles or interviews to the lifelong friends and cherished memories of Beaver Dam, even including mementos of his childhood in several of his films. In "Pardon my Past", Fred and fellow GI William Demarest are moving to Beaver Dam, WI to start a mink farm.

MacMurray earned a full scholarship to attend Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin and had ambitions to become a musician. In college, MacMurray participated in numerous local bands, playing the saxophone. In 1930, he played saxophone in the Gus Arnheim and his Coconut Grove Orchestra when Bing Crosby was the lead vocalist and Russ Columbo was in the violin section. MacMurray recorded a vocal with Arnheim's orchestra "All I Want Is Just One Girl" -- Victor 22384, 3/20/30. He appeared on Broadway in the 1930 hit production of "Three's a Crowd" starring Sydney Greenstreet, Clifton Webb and Libby Holman. He next worked alongside Bob Hope in the 1933 production of "Roberta" before he signed on with Paramount Pictures in 1934 for the then-standard 7-year contract (the hit show made Bob Hope a star and he was also signed by Paramount). MacMurray married Lillian Lamont (D: June 22, 1953) on June 20, 1936, and they adopted two children.

Although his early film work is largely overlooked by film historians and critics today, he rose steadily within the ranks of Paramount's contract stars, working with some of Hollywood's greatest talents, including wunderkind writer-director Preston Sturges (whom he intensely disliked) and actors Humphrey Bogart and Marlene Dietrich. Although the majority of his films of the 30's can largely be dismissed as standard fare there are exceptions: he played opposite Claudette Colbert in seven films, beginning with The Gilded Lily (1935). He also co-starred with Katharine Hepburn in the classic, Alice Adams (1935), and with Carole Lombard in Hands Across the Table (1935), The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936) -- an ambitious early outdoor 3-strip Technicolor hit, co-starring with Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney directed by Henry Hathaway -- The Princess Comes Across (1936), and True Confession (1937). MacMurray spent the decade learning his craft and developing a reputation as a solid actor. In an interesting sidebar, artist C.C. Beck used MacMurray as the initial model for a superhero character who would become Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel in 1939.

The 1940s gave him his chance to shine. He proved himself in melodramas such as Above Suspicion (1943) and musicals (Where Do We Go from Here? (1945)), somewhat ironically becoming one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors by 1943, when his salary reached $420,000. He scored a huge hit with the thoroughly entertaining The Egg and I (1947), again teamed with Ms. Colbert and today largely remembered for launching the long-running Ma and Pa Kettle franchise. In 1941, MacMurray purchased a large parcel of land in Sonoma County, California and began a winery/cattle ranch. He raised his family on the ranch and it became the home to his second wife, June Haver after their marriage in 1954. The winery remains in operation today in the capable hands of their daughter, Kate MacMurray. Despite being habitually typecast as a "nice guy", MacMurray often said that his best roles were when he was cast against type by Billy Wilder. In 1944, he played the role of "Walter Neff", an insurance salesman (numerous other actors had turned the role down) who plots with a greedy wife Barbara Stanwyck to murder her husband in Double Indemnity (1944) -- inarguably the greatest role of his entire career. Indeed, anyone today having any doubts as to his potential depth as an actor should watch this film. He did another stellar turn in the "not so nice" category, playing the cynical, spineless "Lieutenant Thomas Keefer" in the 1954 production of The Caine Mutiny (1954), directed by Edward Dmytryk. He gave another superb dramatic performance cast against type as a hard-boiled crooked cop in Pushover (1954).

Despite these and other successes, his career waned considerably by the late 1950s and he finished out the decade working in a handful of non-descript westerns. MacMurray's career got its second wind beginning in 1959 when he was cast as the dog-hating father figure (well, he was a retired mailman) in the first Walt Disney live-action comedy, The Shaggy Dog (1959). The film was an enormous hit and Uncle Walt green lighted several projects around his middle-aged star. Billy Wilder came calling again and he did a masterful turn in the role of Jeff Sheldrake, a two-timing corporate executive in Wilder's Oscar-winning comedy-drama The Apartment (1960), with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon -- arguably his second greatest role and the last one to really challenge him as an actor. Although this role would ultimately be remembered as his last great performance, he continued with the lightweight Disney comedies while pulling double duty, thanks to an exceptionally generous contract, on TV.

MacMurray was cast in 1961 as Professor Ned Brainerd in Disney's The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and in its superior sequel, Son of Flubber (1963). These hit Disney comedies raised his late-career profile considerably and producer Don Fedderson beckoned with My Three Sons (1960) debuting in 1960 on ABC. The gentle sitcom staple remained on the air for 12 seasons (380 episodes). Concerned about his work load and time away from his ranch and family, Fred played hardball with his series contract. In addition to his generous salary, the "Sons" contract was written so that all the scenes requiring his presence to be shot first, requiring him to work only 65 days per season on the show (the contract was reportedly used as an example by Dean Martin when negotiating the wildly generous terms contained in his later variety show contract). This requirement meant the series actors had to work with stand-ins and posed wardrobe continuity issues. The series moved without a hitch to CBS in the fall of 1965 in color after ABC, then still an also-ran network with its eyes peeled on the bottom line, refused to increase the budget required for color production (color became a U.S. industry standard in the 1968 season). This freed him to pursue his film work, family, ranch, and his principal hobby, golf.

Politically very conservative, MacMurray was a staunch supporter of the Republican Party; he joined his old friend Bob Hope and James Stewart in campaigning for Richard Nixon in 1968. He was also widely known one of the most -- to be polite -- frugal actors in the business. Stories floated around the industry in the 60s regarding famous hard-boiled egg brown bag lunches and stingy tips. After the cancellation of My Three Sons in 1972, MacMurray made only a few more film appearances before retiring to his ranch in 1978. As a result of a long battle with leukemia, MacMurray died of pneumonia at the age of eighty-three in Santa Monica on November 5, 1991. He was buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Dave Curbow and Mike Bischoff and Jack Backstreet

Spouse (2)

June Haver (28 June 1954 - 5 November 1991) (his death) (2 children)
Lillian Lamont (20 June 1936 - 22 June 1953) (her death) (2 children)

Trade Mark (3)

Deadpan delivery
Disney movies
Wholesome, kind-hearted characters

Trivia (64)

Personal friends with Walt Disney.
Interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California, USA, in the Mausoleum, D1, Room 7.
Adopted twin daughters, Kathryn and Laurie (b. 1956), with Haver.
The Untouchables (1959). He was also the first choice to play the title role on TV's Perry Mason (1957).
At his insistence, all episodes of My Three Sons (1960) were filmed out of sequence during the show's entire run. He would do all of his scenes first, then leave until the next season. All kitchen scenes would be done together, then all scenes in the upstairs hallway would be filmed together, etc. This fact was well concealed until Dawn Lyn joined the cast as Dodie. Her upper front teeth grew in irregularly during the entire 1969-'70 season, from being barely visible in scenes with MacMurray to being plainly visible in scenes without him.
Portrayed George Harvey, star reporter for the Hillsdale Morning Star, on NBC Radio's "Bright Star" (1952-1953).
Steve Douglas, MacMurray's character on My Three Sons (1960), was ranked #7 in TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time" [20 June 2004 issue].
1987: First person to be named a Disney Legend.
1970s: He was most often seen doing commercials for a video teaching "Chisenbop," a Korean method of doing math on your fingers.
His daughter Susan was born in 1942. His son Robert was born in 1945.
He was a staunch supporter of the Republican Party who joined Bob Hope and James Stewart in campaigning for Richard Nixon in 1968.
Best remembered by the public for starring as father figures in Walt Disney movies.
When offered the job as the dad on My Three Sons (1960), he was given a dream contract in which he only had to work 65 days a year on the series. The supporting cast, as a result, often had to shoot their scenes opposite a prop person off camera instead of Fred. The popular series ran 12 seasons.
He and wife June Haver were once offered a husband-and-wife sitcom but Fred refused, afraid of putting his marriage in jeopardy by the pressures.
Met first wife Lillian ("Lily") Lamonte while performing on Broadway in "Roberta" in 1933. She was a dancer.
Played vaudeville with a stage band called "The California Collegians". The group was cast in a Broadway revue called "Three's a Crowd" in 1930 that showcased such star talent as Fred Allen, Clifton Webb and chanteuse Libby Holman. Holman sang the torch song "Something to Remember You By" to Fred in the show. The Collegians were also featured in the Broadway musical "Roberta", in which Fred also understudied the lead.
One of his first jobs in Los Angeles was playing in a pit orchestra for an L.A. theater.
Once studied art at the Chicago Art Institute.
Quite the high school athlete. He won ten letters for athletics and a scholarship to Carroll College in Wisconsin to play football. He played the saxophone for extra money while there.
Made his debut on stage playing the violin alongside his father, but the experience left him with a terrible case of stage fright. Later he overcame it and learned the piano, guitar and saxophone, which he played in his high school band.
Was in consideration for the role of Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard (1950) but William Holden, who received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance, was cast instead.
Initially turned down his most famous movie role in Double Indemnity (1944) because he didn't think his fans would want to see him playing a darker character.
He never took an acting lesson.
Profiled in "American Classic Screen Interviews" (Scarecrow Press). [2010]
Cartoonist C.C. Beck claimed that he modeled the 1940s superhero, Captain Marvel after Fred MacMurray.
His mother, Maleta Martin, died in 1965 aged 85.
Near the end of his acting career, he was a spokesperson for Greyhound Bus Lines in the 1970s.
Was the only actor to appear in all 380 episodes of My Three Sons (1960) on both (ABC) and (CBS) networks.
Best remembered by the public for his starring role as Steve Douglas on My Three Sons (1960).
After his role on The Swarm (1978), he retired from acting at age 70.
His future My Three Sons (1960) co-star, Tim Considine, worked with him in the movie The Shaggy Dog (1959).
Best friends with William Demarest, from 1935 to his death in 1983.
Suffered a number of health problems for 13 years before his death, from throat cancer to leukemia. He also suffered a stroke at Christmas 1988.
Was not the producer's first choice for the role of Steve Douglas on My Three Sons (1960). He got the role only because Eddie Albert turned it down to focus on his movie career.
Began his career as a contract player for Paramount in 1934.
Was raised in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, where his mother had been born in 1880.
Before he was a successful actor, he was a member of the Gus Arnheim Orchestra from 1930-31 and sang the vocal refrain on the record "All I Want Is Just One", recorded on March 30, 1930 and issued on Victor 22384.
Was a lifelong heavy smoker that led to throat cancer and emphysema, which contributed to his death.
Remained good friends with Stanley Livingston, during and after My Three Sons (1960).
He had 8 hobbies - camping, spending time with family, boxing, golfing, fishing, singing, traveling and dancing.
Taught his future My Three Sons (1960) co-star, Beverly Garland, how to play golf.
He tried to get into the military service during World War II, but a fluctuated ear prevented him from attending, therefore, he stayed in Hollywood, continued making movies and did everything he could to help the war effort and afterwards, helped the Hollywood community did his part in the process of rebuilding.
His musical career eventually led him to Broadway.
Was a conservative Republican.
Had played both the violin and saxophone, just before he entered high school.
Graduated from Beaver Dam High School in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1926.
During Maleta's pregnancy, she and Frederick Sr. both traveled to Kankakee, Illinois, where Frederick Jr. was born.
At Carroll College (now Carroll University), he played a variety of local bands and nightclubs.
Second-only to Lucille Ball and John Ritter, MacMurray performed a lot of physical comedy on My Three Sons (1960).
His father, Frederick MacMurray, died when he was only 5.
Before he was a successful actor, he once worked in a department store, selling appliances, among everything that he did.
According to daughter Kate, Fred and wife June Haver were introduced to each other by John Wayne.
His physical likeness inspired the appearance of DC Comics' character Captain Marvel.
In 1951, RKO Radio Pictures tried to compose a film noir entitled "The Sins of Sarah Ferry". The story was about a courthouse clerk in Binghamton, New York who finds herself falling in love with a beautiful liar whose accused of armed robbery as well as a hit run charge involving a death. The cast would have starred Laraine Day, Fred MacMurray, Yvonne De Carlo, Hugh Beaumont, Glenn Ford, Howard Duff, and Evelyn Keyes, with the studio wanting to shoot on location in Binghamton and neighboring Johnson City. This project never materialized because the plot was considered to close of a generic step-up of Double Indemnity (1944) and the studio never received a reply via phone call or standard mail from the Binghamton Courthouse or then Mayor Donald Kramer granting them permission to film on location in the area and negotiate a fair range of payment. Based on that neglect, the studio immediately canceled this project and moved on.
In the early 1930s, he was the vocalist for Gus Arnheim's Coconut Grove Orchestra.
MacMurray played the baritone saxophone in high school with the American Legion Band. After buying a saxophone with his own money he earned in a pea-canning factory, he created his own three piece orchestra called "Mac's Melody Boys." He performed in nightclubs, dance halls and vaudeville.
The character design of the Fawcett Comics (later DC Comics) superhero Captain Marvel (now Shazam) was said to have been based on him.
Was a Boy Scout.
Acting mentor of Stanley Livingston.
The appearance of the famous DC Comics character Captain Marvel is based on him.
His feature film leading ladies: Claudette Colbert (7 films): The Gilded Lily (1935), _The Bride Comes Home (1935)', Maid of Salem (1937), No Time for Love (1943), Practically Yours (1944), The Egg and I (1947), Family Honeymoon (1948). Madeleine Carroll (5 films): Honeymoon in Bali (1939), Cafe Society (1939), Virginia (1941), One Night in Lisbon (1941), An Innocent Affair (1948). Barbara Stanwyck (4 films): Remember the Night (1940), Double Indemnity (1944), The Moonlighter (1953), There's Always Tomorrow (1955). Carole Lombard (4 films): Hands Across the Table (1935), The Princess Comes Across (1936), True Confession (1937), Swing High, Swing Low (1937). Paulette Goddard (4 films): The Forest Rangers (1942), Standing Room Only (1944), Suddenly It's Spring (1947), On Our Merry Way (1948). Irene Dunne (2 films): Invitation to Happiness (1939), Never a Dull Moment (1950). Rosalind Russell (2 films): Take a Letter, Darling (1942), Flight for Freedom (1943). June Haver (married 1954): Where Do We Go from Here? (1945).
Was an expert leather craftsman. A 1936 entry in the Columbia Pictures "Screen Snapshots" series showed him assembling an ornate gun holster, which he had also decoratively engraved. The narrator stated that he also knew how to make saddles.
In 1961 when he took his family to Disneyland, a woman came up to him and asked "Are you Fred MacMurray?", and when he answered he was, she hit him with her purse and told him she had taken her children to see him in "The Apartment" and was furious because "That was not a Disney movie", he responded, "No ma'am, it wasn't." He then turned to his wife and announced he was done playing bad guys in movies.

Personal Quotes (5)

I once asked Barbara Stanwyck the secret of acting. She said, "Just be truthful - and if you can fake that you've got it made".
Carole Lombard was a wonderful girl. Swore like a man. Other women try, but she really did.
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.
[on working with director Preston Sturges] At the end of this shoot, he said, "It's been a pleasure working with you" and I said, "I wish I could say the same about you." I don't like to be that way, but he was terrible, very cruel.
[on Barbara Stanwyck] I was lucky enough to make four pictures with Barbara. In the first I turned her in, in the second I killed her, in the third I left her for another woman and in the fourth I pushed her over a waterfall. The one thing all these pictures had in common was that I fell in love with Barbara Stanwyck -- and I did, too.

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