This post is part of the Me-TVs Summer of Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association.
I could be having such fun with Me-TV because they are running My-Show, My Three Sons. The program ran from 1960 - 1972, that's 12 seasons of situation comedy shenanigans originally on ABC and then from 1966 on CBS.
We are invited into the life of the Douglas clan of Bryant Park, Somewhere, USA. Widowed aerospace engineer Steve (Fred MacMurray) is raising his three sons Mike (Tim Considine), Robbie (Don Grady) and "Chip" (Stanley Livingston) with the help of his father-in-law "Bub" O'Casey (William Frawley). Film star MacMurray moved into the world of television with a unique contract which allowed for the shooting of all of his scenes in a block. Over the years much has been written that this arrangement may have been difficult for others on the set, but I've always thought it was cool that someone could get bosses to see things his way. The strange way of getting the product in the can certainly didn't impact the viewer's response to the quirky show. I think it may have led to a sense of freedom and certainly a very nice energy among the young performers.
The Douglas' lifestyle is very relatable. The house (set) looks lived in with newspapers on the floor, dishes drying in the dish rack and nothing ever in its assigned spot. The boys, especially Chip, sleep in mismatched shirts and pajama pants and the dog, Tramp, is everywhere. Teenagers do not wake up when first summoned and they never want to do their allotted chores. There's bickering and yelling, and nobody listens. It's a real home.
Time would bring many changes to My Three Sons. Eventually Tim Considine left the program as Mike married and moved away. Another third son was welcomed to the fold in the form of orphaned Ernie Thompson (Barry Livingston). The kid cracks me up! William Frawley was let go because of possible health/age/insurance issues and was replaced by William Demarest as cantankerous Uncle Charley. The original black and white show was now in colour. The Douglas family moved to Los Angeles where Robbie married Katie (Tina Cole) and they were saddled with triplets. Steve married Barbara (Beverly Garland). Not much was asked of Beverly as a sitcom wife, but she gave more than was called for with her vibrant personality. Barbara came with a daughter Dodie (Dawn Lynn), a game little actress surrounded by adults who did not know how to write for a little girl. Chip (little Chip!) married Polly Williams (Ronne Troup). It was fun to watch her parents played by Doris Singleton and Norm Alden.
When I first married the housing market was tight in Toronto and my husband and I moved into the basement apartment in his family home. I was not altogether thrilled with the arrangement and as I unpacked I muttered under my breath that "When Mike married Sally he left the show". From another room, my husband with his Vulcan hearing countered with "Yeah? Well, Robbie and Katie movied in!"
I don't know which era of programs Me-TV is treating fans to presently, but I raise a toast to them and to My Three Sons whether it is Robbie as a klutz, an escaped lion roaming the Douglas house or Chip and Polly freezing their salad. While we're toasting, let's include three of my favourite episodes from Season 1.
Back row: Tim Considine, Fred MacMurray
Down front: William Frawley, Stanley Livingston, Don Grady
Director: Peter Tewksbury
Writers: George Tibbles, James Leighton, Peter Tewksbury
Original air date: October 20, 1960
A Monday morning with the Douglas family. The alarm goes off at 8:00 am and nobody wants to get up. A sleepy Steve stumbles to his draft board and places the drawing he has been working on all weekend in a tube to take to the office. The important work lands instead in the garbage can by the desk. Robbie sounds a drowsy Reveille on his trumpet, drops it to the floor and goes back to sleep. Chip and Tramp amble to the living room and turn on the TV watching the launching of a satellite. Mike does some half-hearted calisthenics and works on memorizing Chaucer for class. Bub starts yelling for the laundry, and for the trash for the incinerator. Chip has nothing for "Show and Tell". Robbie hasn't written his English assignment because nothing dramatic has ever happened to him.
From the television we hear Paul Frees as the announcer describe the intricate machinations which go into the launching of a satellite and how every person involved is integral and has a role to play in the success of the operation in the important period leading up to the countdown. This narration is mirrored by the actions of the Douglasses coping with four fellows and one bathroom, homework assignments, household chores, lost items and a myriad of little details leading up to their own countdown. Disasters are averted as we reach zero hour and as the satellite falls from the air in a spectacular failure we learn that the broadcast is originally from 1957 and the car radio alerts our intrepid crew that their clocks were wrong due to daylight saving time. Steve finds a spot on the couch, Mike and Bub are on chairs, Chip is on Tramp and all are sleeping except for Robbie who finally has something dramatic to write about for class.
Director: Peter Tewksbury
Writer: Dorothy Cooper
Original air date: November 10, 1960
Dorothy Green (Face of a Fugitive, The Big Heat, The Young and the Restless) guest stars as Dr. J.M. Johnson, a freelance engineer hired to assist Steve on a project. The attractive woman is devoted to her career, but Steve is smitten. When they first meet Steve doesn't realize she is to be his new working partner, and follows her through the maze of office cubicles with a lost glove to some spiffy jazzy flute music. He assumes she is one of the guests on "Visitor Day" and attempts to make conversation by explaining the work and equipment. He feels very foolish when put on the spot by Dr. Johnson, but the infatuation continues. Steve hopes a working dinner may lead to romance and he tries to arrange the perfect atmosphere at the restaurant with low lighting and flowers and practicing his moves. Again, Steve is made to feel foolish when he sees Dr. Johnson has arrived and has been observing him from another booth. Fred MacMurray is so much fun to watch in his anticipation and discomforture. I think one of the things that made him such a good, solid actor in all of his roles is that MacMurray started as a musician. He plays those notes on the page as called for, but he's not afraid to add those grace notes. Things gradually do start to move toward a more personal relationship between Steve and Joan, but she stops short from meeting his family, afraid to get caught. They miss their last chance to be together because of a missed phone message and after we get to see Steve in a situation away from home, it is back to broken appliances and taking care of the boys.
Unite or Sink
Director: Peter Tewksbury
Writer: Art Friedman
Original air date: April 6, 1961
Mike and Robbie have a lot of things in common, they are both broke, they are both looking for an odd job and they are getting on each other's last nerve. Steve wonders why the boys have never thought of just doing something for somebody just for the sake of doing it. When the milkman Harry (Robert Gothie) mentions that the Jensons need their fence painted, Robbie gets the job from Mr. Jenson and Mike arranges the same thing by telephone with Mrs. Jenson. Mr. and Mrs. J are away from home when Mike and Robbie start haggling about the job while Chip and his pal "Sudsy" (Ricky Allen) goof around. Mrs. Foster (Ann Morgan Guilbert) is watching the boys and gets involved in an advisory capacity with Mike and Robbie's paint job. Mr. Kincaid (Malcolm Atterbury) starts contributing his two cents and so does Bub when he comes along on his second trip of that day to the grocery store. More neighbours, Verna (Pearl Shear) and Pete (Bill Idelson) fill out the crowd. Everyone is talking about everything under the sun from Bub's navy days to ecology to silent films to sports to housework. While they talk, and not really listen, everyone starts pitching in on the Jenson's yard. Chip and Sudsy start selling their lemonade and sandwiches, eventually branching out to fruit and veggies when a seller passes the street. The day rolls on and the Jenson's yard is neat and tidy, Chip and Sudsy are successful entrepreneurs and Mike, with Robbie's agreement, writes "No Charge" on their bill to Mr. Jenson. Back at home, Steve is at first upset at the thought of the boys making money of an elderly couple on a pension, but Mr. Jenson's phone call of thanks makes Steve proud of his sons, and he's more than happy to spot them an extra couple of bucks for Saturday night. The theme of people pulling together, the cohesive work of the acting ensemble, the clever non sequitur lines and editing make Unite and Sink an all-time great in sitcom history.