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Fred MacMurray of ‘My Three Sons,’ ‘Double Indemnity’ Dies at 83

November 6, 1991 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Fred MacMurray, who played the wise, pipe-smoking father on television’s ″My Three Sons″ and starred in dozens of films including ″The Absent- Minded Professor,″ died Tuesday of pneumonia. He was 83.

MacMurray died at St. John’s Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, said Sarah O’Meara, a family friend. He was admitted to the hospital Monday afternoon, she said.

MacMurray was being treated for cancer, said hospital spokesman Gary Miereanu.

MacMurray’s stage, film and television career spanned more than 50 years. He made more than 80 movies, including the acclaimed thriller ″Double Indemnity″ in 1944, opposite most of the leading actresses of the day.

Other well-known credits include family-theme comedies such as ″Son of Flubber,″ ″The Shaggy Dog″ and ″The Happiest Millionaire.″

He is perhaps best known for his role as widower Steve Douglas, an aerodynamics engineer trying to raise his children in ″My Three Sons.″ The show ran from 1960 to 1972, second only to ″Ozzie and Harriet″ as network television’s longest-running situation comedy. The show is still popular in syndication.

Don Grady, who became a teen-age heartthrob playing son Robbie, said he was saddened by MacMurray’s death, but relieved the actor was no longer suffering.

″The last time I called, he couldn’t make it down the stairs to the phone,″ said Grady, who is now 47. ″He kept his sense of humor, though. He always had that.″

Barry Livingston, now 37, played son Ernie Douglas on ″My Three Sons.″ His real-life brother, Stanley, played his television brother, Chip.

″He would always defer to his boys as the success behind his show,″ Livingston said. ″He was always a very humble man.″

While he was working on ″My Three Sons,″ Walt Disney persuaded him to make a series of movies for his studio.

Disney once said of MacMurray, ″He has a way of handling comedy that nobody else can compare with.″

His Disney films included 1960′s ″The Absent-Minded Professor,″ in which he played an inventor who created a lighter-than-air substance called flubber that enabled his Model-T to fly.

Although light comedy was his strength, MacMurray played almost any film role with success, including that of a suave romancer, hard-boiled bad guy, western hero and high society figure.


He won his greatest acclaim playing a heel opposite Barbara Stanwyck in ″Double Indemnity,″ the 1944 classic about an insurance salesman coerced into a murder plot. It won Academy Award nominations for best picture, script (by director Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler) and direction.

Other box-office hits included ″The Caine Mutiny,″ ″Miracle of the Bells″ and ″Fair Wind to Java.″

On his 80th birthday, MacMurray told The Associated Press, ″I was asked the other day how I’d like to be remembered. Fondly.

″Looking back over the years, which they say is a privilege afforded us octogenarians, I have some wonderful memories and people have asked me, ‘Why don’t you write a book like everyone else is doing?’ I have trouble remembering the names of guys I played golf with last week.″

Born in Kankakee, Ill., MacMurray sang and played in orchestras to earn tuition to Carroll College in Wisconsin. The saxophone-playing son of concert violinist, he organized a three-piece orchestra known as Mac’s Melody Boys. He sang and played with the band.

He came to Hollywood when his mother and aunt wanted to visit Los Angeles and needed a driver. During their stay in the late 1920s, MacMurray worked with dance bands and as a movie extra.

He went to the East Coast, making his Broadway debut in 1930 in ″Three’s a Crowd″ with Libby Holman, Fred Allen and Clifton Webb. He moved to the West Coast when Paramount signed him to a contract.

His third film, ″The Gilded Lilly″ in 1935, opposite Claudette Colbert, made him a star.

Aside from his movie success, MacMurray enjoyed financial success thanks to shrewd real estate and other investments. He seldom discussed his net worth, but in the 1940s he was reported to have been one of the highest-salaried people in the nation.

He is survived by his wife, actress June Haver; daughters Laurie Sipma, Kate MacMurray and Susan Pool; and son Robert. His first wife, Broadway actress Lillian Lamont, died in 1953.