10 Things You Should Know About Fred MacMurray

Here are 10 things you should know about Fred MacMurray, born 110 years ago today. We can’t think of another actor as widely underestimated as MacMurray. He is most remembered today for the latter phase of his career—his Disney movies and his television work—but in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, he exhibited a wider range than most My Three Sons fan might ever imagine.

Fred MacMurray, Man of Many Talents

Fred MacMurray is Turner Classic Movies‘ Star of the Month, and that suits us fine. A total of 32 movies will be shown on Wednesday nights in January, beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

We can’t think of another actor as underestimated as MacMurray. He is widely remembered today for the latter phase of his career—his Disney movies and his television work—but in the 1930s, ’40s and even into the ’50s, he exhibited a wider range than any My Three Sons fan might ever imagine.

After all, can you imagine Steve Douglas, widower and pipe-smoking, cardigan-wearing father of three boys, teaming up with Barbara Stanwyck in a blond wig to kill her husband for an insurance payout?

Fred MacMurray

MacMurray pulled off just such a role in the classic film noir Double Indemnity (he starred opposite Ms. Stanwyck four times altogether, the lucky stiff, beginning with the oft-praised-in-this-space 1940 romantic dramady-slash-Christmas movie, Remember the Night).

Fred MacMurray also was adept at romantic and screwball comedies, appearing opposite Carole Lombard (with whom he also worked four times) in such pictures as Hands Across the Table and True Confession.

When you consider that MacMurray also played a mutinous Navy lieutenant in The Caine Mutiny (1954) and a lecherous advertising executive in The Apartment (released, ironically enough, the same year My Three Sons debuted), you start to get the picture.

To top it all off, MacMurray began his career as a saxophonist and singer with such outfits as the Gus Arnheim Orchestra and George Olsen and His Music. MacMurray also appeared on Broadway in Three’s A Crowd (1930–31). He even appeared in a good number of westerns!

So you see, respect must be paid to Mr. MacMurray, who passed in 1991 at age 83. He really could do it all and is well deserving of his Star of the Month designation.

Snapshot in Prose: Gordon & Revel

Though he would go on to work with other composers (and have his songs be nominated for the best original song Oscar nine times), Mack Gordon spent the 1930s paired with English pianist and composer Harry Revel. The duo were very successful indeed, penning a string of popular songs that included “Underneath the Harlem Moon,” “College Rhythm,” and our personal favorite Gordon-Revel tune, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?”

This Snapshot in Prose captures the pair in 1934, at the height of their shared success. Read to the end of the piece, and you’ll find some of our favorite renditions of a few Gordon-Revel compositions.

MACK GORDON and Harry Revel must often grin these days and ask each other if they are not a couple of dreams walking.
They were born with an ocean between them but that couldn’t keep their words and music apart.
Mack Gordon is a native of Brooklyn. He is only now twenty-nine. While he was a youngster in school, Mack had a great flair for writing poems. Today, his lyrics are keeping millions of us romantic.
As soon as he was knee-high to a grasshopper he was trying to write shows for the whole school. Every one in the neighborhood knew him as “the little fat comedians.”
Mack’s family wanted him to be a lawyer He was too agreeable to disagree with them. So he went to law school. But not long, for he convinced his family he’d never make a lawyer.
After a year or two, Mack knew that he belonged to the theatre, to you and me.
From 1923 to 1930, Gordon played in vaudeville. Again he pitched in to run the show. He wrote his own entire acts—sang, danced, and clowned.
Of course, the lyrics writers soon cocked up their own ears and listened. Generously, they exclaimed:
“Why don’t you leave the stage and write songs?”
They were real friends, those Tin Pan Alley boys. Fortunately for Mack, he finally took their advice.
About this time, something prompted young Harry Revel to leave England and come to America. Though he had travel all over the world, Harry felt a terrific urge to try his luck as a composer in New York.
Harry had played in orchestras in many countries and when the orchestras didn’t play, Harry turned to his other talent, languages. Acting as interpreter, not matter where he happened to be. For Harry speaks, reads and writes nearly a dozen languages. It is fun to watch this London chap, American songwriter (for he is now a naturalized citizen), calmly reading Chinese.
We mention Harry’s extraordinary gift for languages because it seems to us to illustrate the marvelous sensitiveness of his ear to sound. Whether on his travels Harry heard Russian, Spanish or Hungarian, his ear held the impression of the words like a phonograph record.

Mack Gordon and Harry Revel met at a little dinner party in New York.
Mack heard Harry ripple off a few of his melodies, and said: “Boy! You’re pretty good.”
Then Revel listened to Mack’s impassioned recital of some of his love lyrics. He whistled, and said: “Bully! You’re even better than pretty good!”
With this exchange of orchids was born the popular team of songwriters.

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Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, pt. 1

Rudy Vallée only began performing on the radio in 1928, so the idea of penning a memoir in 1930, at the ripe old age of 29, might well be viewed as premature.

But modesty was never Vallée’s strong suit, so it’s perhaps not surprising that he was already itching to begin telling his story.

Here’s Chapter 1 from Vagabond Dreams Come True—enjoy!

TO MY MOTHER

AND THE MOTHERS OF
THE SEVEN BOYS WHO WORK WITH ME

Were it not for their faith in
us, and their great love, we
would never have succeeded

FOREWORD

IT SEEMS to me that everyone has given his or her theory as to just why I and the seven other boys work with me achieved such a sensational rise in what seemed to be such a short time. Since I am the pilot who guided the eight of us in our climb, I feel more qualified than any other person to speak; and, believing that I have, to some degree, the gift of analysis, I feel that my own theory is possibly more valuable to those who are really interested, than any of the other opinions that have been volunteered.

At this point, I want to make one thing very clear: I have myself written all that you will read here. I believe that I alone am capable of expressing myself on this particular subject. Although at this moment my schedule is one that keeps me on the jump from nine o’clock in the morning until four o’clock next morning—a nineteen-hour schedule that hardly permits of time to eat—I realize that this is my opportunity to really tell you something about our personalities, our early struggles and ambitions. I am beginning with zest and pleasure and only hope that you will find the result interesting.
Once more, let me repeat that this is my own sincere work.


CHAPTER 1

THE CALL OF THE SKYSCRAPERS

IT SEEMS that I have been “natural news” ever since I came into the spotlight. I have been called everything from a romantic sheik to a punk from Maine with a set of megaphones and a dripping voice. I have been supposed to have received orchids and bouquets during my theatre appearances. Furthermore I am supposed to have ignored these trophies and to have caused all flapperdom to become stirred as it has never been stirred before. I have been called a menace (in a humorous way of course). And one article in particular gave me quite a kick when it referred to me as the Vallée peril, which made me feel like the general of an invading army. However I realize that this is really an absurdity, for my appearance in person should remove whatever worry any husband might have over me.
But even discounting humorous exaggeration, it is evident that many people are sincerely interested in me and in my Connecticut Yankees, and I think that our admirers might welcome an authentic account of our career.
The eight of us met on a Monday afternoon in January, 1928.
I had graduated from Yale in June, 1927, and had followed my graduation with a second summer tour in vaudeville with the Yale Collegians, not as leader but as one of the three saxophonists.
The fall of 1927 found me in Boston, Massachusetts leading a society orchestra with which I had once played in Maine. But Boston did not keep me busy enough, opportunity seemed limited and these two facts, combined with sentimental reasons, caused me to transfer to New York City. The only hope I had of work was the practical assurance of at least one job a week with the orchestras that Vincent Lopez was sending out to various banquets, large meetings and fraternity affairs.
I might explain something which, I find, is not understood at all by the average layman. The big orchestra leaders, such as Whiteman, Lopez, Bernie, Olsen and the rest, find that their own individual bands are the means of bringing a great deal more work than can be performed under their personal leadership. It is quite obvious that, when people desire to give an affair at which they require a dance orchestra, one of the above names usually comes to their minds; and after phoning the office they find, of course, that the personal outfit of Paul Whiteman is either on tour or at some place where they play nightly. They are told, however, that the office supplies replicas of the original band called units and that these units may vary in size from three pieces to one hundred, at varying prices, depending upon whether there are star men in the outfit or just ordinary talent.
Thus springs up what is known as the Whiteman office, the Lopez office, the Bernie office, and this work to which they cater is called “outside” or “club” work. This work is sporadic, to be sure; that is, the work is seasonal, depending upon the seasons when debutantes come out, when marriages take place, when fraternal orders celebrate, when students are home for vacation, and when fraternities give their dances, during the football season. Thus, it is either feast or famine. However, most of the representative offices keep a certain number of men employed every week, and the advantage of club work is that sometimes three nights of hard club work pays more than seven nights of steady work. A club job is very hard while it lasts but it pays excellently, since the men usually play steadily from ten in the evening until the wee hours of the morning.

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