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.

Happy 125th Birthday, William Demarest!

The gruff but lovable William Demarest was born 125 years ago today in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here are 10 WD Did-You-Knows:

  • If Demarest doesn’t strike one as the typical Minnesotan, that’s probably because his family moved to New Jersey when he was a baby, a state that better gibes with his irascible persona. His father was a second-hand furniture dealer.
  • Demarest was a veteran of World War I, serving as a sergeant in the United States Army.
  • Demarest’s performing career began when he was a very young; he played cello in an act with his two older brothers that played resort hotels in New Jersey. He then work as a dancer and comedian in cabarets and worked two seasons with the Alcazar Theatre Stock Company in Stockton, California.
  • Demarest had a brief boxing career, fighting under the name “Battling McGovern,” but he preferred not to discuss that period in his life in his later years.
  • Demarest later played vaudeville, first as a solo act and later teaming with his first wife, Estelle Collette (her real name was Esther Zychlin).
  • Demarest received his first screen test for Warner Brothers in 1926. “We filmed in L.A.,” he later said, “and you could have smelled it in New York. It was just awful.” Nonetheless, he signed a five-year contract with Warners the next year, appearing in a dozen silent pictures.
  • Though he went uncredited, Demarest can be spotted in the role of Buster Billings opposite Al Jolson in the first talking feature, The Jazz Singer.
  • Demarest was a member of Preston Sturges‘ stock company. His facility with physical comedy suited the director’s style particularly well.
  • Demarest made over 100 pictures and received one Oscar nomination, for his supporting role in the 1946 biopic The Jolson Story.
  • Demarest is best remembered today for his work on television, particularly for the role of Uncle Charley O’Casey on My Three Sons. He replaced William Frawley, who was in frail health, on tha popular sitcom. Demarest received one Emmy nomination for his work on the show, on which he appeared from 1965 to 1972.

Happy birthday, William Demarest, wherever you may be!

William Demarest

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.