13 fascinating facts about 'My Three Sons'

It's the second longest running sitcom in history. Find out how it relates to 'Green Acres,' Gene Autry and Captain & Tennille.

In 1943, Fred MacMurray was the highest paid actor in Hollywood, and the fourth-highest-paid American. He could play the nice guy or brilliantly explore his dark side in classic film noir like Double Indemnity. By 1959, however, thanks to Disney's The Shaggy Dog, he was the ultimate dad. No wonder that he was cast to lead the Douglas clan on My Three Sons — which also featured a shaggy dog.

The sitcom became one of the biggest success stories in television history. Yet it remains somewhat underrated today. Here are some things you might not know about My Three Sons.

1. It is the second longest running live-action sitcom in history.

Over its 12 seasons, Sons logged an impressive 380 episodes. Ozzie and Harriet holds the title with 425. Want to binge-watch the entire thing? You're going to need some time off. Perhaps a 10-week vacation? (You'll get that joke in a bit.)

2. Eddie Albert turned down the lead role.

The show might have been much different with Albert starring as patriarch Steve Douglas. (The production schedule certainly would have been different, as you will see below.) Albert also passed on playing Wilbur on Mr. Ed, wanting to focus on his film career instead. He would, of course, eventually find a television home on Green Acres.

3. It aired on two networks.

My Three Sons is the rare TV series to enjoy successful runs on two different networks. The first five seasons aired on ABC before the show jumped to CBS. The reason? Colors. ABC was reluctant to cover the cost of producing the show in color.

4. Legendary animal trainer Frank Inn handled Tramp the dog.

The shaggy Tramp had some famous coworkers and friends. The dog was one of Frank Inn's animals. Inn also trained Arnold the pig from Green Acres, the chimps on Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp, and Higgins, the adorable mutt from Petticoat Junction and Benji.

5. There were more than three sons.

"My Three Sons" is a misnomer. There were more sons, and a daughter. Over the course of the show, MacMurray's character Steven Douglas had five children. Mike, Robbie and Chip made up the original triumvirate. The adopted Ernie followed. Then stepdaughter Dodie was added. My Four Sons and Daughter is more apt, though the total number of children on the series is eight, when you count the second threesome of Robert, Steven and Charles — Robbie's triplets. MacMurray must have never heard W.C. Fields' famous quip about childen and animals.

6. Fred MacMurray had plenty of vacation time.

MacMurray worked out a pretty sweet deal for himself. His contract stipulated a cap of 65 days total work per season, with a relaxing 10-week break in the middle.

7. MacMurray's vacations led to continuity errors.

This arrangement caused for some unique (at the time, at least) filming arrangements. The sitcom was shot out of sequence, with production continuing without MacMurray during his vacation. Eagle-eyed viewer will note minor continuity curiousities and frequent scenes with MacMurray away from the rest of the cast.

8. Despite its historic run, the sitcom never cracked the Top 10.

Despite its popularity, My Three Sons interestingly never ranked in the top 10. The closest it came was in season two, when it hit No. 11 on the Nielsen charts.

Image: TV Guide

9. The fifth season drew big audiences.

Despite its lower Nielsen rankings, the show still lured a lot of eyeballs. Season five attracted 13,438,500 viewers during the 1964-65 TV season. There were 52.7 million households with televisions at the time. A quarter of the country ain't bad.

10. The Douglas house was originally a barn in a Gene Autry movie.

The family's home in California was previously featured as the farm in Gene Autry's 1940 musical Melody Ranch. Located on the Republic Pictures backlot, the barn was given a suburban facade in the 1950s. It wasn't that far from Gilligan's lagoon, which was also on the lot.

11. Several characters disappeared with little explanation.

Bub, the grandfather, goes to "visit his mother in Ireland." Mike, the elder brother, is said to have "moved east." Robbie goes to work on a bridge construction in Peru and vanishes in the twelfth season, leaving his young bride and three children with dad. All this led Spy magazine to jokingly speculate in 1987 that Steve Douglas was a serial killer.

12. Lawrence Welk took the theme song into the Billboard charts.

Lawrence Welk's version of the instrumental theme song, written by Frank De Vol, peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961. Take a listen to the toe-tapping tune.

13. Don Grady played drums in a psychedelic band while on the show.

Billing himself as Luke R. Yoo, the hip actor played drums in the Yellow Balloon. Grady's group even broke into the Top 30, landing at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of May 20, 1967, with its definitive track "Yellow Balloon." The band at one time also featured the drumming of Daryl Dragon, who would go on to become the Captain in Captain & Tennille!


 
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

47 Comments

Post a comment
Metvsue 7 months ago
Katie, Robbie’s wife, played Ina (s4 Ep22). I’m watching to see if it was supposed to be the same person or if she was playing two different characters.
Jeanne75 7 months ago
The biggest question I have about this show is what happened to Steve's wife? She is never mentioned on the show. There weren't any pictures of her either. Did she die? Were they divorced? Was she abducted by aliens?
Goulout 7 months ago
In the early episodes, Ernie was a friend of Chip. Since Ernie had parents, what were the circumstances that allowed Ernie to be adopted by Steve Douglas?
When I started watching reruns of My 3 Sons in 1975, they were showing Robbie, Chip, and Ernie. I caught on right away that Chip and Ernie were brothers in real life. Then they went back to what I thought was the first episode (that particular station never showed black & white episodes), beginning with a couple named Mike and Sally getting married before they were to move away, and Ernie's "foster parents" moving away but he wasn't allowed to leave the county. I soon caught on the Mike was Chip and Robbie's older brother, but apparently my mom and dad had never seen the older episodes either, because they were just as surprised as we kids were.

It was another 11-12 years before I learned about the older episodes, and I was quite surprised to see William Frawley instead of William Demarest as the other adult in the Douglas household.


Lmiller56 Goulout 7 months ago
Ernies foster parents were moving out of the country, and they couldn't take Ernie with them
Joscar90019 Lmiller56 7 months ago
Yes. Ernie was set to move away to a new foster home. Vera Miles guest starred as a social worker that saw that Steve and Uncle Charlie could provide a suitable home and advocated on their behalf. They started as his foster family but he was soon officially adopted.
KirkJosephDongu Lmiller56 6 months ago
From my understanding, unless they were headed off to a combat zone in Vietnam they would have had to have taken their foster kid along. Or adopted him. But, I guess Fedderman changed the law. Seriously, they should have spun off Mike and Sally, sent Bub to live with them in retirement and then kept Ernie around as Chip's buddy. This would have forced the dynamic and pushed Steve harder to remarry and have another kid, although at his age that would be pushing it. He should have married Tina Cole and the kids would, I'm sure, follow. She was hot. Dumping Mike and throwing poor Bub out the tv dark space window was pretty bad stuff. They deserved better. How the series lasted nearly 8 more years is still the biggest feat MTS pulled off.
Simple. No magic. Just Fred MacMurray's popularity.
VBartilucci 7 months ago
What episode was that pic of Chip in example 7 from?
Lmiller56 VBartilucci 7 months ago
Ernies birthday present to Chip, Nan Summers. Was supposed to be just a picture, but her agent decided to have her be a date with Chip.
kendog2 8 months ago
Does anyone know why the "My Three Sons" dvd's are so expensive and hard to find?

ThatDonGuy kendog2 7 months ago
...not to mention (a) containing syndication cuts and (b) having some of the music replaced?
ronn287 kendog2 7 months ago
Hard to find and expensive go hand in hand...
Lmiller56 kendog2 7 months ago
Amazon has seasons 1-5 . But they are expensive.
Pacificsun kendog2 5 months ago
JMH (that's why we're all here) is the expense has to do with the number of characters involved. And no doubt FM (estate) brokered a very decent deal for long-term. He was known to be very financially savvy (some said, cheap). But it was a nicely produced show, good quality.
Robbob58 8 months ago
I remember one episode where Polly got a complete make-over. She looked great. But the next episode to feature her, she was looking like her old plain-Jane self. What happened?
MichaelLycosSlie 10 months ago
Nobody mentions how the 3 sons are much shorter than their TV father?
MichaelP 11 months ago
I've been a fan of My Three Sons since watching reruns on WTOL-TV 11(CBS) in Toledo, OH, during the late 1970's. In later years, we would draw all kinds of comparisons, like Robbie & Katie or Richie & Lori Beth from Happy Days, Uncle Charley or Alice from The Brady Bunch, as far as housekeepers were concerned, Steve & Barbara or Mike & Carol Brady, etc. Only in the 1970's, when we would start drawing comparisons!!!
Mholub 11 months ago
Regarding the number of children.....there were only 3 biological sons and only 3 original sons. Ernie was adopted, as was Dodie (who wasn't a son), and the triplets don't count because they were Robbie's. If you think about, Steve had three sons and Robbie had three sons so it's still an accurate account. Just because the family changed and grew doesn't cause concern for the number of children. If they were that worried about it, they would have had spin-off shows or called the original "The Douglases" or something. Of course, if they had done that, the original wouldn't have had a successful 12 years!
SheriHeffner 14 months ago
They have edited scenes in season 12. I really wanted to hear Tina sing in that coffee shop. Plus they built two more bedrooms when Katie and the four year old triplets moved back in. Like an early version of The Waltons. Four generations of a family living together. Uncle Charley, Steve and Barbara, Katie Ernie and Dodie. And Steven II, Robbie II, and Charley II.
When were the new bedrooms built? I never noticed until Katie was always there and it showed her room and the triplets room and I never saw where they were in the house.
Stevetrek 20 months ago
And Mike's new stepmother and sister?
SheriHeffner Stevetrek 14 months ago
I always hated the way they completely forgot Mike and Sally. But I think Don Fedderson was the reason that happened.
crystalstangland Stevetrek 13 months ago
Such a bummer Mike and Sally were never notified of that and that they moved to California. What kind of family doesn’t tell their own son they are moving out of state. I hate how Sally was only mentioned once and Mike was only mentioned four times. And that Steve said Robbie was the oldest son.
The proper thing to do was for at least Mike and Sally to have had a spinoff, and that Bub would have gone off to live with them in a sort of 'back home semi-retirement'. With no family to care for Bub could come and go as he pleased. Not a slave to the schedule. Of course, Frawley would have been dead by the start of season 6, when Mike 'went back east' and tv black space. However, they could have written that in or just kept him out on the road or in Ireland on 'visits'. Given his view on spin offs I'm surprised Fedderman never did something like that with MTS. I agree that they way he handled the Frawley dumping was pretty bad. Frawley helped the series get off to a great start. He was the glue that held it all together. IMO the series is hard to watch after he and Mike are gone, and nearly impossible to view after Steve remarried. Fedederman really missed a chance to invent the last and final new element to tv: the spinoff. Finally, the series is about to dump Bub (season 5) on MeTV next week I think. Then us fans of him and the first 5 seasons get to sit thru about 9 months of MTS episodes before it recycles. I really wish METV would show 2 episodes a day in order to quicken the cycle some. 8 bad seasons are a lot to sit thru one at a time.
Stevetrek 20 months ago
How could Robbie or Steve not tell Mike and Sally about their new 3 nephews?
Where are Mike and Sally's kids?


RedSamRackham 22 months ago
* Also Chip was seldom seen after marrying Polly! In final season it was pretty much Ernie, Dodie and those baby triplets. ☺
BigGiant66 RedSamRackham 21 months ago
Chip and Polly had diminished roles but they were still around - several episodes focused on them exclusively
Randall 23 months ago
Characters vanishing for no reason was quite common in the early days of Television. it was not until the seventies when they left with a story of departure and even get mentioned in future episodes Like Radar in MASH !
crystalstangland Randall 13 months ago
What about Chuck Cunningham and Tiger from the Brady Bunch? They both vanished with no explanation in the 70’s.
Alleycat_63 29 months ago
Went to watch My Three Sons this morning, & it's gone!!! Why is it gone??? When will it be back???
Cathy Alleycat_63 29 months ago
E too! So disappointed! Bring it back ! No need for back to back beavers in the morning
Liawriter 32 months ago
I'm glad they are now being aired in order on MeTV, I started watching in season 12. It didn't have a good, closing ending and now I'm watching 1st show and I'm confused about the oldest brother and Bub! What season did they change that?
crystalstangland Liawriter 13 months ago
The original family was Steve, Bub, Mike, Robbie and Chip. In Season 5 Bub moved to Ireland to visit his Aunt and never returned. His brother Uncle Charley replaced him. In Season 6 Mike got married and moved away East, Chips friend Ernie was an orphan and needed a family so Steve and Uncle Charley adopted him.
The actor who played Bub was written out of the show because he was sick and they couldn't get insurance for him.
jholton30062 33 months ago
#3: The show's move to CBS coincided with the network's push to add color programming. The first night "My Three Sons" aired on CBS (I was 9) I could see that the animation at the beginning was different, in shades of gray rather than black and white. We were still watching on a black and white set, and when I noticed the change I said "I can see where the color goes!" My brothers, thinking I meant that I thought I was seeing it in color, told me I was crazy (something that, by then, I had heard a lot)...
Martin 33 months ago
Maybe Rob Douglas ran away with Chuck Cunningham. :-)
SoCalTVFan 33 months ago
Bub actually 'went to Scotland' to celebrate his aunt's 103(?)rd birthday, and was never heard from again. There were a couple of references to him early on, when Uncle Charley was new, and then that was that!

Odd, considering Bub and Charley were brothers, and Bub was the boys' grandfather--who had lived with, and nurtured them, for years. You'd think they'd at least send and receive letters; phone calls back then would've been extremely expensive, so I wouldn't expect those.

When Bub left, he packed one, perhaps two, suitcases. He was clearly leaving for a short visit, -not- permanently moving. They should've addressed his ultimate absence by receiving a letter saying he'd decided to stay permanently, and asking them to ship his things to him.

I find the way the show handled William Frawley's situation disgraceful. Bub was an integral part of the family for five years; Frawley was a consummate performer doing his job and doing it well. They owed both Frawley and Bub a lot more respect than they gave them.

As for Mike, he's so forgotten that in late seasons, Steve introduces Robbie as 'my eldest son.' Ouch...

I can't wait for season 12, with that uber-annoying Dodie, to end. The first five years, in glorious black and white, with the original family, are far superior to the following seven. I had never seen the B&W years; now that I've seen the series in its entirety, I'll stop watching after season 5 in the future.
RedSamRackham SoCalTVFan 22 months ago
* B-b-b-but Bub was dropped due to Frawley's failing health. He went to Ireland on the sitcom. Steve did mention an occasional letter from Mike & Sally. BTW Don Grady was in real life engaged to Tina Cole but he abruptly broke the engagement and soon after his character Robbie left on the business trip of no return. ♣
JERRY6 SoCalTVFan 14 months ago
sow started going downhill when they added Burnout , Dodo killed the show
crystalstangland JERRY6 13 months ago
Dodie was just like cousin Oliver, but worse. Back in the day when kids got older popularity declined, Ernie was 15 when Dodie joined the cast. The network thought adding younger children to the cast would spice up ratings. Since this show was about a widower raising his three sons they should have added a boy to the cast instead of a girl. She was a brat in Season 10 I don’t get how the show had good enough ratings to continue for 2 more seasons after that.
Yeah the first 5 seasons were my favorites, seasons 6 and 7 were good but not the best. Season 8 and 9 were when the show started going downhill since they had to move to California. Season 10 it was over with Steve getting remarried and Dodie being added to the cast. The last 2 seasons were boring I wonder if they ran out of ideas. Since I’ve watched almost every episode in the later seasons I’ll stop at Season 7 and not watch seasons 8-12 again.
RedSamRackham 34 months ago
AND after Chip & Polly married they were seldom seen on the sitcom. ☺
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?