“Gee whiz, Dad…”
My Three Sons, with its catchy musical theme starring three tapping feet, was one of the most popular sitcoms ever to hit the small screen. In fact, with twelve full seasons under its belt, the show trailed only that fourteen-season wonder The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as US television’s longest-running situation comedy. Not that this show would ever have bragged about it credentials. At its core, this was just a sweet and wholesome program about a widowed father raising his three sons the best way he knew how.
Steve Douglas (played by Fred MacMurray, riding the crest of Disney’s hit film The Shaggy Dog) was the widowed father of three, making his living as a aerodynamics engineer. Eldest of the Douglas lads was Mike (age 18), followed by Robbie (14), and by youngest boy Chip (7). And for good measure, family dog Skip was thrown into the mix.
With so much fatherly advice to be handed out, Steve needed a helping hand, and his father-in-law “Bub” O’Casey was there to provide it. A warm and fuzzy old coot, Bub resided in the Douglas household until actor William Frawley fell ill during the 1964-65 season and had to leave the show. In came “Charlie” O’Casey (Bub’s brother), a hard-nosed drill sergeant on the outside and a powder puff in the inside.
It was a man’s world in the Douglas home, but one of the most appealing aspects of My Three Sons was that Father didn’t always know best, and that was okay. They were devoted to each other, which enabled them to conquer their obstacles in a safe, warm, loving environment. Of course, it wasn’t always peaches and cream, and there were a lot of growing pains over the twelve-year run.
We watched the three boys grow up and get married and have families of their own. Mike married girlfriend Sally Morrison at the start of the 1965-66 season, and the newlyweds moved out of both the home and the series. That left the show with only two sons, and rather than change the title, the Douglas household adopted Chip’s little orphan friend, Ernie. But that was only the beginning of the cuteness to come…
Later, when middle son Robbie married girlfriend Katie Miller, they decided not to follow Mike and Sally’s lead. The two moved in with dear old dad, totally throwing off the all-male balance that the Douglas boys were used to. What’s more, they crowded up the house with three sons of their own—triplets, no less! (Charlie, Steve and Robbie Jr., for the record).
Seven years into the series, the Douglas clan moved from the Midwest to North Hollywood, California. Luckily, Cupid was still on the payroll, and the widowed father of three found love again. Barbara Harper, a widow herself, entered the family with her young daughter Dodie, and in 1969, Barbara and Steve were married.
Toward the end of its run, the cast grew so large, the family had to spill off into individual households, often spotlighting different cast members each week. By this time, the youngest of the original Douglas clan, Chip, had gotten married as well (to college sweetie Polly Williams), and the Douglas home had been joined by Scottish cousin Fergus McBain Douglas (also played by Fred MacMurray). For those who had watched the story unfold for more than ten years, it wasn’t hard to keep up. The Douglases were practically family to many viewers, and it was a sad day when the show finally left the air in August of 1972.
My Three Sons was a TV institution through the 1960’s, and thanks to syndication, it remains so today. With its warmth, humor and compassion, the show taught us many things, but most importantly, Steve Douglas taught us that it was okay to make mistakes, even if you happen to be a TV dad.
USA / ABC-CBS / x25 minute episodes / Broadcast 20 September 1960 – 2 September 1965 (on ABC) and 16 September 1965 – 24 August 1972 on CBS.
Fred MacMurray as Steve Douglas
Tim Considine as Mike Douglas (1960-65)
Don Grady as Robbie Douglas
Stanley Livingston as Chip Douglas
William Frawley as ‘Bub’ O’Casey (1960-65)
William Demarest as Charley O’Casey (1965-72)
Cynthia Pepper as Jean Pearson (1960-61)
Robert P. Lieb as Mr. Henry Pearson (1960-61)
Florence MacMichael as Mrs. Florence Pearson (1960-61)
Peter Brooks as Hank Ferguson (1961-63)
Ricky Allen as Sudsy Pfeiffer (1961-63)
Olive Dunbar as Mrs. Pfeiffer (1961-63)
Olan Soule as Mr. Pfeiffer (1961-63)
Meredith MacRae as Sally Ann Morrison Douglas (1963-65)
Barry Livingston as Ernie Thompson Douglas (1963-72)
Tina Cole as Katie Miller Douglas (1967-72)
John Howard as Dave Welch (1965-67)
Dawn Lyn as Dodie Harper Douglas (1969-72)
Beverly Garland as Barbara Harper Douglas (1969-72)
Joseph Todd as Steve Douglas (Robbie’s son) (1970-72)
Michael Todd as Charley Douglas (1970-72)
Daniel Todd as Robbie Douglas Jr. (1970-72)
Fred MacMurray as Fergus McBain Douglas (1971-72)
Anne Francis as Terri Dowling (1971-72)
Ronne Troup as Polly Williams Douglas (1970-72)