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!

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MichaelLycosSlie 2 months ago
Nobody mentions how the 3 sons are much shorter than their TV father?
MichaelP 2 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 3 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 5 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 12 months ago
And Mike's new stepmother and sister?
SheriHeffner Stevetrek 5 months ago
I always hated the way they completely forgot Mike and Sally. But I think Don Fedderson was the reason that happened.
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.
Stevetrek 12 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 14 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 13 months ago
Chip and Polly had diminished roles but they were still around - several episodes focused on them exclusively
Randall 15 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 5 months ago
What about Chuck Cunningham and Tiger from the Brady Bunch? They both vanished with no explanation in the 70’s.
Alleycat_63 20 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 20 months ago
E too! So disappointed! Bring it back ! No need for back to back beavers in the morning
Liawriter 24 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?
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.
jholton30062 24 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 25 months ago
Maybe Rob Douglas ran away with Chuck Cunningham. :-)
SoCalTVFan 25 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 14 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 6 months ago
sow started going downhill when they added Burnout , Dodo killed the show
crystalstangland JERRY6 5 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 26 months ago
AND after Chip & Polly married they were seldom seen on the sitcom. ☺
TrevorDavis 26 months ago
It would be great to see the series get remastered with the black and white episodes colorized. Hey, MeTV, how about a highlight show with animated sequences for bumpers. The bumpers could be styled after the opening sequence with characters like Bub and Uncle Charley in frame together. Get to work on it!
Deb 26 months ago
I find it hard to believe that Barry & Stanley are brothers because they look so different!
Eye color, hair, height. We have really enjoyed watching the show from beginning to end. Those were the great days of tv.
crystalstangland Deb 5 months ago
Yeah I initially thought they were adopted siblings but they are biological brothers. They have 2 adopted siblings in real life also.
RaymondLopez 28 months ago
Still doesn't explain why the holeright side of the house wasn't used. Always looked so CRAMPED.
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