How My Three Sons star Fred MacMurray became one of the wealthiest actors in the biz

The film noir and sitcom star was a true business mogul.

The Everett Collection

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When Fred MacMurray passed away in 1991, his obituary in The New York Times revealed a rather shocking fact about the actor — at one point in his career, he was the fourth highest-paid citizen in the United States. His image disguised his wealth, as audiences pictured the fellow as a simple man who enjoyed a pipe and comfy slippers. Family fare like My Three Sons and The Shaggy Dog built that fatherly, cardigan-clad image of the MacMurray. It turns out, however, the film title on his resume that best described his life was The Happiest Millionaire.

In 1943, MacMurray raked in $420,000 in salary. That translates to about $6.5 million today. Seems like small potatoes by modern standards, no? Backup point guards in the NBA make more. But in the World War II era, that made him the highest earner in Hollywood.

At that time, MacMurray was a handsome leading man, showing his range by headlining romantic comedies (No Time for Love), aviation adventures (Dive Bomber), spy flicks (Above Suspicion), and Westerns (Rangers of Fortune). His greatest role, the defining film noir Double Indemnity, was just around the corner.

But his movie paychecks were just a fraction of his fortune. And, in fact, his connection to the film noir genre ran deeper than his starring roles in black-and-white crime flicks.

In 1944, not long after Double Indemnity hit screens, MacMurray plopped down $600,000 and purchased the Bryson Apartment Hotel, a gorgeous white Beaux-Arts building in Los Angeles. The Bryson had a long association with noir. The great crime novelist Raymond Chandler featured the Bryson in several of his works, including The Lady in the Lake and the screenplay to Double Indemnity

Astute viewers can also spot the 10-story structure in a few episodes of Perry Mason. It was the "Hotel Redfern" in "The Case of the Daring Decoy," and also served as locations in "The Case of the Long-Legged Models" and "The Case of the Howling Dog."

MacMurray owned the iconic Bryson Apartment Hotel when it appeared on Perry Mason, seen here.

"The Bryson contains 97 apartments and is one of the largest structures in the Wilshire district," the Los Angeles Times noted when it reported MacMurray's purchase on the front page in September 1944. MacMurray owned the place for three decades.

"His apartment houses and real estate are worth several hundred thousand dollars," The Plain Speaker reported in 1946. 

"The actor bought his first apartment house for a 'song' in 1936," The Kansas City Star wrote in a profile of his wealth in 1949. He later flipped the property for a huge profit.

Real estate was just one aspect of his portfolio. Beef and freezers fattened his bank account. "The MacMurray ranch produces some of the finest cattle in the west," The Plain Speaker boasted. "His latest venture, frozen food lockers, promises to add to his fortune." He owned a knitting mill in downtown Los Angeles. He was a part owner of the California Country Club and Westside Tennis Club. He had stock in oil wells. 

His business savvy carried over into his acting profession. "Now MacMurray won't make a picture unless, in addition to a guarantee of $175,000, he is given a share of the profits," The Star said.

So the next time you watch My Three Sons, don't just listen to his parenting skills, heed whatever financial advice he might give.

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jimmycain 1 month ago
I have 9 and 10 year old boys as a 53 year old single dad...6:30 AM before school, can't beat that theme song and cartoon shoes graphic...thanks, we love it!
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Pilaf 1 month ago
Such a versatile actor! He was great in Alice Adams, Double Indemnity & so many other movies. He really didn't get to use his talent on TV sitcoms.
Snickers 1 month ago
Really liked MacMurry in "The Caine Mutiny" one of his best roles.
Patrick 1 month ago
There's a pretty good bio of Fred by Charles Tranberg, much of this aspect of his life is mentioned. Also that he was just a down to earth, "good guy" who didn't partake in the usual Hollywood partying and debauchery--often to the chagrin of some of the leading ladies he appeared with. There's also a lot of information about the MTS show in the Barry Livingson bio, "The Importance of Being Ernie". I was a little kid when MTS came on and I grew up watching those and most of Fred's Disney films. I was really surprised to learn what a big career he'd already had prior to the 1960s.
MikefromJersey 1 month ago
One of the greatest sitcom episodes of all time is "The Jam Session Show" of The Jack Benny Show.
Fred MacMurray, Dan Dailey, Kirk Douglas, Tony Martin, Dick Powell and Jack Benny hold their
weekly jam session at Benny's home. They were all very good musicians and you find yourself
wishing the episode ran an hour so you can just enjoy the music.
The comedy was perfect, the barbs flying fast with these pros. You can tell the entire cast
were enjoying themselves immensely. Fred could wail on the sax, but Kirk was a real
surprise on the banjo. ANTENNA TV runs the Benny Show, you might want to catch this
season five episode on it.
JDnHuntsvilleAL 1 month ago
"In 1943, MacMurray raked in $420,000 in salary. "

And the tax rate in 1944 for $200,000+ was 94%, so he paid $394,800 in U.S. taxes alone.
kkvegas JDnHuntsvilleAL 1 month ago
The 94% figure is the marginal tax rate; so only the amount over $200,000 is taxed at that rate. But the tax rates for lower income levels were also pretty high; so you do make a valid point.
jomo JDnHuntsvilleAL 1 month ago
All those investments may have had tax implications for Fred. I think so, anyway.
seacoast 1 month ago
So after he ossecit es sold but still carries his n a if yiu enjoy s food dine Macmurry is one of them IMO
In 1996, we purchased the property and transformed it into a world-class Pinot Noir vineyard, highlighting the spectacular winegrowing terroir of the Russian River Valley. We also began a loving restoration of MacMurray Ranch, with an eye toward honoring its history, preserving its buildings and furnishings, and reinstating its spirit. We have proudly carried on the legacy of the original homestead, which has remained an agricultural site since its founding in the 1840s
seacoast 1 month ago
Also his ns,esker vineyards on his ranch
seacoast 1 month ago
I enjoy a Pinot noir wine nsmed Macmurry nsmed after Fred, he owned the land vineyards are located and wine is made giddy I don't know who owns ittodsy but here's is the story I found "Our namesake vineyard, MacMurray Ranch, has been a farmstead since the 1850s, farmed by the Porter family until actor Fred MacMurray bought the ranch in 1941. Fred embraced the rancher's lifestyle, raising prize-winning cattle and farming crops here for decades, while his children rode horses through the hills
TeresaDraper seacoast 1 month ago
I believe one of his daughters manages the winery though the family no longer owns it.
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Andybandit 1 month ago
Interesting story. I can't believe he made so much money.
frenchman71 1 month ago
Fred Mac Murray is one of my all-time favorite actors, and I don't have very many. He, along with Hugh Beaumont, Carl Betz and Andy Griffith, are my favorite TV dads. My mother read somewhere that MacMurray used to also cobble his own shoes.
Marty53 1 month ago
Don Grady's real life sister was Lani O'Grady from Eight Is Enough.
AgingDisgracefully 1 month ago
I remember him...visibly uncomfortable being on the receiving end of some Rickles at one of the Reagan inaugural shows.
It was a situation. It was comedy. I sort of expected he'd understand.
CoreyC 1 month ago
Fred was a jerk in The Caine Mutiny.
JDnHuntsvilleAL CoreyC 1 month ago
NO he wasn't. Fred's CHARACTER was a jerk in "The Caine Mutiny."
Lantern CoreyC 1 month ago
Ditto in The Apartment.
cseeley90 CoreyC 1 month ago
Keefer got called out by Greenwald in the end!
Maverick66 1 month ago
Smart man! Now, if only he had really invented flubber . . . 😉
Michael 1 month ago
"Follow Me Boys".

And didn't he have enough clout to have his scenes in My Three Sons done together, so he had more time off (or time to make movies)?
Jon Michael 1 month ago
That's true. The rest of the cast members had to film their scenes around him so that he only had to work 13 weeks a year on the sitcom.
TheDavBow3 Jon 1 month ago
Yeah and you could see some obvious signs of that. There would be a noticeable difference in the lengths of the boys hair in the scenes with Fred and without him.
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