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

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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Coldnorth 36 months ago
Barb always kissed Steve on the cheek. Didn’t see much of Steve kissing her first. Imagine if my three sons was made today. I liked the older ones better..
jimmycain 37 months 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!
Tiver1944 37 months ago
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37 months 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 37 months ago
Really liked MacMurry in "The Caine Mutiny" one of his best roles.
Patrick 37 months 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 37 months 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.
Wiseguy MikefromJersey 34 months ago
That episode is not shown in reruns. It is available on some public domain DVD sets.
MikefromJersey Wiseguy 34 months ago
It plays on the JLTV network, 288 on Comcast. They have also shown other episodes I was
surprised I had never seen before. Perhaps they cut a deal with the series owner?
They also run You Bet Your Life, including the famous episode with Miss Ohio,
Kathy(Gabriel?). Groucho said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Elvis watched that night and sent his people to find out who she was.
It was one of those moments, 60 plus years later, you go "Holy Smokes" when you
first see her. They also run the first and 2nd versions of the Soupy Sales Show.
And the original The Goldbergs, which I had always wanted to see per my interest
in old TV. Some of the episodes have amazing writing, you feel like you are there
with real people.
PS - Regarding the "The Jam Session Show" episode of The Jack Benny Show. Since I did see
it on ANTENNA TV, JLTV and the PBS station NJN, it in fact must be available.
Considering what huge stars the guests were at the time, I don't think such stunt casting
would be possible today unless it was all done for charity.
LoveMETV22 MikefromJersey 34 months ago
The episode you mentioned, "The Jam Session Show" or "Jam Session at Jack's"
is showing on JLTV next Wednesday 9/22. YouTube has that particular episode too.
Tubi or has The Jack Benny Program Season 1-Episodes 1-15 free to watch.
MikefromJersey LoveMETV22 34 months ago
Hi LoveMeTV22,
Thank you so much for the heads up. I would only note that JLTV sometimes mislabels it's
episodes, or if it says a episode runs from 4:00 to 4:30, it might run from 3:55 to 4:25.
Though they are much better of late in regards to this.
LoveMETV22 MikefromJersey 34 months ago
Your Welcome . I saw the listing of The Jack Benny Program on tubitv. If i see it anywhere else I'll post to your message.
JDnHuntsvilleAL 37 months 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 37 months 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 37 months ago
All those investments may have had tax implications for Fred. I think so, anyway.
seacoast 37 months 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 37 months ago
Also his ns,esker vineyards on his ranch
seacoast 37 months 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 37 months ago
I believe one of his daughters manages the winery though the family no longer owns it.
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Andybandit 37 months ago
Interesting story. I can't believe he made so much money.
frenchman71 37 months 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 37 months ago
Don Grady's real life sister was Lani O'Grady from Eight Is Enough.
AgingDisgracefully 37 months 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 37 months ago
Fred was a jerk in The Caine Mutiny.
JDnHuntsvilleAL CoreyC 37 months ago
NO he wasn't. Fred's CHARACTER was a jerk in "The Caine Mutiny."
Lantern CoreyC 37 months ago
Ditto in The Apartment.
cseeley90 CoreyC 37 months ago
Keefer got called out by Greenwald in the end!
Maverick66 37 months ago
Smart man! Now, if only he had really invented flubber . . . 😉
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