The MacMurray method helped keep Fred MacMurray a ''low-pressure guy''
Thanks to the method, MacMurray was able to ''semi-retire,'' even though the sitcom was still going strong.
You know him as the family man and father of three from the Sixties sitcom My Three Sons. Fred MacMurry played well-respected, hard working and dedicated father Steve Douglas for 12 seasons.
MacMurray joined the show after a strong career in film and several successful business and real estate ventures. It was part of the reason he was one of the wealthiest men in America. When he joined My Three Sons as one of the lead roles, he was looking to take a step back from television and a step forward into his life away from the bright lights of Hollywood.
MacMurray, by the time he signed his name to a My Three Sons contract, had known the ins and outs of the entertainment industry, and had a good grip on how to get what he wanted. His contract was structured in such a way that he had plenty of time for leisure. Through his negotiations, MacMurray's contract stipulated a cap of 65 days of work per season, total.
This meant when he was on the set, he was doing his scenes for the entire season in a very short span.
"Each year the show becomes easier," MacMurray said in a 1970 article from United Press International. "In the beginning I'd do all the kitchen scenes in two days, changing wardrobe from script to script. Then I'd do all the exteriors and so on."
All scenes with MacMurray had to be filmed within the time-frame of his contract, meaning scenes were stopped before they were finished. Jumping from scene to scene, all throughout an entire season of the series, was something brand new, and something everyone else on set had to adjust to. This type of filming became known as the "MacMurray method."
Tina Cole, who played Robbie's (Don Grady) wife Katie, said there was never a set schedule when Fred was working, and scenes were stopped, split and resumed at the drop of a hat.
"They way they shot was so different from any other show," Cole said in a 2023 interview with MeTV. "That was a shock. [Fred MacMurray] worked from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon, and that was it. We worked around him." In one of Cole's earliest scenes with MacMurray, one that involved a brief break up between Katie and Robbie, she was required to cry and seek advice from Steve Douglas.
"I'm crying and dad comes to talk to me," Cole said about the scene. "I've got real tears rolling in his close up and I'm ready for mine, and they say 'OK let's go to the kitchen and we'll get Katie's close up when we have time.'" She said that very scene was finished over a month later!
The "MacMurray method," while it was a new concept at the time, began to stick around Hollywood. For MacMurray, it allowed him to tap into his real life rather than his fake one, even though he loved the role on My Three Sons and all the success it had.
"Every year I think we ought to quit while we're ahead," he said. "But at the end of the season when the ratings come out, we stand very high."
At this point in his career, MacMurray simply wanted time for himself and to takes things a little easier than the typical Hollywood lifestyle allows while filming a series.
"I'm a low-pressure guy. I enjoy working in my woodworking shop, making wine racks for friends, I play a little golf and cook up a few things in the kitchen."
He said, of the "method" nicknamed after him; "I'm semi-retired."