Old School Americana & Nostalgia


What Happened to the Mother in ‘My Three Sons’?

What Happened to the Mother in ‘My Three Sons’?

Television series in the 1960s focused a lot of their energies on the family situation, and My Three Sons was in the middle of this. Steve Douglas, played beautifully by Fred MacMurray, is the family patriarch and had three sons – Mike, Robbie, and Chip – but what happened to their mother?

When My Three Sons first debuted in 1960 on ABC, it was revealed Steve’s wife had died, making him a widower and his sons motherless. Steve was left to deal with his boys alone, along with “Bub,” the family housekeeper, played by William Frawley.

What Happened to the Mother in ‘My Three Sons’?

Though My Three Sons ran for an impressive 12 seasons, very little information was ever given about the mother, Mrs. Douglas. What we do know, however, is that she passed away suddenly just before Chip’s first birthday. Additionally, in one of the last black-and-white episodes, Steve tells Mike about a questionnaire he filled out on behalf of the boys’ late mother.

Steve then reads a letter his late wife wrote trying to call off their wedding in which she goes into detail about the different views of each parent. Because they had nothing in common and wholly different viewpoints on life, she was certain their marriage wouldn’t succeed. Despite her reservations, Steve explains they shared a 12-year marriage before her untimely death.

Tim Considine, Don Grady, and Stanley Livingston made up the first three boys. Then, Considine left the show after Mike married Sally Ann Morrison (Meredith MacRae). MacRae also left but would pop up soon on Petticoat Junction as Billie Jo Bradley. This made room for Barry Livingston, who played Ernie on My Three Sons.

My Three Sons was on network television between 1960 and 1972. In the mid-1960s, Frawley’s health began to deteriorate. Show producers started looking for a replacement and found one in William Demarest. Demarest was known as being a good second-banana type of actor, yet also could pull off a leading man role if needed. So, “Uncle Charley” came onto the scene and stayed with the Douglases.

‘My Three Sons’ Patriarch Eventually Finds Love

While the show aired through the “flower power” years, changes in society weren’t always expressed on it. If you tune into an episode from 1967 or ’68, then you’ll see the boys wearing button-down sweaters and dress shoes. One will not mistake My Three Sons for Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, a popular late 1960s-early 1970s sketch comedy show.

Did Steve ever find love? Why, yes he did. Though he was originally a widower, show producers may have changed up his living situation to keep the show fresh. Douglas married Barbara Harper, played by Beverly Garland, in 1969, and Steve adopted Barbara’s daughter Dodie, played by Dawn Lyn.

This happened to be the fourth marriage among the show’s characters. OK, so there’s Mike and Sally, along with Steve and Barbara. In 1967, Robbie married Katie Miller (Tina Cole) and they had triplets. In 1970, Chip Douglas married Polly Williams, played by Ronne Troup.

My Three Sons bounced around some on the CBS lineup, causing viewers to have a headache when they could not find it. The show had some of the best names behind the scenes to guide it. Gene Reynolds worked as director of the show for two years between 1962-64.

James V. Kern, who oversaw the “Hollywood” and “Europe” episodes of I Love Lucy, also spent two years as director before his death in 1966. Fred DeCordova was the show’s director for 108 episodes. But he left in 1971 to take over producing The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on NBC.

Sitcom Moves From ABC to CBS, Airs in Color

As the 1965-66 season rolled around, My Three Sons made the transition from black-and-white episodes to color ones. ABC didn’t want to underwrite the use of color film, so CBS picked up the sitcom. At this time, it was a big deal for shows to start using color. CBS had been testing color on some of its most popular shows at that time, including Perry Mason.

In wrapping up this look at My Three Sons, it’s worth noting that MacMurray had a unique stipulation in his contract. There were to be two separate, months-long filming blocks for all of his scenes. He would do them with other actors as needed. Then, he would go off and make movies, play golf, or tend to his many different investments. The rest of the cast would then film their scenes, albeit without MacMurray.

MacMurray died in 1991 at 83 years old, making his mark in television as well as in some Walt Disney films, too. He starred in Disney flicks like The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, and The Shaggy Dog. Another great MacMurray film worth seeing is a non-Disney flick, Double Indemnity.