‘My Three Sons’: Why All Episodes of the Show Were Filmed Out of Order

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

Fred MacMurray was one sharp actor. His scenes for “My Three Sons” were all filmed in one block of time, on his schedule.

This was unheard of back in 1960, when show producer Don Fedderson approached MacMurray, a fine film actor, to play Steve Douglas.

Now MacMurray was looking to wind down his career a bit. Money and additional security for his family lured him to “My Three Sons.”

With his years in the movie business, MacMurray was pretty sharp on how schedules ran for films.

He had spent a lot of time away from his family, which was quite important to him. So he wanted two things from Fedderson: a percentage of “My Three Sons” and to shoot all his scenes in a three-month block.

‘My Three Sons’ Had To Film Around MacMurray

Fedderson agreed to MacMurray’s requests. This meant the show’s other actors had to appear and shoot their scenes with MacMurray on his schedule.

Other scenes, though, were shot without MacMurray outside the three-month schedule. For all of the show’s 12 seasons, this pattern continued until the final episode aired in 1972.

Watch an episode of “My Three Sons.” When you see MacMurray in a scene with Don Grady, who played Robbie Douglas, that was done in his three-month block of time.

Now in the same episode, you might see Grady in a scene with William Frawley, who played Bub in the show’s early seasons. That scene between Grady and Frawley was filmed after MacMurray’s scenes were done.

This style of shooting scenes even earned a nickname, “The MacMurray Method.” Ol’ Fred wanted to spend time with his family, take care of his Northern California ranch, and play golf. He got it because the show was a hit for ABC, then later on CBS.

Willam Frawley Was No Fan Of Film Schedule

Frawley, though, was no fan of this style of work.

For years, he’d done TV work in a scene-by-scene pattern as Fred Mertz on “I Love Lucy.” He was used to this type of film schedule. Having to do MacMurray’s scenes for a whole season separately, then do other scenes at a different time, was no fun for him.

Yet Frawley was not the star of the show. So MacMurray dictated the filming schedule and others had to work around it.

In fact, Frawley was let go from the show in 1964 due to failing health. There was a transition period of time that led to William Demarest joining the show as Uncle Charley. Younger cast members held fond memories of Frawley, but despised Demarest. It was a difference of character, with Frawley being friendly and Demarest a bit of a curmudgeon.

Frawley died on March 3, 1966, from a heart attack. He was 79 years old.