‘My Three Sons’: Fred MacMurray Was Once Highest Paid Actor in Hollywood

by Jennifer Shea
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Actor Fred MacMurray became famous for his genial roles on the TV show “My Three Sons” and in the movie “The Shaggy Dog,” but he also appeared in serious fare like “Double Indemnity.”

In fact, even before he appeared in “My Three Sons,” MacMurray had already achieved financial success. In 1943, he was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, per MeTV. MacMurray made $420,000 – or about $6.3 million in today’s dollars – over the course of that year.

Even more surprisingly, that amount in 1943 earned him fourth place among all Americans. It really was a different era, that’s for sure.

MacMurray Juggled Film Roles and ‘My Three Sons’

On “My Three Sons,” MacMurray played the widowed aerodynamics engineer Steve Douglas, who is trying to raise his three children. Walt Disney himself convinced MacMurray to make a series of Disney films even as he was acting in that TV show.

By the time MacMurray appeared on “My Three Sons,” he was famous enough to wrangle a stipulation in his contract that he only had to work 65 days out of the year, according to Gold Derby. To accommodate him, the show’s directors shot all his scenes first. They then filmed the rest of the scenes later and edited in his scenes.

As a result of that contract clause, MacMurray had the rest of the year to shoot films and to hang out on his ranch. By the time he died, he had 98 acting credits to his name. That included movies opposite some of Hollywood’s leading actresses of the day.

When he turned 80, MacMurray told the Associated Press, “I was asked the other day how I’d like to be remembered. Fondly.”

In characteristic humble fashion, he went on to add that he had no special insight to offer or unique memories to share.

″Looking back over the years, which they say is a privilege afforded us octogenarians, I have some wonderful memories and people have asked me, ‘Why don’t you write a book like everyone else is doing?’” MacMurray said. “I have trouble remembering the names of guys I played golf with last week.″

Unfortunately, MacMurray had smoked for most of his life. And in his later years, he came down with throat cancer as well as leukemia. He died of pneumonia in November of 1991 at age 83.  

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