Question: Aloha. Can you tell me the names of the two gentleman who played the uncle on My Three Sons? Thank you. David
Televisionary: `A `ole pilikia, my Hawaiian friend. (That's "no problem" to all you haoles out there.)
When ABC launched the series in September 1960, I Love Lucy vet William Frawley played Michael Francis "Bub" O'Casey. Bub, widower Steve Douglas's (Fred MacMurray) father-in-law, took care of most of the household duties around the Douglas abode and, it should be noted, was a grandfather to Douglas sons Mike (Tim Considine), Robbie (Don Grady) and Chip (Stanley Livingston). When Frawley became ill during the 1964-65 season, he was replaced by William Demarest, who played Bub's brother, Charley.
Now, Uncle Charley may have had a heart of gold beneath that prickly persona, but as a kid watching the show I couldn't get past his gruff exterior. Uncle Charley scared the stuffing out of me. But Demarest was a tough man, coming from a childhood that included performing with his brothers (playing the cello, telling jokes, etc.) on street corners to support his mom and then moving onto physical comedy and gags doing vaudeville in the '20s and '30s. ("I've done more pratfalls than any man on two feet," the actor told TV Guide
in 1966. "Once a doctor told me I couldn't live till I was 50 if I kept on doing 'em.") But I was alone in my fear of the man, apparently. A postcard sent to CBS in 1965 read: "Gentlemen: I like the new guy better than the old guy." And series director James V. Kern
said Demarest's arrival "has given the show a new vitality."
On the show, Bub left for a trip to Ireland. And that was just the start of the now-you-see-him-now-you-don't chicanery for the series, which, by the time it switched to CBS in the fall of 1967 and stopped running new episodes in December 1971, wrote off and brought in characters too many times to cover in this answer. (For more My Three Sons changes and other such TV switcheroos, see our Lost Characters feature.)
But if it was a complicated show, logistically speaking, in front of the camera, it was more so behind it. And there's no better example of that than the unique shooting schedule devised by creator Don Fedderson (who, by the way, initially envisioned a comedy starring Frawley as a grandfather raising three girls). In 1959, when Fedderson was assembling the show, MacMurray was known as Unavailable MacMurray, according to TV Guide. In fact, around the time the producer decided to approach him about doing the show, Hedda Hopper asked the actor how rich he was. "Just rich enough never to do a TV series," he answered.
That lasted until Fedderson proposed a scenario wherein MacMurray would only have to shoot his show 65 working days a year, following a plan that shot all the MacMurray scenes for the season during that period and all the non-MacMurray scenes the rest of the time. (Making it even easier on the actor, he didn't work straight through, either he showed up for 35 days of work, took off, then returned for the remaining 30.) Working under what became known as The MacMurray System, they shot, for example, every upstairs scene needed for five or six episodes. Of course, various logistical problems popped up working like that, since viewers would have noticed if Robbie had a crew cut when talking to dad in his bedroom, then had a bowl cut in a moments-later kitchen scene that was shot months after that. To avoid such mishaps, the sons had their hair cut every seven days and every scene that had to be picked up later was photographed with still cameras to keep track of props and positioning.
Of course, few tonsorial problems arose for the lead men in question, since Frawley was bald and MacMurray wore a hairpiece. Now, if only aging in Hollywood offered more benefits like that