For twelve seasons, television viewers faithfully tuned in each week to see three pairs of animated tapping feet, complete with ultra-catchy theme song, as they followed the life of widower Steve Douglas and his trio of male offspring in the hugely popular sitcom, My Three Sons. Through the course of the series, they watched the family go through love, loss, and all the trials and tribulations that one would expect from a family, sans mom.
Debuting in 1960, My Three Sons starred Fred MacMurray, who had recently hit movie gold with Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, as family patriarch, Steve Douglas. An aerodynamics engineer by trade, Steve was the father of the three boys, Michael (18,) Robbie (14) and Chip (7). The family shared their home with their kindly old uncle, Bub O’Casey (William Frawley of I Love Lucy fame) and their furry pooch, Skip.
Four years into the series, William Frawley fell ill and left the show, marking the beginning of numerous changes on the horizon. He was replaced by the cranky curmudgeon, Uncle Charley (William Demarest) who possessed all the gentle personality traits one might expect from a military drill instructor. Luckily for the brothers, Uncle Charley’s bark was much worse than his bite.
And like any family, it was only a matter of time before the sons found romance. The first was Mike, who wed his girlfriend Sally Morrison at the beginning of the fifth season. With Mike moving out of the house, it was time for either a name change for the series, or a new son. The new sibling arrived in the form of a young orphan boy named Ernie who the family proceeded to adopt. When Cupid struck again, this time firing an arrow into Robbie, he wed his longtime girlfriend Katie Miller, but the two decided to continue to reside at the Douglas abode. This brought a whole new set of challenges for the Douglas family, as they now had a female family member to deal with for the first time. And if that weren’t enough of a change for the clan, Katie managed to pump out triplets (Charlie, Steve and Robbie Jr.,) adding to the weekly chaos.
In 1967, the entire family moved from their Midwestern surroundings to North Hollywood, CA. The surroundings may have changed but love was still in the air, this time bringing a new companion for Steve. Barbara Harper, herself a widow, soon moved into the already crowded home with her young daughter Dodie, therefore increasing the female numbers in the household. In 1969, Steve and Barbara decided to tie the knot. And soon after, Chip married his college sweetheart, Polly Williams and Steve’s cousin from Scotland, Fergus McBain (also played by MacMurray) joined the group.
With a clan this size, it was darn near impossible to fit the whole gang into a single episode, and as a result, each show tended to focus on one particular family member each week. But no matter how spread out the family became, Steve was always the central figure, a loving father who was far from infallible, but universally beloved nonetheless.
After well over a decade on the television airwaves, My Three Sons finally threw in the towel in 1972, much to the disappointment of loyal fans, who would probably still watch the family if they could. And with 380 episodes under its belt, it is second only to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as the longest-running family sitcom in TV history. Still popular in syndication, it remains one of the most endearing and enduring sitcoms ever produced.
If you have fond memories of watching My Three Sons in your youth, we hope you’ll share your thoughts on this beloved sitcom in our comments section.