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By CBS Television (eBayfrontback) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By CBS Television (eBayfrontback) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

11 Fun Facts About My Three Sons

By CBS Television (eBayfrontback) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By CBS Television (eBayfrontback) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When My Three Sons premiered in 1960, it wasn’t the first TV series to feature an all-male household—Bachelor Father and Bonanza were both lacking mother figures—but it was the first to show a more realistic version of such a family. The house wasn’t always spotless, the boys were rambunctious and noisy, and chaos was often the order of the day. Here are a few fun facts (or “neat junk,” as Ernie might say) about the Douglas family.

1. THE STAR MANAGED TO NEGOTIATE A SWEET SET OF WORKING HOURS FOR HIS SCHEDULE.

Fred MacMurray was a well-established film star when he was approached by executive producer Don Fedderson about starring in a TV series. MacMurray agreed with two conditions: one, that he would own a percentage of the show, and two, that he only would be required to work three months of each year. In reality, MacMurray was a dedicated family man, and after years of being away on movie sets had planned to retire early and spend the majority of his time at home with his wife and four-year-old twin daughters. But the money Fedderson offered him was too tempting to pass up—and would secure his children’s future—so he signed on to play the widowed patriarch on My Three Sons.

MacMurray’s “three month” stipulation meant that the writers had to have each season’s scripts ready in advance so that MacMurray could film all of his scenes in one fell swoop and have them edited into the various episodes of the series after the fact. Years later, several other actors caught on to this concept and agreed to star in a project only if it was filmed in “the MacMurray Method.”

2. WILLIAM FRAWLEY WAS A BELOVED BUT NAUGHTY ROLE MODEL TO THE CHILD ACTORS.

The premise of My Three Sons was to showcase the trials and tribulations of Steven Douglas (MacMurray), an aeronautical engineer and widower, and his three boys—Mike, Robbie, and Chip. Since Steve’s job required long hours, some household help was required. Enter William Frawley (I Love Lucy’s Fred Mertz) as Michael Francis “Bub” O’Casey, Steve’s father-in-law. Bub served as chief cook and bottle-washer, as well as the disciplinarian for the boys when their dad wasn’t home.

Frawley nabbed the role shortly after his tenure on I Love Lucy, and was quite pleased to have another steady job. A long-time bachelor with no children of his own, he became something of a surrogate grandfather to Stanley and Barry Livingston, who played Chip and Ernie, respectively. Years later, Stanley reported—with pride—that Frawley “taught me every four-letter word I know!”

3. THE “SONS” HAD TO BE MACMURRAY-APPROVED BEFORE BEING HIRED.

Stanley Livingston was the first of the “Sons” to be cast. Just nine years old at the time, he was already a show biz veteran, having worked regularly on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet from 1958 to 1960. Stan was hired to play “Chip,” who was the youngest of the Douglas boys when the series premiered.

Ryan O’Neal was a contender for the role of Mike, the eldest son, but MacMurray felt that he wasn’t really suited to comedy. MacMurray instead recommended Tim Considine for the role, having recently worked with him on The Shaggy Dog. Former Mouseketeer Don Grady, who was cast as Robbie, not only passed muster as being well-behaved, he also had a cleft in his chin that resembled MacMurray’s.

4. BILL FRAWLEY CARRIED A GRUDGE … TO GREAT LENGTHS.

That there was no love lost between former I Love Lucy co-stars William Frawley and Vivian Vance was certainly no secret in Hollywood, but Frawley had been willing to set aside any personal differences when Desilu proposed a spin-off series starring Fred and Ethel Mertz. Vivian Vance absolutely refused, however, and Frawley never forgave her for denying him a steady paycheck.

“On the third season of our show, lo and behold, Lucy decided to do The Lucy Show and they were on the next stage over from ours,” Stanley Livingston recalled. “She probably picked that stage knowing Bill and Vivian would have to pass each other. When Bill saw Vivian, he’d yell some sort of obscenity at her. He got me to participate in a couple of his pranks. When she was doing a scene, he’d get us kids on the show to sneak in and knock over a stack of empty film cans or throw them like a Frisbee to make a big racket and ruin her scene so she’d have to do it again.”

5. MACMURRAY WAS ALWAYS LOOKING FOR WAYS TO SAVE A FEW DOLLARS.

In addition to being known as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, MacMurray was also well known for being frugal with the stacks of money he had accumulated during his career. At one time he was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, yet he brown-bagged his meals every day while filming My Three Sons and kept an eye on all the expenses associated with the show. Actress Beverly Garland, who played Barbara Harper Douglas, was present one afternoon when the wardrobe man told Fred, “I think we’re going to have to buy a dozen new shirts for you this season.” MacMurray asked him, “Buy a dozen shirts? Why don’t you just turn the collars around on my old ones?”

6. CONTINUITY PROVED TO BE A BIG PRODUCTION PROBLEM.

The MacMurray Method was a nightmare in terms of continuity, so production manager John G. Stephens was tasked with keeping everything running smoothly and as if it had been shot in sequence. For example, when Fred was done with a scene (and remember, all of his scenes were shot in bulk; all the kitchen scenes were done one week, the living room shots another, etc.) the other actors would all freeze in place and Stephens would take a set of detailed Polaroid photos of everyone. Three months or so later, when the rest of that kitchen scene was filmed, the actors—wearing the same wardrobe and hairstyles as before—resumed their frozen poses from that last shot before the director called “Action!”

Because the episodes and scenes were filmed out of order, the cast had to be doubly diligent about their appearance for each entire season. Any significant weight gain or radical haircut would completely blow continuity. Some changes were inevitable, such as Barry and Stanley’s growth spurts in their early teens, so the wardrobe department bought some of their clothes in duplicate sets in graduating sizes.

The most obvious continuity glitch occurred during season 10, when Dawn Lyn was added to the cast as five-year-old Dodie, the daughter of the woman Steve Douglas married that season. Dawn was losing her baby teeth at the time, and her front teeth grew in irregularly so there are scenes of her chatting with her new daddy with a gummy grin and then later in the same episode she’s suddenly sporting a jagged pair of incisors while arguing with her brothers.

7. THE ELDEST SON LEFT THE SERIES AFTER A FALLING OUT WITH THE PRODUCER.

Tim Considine had an extensive resume, having starred in many Disney shorts and feature films. After a few seasons on My Three Sons, he wanted to spread his wings and direct as well as act, but Fedderson dismissed the idea. The two had a serious falling out and Considine left the series at the end of the fifth season. His last appearance was in season six’s “The First Marriage,” in which Mike married his longtime girlfriend Sally (played by Meredith MacRae) and then moved to California to work as a teacher.

A replacement son was needed after Considine’s departure, so writer/producer George Tibbles came up with a three-part story arc that involved Chip’s friend, an orphan named Ernie Thompson, moving in with the Douglas clan after his foster parents moved out of the country. After overcoming a few legal and emotional hurdles, Steve officially adopted the youngster and My Three Sons was once again a legitimate title. Ernie (played by Stanley Livingston’s younger brother, Barry) was now the youngest child in the family, even though in previous episodes he was the same age and in the same classroom as Chip.

8. THE SERIES CHANGED NETWORKS MIDWAY THROUGH ITS 12-YEAR RUN.

My Three Sons was effectively cancelled by ABC in 1964 because the network was bowing to pressure from rival networks and slowly converting their black-and-white prime time shows to color. All things considered, in their opinion the added expense of filming My Three Sons in color was not worth it, so they axed the show from their schedule. CBS, however, thought the series still had some legs so they picked it up for the fall 1965 season (and continued running it through 1972).

9. BOTH “ROBBIE” AND DON GRADY SERVED IN THE ARMY RESERVE.

Don Grady joined the Army Reserve in 1968. His My Three Sons character was likewise sent off to basic training after also joining the Reserve, and his filming schedule was adjusted accordingly for the six months the actor had to spend on active duty. After Grady finished his basic training, he was eventually assigned to a marching band unit, which was comprised mostly of actors and musicians. For two years all the reservists in that unit were allowed to keep their long hair, as it was considered to be a “requirement” for their civilian occupations, but then a new C.O. was assigned to the post and ordered regulation haircuts for everyone. Grady refused and hired an attorney to stand his ground, but he also admitted in an interview later that he felt sorry for the other 25 guys who “didn’t have the bread to hire a lawyer and fight it.”

10. BEVERLY GARLAND’S PRIVATE LIFE PREPARED HER FOR HER ROLE AS “BARBARA.”

Nothing perks up an aging series like a wedding, so at the beginning of season 10, My Three Sons’s producers had Steve meet (and quickly fall in love with) Ernie’s new teacher, an attractive widow with a five-year-old daughter. Of all the women who were considered for the role of Barbara Harper, B-movie scream queen Beverly Garland had a resume bullet point that gave her an edge: When she met MacMurray, she told him that My Three Sons was really her own story—she’d married a widower with two children, raised them as her own and was now a grandmother. MacMurray’s real-life wife (June Haver) and twin daughters were present for the filming of the wedding of Steve Douglas and Barbara Harper, and Hollywood columnist Dick Kleiner, who was also hanging around the set, reported that once the director called “Cut!” after the final kiss, Fred immediately turned to his wife and apologized, “Just acting, June—you know how it is.”

11. A PROPOSED SPIN-OFF NEVER HAPPENED.

During the 11th season of My Three Sons there was an attempt to spin Robbie, Katie, and their triplets off into their own series. In the episode “After the Honeymoon” (which also served as a backdoor pilot), Robbie was laid off from his job and moved his family to San Francisco to accept a new job. The apartment building that they moved into came equipped with wacky/overbearing landlords.

The proposed spin-off series wasn’t picked up, much to Grady’s relief. He’d been ambivalent about the project from the get-go, having decided that he’d had enough of playing “Robbie” and acting in general. His true passion was music, and he longed to compose and perform his own songs. He left the series at the end of season 11, but Tina Cole returned; her husband’s absence was explained by having him transferred to Peru to oversee a construction job.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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