I have a confession to make. I bet you that in my entire forty-six years, I have never seen one entire episode of My Three Sons (1960-1972.) As a child who was afraid of everything (and I mean everything!), something about the opening theme and those sets of abstract, cartoon shoes just left me uneasy. I also always looked for shows with pretty female characters and glamour versus one such as this that focused on the everyday and with all men. (How little did I know what I might be missing!)
I often turned the dial on our local rerun station whenever the credits began. (And on the subject of fear, I was petrified of the music and the big, dark eyes of Raymond Burr on Perry Mason, 1957-1966, but I learned to stick it out for the brief opening and get through that show okay.) All those wasted opportunities to see My Three Sons meant that the incredible charms of today's featured actor Don Grady completely eluded me! I have some catching up to do and some day I will.
Born Don Louis Agrati on June 8th, 1944 in San Diego, California, he was the son of a sausage maker father (and how!) and a talent agent mother. (The highly successful Mary Grady Agency is still in operation today, though she turned over the reins of it in 2000.) A bright, outgoing boy, Don served as class president in each of his elementary, junior high and high schools! He was also voted most talented in high school, though by the time of that accolade, he was already a known commodity on TV.
His mother had noted the musical acumen of her attractive-looking young son and was co-representing him as a child performer in Hollywood. (He was given the more anglicized last name of “Grady,” which his mother had adopted as well.) In 1957, Grady joined the cast of the very popular The Mickey Mouse Club (1955-1960), where he stayed for one season. He stayed for only a season because his career as a young actor was already on the upswing!
He had a featured part on an episode of The Ann Sothern Show as well as one on John Payne's The Restless Gun in 1958 and proceeded to roles on Buckskin, two more on The Restless Gun, Colt .45, Wichita Town with Joel McCrea, Law of the Plainsman and The Rifleman all in 1959! (The Rifleman had him working with former Mouseketeer Johnny Crawford.)
Also in 1959, he'd landed two guest roles on Zane Grey Theater, one with host Dick Powell and one with special guest star Miss Joan Crawford, in which he played her son. At age fifteen, he'd already rubbed elbows with some of the industry's most famous and professional performers.
There was more to come. In 1960, he worked on Death Valley Days, The Betty Hutton Show, Startime, Have Gun – Will Travel and Robert Taylor's The Detectives. He also won small roles in movies such as Cash McCall, Ma Barker's Killer Brood and The Crowded Sky (all 1960.)
Thus, he was something of a veteran by the time he was cast as the middle child on a new situation comedy called My Three Sons, starring cinematic leading man Fred MacMurray. It centered on a widowed aeronautical engineer with, you guessed it, three young sons and a live-in helpmate (his deceased wife's father.) The grandfather was played by I Love Lucy's William Frawley while the eldest son was Tim Considine (who'd starred on Walt Disney programs such as The Adventures of Spin and Marty and The Hardy Boys) and the youngest was Stanley Livingston, a boy who'd played the son of both Paul Newman and Doris Day.
We always have to be a little careful around here because, thanks to our frequent inclusion of beefcake and fetish-y subjects like bare chests, swimsuits, showers and so on, occasionally we'll inadvertently draw a pedophile to The Underworld. This we do not condone at all! However, and I think many of us have encountered this feeling before, young Grady was the type of kid you could look at and say, “When he grows up he is going to be very handsome!” Blessed with pool blue eyes, a Mediterranean complexion and a cleft chin, he was a standout even as a youngster.
He was athletic as well as artistic, able to blend all sorts of physical activity with an innate love of music (ultimately mastering no less than eight different instruments.) In time, it became clear that he was going to emerge as the resident hunk of the show.
MacMurray, who was far from finished with movies, having just had a costarring role in the 1960 Oscar-winner The Apartment, had a very unique (not to mention rigid) arrangement when it came to shooting. His contract stipulated that he would work on the series only 65 days per year. He'd come to the studio and work five days a week for seven weeks, then leave for ten weeks, then come back for six weeks in order to wrap up. This meant that all episodes were shot out of sequence and that the rest of the cast would frequently be performing opposite a stand-in or worse when it came time to do their own close-ups.
They also had to have weekly haircuts in order to maintain continuity while piecing together the shots which were all done according to location (i.e. - the kitchen, the bedroom, etc...) rather than with any particular regard for the storylines. An actor might film four or five scenes from as many episodes (with costume changes each time) with MacMurray in one area, then proceed to another set and do more only to later do their own shots without him on site! Frawley, used to the “shot before a live audience” format of Lucy was disconcerted with this set-up, but stuck to it nonetheless.
However, changes were on the horizon. Considine (who had worked with MacMurray in The Shaggy Dog, 1959) was tiring of his role as the eldest son and wanted to write and direct more for the show rather than appear on it. (He also had an interest in car racing, which his contract forbade him to take part in.) He quit the series at the end of the fifth season, appearing briefly at the start of the sixth season in a wedding ceremony with his screen-bride played by Meredith MacRae.
That sixth season was one of major change in other ways, too. The trend towards color broadcasting was taking the airwaves by storm in the mid-'60s and ABC was unwilling to spring for this upgrade on My Three Sons (at the time #13 in the ratings!) CBS snapped up the show, began filming it in color and broadcast it on the same night it had previously been showing on ABC.
Deluge!” - ha ha!) Always a musician at heart and now in his late-twenties, though, he wanted to head in that direction instead.
In 1966, he'd released singles including The Children of St. Monica, It's Better This Way and performed songs on the show from time to time, many of them his own compositions.