Friday, May 16, 2014

Making the Grady

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.

Still another change came, though, when Desilu Studios determined that Frawley was too ill to continue (or, rather, that it was too expensive to insure someone in his declining health.) Under protest from him, he was written out and a younger brother of his was written in, “Uncle Charley,” to be played by crusty, red-headed character actor William Demarest. Frawley, in fact, did pass away not long after this.

But what to do with a show called My Three Sons when there were now only two! A decision was made to bring in another son, an orphan, to be played by Stanley Livingston's real-life brother Barry. Thus, these real-life siblings would be portraying brothers who were related only through adoption! Remarkably, the switches in cast, network and color worked out and the series was #15 for the year.
This all meant that Grady was now the eldest son on the series (with Considine only mentioned infrequently thereafter), so he began to obtain various dates and girlfriends on the show. A variety of young ladies were put with him here and there, including a pert blonde named Tina Cole (seen below) who had earlier played girls named Sherry and Joanne, but now joined the cast as Katie Miller.
It was determined that Grady's character would marry and that Cole would be “the one.” This did not sit well with Grady at all as he felt that she was entirely the wrong type and he threatened to quit the show! The irony is that he soon saw the error of his ways and began to date Cole in real life, nearly marrying her during two different periods of their working together.
Cole was one of the countless bubbly blondes who made up The King Family, a Mormon group (seemingly boundless in size) who'd been entertaining for many years. She'd been in a girl group called The Four King Cousins, so she and Grady shared an inherent love of music. You can read all about the dazzling Kings right here!

This matter settled, the show pressed on, though Desilu's sale by Lucille Ball to Gulf+Western meant that it now had to film in a new location, CBS Studio Center. So the family “moved” from the fictional suburban town of Bryant Park to Los Angeles and got new digs in the process. Grady and Cole's characters wed and the next season, her character gave birth... to triplet boys! (Three MORE sons!)
Now the still-popular show had MacMurray with three sons and one of those sons with three sons, but the cast was still to expand even further before it was all over. In 1969, MacMurray's character fell in love with a widowed teacher played by Beverly Garland and she had in tow a small daughter (Dawn Lyn) who MacMurray's character ultimately adopted. The already crowded canvas became even more so when the (now) middle brother also got a girlfriend (played by Ronne Troup, not pictured) and eloped. Take a close look at the white-hotness of Grady during this period!
These are the sort of things that happen on a long-running show, though, and My Three Sons ran for twelve seasons! In fact, the show is second only to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966) in being the longest running live-action sitcom of all time. At the end of the eleventh season, a pilot was filmed that would have set up Grady and Cole and their young family in an apartment run by Pat Carroll and her husband, but by this time Grady was becoming interested in other things. By the end of the series' run, he had departed and his character was working on a bridge down in Peru! (Child, I'd have traveled to Timbuktu to be with him!!)
My Three Sons sank out of the Top 30 for the first time and was cancelled (even though its ratings at the time would still be considered great today!) CBS had switched its night, with disastrous results, and putting it back didn't help. It ceased production after 380 episodes.
During the run of Sons, Grady had popped up in guest roles on other shows such as Mr. Novak, The F.B.I. and twice on Love, American Style, once as a college student sharing a dorm room with a female – Karen Valentine – and again in a sketch with Pat Carroll. (And we can't forget “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.
Then there was the group The Yellow Balloon, a band cobbled together in order to perform the song Yellow Balloon, which proceeded up the charts to #25. He sang lead vocals and played the drums. In order to keep his identity as a TV teen idol from overshadowing the rest of the project and his fellow band mates, he hilariously obscured his features with hats, a blonde wig and sometimes a thick mustache! The album of sunshine pop was a moderate success and is still in demand today as an example of that genre.
Now, he sought to make music his full-time career. He released an album called Homegrown under his birth name of Don Agrati (again with his features obscured with sunglasses in an attempt to shed his sitcom image - on the front cover anyway - and try to have his music stand on its own.) During this period, he also starred in the national tour of Pippin and then relocated to New York where he took part in further stage musical work.
A final film appearance came in 1975 when he worked on The McCullochs, a rowdy romp directed by Max Baer Jr ("Jethro" of The Beverly Hillbillies) which starred Forrest Tucker, Julie Adams and Grady's old costar William Demarest. That's Grady illustrated shirtless on the cover (which seems a good enough reason to watch all or part of the movie if it ever comes along!) In 1976, he married for the first time, though a divorce took place within three years.
From this point on, except for a pair of mid-'80s appearances on Simon & Simon, Grady's career would consist entirely of music composition and performance. He composed the theme song for Donahue, the long-running talk show, as well as much incidental and accompanying music for things such as the Lifetime Intimate Portrait series, various award shows and specials, documentaries, Michael Crawford's Las Vegas spectacle EFX and many animated movies. His work was lauded with various industry awards and nominations.

He married for a second time in 1985 and became father to two children, Joey and Tessa. Don Grady had done what many child stars could not, which is deftly navigate the Hollywood machine which had chewed up and spit out so many others. Despite being practically raised on the air, he was able to avoid the many pitfalls that have befallen legions of others from his era and after. Not everyone is aware, though, that his little sister was also a child actress and didn't come out as well as he had.

Lanita Agrati, ten years his junior, played young girls in shows like The High Chaparral and Harry O as well as TV movies including Cage Without a Key (1975) and films like Massacre at Central High (1976) and The Hazing (1977.) However, it was the 1977 series Eight is Enough (1977-1981) that made her a familiar face to millions of viewers. Her name was anglicized to Lani O'Grady and she essayed the role of “Mary,” eldest daughter of the brood of siblings on the show.
During the course of the program, Lani suffered from panic attacks and severe anxiety, ultimately becoming reliant upon an arsenal of heavy-duty prescription drugs. Her character was the brainy, level-headed one, but she remained a nervous and troubled soul, turning to alcohol and entering (and reentering) rehab facilities to no lasting avail. Tragically, she was discovered dead in 2001 of an overdose at only age forty-six. Hers was the polar opposite experience of her older brother's, though several others of the Eight is Enough cast experience significant substance and behavioral issues.

Now an established composer, kept busy by Discovery Channel documentaries and various other projects, Grady occasionally popped up at things like Mouseketeer reunions or the TVLand Awards, where he and his television brothers presented together (and with him still looking the handsomest of all!)

He produced a self-written album of songs called Boomer, all about the issues and idiosyncrasies that come with being of that particular generation and was enjoying life as a husband and father when he was stricken with cancer. In June of 2012, not long after his sixty-eighth birthday, Don Grady passed away. His wife Virginia (“Ginny”) had been married to him since 1985. As far as I am aware, his mother outlived both of her famous children.
Though his time before the cameras was limited in years and scope, we love coming upon the beautiful and charismatic Don Grady in our various traipses through television and movie history. What a lovely man he was, an inspiration to legions of fans who watched him grow up or who grew up with him.   


Marc Harshbarger said...

Great post! The gorgeous Mr. Grady was one of the reasons I enjoyed watching reruns of My Three Sons as a kid - and now MeTV in Chicago is showing MTS, which takes me back to my childhood. Another early crush was the handsome Mike Minor, who played Steve on Petticoat Junction.

joel65913 said...

Found the post very interesting since I knew little of Mr. Grady before this. I favored Tim Considine as the cuter of the two but Don definitely grew into his looks as he aged. I was really struck how in the picture towards the end of the article, where he's wearing the beige jacket, he has a definite Russell Johnson/Professor vibe.

I loved the graphic of the shoes in the intro of the show as well as the jaunty music. What always puzzled me was the end credits, at least of the early shows, showing a car driving along the road while names flashed over it. Was it their car? Who was driving? Where the hell were they going? It was just so bizarrely random.

I preferred the later shows with William Demarest, he seemed to have a better sandpapery chemistry with Fred MacMurray than Bill Frawley did. Also I loved Tina Cole and especially Beverly Garland when they joined the show. Dodie however worked my nerves.

Back to Don I never realized he had a hand in so many projects! Love reading your blog, I always learn such informative things. Thanks for all the effort Poseidon.

SJM said...

What a wonderful story about Don Grady! Thank you for all the great information about Don and the show. You have facts I've never heard about such as about William Frawley and Fred MacMurray's work schedule. Interesting! All of the article was very interesting and I love the photos. Don Grady is really missed and I, too, have started watching 'My Three Sons' on MeTv. Again, thank you.

NotFelixUnger said...

I never liked "My Three Sons." Believe it or not, it comes as a complete surprise that William Frawley was even on the show. I always remembered the other guy that sounded like he smoked 3 packs a day.

MTS was just too boring for my tastes but on the rare occasion I did watch it I had heart palpitations whenever DG came onscreen. He got better and better looking as he got older or so I always thought. He looked great for his age when he passed away.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

Oh, I loved this show as a kid. It was one of the few we were allowed to watch since it had the "correct family values" and eventually even starred a fellow Mormon in Tina Cole.

Don Grady is an absolute beauty. I thought so then, and think so now. I just wish he had been on camera more, but we'll take what we can get.

Poseidon3 said...

hello, my friends! Sorry to let so much time go by before responding to your comments. Three weeks of performing PLUS my full-time job didn't leave me much time at all for any sort of life.

I'm happy to see some love for DG here amongst you all! Marc, I wish I'd have watched "My Three Sons" back in the day! I have only vague memories of Mike Minor but I know he made a lot of little hearts beat faster back then, too. I'll have to look him up.

Joel, Dodie has many detractors out in the www! I only know Dawn Lyn from guest-starring on "Wonder Woman" and she certainly didn't win me over then. Odd that a show called "My Three Sons" would add in a daughter at the eleventh hour. (I have never seen the closing credits you refer to, either! Will have to look those up as well.)

SJM, glad you enjoyed this! I need to check my own MeTV schedule for this show.

NotFelix, as is often the case, we are in agreement! As a child watching rerun (after rerun), those recasting scenarios always baffled me, from Darren on "Bewitched" to Marilyn Munster of "The Munsters."

Dave, needless to say I echo everything you said, too! Tina Cole seems like she was a breath of fresh air at all times (including now!)

Michelle said...

One anecdote about Dawn Lyn, her brother is Leif Garrett! I loved al, the female cast members they added later, including Dodie. ❤️

Silverstone L said...

Great to hear Don was a survivor in Hollywood. Being 7-years old in 1960, I watched MTS right from the very first episode. The show's theme was really cool, and I was okay with Bub, thanks to I LOVE LUCY.
But for some reason, once Ernie was adopted and became an official family member, I drifted away from MTS and never went back.

Poseidon3 said...

Well, Silverstone, the series did drag on and on and sometimes we outgrow them when they keep changing. :-) Thanks!

chris columbia said...

Thank you for remembering Don Grady. As a child from a horribly abusive family, I was mesmerized by "My Three Sons," and wanted all of those guys to be my brothers. However, it was Don Grady I adored most, because of his run as a Mouseketeer and because he was a musician. For these reasons I studied piano, dance and acting and landed roles in major theme park productions, off-Broadway, National Tours and did some commercials. I lived in NYC area, so going to LA and auditioning was out of the question. I also did not have a talent agent mother. My family disapproved of my career (in favor of college) and disowned me, but I always kept going. I eventually made it to college (Ivy Leaguer here) and became an adroit musician. In fact I've written music, lyrics and books to seven musicals, one of which launched the career of a major celebrity who shall remain nameless. I did this all because of Don Grady. I wanted to be him. I was never attractive or achieved any celebrity status, but I probably would have jumped off a bridge many years ago had I not seen My Three Sons as a child. True to form, I now have cancer so in this regard I feel somewhat connected to Don. I hope maybe I can meet him in heaven, if I'm lucky enough to get there.

Poseidon3 said...

Thank you for sharing your story and for taking the time to comment. I hope you are able to make a full recovery from the cancer you are dealing with. Best wishes to you.