The personable, affable air made this conventionally handsome Midwesterner a demanded light comedy-romantic lead to Roosevelt-era audiences and a definitive sitcom dad for the Baby Boom generation, and he was never better than in the too-infrequent instances when he was called upon to play against type. Born in Kankakee, Illinois, Frederick Martin MacMurray's family ultimately settled in his mother's home town of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin; it was there that, through his high school years, Fred pursued his love of sports and music. Determined to follow the vocational path of his concert violinist father, MacMurray began playing participating in local bands as a singer and saxophonist in order to earn his college tuition. He'd ultimately leave his studies at Carroll College in pursuit of his music career, with the late '20s spent moving from Chicago to L.A., where he obtained some Hollywood extra work. 1930 found him making big inroads, as a featured singer recording for the Gus Arnheim Orchestra, and a noted Broadway bow in the hit revue "Three's a Crowd." After a few more years in vaudeville, and more glowing Broadway notices for "Roberta," MacMurray landed a contract offer from Paramount.
While getting his first featured role in 1935's "Grand Old Girl," it was his follow-up opposite Claudette Colbert in "The Gilded Lily" that established his rep, and for the balance of the decade, the tall, winsome actor found himself a frequently requested foil or love object for the likes of Colbert ("The Bride Comes Home," "Maid of Salem") Carole Lombard ("Hands Across the Table," "The Princess Comes Across," "Swing High, Swing Low," "True Confession") Barbara Stanwyck ("Remember the Night") and Katharine Hepburn ("Alice Adams"). While the guy-flick assignments were less frequent, he was always wholly credible, as best evidenced by "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine," "The Texas Rangers," "Men With Wings" and "Dive Bomber." By the time the WWII years rolled around, he was one of Hollywood's highest-paid performers, even though the critical and box-office responses to his efforts were beginning to diminish. It took a chancy part that no one else wanted--that of the morally flabby insurance salesman seduced into fraud and murder by femme fatale Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity"-- to earn him his best notices to date and recharge his career.
The postwar era largely found MacMurray back in his comedic comfort zone, making enjoyable pairings with Colbert ("Practically Yours," "Family Honeymoon" and the kick-off to the Ma and Pa Kettle franchise, "The Egg and I"), Maureen O'Hara ("Father Was a Fullback"), Irene Dunne ("Never a Dull Moment") and second wife-to-be June Haver ("Where Do We Go From Here?"), as well as the cult-favorite dark farce "Murder, He Says." As the '50s stretched on, the maturing performer frequently and effectively worked in the western genre ("The Moonlighter" [opposite Stanwyck], "At Gunpoint," "Gun for a Coward," "Day of the Bad Man," "Good Day for a Hanging"). He also continued to display his range with a series of heel turns that are among his most enduring; the corruptible cop of "Pushover"; the carping, craven naval lieutenant of "The Caine Mutiny"; and the manipulative, adulterous exec of Wilder's "The Apartment."
With the dawning of the '60s, the tone was set for the last phase of Fred's career with Disney's putative TV pilot turned big-screen success, "The Shaggy Dog." He'd thereafter be the Mouse House's go-to father figure for their live-action feature fare over the ensuing years ("The Absent-Minded Professor," "Son of Flubber," ""Bon Voyage!," "Follow Me, Boys!," "The Happiest Millionaire"). Concurrently, he would sign on to anchor the ABC series "My Three Sons," portraying Steve Douglas, the widowed aircraft engineer who had to be the font of support and wisdom for his boys. The show would rack up an impressive twelve-season run, weathering multiple cast changes and a mid-point jump to CBS. MacMurray only took on another handful of assignments after "My Three Sons" wrapped, and he called it a career after joining the ensemble of the Irwin Allen bee-attack disaster opus "The Swarm" in 1978. The actor faced multiple challenges to his health in his last years, and he passed away in 1991 at age 83.
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