My Three Sons (U.S., 1960-72)

Figure 1.--

Long-running family sitcom about a widower and his three sons. It looked rather like a Disney show, probaby because so many of the actors came from Disney. The younger boy (Chip) was quite young at the beginning of the series. In the first years when "My Three Sons" was still in black and white (early 1960's), Don Grady, who played the then-middle son Robbie in high school, sometimes wore casual Bermuda shorts on the show. I don't recall any dialogue about it, indicating that this wasn't considered remarkable or out of the ordinary by then--although rarely depicted on television. The boys eventually grow up and an adopted son (Ernie) has to be added so there will be a younger boy on the show. The boys always wore long pants.


This long-running family sit-com first aired in 1960. It was one of the popular shows to come out of the Desilu Studio. It looked, however, rather like a Disney show, probaby because so many of the actors came from Disney. It was first a ABC series, but moved to CBS for the 1965-66 season. There were exactly 380 episodes were shot. The show was popular, but never on the Top 10 list. It has, however, done well in syndication. The series was created by George Tibbles who wrote 95 scripts. [Brown]


The series stared Fred MacMurray as widower Steve Douglas who oversaw an active family (figure 1). MacMurry was an important movie star in 1960. He insisted that if he was to play the role, that the shoots be structured so the time he had to spend on the set be limited. Fred Mac Murray's interest in the show was purely financial. HBC has noted that Mac Murray was a film star and insisted that the filming of MTS conform to his "big screen" film schedule. According to the source I found, Mac Murray spent about 3 months (65 consecutive days) at the beginning of each season filming for MTS, and the scenes with other cast members were filmed in the balance. When the series first appeared, the boys were spread over quite a range of years. This gave the writers some flexibility, allowing them to craft shows dealing with both childhood and teen issues. The boys in 1960 were: Mike--Tim Considine (age 18), Robbie--Don Grady (age 14) and Chip--Stanley Livingston (age 8). Two of the boys were former Mickey Mouse Club (MMC) regulars. Tim Considine, born in Los Angeles on December 31, 1940, played "Spin Evans" in the "Spin and Marty" series on MMC. On My Three Sons, his character's name was "Mike Douglas". Don Grady, born in San Diego on June 8, 1944, had been a Mouseketeer before playing middle brother, "Robbie Douglas". The youngest son was played by Stanley Livingston, born in Los Angeles on November 24, 1951. His name on MTS was "Richard 'Chip' Douglas". Chip had appeared previously in episodes of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Throughout MTS's run, Richard was called by his nickname, "Chip". The other important cast member was Bub O'Casey, Steve's maternal father in law, played by William Frawley, who took care of the household chores. Frawley is best known today for his role as Fred Mertz on the "I Love Lucy" show. "Bub" was a surrogate parent for the boys, in addition to his cooking and cleaning duties. Other early cast members were Peter Brooks who played Robbie's best friend Hank Ferguson. Ricky Allen as Sudsy Pfeiffer played Chip's best friend. [Brown]

As the series ran more than a decade, there were numerous cast changes. The first major change was made for the 1963-64 Season. We meet Mike's girl friend Sally Morrison played by Meredith MacRae (1944-2000). They became engaged and eventually married. We also meet a new friend for Chip--Ernie Thompson. Actually, Barry Livingston who played Ernie was Stanley's real life brother. Barry was born in Los Angeles on December 17, 1953. Ernie ultimately was adopted by the Douglas family, providing the needed third son..

By the end of the fourth season there were more additions to the Douglass family (figure 2). Bub left the show as was replaced by his gruff but kind-hearted younger brother Charley who was a retired sailor played by William Demarest (1892-1983). William Frawley's health began to fail. Bub, it was explained, had gone back to Ireland to live with his family. The Douglases hired a housekeeper, a fiery dragon named Fedocia, who didn't work out. Fortunately, one day "Bub's" brother, "Charlie O'Casey" (played by William Demarest) showed up at the Douglas home. "Charlie" was an old ship's cook whose good cooking was an instant hit with the Douglas men. "Charlie" took over housekeeping and cooking for the remainder of the series' run. [Brown]

My Three Sons underwent some significant changes for its sixth season, 1965-66. First, the episodes were now filmed in color. Second, Mike married at the start of the 1965-66 season. Mike finally married Sally for the first color broadcast. They moved to the East Coast and exited the series. Tim Considine was now a young adult and wanted to persue a directing career. Mike, as a result, was soon forgotten. Of course this meant that Steve only had two sons. Third, Ernie, played by Barry Livingston, was adopted by the Douglases. The third change was a consequence of the second: a new third son. The last arrival on "My Three Sons" was Barry Livingston as Ernie. Barry first played Chip's best friend. As Chip was growing up, there clearly was a need for a younger brother. So Ernie was adopted so Steve still had three sons. Chip's friend, Ernie Thompson, had been introduced to the audience two seasons earlier. Ernie was a foster child, and his foster parents were being sent to the Orient by the father's business firm. Foster children could not come along. The Douglases were able to adopt Ernie and give him a new home: three sons once again. Eventually, Robbie, Chip, and Steve all married. Ernie was the only son not to wed on the show.


Long-running family sitcom about a widower and his three sons. The younger boy (Chip) was quite young at the beginning of the series and thus the writes could create quite varied plot lines. America moved to the suburbs after World War II. Returing veterans empowered by the GI Bill, went to college and bought homes in the suburbs for their new families. Thus family sitcoms began to be set in the suburbs and "My Three Sons" was one of them, preceeded by "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet", "Leave It to Beaver" and "Dennis the Menace". Episodes dealt with the boys' experiences in suburbia. They were the every day problems encountered by middle-class boys. As the boys were mostly teenagers, dating was a frequent problem. Another common feature in the early shows were the efforts of various lady friends to marry eligible widower Stephen Douglas and take ovr the household. As the boys grew up, new house holds were established. Mike totally disappeared, but we never loss contact with Robbie and Chip.

What set MTS apart from other family-oriented sit-coms of its era was that the boys were being raised by a single parent plus a grandparent. This was the first one-parent family in sit-coms. Moreover, three boys of varying ages provided plenty of storyline possibilities. The plots treated many themes visited by earlier family sitcoms - sibling rivalries, coming of age, growing up, acceptance of family responsibilities, first dates, broken hearts, first "crushes", and marriage - but told from the unique family circumstances. Steve Douglas balanced his roles as breadwinner and single parent masterfully. Occasionally, he had to work on an important project for his engineering firm or do some business-related travelling. Yet Steve never failed to come through for his loyal family.

Mike, the oldest of the original three sons, was presented as a well-rounded, mature, studious fellow. He was definitely a good influence for his younger brothers. Robbie seemed to be the most athletic of the original sons. He excelled in football and track on the show. Chip, the youngest son, seemed confident and sturdy, but at times showed a little fella's need of some extra understanding and attention from the family.

Figure 2.--This was the "My Three Sons" cast after Charlie replaced Bub and Mike left and Earnie was adopted. They are all outfitted in suits and sports coats. It was much more common for boys to wear sports coats than suits.


In the first years when "My Three Sons" was still in black and white (early 1960's), Don Grady, who played the then-middle son Robbie in high school, sometimes wore casual Bermuda shorts on the show. I don't recall any dialogue about it, indicating that this wasn't considered remarkable or out of the ordinary by then--although rarrely depicted on television. The boys always wore long pants. The boys dressed in contemporary casual wear or conservative dark suits in most of the episodes. Sport shirts and sweaters, jeans or casual trousers, penny loafers or other dress shoes, or sneakers served as school or everyday wear. Some of the episodes described below include notable exceptions to this rule. I think the wardrobe selected for the show conformed to the media's ideas of what boys wore at the time. Someone watching the show might expect more variety in what the characters wore.

Curiously, only Robbie was costumed in what were sometimes advertised as walk(ing) shorts, dress shorts, or Bermuda shorts, and I think once in white shorts for a tennis match. I'm not sure why it was only Robbie that appeared in shorts. You would think that the other boys would have also occassionally worn short pants. I think this was a bit unrealistic for its time and reflects an obsolete notion of boys' clothes. By the time MTS was launched, casual shorts, Bermuda shorts, or walk shorts had been marketed for some time and were gaining acceptance, even for teens. And when he wore shorts, no comment was made. I'm not sure if the boys were given any choices about costuming. Maybe they chose what they liked from what wardrobe laid out for them. Possibly, though I have no information, they may have objected to wearing them. Still, it's odd that the wardrobe showed so little variety throughout the series, and that only Robbie was costumed in shorts.

Barry as Ernie, wore a range of contemporary boy clothes, almost invariably khaki slacks, a plaid short sleeved shirt, and often a light collored sweater. For dress up occasions, black suits (long trousers), white short sleeved shirts, and black ties were his norm.

Individual Episodes

There were a few episodes that dealt with clothing:

Scotch Broth (Episode #113--4th season and episodes #357-360--12th season)

In one episode the family went to Steve's ancestral village in Scotland. Bill Frawley and Tim Considine were still on the show then. The Douglases were treated as outsiders when they arrived in the Scots village, so to try to fit in, they dressed up in what they thought was the family tartan, including bonnet and kilts and stockings. Turned out, they were sold the wrong Tartan, and that only made matters worse. Chip befriended a nice Scots boy about his age, who wore a kilt throughout the episode, and their friendship eventually broke the ice between the Yanks and the Scots. The Scottish episode aired probably in Spring 1963, and, of course, it's a black and white episode. There was on Scottish episode in the 4th season (1963), but there was a four part story (episodes 357-360) in the 12th season. The cable networks which have run MTS in the last few years have shown only the color episodes. That's a shame because so many good episodes were in B&W. In the Scottish episode Fred Mac Murray plays dual roles, as Steve Douglas and as the lord of the Douglas manor/estate. The word, lord, by the way was pronounced in the episode as "laird", quite Scottish! The "laird's" name was Fergus Douglas on the show, and Fred Mac Murray reprised the role of Fergus several years later on the show.

The Chaperone (Episode #131--4th season)

A black and white episode when Chip was still young had Robbie in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. He was dressing up for a party and rather embarrassed about it. I didn't see the whole episode, just him leaving after exchanging words with the family. Bub congratulates himself on not telling him how "goofy" he looks. Chip asks him what he was going to say so he could use it later. Robbie's outfit included a wide-brimmed hat with a streamer down the back. A HBC reader reports, "I remember the My Three Sons episode with Robby (Don Grady) in the Fauntleroy suit. The episode as I remember it was all about Robby want to become an adult. (He would sit in front of some sort of lamp hoping it would make his facial hairs grow and he did all sorts of other silly things.) Then once he had done whatever marked his now being a grownup he is shown in the next scene in this ridiculous Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit attending some sort of party where all the high school students were dressing up as babies. He relates that one of his friends was going to wear diapers under his costume. It made a great juxtaposition to the wanting to be an adult theme of the rest of the episode.

Hawaiian Cruise (Episode #171--5th season)

In one episode from the last black and white season Ernie and Chip put on an Hawaiian party for Chip's dad. They both wear long grass skirts and leis. In another episode from about 1966 the family goes to Hawaii. Only Uncle Charlie and Robbie wore shorts on that trip. Chip and Ernie's clothes were (except for Hawaiian shirts) identical to their everyday clothes. Not as bad as Richard Nixon's wearing that dark business suit and dress shoes to walk on the beach at his San Clemente home, but uncommon!

Call Her Max (Episode #207--6th season)

A color episode has Chip trying out for track and field. He is pressured into trying out for the girl's hockey team when his girlfriend wants to join the boys track team. Not a very PC guy chip. His character wouldn't survive long on current television. At any rate, to reach the girls a lesson, he goes out for the girls hockey team. The coach allows him to play, but he has to wear the uniform--a kilt. There is a scene where Uncle Charlie fits the kilt on him. At the end Chip complains about how rough the girls play.

Various episodes

In one episode not long after he's adopted by the Douglases, Ernie, following a school fad, shows up at the breakfast table wearing cut off just above the knee blue jeans. In another episode, in a dream sequence, he appears in jungle gear (pith helmet, bush jacket, knee length khaki shorts, and dark knee socks). And last, in another episode he runs in a track and field event wearing a long sleeved sweat shirt, long shorts, socks and tennis shoes. The other boys wore shorter outfits, more typical of a track event. Perhaps Barry was a little self conscious.

Reader Comments

A HBC reader who has played a major role in developing the television and movie sections of HBC is a fan of "My Three Sons". He tells us that he would enjoy swapping memories about this show with any HBC contributors who are interested in doing so. He can be contacted through the HBC Webmaster.

Australian View

American television programs are shown all over the world. We have often wondered how these programs are precieved in the various countris where they are shown. An Australian reader reports, "I loved this show as a boy in the 1960's and connected with Chip because he was about my age. My dad thought it was rediculous for boys to wear long pants in the hot summer season. Boys here in Australia wore shorts, especially during the summer. My nanna often quipped that the younger boys like Chip and older brother Robbie should've worn shorts because they were children not grown adults plus they were both under 16. She remarked that if they were her grandchildren they would have been in shorts and proper school uniforms like her big brood of grand children and only wear longs in late fall/autumn or all of winter."


Brooks, Tim and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows: 1946--Present (Ballantine Books: New York, November, 1981).

Brown, Geoff. My Three Sons" database. HBC especially appreciates Geoff reviewing our page and supplying many helpful corrections and additional information.


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Created: October 21, 2002
Last updated: 8:25 PM 4/11/2010