The Jimmy Stewart Show: Past Its Prime Before It Started

For this blog series, “It’s My Show,” we are looking at stars who had shows named for them.  This blog takes a look at The Jimmy Stewart Show which aired in 1971.

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At the beginning of the golden age of television, several stars decided to plunge into the small screen, but most stars kept their distance, not trusting that television would ever go anywhere. Stars like Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and Lucille Ball created successful shows that continued for years. Once Hollywood realized that television was here to stay, they were okay with their stars dipping their feet into the series life.

In the 1970s another round of stars decided to try their luck at their own show. Jimmy Stewart was one of those screen stars, and he had a huge fan base. Viewers were greatly anticipating watching his show.

The Jimmy Stewart Show - Complete - 1971 - 7 DVDS – TV Museum DVDs
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Hal Kanter was the creator, writer, and sometimes director for the series which showed viewers the frequently chaotic home and work life of Professor Jim Howard. Kantor developed the show Julia and would later create Chico and the Man. Howard teaches anthropology at the Josiah Kessel College in Easy Valley, California which happened to be founded by his grandfather. Also living in the house are his wife Martha (Julie Adams), his son Peter (Jonathan Daly), daughter-in-law Wendy (Ellen Geer, daughter of Will Geer) and grandson Jake (Kirby Furlong). Martha and Jim also have a younger son, Teddy (Dennis Larson) who is almost the same age as Jim’s grandson. Peter’s family is living there temporarily after their house burns down. In a twist I didn’t see coming, Jim was babysitting and fell asleep with a cigar which is what caused both the house to burn down and his son to be unhappy with him for the first few episodes.

Howard’s best friend, Luther Quince (John McGiver), a local bachelor and professor, often stops by for meals and to discuss life with Jim.

When Jimmy Stewart Had His Own Sitcom – (Travalanche)
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Rounding out the cast were a few recurring characters including Jo Bullard (Mary Wickes), president of the Women’s Action Group; Agatha Dwiggins (Jeff Donnell), a scatterbrained busybody, Dimitri Karpopolis (Richard Annis), college football hero; local businessman Fred Shimmel (Rickie Layne), chatty milkman Woodrow Yamada (Jack Soo), and students Janice Morton (Kate Jackson), Norman Lansworth (Lou Manor) and Ida Levin (Melissa Newman).

I read that except for Stewart, the casting for the family seemed to be off and never engendered any warmth for viewers. Jimmy wanted his real wife Gloria to play Martha, but after she was tested, the network said they wanted someone more experienced. More than fifty women were considered for the role, and twenty of them were brought in to read with Stewart.

However, John McGiver received a lot of praise for his character. Luther and Jim were quite different. Jim rode his bike to school while Luther drove a Rolls Royce.

The show really didn’t speak to viewers, and ratings, which weren’t great, got worse. The series was cancelled after 24 episodes. Stewart was not sad about the cancellation. Apparently, he was given the option to do the same type of work schedule Fred MacMurray had arranged for My Three Sons where he only filmed a small part of the year and everyone else filmed around him, but he declined. However, Stewart said he later regretted not trying that because he didn’t enjoy the long hours filming this show.

THE JIMMY STEWART SHOW Guest Star KATE JACKSON 1971 VERY RARE - YouTube
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The show debuted in the fall of 1971 on Sunday nights. It was sandwiched between The Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza, both big hits.

Like George Burns, James Stewart talked directly to the television audience during the opening and closing when he says “And, as always, my family and I wish you peace and love—and laughter.” During some episodes he makes an aside to the camera, and the rest of the cast thinks he’s just mumbling to himself.

This was one of the few shows during this time period that didn’t use a laugh track. Maybe that’s for the best because it doesn’t sound like there was much to laugh about in this show. It definitely shows its age today with Stewart making remarks about student protests, women’s lib, and industrial development. It obviously pandered to an older, conservative audience.

The show was filmed on a few sets and backlots. The building used for the university was known as “Hank’s School” because it first was used on a show from the sixties called Hank. It was also Boatwright University on The Waltons.

The Jimmy Stewart Show (TV Series 1971–1972) - IMDb
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Sometimes there is a downside to blog writing about the past and our favorite stars. Jimmy Stewart has always been someone I admired and respected. A couple of his movies like The Philadelphia Story and Harvey are some of my of all-time favorites. When doing research, sometimes you learn things you wish you didn’t know.

Apparently, Stewart had gotten a reputation during the filming of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence as a racist, but no one ever talked about it, and there didn’t seem to be any other controversy in his films.  However, during the production of this show, he had actor Hal Williams fired. I read several accounts that all supported that view that Stewart told Kanter that he didn’t think it would be appropriate for a black person to be ordering him around on television. His words, often quoted were, “Blacks are bossing white people all over the country, and now we’re going to have the same damn thing on prime-time television? A black is going to be lecturing me with millions of people watching? No way. I get casting approval and Williams is out.” I never read how Kantor reacted or how it affected their relationship; however, after casting Diahann Carroll as the first black actor to star in a series, it must have been disheartening to hear this from Stewart.

I understand those were different times and many people were raised as racists. We could debate the causes of people being prejudiced for hours.  However, this makes me very sad and I can’t look at Jimmy Stewart the way I did before. It doesn’t help to realize that there are still somehow a lot of Jimmy Stewarts out there sixty years later.

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As far as his show goes, I think it was just not where fans were at in that time period. Some of the other series on at the time included The Partridge Family, The Doris Day Show, Love American Style, Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and All in the Family. By comparison, Jimmy’s show seems out of touch and old fashioned. Its competition was the F.B.I and Sunday Night at the Movies, both shows that started during The Wonderful World of Disney. If a show didn’t succeed following Disney and leading into Bonanza, it must have greatly disillusioned viewers. Jimmy was not alone as a star who couldn’t make the successful leap to television. Other stars who bombed with their shows include Jack Lemmon, Celeste Holm, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, and Henry Fonda.

Although this show is available on DVD, my suggestion is to bypass it and read a good book instead.

The Many Roles of Brian Keith

We are right in the middle of our “Men of November” blog series, and today we spend some time getting to know a prolific television and film star, Brian Keith.

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Brian Keith (Robert Alba Keith) was born in 1921 in New Jersey. His parents were both actors. They divorced shortly after his birth and at age 2, he moved to Hollywood and made his acting debut in a silent film, Pied Piper Malone, at the age of three.

While his mother was relocating for stage and radio work, his grandmother raised him on Long Island, New York.

His father remarried in 1927, but his second wife, Peg Entwistle, was involved in a tragic incident which is one of the Hollywood legends. She committed suicide by jumping of the H of the iconic Hollywood sign.

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After high school graduation, Keith joined the US Marine Corps from 1942-5. He served as a machine gunner and received an Air Medal.

In an interview with the Press and Sun-Bulletin in 1966, Keith related that he had no intention of becoming an actor. He had a passion for a career at sea and wanted to go to school at the Merchant Marine Academy. He said unfortunately, “You can’t be a ship’s officer without passing a few math courses and I came up with a big fat zero in algebra. In fact, no matter how many times I repeated the course, it still came up zero. So, it was goodbye Navy career.”

After the war, Brian decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps and made his Broadway debut in 1948 in Mister Roberts. His father played Doc in the same production.

While working on television, Keith also began appearing on the big screen. During his career, he would he would make 65 movies. In the fifties he was in Storm Center with Bette Davis and The Young Philadelphians with Paul Newman.

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While continuing to appear on the stage, television was starting to pull him in that direction. He was given his first television role in 1951 in Hands of Mystery. He did a variety of television work in the 1950s, starting off in more dramas and ending the decade in westerns. Last week we learned a bit about Gale Gordon. If you remember, Gale starred in a short-lived series called The Box Brothers, and Brian happened to be in one of those episodes in 1957. From 1955-56, he received a regular role on Crusader, making 52 episodes. He starred as Matt Anders, a journalist who, in the aftermath of his mother’s death in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, travels the world to battle injustice.

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Moving into the sixties, Keith continued his western appearances and was given the lead in Sam Peckinpah’s television series, The Westerner. Unfortunately, it only lasted for 13 episodes. Keith said that “only four or five of those were any good, but those four or five were as good as anything anybody has ever done.” He played Dave Blassingame, a cowboy drifter who sometimes does questionable things trying to earn enough money to buy a ranch, but in the end, always does the right thing.

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It was also in the sixties that he began his connection with Disney, starring in The Parent Trap in 1961.

During this decade, he was offered a show of his own that he is probably best known for—Family Affair. From 1966-1971, he appeared as Bill Davis, an engineer, who takes in his two nieces and nephew when their parents are killed. Kathy Garver, Anissa Jones, and Johnny Whitaker played the kids and Sebastian Cabot was Mr. French, who helped raise the children. Keith received three Emmy nominations for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, but lost to Don Adams for Get Smart from all three years, 1967-1969, (In 1968 Sebastian Cabot was also nominated for Best Actor and the show was nominated for Best Comedy in 1968 and 1969, losing to Get Smart.)

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Brian received the same type of contract as Fred MacMurray did in My Three Sons. It allowed him to tape his work in two-three months, leaving three-quarters of the year for traveling, relaxation, and film work.

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During the series’ run, he continued to make films including With Six You Get Eggroll with Doris Day.

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When Family Affair ended, it set off a rapid production of shows starring Keith, most of them with short runs. The Brian Keith Show was on air from 1972-74; Keith was pediatrician Dr. Sean Jamison and worked with his daughter played by Shelly Fabares. Keith said he accepted the role because the show was produced by Garry Marshall and it was shot in Hawaii.

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In 1974 he accepted the lead in a six-part miniseries, The Zoo Gang about a group of underground French resistance fighters. In 1975 we saw him in Archer, a television series about a detective which also ran only six episodes. Keith described Archer as “an underdog. He gets beaten. He’s no superhuman. He drives a broken-down Mustang. He’s not particularly fond of the finer things in life. Music is noise to him, painting is decoration, sculpture is ‘that stuff’ and he doesn’t read books.”

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In 1983, Keith co-starred with Daniel Hugh Kelly in Hardcastle and McCormick. Keith portrayed a retired judge Milton Hardcastle while Kelly was ex-con Mark McCormick. The duo team up because the ex-judge was tired of people getting off on technicalities. The show was on the air for three years.

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The following year, he began a stint on The Pursuit of Happiness which only lasted for ten episodes. In a different role for him, he played Professor Roland Duncan who taught at a small college in Philadelphia.

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1989 found him on Heartland which was also cancelled after ten episodes. On this show, Keith played BL McCutcheon, an older farmer who loses his farm and moves in with this daughter and her family, a bit of a rural Archie Bunker.

During the 1990s, Keith showed up on a variety of shows including Young Riders, Evening Shade, Major Dad, Cybill, Pacific Blue, and Walker Texas Ranger. He tried his hand at one more sitcom, starring in Walter and Emily. After 13 episodes, the show was finished. Keith is Walter Collins. He and his wife Emily (Cloris Leachman) help raise their grandson while their son Matt travels for his sports writing career.

Keith lived on a 200-acre ranch in Redlands, California. Brian had a lot of hobbies including golfing, swimming, cooking, sailing, horseback riding, spending time with his family, painting, and reading. When asked about whether he wanted to live a long life, he said, “If I live to be a hundred—and I hope I do—I won’t have time to read all the books I want to read or talk to the people I want to know. Not party talk. That’s a waste of time. Real talk.”

While Keith had a successful career, his personal life was not as sunny. He was married three times to Frances Helm from 1948 to 1954, to Judy Landon, an actress who made an appearance on Family Affair from 1954 till 1969, and to Victoria Young, another actress who showed up on The Brian Keith Show as a nurse, from 1970 till his death.

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He also suffered from several physical problems. He had been a long-time smoker, and suffered from both emphysema and lung cancer. He had been a spokesperson for Camel Cigarettes in the 1950s but quit smoking in the late 80s.

Brian’s son, Michael died from pneumonia when he was eight. In 1997, his daughter Daisy committed suicide when she was 27. Daisy had also entered the acting profession and worked with her dad on Heartland. Daisy’s death and financial problems pulled Keith into a depression and he committed suicide in June of 1997.

Early in his career, Keith established a stereotype as the handsome, burly guy with the gruff voice, but he transitioned into that character who also had moments of warmth and humor.

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I love his performance in The Parent Trap, and I like to picture Keith as being Mitch in real life, a guy who loves his kids and his ranch and takes pleasure in a variety of outdoor activities but also savors reading on the porch.

Keith remained close to Maureen O’Hara, his costar in the Parent Trap as well as with Kathy Garver and Johnny Whitaker. (Anissa Jones died from a fatal overdose in 1976 at age 18.)

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With more than 166 acting credits, Keith had a full and successful career and brought a lot of enjoyment to generations of fans during his six decades as an actor. He had to endure a lot of heartache off the camera. Both Family Affair and Hardcastle and McCormick are worth watching if you have a free weekend. You can also see a lot of amazing performances of his on the large screen.

The Case of the Long-Running Law Show—“Incompetent, Irrelevant, and Immaterial” Did Not Apply to Perry Mason

A blog series on Murder, Mystery and Mayhem just wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of Perry Mason. The show was based on the books by Erle Stanley Gardner in the 1930s and aired nine seasons from 1957 to 1966, producing 271 episodes, along with numerous movies. Perry Mason was the first weekly one-hour series. Fun fact, Gardner was a big fan of Youth’s Companion magazine which was quite popular for a hundred years until it merged with another periodical in 1929; it happened to be published by a Boston company, Perry Mason & Co.

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Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) is a criminal defense attorney. His right-hand is secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) and they are both aided by

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investigator Paul Drake (William Hopper).

The cast is rounded out by DA Hamilton Burger (William Talman) and Lt. Arthur Tragg (Ray Collins).

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Due to an illness, Collins was only able to appear in a handful of episodes after 1960; however, his name was kept in the credits which allowed him to continue receiving medical benefits from the actors’ union. He passed away in 1965.

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While the main cast members were in a minimum of 225 episodes, little-known actor Don Anderson appeared in 128 episodes during the nine years. He is seen in minor roles and played a variety of characters including a courtroom spectator, a wedding guest, a rescue boat skipper, a bartender, a downhill snow skier, a bank employee, and a German border guard.

Mason’s practice in Los Angeles attracts clients who have been falsely accused. The first half of the show typically set up the situation, the investigation was conducted, and usually the DA decides to prosecute Mason’s innocent client. The second half of the show was conducted in the courthouse. Usually the action occurs in a preliminary appearance because casting realized quickly that appearing before a judge would save having to find twelve jury members for each show. Burger would often object with his declaration of “Incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial!” Della often pursues leads while Perry is in court. Mason pays attention to every detail and is often able to trick the guilty person into admitting their crime.

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Gardner’s literary agent was Thomas Cornwell Jackson. In 1947 he married Gail Patrick, who had studied law before becoming an actress. She and her husband had discussed bringing Gardner’s Mason character to television. Gardner had also been an attorney before becoming a writer, so he wanted some creative control.  He had no desire to see Perry’s personal life or a love interest. He wanted the show to feature the law as its primary character. Gardner, Jackson, and Patrick formed a production company, Paisano, to film a pilot. CBS picked up the show for 1957.

Gail Patrick Jackson
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Patrick began auditions for the role of Mason. Richard Carlson, Mike Connors, Richard Egan, William Holden, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. were all frontrunners. CBS wanted Fred MacMurray and were in negotiations with him. Raymond Burr had been in to audition for the role of Hamilton Burger. When the production company realized they could not afford a big-name actor, Burr was offered the role of Mason. In another role switch, William Hopper, Hedda Hopper’s son, auditioned for Perry Mason but was offered the role of Paul Drake. Barbara Hale was asked to take the role of Della Street. Her children were little and she was not really interested in a series, but when she found out Burr would play the title character, she opted in since they had known each other since they both worked for RKO.

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The production staff also included people who were well versed in law. Ben Brady, producer, practiced law before entering show business and story editor Gene Wang went to law school in Florida. Luckily, they had 69 Gardner novels featuring Perry Mason at their disposal; all but three episodes in the first year were adapted from Gardner novels.

Each episode had a budget of $100,000. The Superior Oil Company building in Los Angeles was used for the exterior of Mason’s Brent Building location, a modern structure built in 1956. In 2003, it received a historical landmark designation and is now The Standard Downtown LA Hotel. Filming was primarily done in and around Culver City. The early seasons were shot at William Fox Studios. When it closed in the early 1960s, production moved to General Service studios and finally to the Chaplin Studios until the end of the series.

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Auto sponsorship for the first season see-sawed between GM and Ford who alternated episodes. In an odd set of circumstances, Mason would drive a Ford Skyliner one week, and the next week he would find himself behind the wheel of a Cadillac convertible. Drake and Tragg’s cars also staggered from week to week. In one episode, Mason can be seen using a car telephone. Back then it was considered a radio, and you had to phone the operator to make a call, but it was still a cool technology feature.

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Even people who never watched the show are familiar with the theme song composed by Fred Steiner. Steiner says he wanted to write a theme that portrayed sophistication and toughness. He called the song, “Park Avenue Beat,” a symphonic R&B piece.

The show featured an interesting substitution during the middle of its run. Burr was unable to film several episodes in 1963 while he was recuperating from dental surgery. Mason was temporarily replaced by attorneys played by Bette Davis, Walter Pidgeon, Hugh O’Brian, Michael Rennie, and Mike Connors.

Bette Davis fills in
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When Burr was making made-for-tv movies about Perry Mason, he was suffering from cancer. Hale, who was friends with Burr for the rest of his life, said “He was my hero. He was in such pain, such terrible pain. But that man had such strength and such willpower.” After his death, she described him as “a very, very strong, beautiful human. I shall miss him all my life.”

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Perry Mason got the slot of Saturday nights at 7:30 pm for its first five seasons where it was easily getting the most ratings, even against Bonanza. In 1961, Bonanza was moved to Sunday nights and Perry Mason to Thursdays at 8 pm where it also continued to win the ratings for the night. In 1963 it moved to Thursdays at 9 pm before being switched back to 8 pm for 1964. Before the 1965 season, Paley decided to move the lawyer to Sunday nights back against Bonanza, and when Bonanza received a higher rating that season, Perry Mason was cancelled, even though the show was receiving more mail than ever and the network had discussed a tenth season shot in color to be able to compete with the western.

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The show was loved by both viewers and critics and did well at annual Emmy awards shows. In 1958 it was nominated for the best dramatic series; in 1961 it was nominated for film editing; and in 1962 it won for audio engineering. Raymond Burr received a best actor nomination in 1960 and won best actor in both 1959 and 1961. Barbara Hale was nominated for best supporting actress in 1961 and won the best supporting Emmy in 1959. William Hopper was nominated for best supporting actor in 1959 as well.

While the show was winning awards, Mason was winning cases. However, there were three clients who were found guilty. In season six, “The Case of the Witless Witness,” the client lost. In both season one and seven, the client was found guilty but they were both proved innocent later and avoided jail time.

In the final episode, “The Case of the Final Fade-Out,” Erle Stanley Gardner can be spied as judge.

Erle Stanley Gardner
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Although all but one episode was filmed in black and white, the show has been in syndication almost continually since its cancellation.

In her book, My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor commented on the series. She said she was influenced greatly by the show which ignited a passion to be a prosecutor. She wrote she enjoyed watching Mason, “but my sympathies were not entirely monopolized by Perry Mason. I was fond of Burger, the prosecutor, too. I liked that he was a good loser, that he was more committed to finding the truth than to winning his case. If the defendant was truly innocent, he once explained, and the case was dismissed, then he had done his job because justice had been served.”

I feel like this is becoming a cliché for almost every blog I write, but like so many shows from the past, a new Perry Mason series is in the works for HBO. Originally, Robert Downey Jr. was to portray the attorney, but his schedule precludes him from starring. However, his production company has cast Matthew Rhys as Perry. Tim Van Patten has signed on as director and Tatiana Maslany will fill the Della Street spot. John Lithgow joined the series in May, as an attorney who will mentor Mason.

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I find it impressive when any show, made more than fifty years ago continues to win viewers and create new generations of fans. However, I find it especially remarkable that a show first filmed almost 63 years ago in black and white continues to hold its own alongside so many current law-themed shows in production. Perry Mason can currently be seen on FETV, METV, and the Hallmark Channel.

Stars Who Jump From the Big Screen to the Small Screen Don’t Always Land on Their Feet

While it is not uncommon for stars to transition from television to movies–think about Robin Williams, Sally Field, Melissa McCarthy, and Tom Hanks–it is less likely to see stars move from the big screen to the small screen.  Jane Fonda has transitioned to television in Frankie and Grace and Fred MacMurray did it with My Three Sons.  For most stars, the move has not worked out very well. Let’s look at a few stars who tried to make the conversion.

That Wonderful Guy – Jack Lemmon (1949)

Neil Hamilton (best known as Commissioner Gordon on Batman) plays Franklin Westbrook, a conceited drama critic who dislikes almost everything. Jack Lemmon plays Harold, a Midwesterner who thinks working for Westbrook will help him become worldly and give a boost to his acting career. His girlfriend is played by his real wife Cynthia Stone. The episodes revolved around his romantic and business adventures in New York City.  Perhaps Westbrook panned the show because it was cancelled after three episodes.

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Heaven for Betsy – Jack Lemmon (1952)

Three years later, Lemmon gave it another try. In this show, Lemmon plays Peter Bell, a toy store buyer. His wife Cynthia again played his wife Betsy. The series was based on a sketch “The Couple Next Door” that Lemmon and his wife played regularly on the Frances Langford/Don Ameche Show. Each episode lasted 15 minutes, and it told about the newlyweds’ struggles in New York City. Instead of three episodes, this series lasted three months.

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Honestly Celeste – Celeste Holm (1954)

After playing Ado Annie in Oklahoma, Holm tried her hand at television. She plays Celeste Anders, a Minnesota college professor living in Manhattan, who is getting journalism experience working for the NY Express. Celeste wrote stories ranging from modern art to underprivileged families. She also dated the publisher’s son Bob Wallace, played by Scott McKay. After three months, she was sent back to school in Minnesota. What was most surprising about this failure was that Norman Lear (who would go on to create dozens of shows) and Larry Gelbart (who later created M*A*S*H) were both part of the writing staff.

 

Going My Way – Gene Kelly (1962)

Bridging television and movies, Gene Kelly redid Bing Crosby’s movie from 1944 for the small screen. Kelly is Father Chuck O’Malley, a progressive priest assigned to the slums of New York. Father Fitzgibbon played by Leo G. Carroll is a cantankerous, old priest. Dick York was his boyhood pal Tom Colwell who ran the community center. Mrs. Featherstone (Nydia Westman) played the rectory housekeeper. The list of guest stars on the show was very impressive, but after a year, the network told Kelly to keep going and cancelled the show.

 

The Bing Crosby Show – Bing Crosby (1964)

I guess Bing decided if Gene Kelly could enter television with his old movie, he might also give it a try. He plays Bing Collins a former singer. He is now an electrical engineer married to Ellie (Beverly Garland) with two daughters Janice (Carol Faylen), 15, and boy crazy and Joyce (Diane Sherry), 10, who had a high IQ. It lasted one season. Not surprisingly, this series also attracted a lot of big-name guest stars including Frankie Avalon, Jack Benny, Dennis Day, Joan Fontaine, and George Gobel. Apparently, Garland had a thing for engineers because she would marry aeronautical engineer Steve Douglas on My Three Sons.

 

Mickey – Mickey Rooney (1964)

Mickey plays Mickey Grady who leaves the Coast Guard to manage a posh hotel, Newport Arms in California, with his wife Nora (Emmaline Henry) and two young boys. His real son plays one of his sons on the show. Sammee Tong plays the hotel’s manager. The former supervisor has left a lot of problems for Mickey. The show was cancelled in January airing only 17 episodes.

 

One of the Boys – Mickey Rooney (1982)

After vowing never to work on television again, Rooney tried it again 18 years later. Now he plays 66-year-old Oliver Nugent, rescued from a nursing home by his grandson Adam Shields (Dana Carvey). Adam is a college student who takes him in. Adam’s roommate, Jonathan Burns (Nathan Lane) is not so happy about the situation. Oliver looks for a job and lands one singing in a restaurant. Also appearing in the cast was Scatman Crothers who sang with Oliver and had also left the nursing home.  A young Meg Ryan played Adam’s girlfriend Jane. The show debuted at 18th place in the ratings but by within a month it had dropped to 68th. Even with this cast, the show was cancelled after an unlucky 13 episodes.

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Jimmy Stewart Show – Jimmy Stewart (1971)

Jimmy Stewart jumped to the small screen with great anticipation and excitement by viewers. He  played anthropology professor Jim Howard. Howard teaches at Josiah Kessel College, started by his grandfather.  His house is full with his wife, his son Peter, Peter’s wife Wendy, and his grandson Jake. He also has a young son Teddy, who happens to be the same age as his grandson. His friend Luther Quince often stops by to eat and give advice. Jim talks to the audience during the show and wishes them love, peace, and laughter at the end of each episode. Even beloved Jimmy Stewart was unable to save this show which was cancelled after one season.

 

The Doris Day Show – Doris Day (1968)

Doris Day was the most successful actor moving from film to television. However, I think the reason she managed to keep her show on the air for five seasons was because she changed the format so often that CBS did not realize it was the same show.  In 1968, Day is Doris Martin, a widow with two kids. She moves from the city to Mill Valley, CA to live on her father’s ranch.

The second season she commutes to San Francisco after accepting a job as an executive secretary to Michael Nicholson (MacLean Stevenson), the editor of Today’s Magazine. Rose Marie was Myrna Gibbons and Denver Pyle again played her father Buck Webb.

In 1970, Doris and the kids move to an apartment over an Italian restaurant run by Kaye Ballard and Bernie Kopell. Billy De Wolfe was her neighbor. Now Doris is writing feature stories for the magazine.

When the show returned the next fall, Doris was single and a reporter for a magazine. Her new boss was Cy Bennett (John Dehner) and she had a boyfriend Peter Lawford but later her boyfriend turned into Patrick O’Neal. There was no restaurant.

By 1973, the network caught up with all the changes and cancelled the show.

 

It was interesting that so many actors failed in television when they were such celebrated movie stars. The radio stars seemed to have better luck making the transition. Jack Benny and Burns and Allen had long-lasting and popular shows. It’s hard to imagine actors like Ryan Gosling, Amy Adams, Julia Roberts, or Ben Affleck bombing on a television series today.

I think for now I will continue to choose to watch Pillow Talk, Move Over Darling, Harvey, The Philadelphia Story, Some Like It Hot, Singing in the Rain, and Hope and Crosby’s Road movies and set aside the television DVDs these stars appeared in.

Why I Love My Three Sons and My 3 Sons

 

Happy Birthday to me! Since it is my birthday today, I decided my gift to myself was to write about my favorite television show, My Three Sons.  The show was on the air from 1960-1972, for a total of 382 episodes. It debuted on ABC, and in 1965 it moved to CBS. The show was based on a widower, Steve Douglas, who is an aeronautical engineer trying to raise three boys after his wife’s death.  Her father, Bub, moves in to take over the housekeeping duties.

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Although Don Fedderson often gets credit for developing My Three Sons, the show was created by George Tibbles and produced by Don Fedderson Productions. When the series moved to CBS in 1965, the latter network assumed full production responsibilities (in association with Fedderson Productions) until the end of the series in 1972. CBS now holds the series’ copyright.

George Tibbles wrote for a variety of shows and penned the Woody Woodpecker Song, recorded by Kay Kyser. Some of the episodes he wrote for My Three Sons include “Chip Off the Old Block” (1960), “Bob in the Ointment” (1960), “Countdown” (1960), “Birds and Bees” (1961), “Tramp the Hero” (1961), “Mike in Charge” (1961), “Bud Gets a Job” (1962), “Stage Door Bub” (1964), “Charley and the Kid” (1965), “Brother Ernie” (1965), “Moving Day” (1967), “Robbie Loves Katie” (1967), “Inspection of the Groom” (1967), “The Great Pregnancy” (1968), and “Instant Co-Worker” (1969).

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Peter Tewksbury directed the first season. These early episodes held to no specific generic type, so that any episode from one week to the next might be either comedic or dramatic. Tewksbury’s episodes are also unusual for their use of cross-talk (a way of having the voices of off-screen characters heard in the background of the soundtrack, just under the voices of the main characters). Using this clever directorial twist, Tewksbury realistically portrayed the chaotic, fast-paced, and ever-changing sequence of events that was the daily routine of living in the Douglas household.

An example of Tewksbury’s use of cross-talk is the fourth episode, “Countdown,” which chronicles the Douglas family’s attempts to wake up, prepare for the day, have breakfast, and get out of the house by a common, agreed-upon time, all carefully synchronized to a televised rocket launch countdown – to comical and often ironic effect. Once the entire family was ready, they realized it was not a week-day and they had been running around like crazy for nothing. Tewksbury returned to directing feature films after concluding the season because the producers could not handle his perfectionist attitude, which was costing thousands of dollars in lost time and reshoots.

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The succeeding director, Richard Whorf, took over the reins for one season and was in turn followed by former actor-turned-director Gene Reynolds from 1962 to 1964. James V. Kern, an experienced Hollywood television director who had previously helmed the “Hollywood” and “Europe” episodes of I Love Lucy, continued in this role for two years until his untimely death in late 1966. Director James Sheldon was also contracted to finish episodes that had been partly completed by Kern to complete that season. Fred De Cordova was the show’s longest and most consistent director of the series (108 episodes) until he left in 1971 to produce The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Earl Bellamy rounded out the series as director of the show’s final year.

When the show was first created, potential writers were told to emphasize the following elements: originality, simplicity, honesty, legitimacy, natural comedy, seriousness of premise, scope and character development.

I love the first episode – it not only established the family relationships, but set the direction the comedy would take. This was a family who might tease each other unmercifully but also knew they could always count on each other no matter what the situation was. The family members were far from perfect but they were realistic.

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One of the most memorable parts of the show was the theme song. Lawrence Welk’s version of the instrumental theme song, written by Frank De Vol, peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.

In 1960, Fred MacMurray was one of the most respected and highest-paid actors in Hollywood.  It was almost inconceivable that he would star in a television show. The role was originally offered to Eddie Albert who turned down not only this role, but Wilbur Post on Mr. Ed as well. MacMurray took on the role when he was guaranteed that he would only have to spend 65 days a year filming the show. What was referred to as the MacMurray Method was 65 days of consecutive taping with the rest of the cast having to film around these scenes later. He was also given a 50% ownership in Don Fedderson Productions.

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MacMurray was a very down-to-earth guy.  His grandfather immigrated from Scotland.  He was born in Illinois in 1908 and grew up in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He worked in a canning factory and for an American Legion band, went to Carroll College, and earned money playing in a band there. After his first wife, Lillian Lamont died, he married June Haver, a former actress who left a convent to marry him.  They adopted twin daughters. They had a 200-acre ranch on the Russian River and his interests included his workshop, building picture frames, painting water colors, golfing, watching some television, and cooking. Hedda Hopper’s description of him was, “He’s as down to earth as applesauce or the boy next door.”

When Barry Livingston was asked about him, he said, “He was basically a guy from the Midwest, Midwest sensibilities, and even though he was super, super wealthy, just really had modest taste and just really wanted to be accepted as your average Joe.  I mean, he drove a Pontiac station wagon that happened to be our sponsor. . . his wife would pack a brown-paper-bag lunch.”

Steve Douglas was known for his cardigan sweaters. Steve was always ready with guidance, gentle words, and loving wisdom.

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William Frawley, best known as Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, accepted the role of Bub. He was an expert on barbershop quartets. In 1958, he made an album, “Bill Frawley Sings the Old Ones.” He was 68 in 1961 and had spent 28 years in Hollywood, 46 as a performer.  He grew up in Burlington, IA where his father sold real estate.  At 21 he landed a job in a musical chorus in Chicago. He married in 1916, divorcing Louise in 1927 and never married again. In 1933, he moved to Hollywood with a long-term Paramount contract. His old friends include Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Gallaudet.

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Timothy Considine played Mike, the oldest son on the show. He was a former child actor and young adult actor of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He later became a writer, photographer, and automotive historian. Considine’s most noted acting roles were in the 1955–1957 Disney TV serials Spin and Marty (he played Spin) and The Hardy Boys (he played older brother Frank opposite Tommy Kirk as Joe), both of which appeared in 15-minute segments on the Mickey Mouse Club; and in the Disney motion picture The Shaggy Dog. Considine is an automobile historian, photographer, and writer who specializes in motor sports. He is the author of The Photographic Dictionary of Soccer, The Language of Sport, and American Grand Prix Racing: A Century of Drivers and Cars. He has also filled in for the late William Safire as writer of the “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine.

Tim Considine quit the show after arguing with Don Fedderson.

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Don Grady, who played middle son Robbie and was the brother of actress Lani O’Grady, got 8 times the fan-mail the other boys did, mostly from young girls. Grady was born Don Louis Agrati in San Diego, California, the son of Mary B. (née Castellino), a talent agent, and Lou Anthony Agrati, a sausage maker. He grew up in Lafayette, California before being signed by Walt Disney and leaving the area. He graduated from Burbank High School in 1962.

Grady appeared on 20 different tv series before 1972, including two episodes of Love American Style. During production of My Three Sons, Grady appeared with his own band The Greefs on the series, writing two original songs for the show.

After My Three Sons ended in 1972, Grady pursued a musical career. His works included music for the Blake Edwards comedy film Switch, the theme song for The Phil Donahue Show and for EFX, a Las Vegas multimedia stage show which starred Michael Crawford, David Cassidy, Tommy Tune, and Rick Springfield. As a stage performer, he starred in the national tour of Pippin and had roles in Godspell and Damn Yankees.

He passed away in 2012 from cancer.

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Stanley Livingston took on the role of Chip (Richard), originally the youngest son. He was named for the scientist Stanley Livingston. His parents moved from Baltimore to LA to open a furniture store. He was one of the kids riding trikes and fire engines on “You Asked for It.” In 1957, he was recommended as a double for Jon Provost on Lassie by Mrs. Loven, who taught him to swim. Tina Hill was his first agent, and Lois Auer was his first drama coach. He and Barry were neighbor kids on Ozzie and Harriet.

By age 11, he earned $20,000 a year. He shared that, “The food on My Three Sons is lousy. The prop man cooks it. The eggs are sticky and the potatoes are lumpy.  It’s so bad we try to get eating scenes on the first take.”

John Stevens was a production/coordinator in 1961. In TV Guide in 1962, he was quoted, “Because of the way we shoot around MacMurray, filming My Three Sons is a jigsaw puzzle for an adult. We once shot all the scenes in the upstairs hall and bedroom from 21 scripts, one after the other. In one, Stanley would have to be happy over something in a comedy, and five minutes later, said in a melodrama. I never once saw him rattled, confused or upset.”

In 1965, the fourth season, Frawley retired due to poor health, dying a year later. Wm Demarest, Bub’s brother, the boys’ uncle and a former sailor took his place. To explain Considine’s absence, Mike married his long-time girlfriend and accepted a job as a college professor. Ernie entered the family and was officially adopted.

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William Demarest started in show business at age 9. He was involved with vaudeville, Broadway, movies (150) and television. In 1899, he and his brothers were musicians. He played the cello, wearing velvet suits, Rubinstein played the piano, and George the violin. He was born in St. Paul in February 1892 and then moved to New Jersey where his parents separated. Later in life he went to LA and entered the army during WWI, eventually becoming a sergeant. In 1927, he was a Warner’s New Comedy Find. In his first picture, Finger Prints, a silent, he was a gangster. He appeared in 24 movies in two years. He appeared in The Jazz Singer and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Jolson Story. In 1930, he headlined a bill with an orchestra, the CA Collegians who had a sax player named Fred MacMurray. In 1933, he went back to Hollywood and stayed. He was a talent agent before appearing in Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. He can’t remember how many movies he did, but his 100th was Pardon My Past with MacMurray. They were also in Hands Across the Table. His retirement plans were to move to a home he and his wife Lucille had on the 12th fairway at Canyon Country Club in Palm Springs.

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Barry Livingston debuted on the show as Chip’s friend Ernie, an orphan. Barry began his career as a child actor in the late 1950s. He considers his film debut a role he won as one of the sons of Paul Newman in the film Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (1958) with his older brother Stanley who by this time was already working as a child actor. He was let go from the film when he was told that he needed to get glasses to successfully correct his astigmatism. His first professional onscreen appearance was in a small, uncredited role in the 1961 film The Errand Boy, followed by roles in The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, on The Dick Van Dyke Show and (as “Arnold Mooney,” son of banker Theodore J. Mooney portrayed by Gale Gordon) on The Lucy Show. In 1965, he joined the cast of the ABC sitcom My Three Sons as next door neighbor Ernie Thompson.

His older brother, Stanley Livingston, was already a series regular as Chip Douglas. Livingston joined the cast permanently (his character was adopted into the family, keeping the show’s title intact) and remained with the series until its end in 1972.

After the series run of My Three Sons ended in 1972, Livingston continued his acting career with 142 acting credits.  Most recently he appeared as a jury member in Trial and Error.

In October 2011, Barry Livingston released his anecdote-filled autobiography, The Importance of Being Ernie (Citadel Press) — detailing his career from My Three Sons to Mad Men and beyond.

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To boost ratings, the family moved to Hollywood, CA in 1967. The family’s home in California was previously featured as the farm in Gene Autry’s 1940 musical Melody Ranch. Located on the Republic Pictures backlot, the barn was given a suburban facade in the 1950s. It wasn’t that far from Gilligan’s lagoon, which was also on the lot.

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Robbie meets his future wife in California, and they eventually marry and have triplets. The triplets posed some issues.  They had to find two sets of twins so three could be on camera and one on reserve.  They had to be born between June 17 and 24, have light hair, blue eyes, and be California residents.  They could only be on the set for 2 hours a day, in front of the camera only 20 min and each exposure could not last more than 30 seconds due to the bright lights.

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Tina Cole played Katie but she was not a rookie on the show. She previously appeared on three other episodes as three different characters before taking the role of Katie Miller Douglas. She was also a member of the Four King Cousins, a subgroup of the King Family Singers. In 1963 she played the minor (uncredited) role of Ruth Stewart in Palm Springs Weekend, a spring break party film set in Palm Springs, California. After leaving television, Cole was the director of the Sacramento Children’s Theatre. She was an acting coach at the John Robert Powers acting schools in Roseville and Elk Grove, California and in 2013 returned to on screen acting. She has several movies coming out in 2017.

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In 1970, another change occurred in the family. Steve goes to school to talk with the substitute teacher about Ernie.  After being gone hours, with Ernie extremely worried, Steve comes home only to realize they never even brought up Ernie’s behavior and they had another date scheduled. They ended up marrying, and Barbara’s daughter Dodie moves into the house.

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Beverly Garland had a long acting resume when she accepted the part of Barbara. Her hobbies were flower beading and crewel work. She starred in her first show Decoy in 1958 in New York where she played a tough police woman. Born Beverly Fessenden in Santa Cruz, CA in 1930, she was an only child. She took violin lessons. At 18 she married Bob Campbell, 20 in Vegas. They divorced 4 months later. She worked odd jobs, summer stock, and commercials. She married Richard Garland but they divorced in 1953. In that same year, she won an Emmy for Medic. She appeared in a variety of shows – Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Dr. Kildare, and The Farmer’s Daughter. She married Fillmore Pajeau Crank, a widower with two kids in 1960, and the couple had two more children.

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Dodie was played by Dawn Lyn, the real-life sister of 80s pop idol Leif Garrett. Dawn Lyn made her acting debut at the age of four. She was the original Prudence in the pilot for Nanny and the Professor. By the time the pilot sold, Dawn had been released from her contract and cast as Dodie in My Three Sons. The Nanny producers sued unsuccessfully to get her back. She worked steadily to financially support her family until her mid-teens. She says at that time her petite stature began to work against her.

Dawn decided to branch out of acting and has done many things over the years, including owning a boutique on Pier 39 in San Francisco. Though she has not actively pursued acting, she has not totally closed the door on the idea either.

Later in the season, Chip elopes with his girlfriend Polly Williams.

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In 1964, Ronne Troup, who played Polly, was working as a television background extra appearing (uncredited) in some fourth season black-and-white episodes of My Three Sons in classroom scenes featuring co-star Don Grady. She also worked as an uncredited extra in classroom scenes on Gidget. She appeared, uncredited, as a teen party guest in the Bob Hope film I’ll Take Sweden in 1965. In 1966, she made her film debut as part of the all-girl ensemble in Columbia Films’ The Trouble with Angels, where she is prominent in the graduation scene. In December 1966 (at age 21), she was cast as Sister Bertrille and had begun filming the pilot for Columbia/Screen Gems’ The Flying Nun when she was dropped after the studio’s first choice Sally Field finally agreed to accept the role.

In 1968, she played the role of Leslie Hayden in Danger Island, the cliffhanger serial that was featured on the Banana Splits Adventure Hour children’s program on Saturday mornings.

She appeared on Family Affair in 1970 in the episode “Desert Isle: Manhattan Style.” She was subsequently offered the role of Polly Williams Douglas, wife of Chip Douglas on My Three Sons, a role she played for two years (1970–72). In the Season 4 episode of The Partridge Family entitled “Hate Thy Neighbor” (1973), she appeared as Donna Stevens, the daughter of the new family who move in next door to the Partridges.

She continued acting through the 1990s.

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I have always felt that My Three Sons doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It consistently focused on character development. Problems do occur in the Douglas household – the boys fight and call each other names.  Real problems come up. The show ran for 12 seasons. The issues were the ones we all faced growing up – not often major but important to young people.

The show survived cast and location changes without sacrificing quality. Bub left and Charley came on board. Mike got married and moved away so Ernie took his place. The family moved from New York to California.  Robbie met Katie, went to college, and had a family of his own. Chip married and moved out of the house. Steve eventually remarried also, gaining a daughter.

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I grew up with the Douglas family and appreciated what I learned from the show.  Many critics of the show complain about it, along with many of the 1960s sitcoms, being too warm and fuzzy. I do understand that some kids in the 1960s and 1970s were exposed to awful home situations with abuse or addiction, but that was not reality for most kids.  I too experienced living with alcoholism and the strain it caused on my parents’ marriage, but most of the issues I had to deal with were the same ones as the kids on the show:  why the boy I liked didn’t know I existed, that I told a white lie to get out of doing something I didn’t want to do, or that a friend had said something to hurt my feelings.  That was reality for me and my siblings.

The characters were fully developed and became friends and people we chose to spend time with every week. This show was on when I was born and continued on the air until I was in 7th grade – that covers a lot of nurturing lessons during those needy years. The writers did a lot of fun quirks I don’t see on other shows.  On one show I remember, Charley playing Solitaire and almost every time someone walked in the room, they pointed out a move.  It was not addressed, but continued to happen just like in real life.  In one episode, Ernie was trying to do something in the background; I forget what the actual detail was, but he was struggling to accomplish it as the other characters interacted.  His issue was never referred to; it was just there. I also appreciate in this era of shows where it isn’t unusual to spend thousands and thousands of dollars each episode on costumes, My Three Sons was more realistic.  The cast got a wardrobe for the season.  You would see them wearing the same clothing over and over just like we did.

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After I grew up, the show continued to resonate with me, although I later identified more with Katie and Robbie and later with Steve. Steve Douglas was always a father figure in my life. On our first date, Dan and I went back to my place and watched My Three Sons which TV Land aired later at night. When I became pregnant with our first child, I gave him a Steve Douglas cardigan to announce the event. I began to collect My Three Sons memorabilia, including a radio that sat in the Douglas kitchen, even though we only had two boys.  Nine years after our first son was born, we found out we were unexpectedly pregnant, and I did end up with three sons.  Our youngest was named Seth, for a variety of reasons:  Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve, but also because Seth Bryant was the founder of Bryant Park where the Douglas boys grew up. My Three Sons will always have a special place in my heart, and it’s one of the shows I can watch episodes over and over and find something new each time.

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