Fred MacMurray
MacMurray in the 1930s
Frederick Martin MacMurray

(1908-08-30)August 30, 1908
DiedNovember 5, 1991(1991-11-05) (aged 83)
Years active1929–1978
Political partyRepublican
Lillian Lamont
(m. 1936; died 1953)
(m. 1954)
RelativesFay Holderness (aunt)

Frederick Martin MacMurray (August 30, 1908 – November 5, 1991) was an American actor. He appeared in more than one hundred films and a successful television series in a career that spanned nearly a half-century. His career as a major film leading man began in 1935, but his most renowned role was in Billy Wilder's film noir Double Indemnity. During 1959–1973, MacMurray appeared in numerous Disney films, including The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, Follow Me, Boys!, and The Happiest Millionaire. He starred as Steve Douglas in the television series My Three Sons.

Early life and education

Frederick Martin MacMurray was born on August 30, 1908, in Kankakee, Illinois, the son of Maleta (née Martin) and concert violinist Frederick Talmadge MacMurray, both natives of Wisconsin. His aunt, Fay Holderness, was a vaudeville performer and actress. When MacMurray was an infant, his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where his father taught music.[1] They relocated within the state to Beaver Dam, his mother's birthplace.[2]

MacMurray attended school in Quincy, Illinois, where he played football and baseball, ran on the track team and worked in a local pea cannery. After graduation, he received a full scholarship to Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He played the saxophone in numerous local bands, having picked up the instrument when he was looking to fill his spare time. He continued to play saxophone while attending the Chicago Art Institute in the evenings.[3][4]


With Carole Lombard in Swing High, Swing Low (1937)


In 1928, MacMurray chauffeured his mother to Los Angeles for her health and to visit family.[5] While there he found work as an extra and continued playing the saxophone with the California Collegians, a vaudeville group that was formed out of the pit orchestra at the Warner Brothers Hollywood Theatre.[6] His extra work was earning him $10 a day (eventually rising to $1500 a day at the height of his Hollywood stardom). The band was hired to appear on Broadway in Three's a Crowd (1930–31) with Fred Allen, Clifton Webb and Libby Holman, resulting in a move to New York City from California.[7] MacMurray was offered a role in the production, leading to a further casting in the musical Roberta alongside Sydney Greenstreet and Bob Hope (1933–34).[8] MacMurray signed with Paramount Pictures in 1934.[9]


In the 1930s, MacMurray worked with film directors Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, and actors Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Marlene Dietrich, and in seven films, Claudette Colbert, beginning with The Gilded Lily. He co-starred with Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams, with Joan Crawford in Above Suspicion, and with Carole Lombard in four productions: Hands Across the Table, The Princess Comes Across, Swing High, Swing Low and True Confession. Usually cast in light comedies as a decent, thoughtful character (The Trail of the Lonesome Pine), and in melodramas and musicals, MacMurray became one of the film industry's highest-paid actors of the period. In 1943, his annual salary had reached $420,000, making him the highest-paid actor in Hollywood and the fourth-highest-paid person in the nation.[10][11]

MacMurray did not serve in the military during the Second World War, instead working to sell war bonds and as an air-raid warden in his Brentwood neighborhood. The movies that he did produce during this period were mostly considered to be "morale-boosters" rather than outright "war pictures" that some of his contemporaries were churning out. In 1944, his earnings increased to $439,000, making him again the highest paid actor.[12]

During the production of the 1947 film The Egg and I, the hens appearing in the movie laid over 300 eggs. MacMurray and costar Claudette Colbert autographed one egg each in fifty cartons. The eggs were sold at a local farmers market and profits were donated to the Braille Institute of America.[13]

Having starred in many episodes of Lux Radio Theatre in the late 1930's and 1940's, MacMurray returned to the medium in 1952. He featured in Bright Star, along with Irene Dunne, in which he portrayed a reporter for a local newspaper.[14]

Despite being typecast as a "nice guy", MacMurray often said his best roles were when he was cast against type, such as under the direction of Billy Wilder and Edward Dmytryk. Perhaps his best known "bad guy" performance was that of Walter Neff, an insurance salesman who plots with a greedy wife to kill her husband in the film noir classic Double Indemnity. MacMurray stated in 1956 that this was his favorite role, and that it "...proved I could do serious acting".[15] In another turn in the "not so nice" category, MacMurray played the cynical, duplicitous Lieutenant Thomas Keefer in Dmytryk's film The Caine Mutiny.[16] Six years later, MacMurray played Jeff Sheldrake, a two-timing corporate executive in Wilder's Oscar-winning film The Apartment. In 1958, he guest-starred in the premiere episode of NBC's Cimarron City Western series, with George Montgomery and John Smith. MacMurray's career continued upward the following year, when he was cast as the father in the Disney film The Shaggy Dog.[16]

My Three Sons

In an interview with Hedda Hopper in 1956, MacMurray noted that he had been asked to take on the role of Perry Mason on television. He turned it down, saying "I want to do as little TV work as possible - it's lots of work. I guess I am just lazy".[15]

From 1960 to 1972, he starred in My Three Sons, a long-running, highly rated TV series. Concurrently with it, MacMurray starred in other films, playing Professor Ned Brainard in The Absent-Minded Professor and its sequel Son of Flubber. Using his star-power clout, MacMurray had a provision in his My Three Sons contract that all of his scenes on that series were to be shot in two separate month-long production blocks and filmed first. That condensed performance schedule provided him more free time to pursue his work in films, maintain his ranch in Northern California, and enjoy his favorite leisure activity, golf.[17] Over the years, MacMurray became one of the wealthiest actors in the entertainment industry, primarily from wise real estate investments and from his "notorious frugality".[17]


In the early 1970s, MacMurray appeared in commercials for the Greyhound Lines bus company.[18] In 1979, he appeared in a series of commercials for the Korean chisenbop math calculation program.[19] MacMurray's final film was The Swarm, costarring Michael Caine, Olivia de Havilland and Henry Fonda.[20] The actor, semi-retired at this point, was called back for one last film by director Irwin Allen entitled Fire!, however his diagnosis of cancer of the throat caused him to pull out. Irwin then offered him the small role (for a total of 2 days on set) of a pharmacist in The Swarm. MacMurray told reporters that he didn't "...really miss it. A lot of actors go crazy if they aren't working, but I guess I'm a little lazy." He successfully underwent treatment for his cancer during the production.[21][22]

Business Ventures

MacMurray was also a prolific businessman, frequently earning over $400,000 a year in the 1940's.[11] In 1941, he purchased land in the Russian River Valley in Northern California and established MacMurray Ranch. At the 1,750-acre ranch he raised prize-winning Aberdeen Angus cattle, cultivated prunes, apples, alfalfa and other crops, and enjoyed watercolor painting, fly fishing, and skeet shooting.[23][24][25] MacMurray wanted the property's agricultural heritage preserved, so five years after his death, in 1996, it was sold to Gallo, which planted vineyards on it for wines that bear the MacMurray Ranch label.[26] One of MacMurray's children now lives on the property (in a cabin built by her father), and is "actively engaged in Sonoma's thriving wine community, carrying on her family's legacy and the heritage of MacMurray Ranch".[27][28]

In 1944, he purchased the Bryson Apartment Hotel in the Westlake, Los Angeles neighborhood for $600,000, using profits from Double Indemnity, and was a co-owner of three other apartment buildings.[12] The actor was cautious with his finances, which went hand-in-hand with his sedate lifestyle. The majority of his earnings were used for investments, (including a knitting mill, co-owner of a golf-and-tennis club and a cold-storage business).[29] MacMurray insisted upon a percentage of gross of the films in which he starred.

In 1945, along with former actor Leslie Fenton, MacMurray formed a production company, entitled "Mutual Pictures".[30] With this production company the pair made one film Pardon My Past, a moderate success.[4]

A 1977 profile dispelled the myth of MacMurray's wealth, reporting that if he "...sold everything I'd be worth maybe $3 million to $4 million. Maybe". He states that the myth of his wealth being in league with Doris Duke and the Aga Khan ($75 to $100 million range) stemmed from his life-long frugality.[31]

Personal life

Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6421 Hollywood Boulevard


MacMurray was married twice, first to Lillian "Lily" Lamont (legal name Lilian Wehmhoener MacMurray, born 1908) and after her death, actress June Haver.

Lillian Lamont

Lamont and MacMurray met during the production of Roberta while in New York City while he was performing with the Collegians in 1934, and they quickly became an item.[32] Despite the budding romance he left New York and returned to Hollywood in efforts to continue his career.[15]

It was reported that upon his return he spurned a matchmaking attempt by gossip columnist Louella Parsons. Accounts vary, with some reporting that Parsons was angry over MacMurray's refusal of her efforts, leading Parsons to attempt to derail his career. Other sources indicate that MacMurray turned down a party invitation from William Randolph Hearst (via Parsons), as the publisher had already identified another female as MacMurray's date for the event.[12] Parsons refers in a 1947 column that she and MacMurray made amends, "...we let our hair down about a lot of things...principally a misunderstanding that marred a long friendship, and then and there cleaned up all our grievances", possibly alluding to the columnist's attempts at career sabotage.[33]

In 1934, the couple announced to the news that they were in a "test engagement", stating that they "want to be sure before we make any official announcement" that "...their personalities were the type which could pull in a double harness while they followed their careers".[34] By late spring of 1936, the couple decided to make it official. Late on the night of June 19, 1936, MacMurray, Lamont, MacMurray's mother traveled by plane to Las Vegas to be married. The trip - and marriage - were kept secret from friends and studio officials, who spent the day of the 20th trying to locate the actor. The newlyweds and family returned to Hollywood on a plane that same day.[35][36]

In 1945, they moved into a 10-room, two-story Colonial house in Brentwood. Neighbors (and friends) included Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda. Joan Crawford described the couple as having "one of the few happy and well-adjusted marriages".[37] While they were known to be homebodies and family-oriented, they were also social within the Hollywood community. They hosted parties, both large and small, for friends. They were close with Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, often having Sunday afternoon BBQs with each other. At the larger gatherings, Lombard proved to be the source of entertainment for the assembled guests with her antics and off-color language.[12]

Lamont was often in poor health, including kidney and heart problems. This is reportedly why MacMurray and Lamont adopted two children. Susan came first in 1940, with formal adoption completed in 1942. Four years later they adopted one-and-a-half year-old Robert. Later in his son's life, the father and son would drift apart, with MacMurray lamenting that Robert went "the hippie route via the South Seas to 'find himself'".[38]

After struggling with physical health issues for most of her life, her condition deteriorated even further in the early 1950s. She eventually succumbed to kidney and heart issues in June 1953, shortly after the couple's 17th wedding anniversary.[39] In a 2006 interview between a MacMurray biographer and Lamont's cousin, the family states that she suffered from bulimia. This may have stemmed from her days as a model and contributed to her other health issues.[12]

June Haver

MacMurray first met actress June Haver when they starred in Where Do We Go From Here in 1945, although they had little interaction.[40] By the early 1950's, Haver was grieving the sudden death of her fiancé Dr. John Duzik in 1949. In part because of her grief, Haver had considered a life as a nun. A life-long devout Catholic, she met with Pope Pius XII in 1951 and decided to follow her faith and join a convent. She realized after eight months that the convent life was not for her.[12] In 1953, at a "Gay Nineties" party thrown by pal John Wayne, Haver and MacMurray met socially. Both had been reluctant to attend the party; however, they left together and quickly became an item.[12] After the socially acceptable amount of time grieving the death of Lamont, the couple decided to make their relationship official, deciding to marry in 1954. Unfortunately, this meant the actress had to renounce her Catholicism due to a previous marriage.[41] She had wed musician Jimmy Zito briefly in 1947 before divorcing in 1948.[42]

MacMurray purchased actor Red Skelton's good luck pinky ring as an engagement ring, officially proposing to her after a trip to a drugstore.[12] They publicly announced their wedding date for the first week of August 1954, however they actually wed over a month early on June 28 to the surprise of friends and the press.[43] With the help of friend Ray Cardillo, a travel agency owner, the ceremony was held at the Ojai Valley Inn.[41] They honeymooned in Jackson Hole, Wyoming while MacMurray finished working on The Far Horizons.[12]

MacMurray stated in a 1954 interview that "June had a serious operation after she fell at Fox Studios a couple of years ago...and she's not sure if she will be able to have children".[43] As a result of Haver's inability to conceive, in 1956 they adopted fraternal twins, Laurie Ann and Katie Marie, "right out of the incubator".[15] Much to their chagrin, Kate would later attempt a career in acting with little success.[44]

Haver curtailed her Hollywood career after marrying MacMurray, with one final appearance on the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour in 1958 as herself.[45] She stated that she had no desire to act further, "I lost it all [desire]. I'm remaining a private citizen and will stay at home and has been supplanted by something better. Now that I have four children in the family I have a lot to keep me busy".[15] MacMurray did not believe that it was his place to keep Haver from acting, stating "...I'd hate to be the one to keep her off the screen...the decision is up to her. I'd rather have her at home, but if she wants to make a picture, it's okay with me".[43]

Much like his marriage to Lamont, this union was by all accounts stable and happy.[12] They remained married until MacMurray's death in 1991.[46]


Like many Hollywood contemporaries, MacMurray was a Republican politically, although he was not particularly outspoken about his beliefs. When speaking with columnist Parsons in 1947 about the Red Scare in Hollywood, the actor noted "I suppose there really are some Reds in Hollywood...but don't you think that actually some of the people...get that reputation because they talk too much about things they don't understand? I don't think an actor has any business to discuss politics unless he is an authority..."[33] He is further quoted "...just because I happen to be an actor I shouldn't get up and say 'vote for this man', knowing as little as I know about him...I'm a family man and that's about it".[12]

He joined a long list of other Hollywood stars as a member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, which was organized by the Communist Party of the USA in 1936.[47] MacMurray appeared on stage along with other conservative luminaries stumping for Thomas Dewey in the 1944 Presidential election, and he supported Ronald Reagan for Governor of California in 1966.[48]

Illness and death

MacMurray and June Haver's grave at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California

A lifelong heavy smoker, MacMurray had throat cancer in the late 1970s, and it recurred in 1987.[12] He had a severe stroke in December 1988 that paralyzed his right side and affected his speech. With therapy he made a 90 percent recovery.[49]

After suffering from leukemia for more than a decade, MacMurray died of pneumonia on November 5, 1991, in Santa Monica, California.[10]

Awards and influence

In 1939, artist C. C. Beck used MacMurray as the initial model for the superhero character who became Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel.[50] MacMurray was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for The Absent-Minded Professor. He was the first person honored as a Disney Legend in 1987.[51]


The Academy Film Archive houses the Fred MacMurray-June Haver Collection. The film materials are complemented by papers at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library.[52]



Year Title Role Notes
1929 Girls Gone Wild Extra Film debut
1929 Why Leave Home? Uncredited
1929 Tiger Rose Rancher Uncredited
1934 Friends of Mr. Sweeney Walk-on part Uncredited
1935 Grand Old Girl Sandy
1935 The Gilded Lily Peter Dawes
1935 Car 99 Trooper Ross Martin
1935 Men Without Names Richard Hood / Richard 'Dick' Grant
1935 Alice Adams Arthur Russell
1935 Hands Across the Table Theodore Drew III
1935 The Bride Comes Home Cyrus Anderson
1936 The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Jack Hale
1936 13 Hours by Air Jack Gordon
1936 The Princess Comes Across Joe King Mantell
1936 The Texas Rangers Jim Hawkins
1937 Champagne Waltz Buzzy Bellew
1937 Maid of Salem Roger Coverman of Virginia
1937 Swing High, Swing Low Skid Johnson
1937 Exclusive Ralph Houston
1937 True Confession Kenneth Bartlett
1938 Cocoanut Grove Johnny Prentice
1938 Men with Wings Pat Falconer
1938 Sing You Sinners David Beebe
1939 Cafe Society Crick O'Bannon
1939 Invitation to Happiness Albert 'King' Cole
1939 Honeymoon in Bali Bill 'Willie' Burnett
1940 Remember the Night John Sargent
1940 Little Old New York Charles Brownne
1940 Too Many Husbands Bill Cardew
1940 Rangers of Fortune Gil Farra
1941 Virginia Stonewall Elliott
1941 One Night in Lisbon Dwight Houston
1941 Dive Bomber Joe Blake
1941 New York Town Victor Ballard
1942 The Lady Is Willing Dr. Corey T. McBain
1942 Star Spangled Rhythm Frank in Card-Playing Skit
1942 Take a Letter, Darling Tom Verney
1942 The Forest Rangers Don Stuart
1943 No Time for Love Jim Ryan
1943 Flight for Freedom Randy Britton
1943 Above Suspicion Richard Myles
1944 Standing Room Only Lee Stevens
1944 And the Angels Sing Happy Morgan
1944 Double Indemnity Walter Neff
1944 Practically Yours Daniel Bellamy
1945 Where Do We Go from Here? Bill Morgan
1945 Captain Eddie Edward Rickenbacker
1945 Murder, He Says Pete Marshall
1945 Pardon My Past Eddie York / Francis Pemberton
1946 Smoky Clint Barkley
1947 Suddenly, It's Spring Peter Morely
1947 The Egg and I Bob MacDonald
1947 Singapore Matt Gordon
1948 On Our Merry Way Al
1948 The Miracle of the Bells Bill Dunnigan
1948 An Innocent Affair Vincent Doane
1949 Family Honeymoon Grant Jordan
1949 Father Was a Fullback George Cooper
1950 Borderline Johnny McEvoy – aka Johnny Macklin
1950 Never a Dull Moment Chris
1951 A Millionaire for Christy Peter Ulysses Lockwood
1951 Callaway Went Thataway Mike Frye
1953 Fair Wind to Java Captain Boll
1953 The Moonlighter Wes Anderson
1954 The Caine Mutiny Tom Keefer
1954 Pushover Paul Sheridan
1954 Woman's World Sid Burns
1955 The Far Horizons Captain Meriwether Lewis
1955 The Rains of Ranchipur Thomas "Tom" Ransome
1955 At Gunpoint Jack Wright
1956 There's Always Tomorrow Clifford Groves
1957 Gun for a Coward Will Keough
1957 Quantez Gentry / John Coventry
1958 Day of the Badman Judge Jim Scott
1959 Good Day for a Hanging Marshal Ben Cutler
1959 The Shaggy Dog Wilson Daniels
1959 Face of a Fugitive Jim Larsen aka Ray Kincaid
1959 The Oregon Trail Neal Harris
1960 The Apartment Jeff D. Sheldrake
1961 The Absent-Minded Professor Professor Ned Brainard
1962 Bon Voyage! Harry Willard
1963 Son of Flubber Ned Brainard
1964 Kisses for My President Thad McCloud
1966 Follow Me, Boys! Lemuel Siddons
1967 The Happiest Millionaire Antony Drexel-Biddle
1973 Charley and the Angel Charley Appleby
1978 The Swarm Mayor Clarence Tuttle Final film role

Short subjects

Year Title Role Notes
1940 Screen Snapshots: Art and Artists Himself
1941 Hedda Hopper's Hollywood No. 1 Himself Uncredited
1941 Popular Science Himself Uncredited
1943 Show Business at War Himself Uncredited
1943 The Last Will and Testament of Tom Smith Narrator Uncredited
1949 Screen Snapshots: Motion Picture Mothers, Inc. Himself


Year Title Role Notes
1954 The Jack Benny Program Himself Episode: "The Jam Session Show"
1955; 1958 General Electric Theater Richard Elgin / Harry Wingate Episodes: "The Bachelor's Bride" and "One Is a Wanderer"
1956 Screen Directors Playhouse Peter Terrance Episode: "It's a Most Unusual Day"
1957 The 20th Century-Fox Hour Peterson Episode: "False Witness"
1958 Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour Himself Episode: "Lucy Hunts Uranium"
1958 Cimarron City Himself Episode: "I, the People"
1960 The United States Steel Hour Himself Episode: "The American Cowboy"
1960–1972 My Three Sons Steve Douglas 380 episodes
1964 Summer Playhouse Himself Episode: "The Apartment House"
1974 The Chadwick Family Ned Chadwick Television film
1975 Beyond the Bermuda Triangle Harry Ballinger Television film


Year Title
1930–31 Three's a Crowd
1933–34 Roberta



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Further reading