William Demarest
Palm Beach Story-Bill Demarest.JPG
Demarest in trailer for The Palm Beach Story (1942)
Carl William Demarest

(1892-02-27)February 27, 1892
DiedDecember 28, 1983(1983-12-28) (aged 91)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
Years active1906–1978
Estelle Collette
(m. 1923; div. 1941)

Lucille Thayer
(m. 1942)

Carl William Demarest (February 27, 1892 – December 28, 1983) was an American character actor, known especially for his roles in screwball comedies by Preston Sturges and for playing Uncle Charley in the sitcom My Three Sons[1] Demarest, who frequently played crusty but good-hearted roles, was a prolific film and television actor, appearing in over 140 films, beginning in 1926 and ending in the late 1970s. Before his career in motion pictures, he performed in vaudeville for two decades.[2]

Early life

Carl William Demarest was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the youngest of threes sons of Wilhelmina (née Lindgren) and Samuel Demarest.[3] During William's infancy, the family moved to New Bridge, a hamlet in Bergen County, New Jersey.

Demarest served in the United States Army during World War I.[4]


Demarest started in show business working in vaudeville, performing initially in his youth with his two older brothers and later with his wife Estelle Collette (real name Esther Zichlin) as "Demarest and Colette".[2] He then moved to work in the "legitimate theatre" on Broadway. Demarest, by 1926 also began working in films, often in productions directed by Preston Sturges and as a member of a "stock" troupe of actors whom Sturges repeatedly cast in his screen projects. He appeared in ten films written by Sturges, eight of which were under his direction, including The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. Demarest was such a familiar figure at the Paramount studio that just his name was used in the movie Sunset Boulevard as a potential star for William Holden's unsold baseball screenplay.

Demarest appeared with veteran Western film star Roscoe Ates in the 1958 episode "And the Desert Shall Blossom" of CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Demarest with Don Grady in My Three Sons (1969)
Demarest with Don Grady in My Three Sons (1969)

In 1959, Demarest was named the lead actor of the 18-week sitcom Love and Marriage on NBC in the 1959–1960 season. Demarest played William Harris, the owner of a failing music company who refuses to handle popular rock and roll music, which presumably might save the firm from bankruptcy.

He played folksy Jeb Gaine, an occasional sidekick to the main character, in the 1961–62 season of the Western series Tales of Wells Fargo.

Demarest appeared as Police Chief Aloysius of the Santa Rosita Police Department in the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), as well as in a memorable episode ("What's in the Box") of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, portraying a hen-pecked husband who murders his wife.

His most famous television role was in the ABC and then CBS sitcom My Three Sons from 1965 to 1972, playing Uncle Charley O'Casey. He replaced William Frawley, whose failing health had made procuring insurance impossible. Demarest had worked with Fred MacMurray previously in the films Hands Across the Table (1935), Pardon My Past (1945), On Our Merry Way (1948), and The Far Horizons (1955) and was a personal friend of MacMurray.


Demarest received a single Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in The Jolson Story (1946), playing Al Jolson's fictional mentor. He had previously shared the screen with the real Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer.

Demarest also received an Emmy nomination for the 1968–1969 season of My Three Sons as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Role.

Demarest has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to motion pictures, bestowed upon him on August 8, 1979, by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.[5][6] In attendance at the ceremony and then later at Musso & Frank Grill for celebrations were his My Three Sons co-stars Fred MacMurray and his wife June Haver, Tina Cole, Stanley Livingston, Barry Livingston, and Dawn Lyn.

In 1998 a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[7]

Personal life and later years

Demarest's first wife.[8]
Demarest's first wife.[8]

Demarest was married twice. His first wife was his vaudeville partner Estelle Collette, born Esther Zichlin.[9][10] Demarest helped raise her daughter, author Phyllis Gordon Demarest, from her earlier marriage, in 1907, to English poet and novelist Samuel Gordon, who had divorced Zichlin before his death.[11] Demarest's second wife was Lucille Thayer, born Lucille Theurer, whom he married in Prescott, Arizona on August 31, 1942.[12] Thayer, who later became an activist on health issues in the motion picture industry, was, in October 1960, appointed California's lay-chairman of the ANA fundraising campaign.[13]

Demarest's favorite recreations were hunting, fishing, golf, and playing the cello.[citation needed]

According to Hollywood Be Thy Name, the 1993 memoir of Jack Warner, Jr. and Cass Warner Sperling, Demarest claimed that Sam Warner was murdered by his own brothers. This allegation, leveled in 1977, was never corroborated, and Demarest's reliability was questioned because of his long dependence on alcohol.


Demarest died at his home in Palm Springs, California on December 28, 1983,[2] and his body was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.[14][15] At the time of his death, he was suffering from prostate cancer and pneumonia.[citation needed]

Partial filmography


Short subjects


Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1940 Stars over Hollywood The Town Constable[16]


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, January 4, 1984.
  2. ^ a b c Pareles, Jon (1983). "William Demarest, 91, Actor, Known for Roles in Comedies", obituary, The New York Times, December 29, 1983, p. D19. Retrieved via subscription to ProQuest Historical Newspapers (Ann Arbor, Michigan), August 27, 2022.
  3. ^ "Minnesota, Birth and Death Records, 1866-1916," database, Carl William Demorest [sic], February 28, 1892; FHL microfilm 1,309,044, Public Health Center records, Saint Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota. Retrieved via FamilySearch archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  4. ^ Kaufman, Dave (1968). TV 69: Who's Who, What's What in the New TV Season (mass market paperback). New York: Signet. p. 129.
  5. ^ "William Demarest". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  6. ^ "William Demarest". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  7. ^ (PDF). May 8, 2018 https://web.archive.org/web/20180508121758/http://www.palmspringswalkofstars.com/web-storage/Stars/Stars+dedicated+by+date.pdf. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 8, 2018. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "New Life Member". Vaudeville News. September 30, 1921. p. 8. Retrieved January 20, 2021 – via Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.
  9. ^ "New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1938", subscribed online database, Carl William Demarest and Esther (née Zichlin) Gordon, February 5, 1923; records of Manhattan, New York accessed via FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, August 29, 2022.
  10. ^ Jewish Chronicle of London, January 14, 1927, issue and June 14, 1907, issue. Obituary of her first husband Samuel Gordon (b. 1871 Buk, Bavaria, German Empire, m. June 12, 1907, Miss Esther Zichlin, "a violinist of great promise. There was one child of the marriage, a daughter.", d. 1927 in Wandsworth, London, England).
  11. ^ Jewish Chronicle of London, April 3, 1908, issue.
  12. ^ "Arizona, County Marriages, 1871-1964," database with images, Carl William Demarest and Lucille Theurer, 31 August 1942 in Prescott, Yavapai County, Arizona; FHL microfilm record 004251853 in Arizona Department of Libraries, Archives, and Public Records, Phoenix. Original marriage documents accessed via FamilySearch, August 29, 2022.
  13. ^ "Ancestry® | Family Tree, Genealogy & Family History Records". www.ancestry.com.
  14. ^ "Forever L.A." Gibbs Smith. August 27, 2010 – via Internet Archive.
  15. ^ William Demarest at Find a Grave
  16. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.