Classic TV: My Three Sons (Or Was It Four?)

“My Three Sons” is an American television show that aired from 1960 to 1972. The show, created by Don Fedderson, starred Fred MacMurray as Steve Douglas, a widower and aeronautical engineer who raises his three sons with the help of his father-in-law and housekeeper.

FUN FACT:  The father-in-law, Michael Francis “Bub” O’Casey, is played by William Frawley. And yes, if Bub looks familiar, that is because he is indeed the same guy who played Fred Mertz on the I Love Lucy Show.

The show was a popular family sitcom that explored the challenges and joys of raising three boys. It was well-received by audiences and critics alike and was nominated for several Emmy Awards throughout its run. The show was known for its wholesome and heartwarming themes and its talented cast of actors. 

The show was also notable for its longevity, running for 12 seasons and 380 episodes. 

circa 1965: Promotional portrait of the cast of the television series, ‘My Three Sons’. L-R: Stanley Livingston, Fred MacMurray, Don Grady, William Demarest, and Barry Livingston. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

History of My Three Sons

Creation and Initial Reception

The show was initially intended to be a drama but later became a sitcom due to Fred MacMurray’s comedic talent. It premiered on September 29, 1960, and was an instant hit with audiences. It quickly became one of the most popular shows on television and remained in the top 20 for most of its run.

My Three Sons Cast 

The talented cast of My Three Sons helped make the show a success. In addition to Fred MacMurray and William Frawley, the show starred Tim Considine as Mike Douglas, Don Grady as Robbie Douglas, Stanley Livingston as Chip Douglas, and Barry Livingston as Ernie Thompson.

The show’s characters were well-developed and relatable, which helped to make the show a hit with audiences. Steve Douglas was a devoted father who always put his children first, while Bub O’Casey provided comic relief with his gruff personality and quick wit. Mike was the oldest and most responsible son, while Robbie was the middle son, always getting into trouble. Chip was the youngest son and the most mischievous. Fairly standard birth order roles, but it worked.

Casting for the show was fairly volatile over the years. For example, in 1965, William Frawley’s “Bud” character was replaced by William Demarest, who played Bud’s brother. The change was made because of Frawley’s poor health. 

An even bigger change also occurred in 1965, when Mike (Tim Considine) was written out of the show. The storyline depicted the departure as a result of Mike getting married. Behind the scenes, though, Considine was fired after pressuing the head execs for the opportunity to direct. 

Not to worry! The showrunners added a new character, Ernie Thompson, played by Barry Livingston. Steve adopted Ernie, ensuring the iconic title “My Three Sons” would continue after Considine’s exit.

Steve found love again and married Barbara Harper Douglas in the 10th season. Barbara’s daughter Dodie was later adopted by Steve, further expanding the Douglas household.

My Three Sons scene of Steve's wedding party

And let’s not forget the other wives introduced in the series as the boys grew up. Robbie married Katie (played by ) and made a splash with their triplet sons, Robbie Junior, Steve II, and Charley. Chip married (played by Ronne Troupe) Polly Williams 

Plot and Themes


My Three Sons tackles several themes, including family, love, sibling rivalry, teenage rebellion and growing up. The show explores the relationships between the Douglas family members and how they learn to cope with the loss of their mother and wife. The show also delves into the boys’ coming-of-age experiences and how they navigate their teenage years.

Another significant theme in the show is the changing role of women in society. As the show progresses, Steve Douglas begins dating and eventually marries Barbara Harper, a widow with a daughter. Barbara is portrayed as a strong, independent woman who challenges traditional gender roles of the time.

The show also addresses social and political issues of the time, such as the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, though more subtly. 

Top My Three Sons Episodes

my three sons color image with cookies

With nearly 400 episodes, there are plenty of favorites to choose from. Our team came up with the five below:

  1. “Chip Off the Old Block” (Season 1, Episode 1): The Douglas family is introduced and sets the tone for all the fun to come.
  2. “The Great Pregnancy” (Season 4, Episode 1): Here comes the baby carriage! This episode features Katie and Steve’s unexpected pregnancy and the family’s reaction to the news.
  3. “The First Marriage” (Season 5, Episode 1): They grow up so fast, don’t they? This classic episode marks the first marriage of one of the Douglas boys, as Robbie ties the knot with his long-time girlfriend.
  4. “The Honeymoon is Over” (Season 6, Episode 1): We follow Robbie and his new bride as they return from their honeymoon and begin their new life together. 
  5. “The Great Computer Caper” (Season 9, Episode 1) is an absolutely quaint episode that features the family’s first encounter with a computer and the chaos that ensues when it malfunctions.

Popularity and Legacy

Ratings and Awards

“My Three Sons” was nominated for several awards during its run, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1961 and 1962. The show also received several Emmy nominations for its cast members, including Fred MacMurray, William Frawley, and Don Grady. While the show did not win any major awards, its consistently high ratings and enduring popularity are a testament to its success.


When Did My Three Sons Move from Black and White to Color?

My Three Sons was shot in black and white from 1960 to 1965. The show switched to color in 1965, which was also the year My Three Sons moved to ABC.

Who Played Dodie on My Three Sons?

Dawn Lyn played Steve’s adopted daughter. Dodie was Barbara’s daughter