Nationality: American. Born: Frederick Martin MacMurray in Kankakee, Illinois, 30 August 1908. Education: Attended Shattuck Boys Academy; Beaver Dam High School, Wisconsin; Carroll College, Waukesha, Wisconsin. Family: Married 1) Lillian Lamont, 1936 (died 1953), daughter: Susan, son: Robert; 2) the actress June Haver, 1954, adopted daughters: Katie and Laurie. Career: 1928—singer and saxophone player in The Royal Purples band, Chicago; 1929—film debut as extra in Girls Gone Wild; also joined The California Collegians band, and made Broadway debut with the band in Three's a Crowd, 1930; 1934—contract with Paramount; 1935—first leading role in Grand Old Girl; 1945—contract with 20th Century-Fox; 1946—produced the film Pardon My Past; 1959—first of many Disney films, The Shaggy Dog; 1960–72—in popular TV series My Three Sons. Died: 5 November 1991.
Films as Actor:
Girls Gone Wild (Seiler) (as extra); Tiger Rose (Fitzmaurice) (as rancher)
Grand Old Girl (Robertson) (as Sandy); The Gilded Lily (Ruggles) (as Peter Dawes); Car Ninety-Nine (Barton) (as Ross Martin); Men without Names (Murphy) (as Richard Hood/Richard "Dick" Grant); Alice Adams (Stevens) (as Arthur Russell); Hands across the Table (Leisen) (as Theodore Drew III); The Bride Comes Home (Ruggles) (as Cyrus Anderson)
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (Hathaway) (as Jack Hale); Thirteen Hours by Air (Leisen) (as Jack Gordon); The Princess Comes Across (Howard) (as King Mantell); The Texas Rangers (King Vidor) (as Jim Hawkins)
Maid of Salem (Lloyd) (as Roger Coverman); Champagne Waltz (Sutherland) (as Buzzy Bellew); Swing High, Swing Low (Leisen) (as Skid Johnson); Exclusive (Hall) (as Ralph Houston); True Confession (Ruggles) (as Kenneth Bartlett)
Coconut Grove (Santell) (as Johnny Prentice); Sing You Sinners (Ruggles) (as Joe Beebe); Men with Wings (Wellman) (as Pat Falconer)
Cafe Society (Griffith) (as Chick O'Bannon); Invitation to Happiness (Ruggles) (as Albert "King" Cole); Honeymoon in Bali (Griffith) (as Bill Burnett)
Remember the Night (Leisen) (as John Sargent); Little Old New York (Henry King) (as Charles Browne); Too Many Husbands (Ruggles) (as Bill Cardew); Rangers of Fortune (Wood) (as Gil Farra)
Virginia (Griffith) (as Stonewall Elliott); One Night in Lisbon (Griffith) (as Dwight Houston); New York Town (Charles Vidor) (as Victor Ballard); Dive Bomber (Curtiz) (as Commander Joe Blake)
The Lady Is Willing (Leisen) (as Dr. Corey McBain); Take a Letter, Darling (Leisen) (as Tom Verney); The Forest Rangers (Marshall) (as Don Stuart); Star Spangled Rhythm (Marshall)
Flight for Freedom (Mendes) (as Randy Britton); Above Suspicion (Thorpe) (as Richard Myles)
Standing Room Only (Lanfield) (as Lee Stevens); And the Angels Sing (Binyon) (as Happy Morgan); Double Indemnity (Wilder) (as Walter Neff); Practically Yours (Leisen) (as Lt. Daniel Bellamy)
Murder, He Says (Marshall) (as Pete Marshall); Where Do We Go from Here? (Ratoff) (as Bill); Captain Eddie (Bacon) (as Edward Rickenbacker)
Pardon My Past (Fenton) (as Eddie York/Francis Pemberton); Smoky (Louis King) (as Clint Barkley)
Suddenly It's Spring (Leisen) (as Peter Morely); The Egg and I (Erskine) (as Bob MacDonald); Singapore (Brahm) (as Matt Gordon)
On Our Merry Way (A Miracle Can Happen) (King Vidor and Fenton) (as Al); The Miracle of the Bells (Pichel) (as Bill Dunnigan); Don't Trust Your Husband (An Innocent Affair) (Bacon) (as Vincent Doane); Family Honeymoon (Binyon) (as Grant Jordan)
Father Was a Fullback (Stahl) (as George Cooper)
Borderline (Seiter) (as Johnny Macklin); Never a Dull Moment (Marshall) (as Chris); A Millionaire for Christy (Marshall) (as Peter Lockwood)
Callaway Went Thataway (Panama and Frank) (as Mike Frye)
Fair Wind to Java (Kane) (as Captain Boll); The Moonlighter (Rowland) (as Wes Anderson)
The Caine Mutiny (Dmytryk) (as Lt. Tom Keefer); Pushover (Quine) (as Paul Sheridan); Woman's World (Negulesco) (as Sid)
The Far Horizons (Mate) (as Meriwether Lewis); The Rains of Ranchipur (Negulesco) (as Tom Ransome); At Gunpoint (Werker) (as Wright)
There's Always Tomorrow (Sirk) (as Clifford Groves)
Gun for a Coward (Biberman) (as Will Keough); Quantez (Keller) (as Gentry/John Coventry)
Day of the Bad Man (Keller) (as Jim Scott); Good Day for a Hanging (Juran) (as Ben Cutler)
The Shaggy Dog (Barton) (as Wilson Daniels); Face of a Fugitive (Wendkos) (as Jim Larsen/Kincaid); The Oregon Trail (Fowler) (as Neal Harris)
The Apartment (Wilder) (as J. D. Sheldrake)
The Absent-Minded Professor (Stevenson) (as Prof. Ned Brainard)
Bon Voyage (Neilson) (as Harry Willard)
Son of Flubber (Stevenson) (as Prof. Ned Brainard)
Kisses for My President (Bernhardt) (as Thad McCloud)
Follow Me, Boys! (Tokar) (as Lemual Siddons)
The Happiest Millionaire (Tokar) (as Anthony J. Drexel Biddle)
Charley and the Angel (McEveety) (as Charley Appleby)
The Chadwick Family (Rich—for TV) (as Ned Chadwick)
Beyond the Bermuda Triangle (Graham—for TV) (as Harry Ballinger)
The Swarm (Allen) (as Clarence)
By MacMURRAY: article—
"I've Been Lucky," as told to P. Martin, in The Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 24 February 1962.
On MacMURRAY: book—
Parish, James, and Don Stanke, The All-Americans, New Rochelle, New York, 1977.
On MacMURRAY: articles—
Obituary, in the Times (London), 6 November 1991.
Pulleine, Tim, in the Guardian (London), 7 November 1991.
Obituary, in Positif (Paris), February 1992.
"Fred MacMurray," in Stars (Mariembourg), June 1992.
* * *
Fred MacMurray enjoyed one of the longest careers in American filmmaking because of his all-purpose (and enduring) good looks and versatility. On the strength of some song and dance experience on Broadway, he was signed to a long-term contract by Paramount at the beginning of the sound era. One of his first films at the studio, The Gilded Lily, marked the beginning of his working relationship with Mitchell Leisen who, during the 1930s and 1940s, was perhaps Hollywood's most expert director of light farce and comedy. MacMurray did his best comedic work for Leisen in three 1940s films: The Lady Is Willing, No Time for Love, and Take a Letter, Darling. For Leisen he developed the lovable schlemiel persona that served him so well (the character's apotheosis comes much later in Disney's The Absent-Minded Professor). At the same time MacMurray did competent work in a number of other genres—notably as a supporting actor in action films such as The Trail of the Lonesome Pine and The Texans.
In dramatic roles, however, he often projected a weakness which undercut the narrative. In Above Suspicion, for example, he quite unsuccessfully impersonates an Oxford don called to work for British Intelligence; in a series of contretemps with blustering Nazis he simply cannot respond with the appropriate American toughness. The weakness of his persona—always, of course, an exploitable resource in farce and comedy—was occasionally well used in dramatic films, notably by Billy Wilder. As Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, MacMurray quite plausibly falls victim to Barbara Stanwyck's aggressive sexuality. Here his indecisiveness becomes an appropriate response to film noir's inhospitable and uncertain world. In The Apartment MacMurray plays a calculating executive who cold-heartedly exploits a series of female employees. As played by MacMurray, however, the character becomes an easily toppled predator, henpecked by an overbearing wife and undone by a jealous secretary, and this reversal admirably suits the film's debunking of social hierarchies.
Giving his finest screen performance, MacMurray plays a similar character in The Caine Mutiny. His Lieutenant Keefer is a supercilious intellectual, a man who is able to complain about his captain's inadequacies but who nevertheless lacks moral conviction. MacMurray's spinelessness perfectly expresses the film's underlying McCarthyite politics.
—R. Barton Palmer