Fred MacMurray Got His Start in a Hot Vaudeville Jazz Band

Most people (over a certain age) know Fred MacMurray (1908-1991) as “Steve Douglas” from the tv show My Three Sons (1960-1972) and a star of silly Disney movies like The Shaggy Dog (1959), The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963). A lesser number (film buffs) know him as a major star of the classic Hollywood studio era of the 1930s and 1940s, and classic films like Double Indemnity (1944). But I’ll lay dollars to donuts that only a VERY few know that MacMurray got his start in the 1920s in vaudeville as a saxophone player in a jazz band called “The California Collegians”.

Him in back of course

From sax player, he graduated to crooner, to Broadway musicals like Three’s a Crowd (1930) and Roberta (1933) with Bob Hope. He’d been an extra in motion pictures since 1929 but started getting starring parts in 1935. His aunt Fay Holderness had also been in vaudeville.

The Wisconsin native enjoyed a long career. I recently enjoyed him (well watched him) in Irwin Allen’s 1978 disaster (I mean disaster movieThe Swarm, his last movie.

To learn more about the history of vaudevilleincluding musicians (!) like Fred MacMurray, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

One comment

  1. I can’t speak to how often Hope appeared on talk shows as a scheduled guest, but he used to make frequent “surprise” cameos on them. It was such a familiar sight to see him interrupt the proceedings on talk shows by walking out unannounced and trading japes with the host for a brief while that there was a bit in the early days of Letterman’s late-night show that saw saw the show interrupted by a surprise appearance by “The Bob Hope,” a deli sandwich, on a plate with pickle, chips and tiny cup of cole slaw, that was named after Hope. It was a very clever but insider-y bit that I doubt anyone under the age of, say, 45 would understand today.


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