Fred MacMurray was a dapper and durable leading man in a series of fast-paced film comedies in the 1930s and '40s. A master of comedic timing, MacMurray was one of those rare actors equally at home in drama.
In one of his most acclaimed performances, he portrayed a crooked insurance agent in the 1944 picture "Double Indemnity," in which he schemed with a sultry Barbara Stanwyck to do away with her husband.
In a completely opposite but equally well-received role in 1960, he was a philandering business executive in "The Apartment." There he regularly took the keys to an acquiescing Jack Lemmon's domicile, where he held a series of illicit rendezvous.
But generally he was, as director Billy Wilder once said, "everybody's nice fellow."
He made two-thirds of the approximately 90 films that became his celluloid legacy between 1940 and 1978, and many of them were praised for their content as well as MacMurray's generally understated performances. He appeared opposite the top leading ladies of Hollywood's putative Golden Age — Marlene Dietrich, Stanwyck and Madeleine Carroll.
He flirted briefly with drama in the '40s and '50s ("Double Indemnity," "The Caine Mutiny," "Rains of Ranchipur") but then left both comedy and drama behind to become a minor star of westerns ("Callaway Went Thataway," "At Gunpoint," "Gun for a Coward," etc.).
By the late 1950s, his career had settled into a comfortable routine even though the pace of his work had slackened. Then Walt Disney came to him with a proposal to return to comedy; this time in a movie about a boy who not only turns into a dog but manages to apprehend criminals.
"The Shaggy Dog" was the first in a lengthy relationship with the Disney studios that also produced "The Absent-Minded Professor," who invents a miracle flying rubber substance he dubs "flubber." It was a far cry from plotting the demise of Stanwyck's husband in that apex of film noir "Double Indemnity."
In "My Three Sons," MacMurray portrayed Steve Douglas, a consulting engineer and a widower faced with raising three boys who continually trailed laughter and tears in their wake. When MacMurray wasn't solving Solomon-like the dilemmas of his sons, he was fending off the advances of attractive women out to marry him.
The show went on the air Sept. 29, 1960, and quickly was woven into the American social fabric, where it remained for the next 12 years.