Although he died more than two decades ago, I would think that most of us remember Fred MacMurray pretty well. He was a major star during a long career that included memorable appearances in movies like Double Indemnity, The Egg And I, and The Caine Mutiny, and he also had a long run as the father on TV’s My Three Sons. But did you know he started as a jazz musician and singer?
Born in Kankakee, Illinois, but raised in Wisconsin, Frederick Martin MacMurray grew up tall and broad-shouldered, a natural athlete who starred in several sports while still in high school. But it was music that drew his real interest, and after first learning violin he later switched to woodwinds and began playing in jazz bands while attending college.
He even managed to work into his busy schedule some time with touring bands, and by the late 1920s he was ready to go full time into a musical career. Over the next few years he played sax in various bands on both coasts and in Chicago too. He also added singing to his skill set, and recordings from those days — like the one below with Gus Arnheim’s orchestra — reflect the lilting singing style of the early jazz era.
But MacMurray had a different destiny waiting for him in Hollywood, where he first began appearing as a movie extra between band gigs. By the mid-1930s he was beginning to find steady work in films, and the rest is history. However, he often found opportunities to sing or play in many of his movies, like the delightful song he performed with Bing Crosby and Donald O’Connor (who was just 13 at the time) in the 1938 film, Sing, You Sinners. It’s obvious that the musical side of Fred MacMurray was always a part of him.