Composer who started as a Mouseketeer and part of a prominent TV family -- via the New York Times. From the year I was born, "My Three Sons," now largely forgotten, was the dominant family show for 12 years. It was so successful that it jumped networks, from ABC to CBS, in 1965. At that time, it went from black-and-white to color as well. For 11 of those years, Don Grady played Robbie Douglas, brooding, charismatic, musical middle/oldest son of eligible, avuncular, bemused widower/architect Steve Douglas (the pipe-sucking Fred MacMurray).
Most illuminating for me were the frequent switches in continuity and personnel, precipitated behind the camera, and how they were explained in the Douglas universe. It was extremely and equally disillusioning and enlightening, being able to see on both sides of the curtain, so to speak.
We had Bill Frawley as Grandpa Bub, then William Demarest as Uncle Charley after Frawley got too sick to work. We lost the oldest son Mike after five years, due to a dispute with actor Tim Considine. So Don Grady was promoted to oldest from middle son, and Chip (Stanley Livingston) went from youngest to middle, and adoptee Ernie (Barry Livingston) took on the dorky youngest role.
And it turns out that MacMurray would shoot all his scenes out of sequence in a bunch at the beginning of each season, and then take off. They shot around him. Nice -- and far more real-life than the homiletic hijinks that usually held sway at the Douglas mansion.
Robbie was the struggling conscience of the show -- Chip and Ernie were far more likely to get involved in some humorous shenanigans. Women came and went, oddly peripheral, with Uncle Charley acting as cranky aproned former Merchant Marine mother-substitute. Only when Steve married Beverly Garland's character in 1969 did the wheel begin to come full circle. Robbie and his wife have . . . triplets. Three boys. His three sons.
Grady did an awesome job with a somewhat colorless role. He was consistent, dependable, traits he brought to his later work as a composer. Still, for those my age he will always be that perfect, charming older brother we wanted to imitate.