Catching up with ‘Chip Douglas’ of My Three Sons
– BY AUDREY T. HINGLEY –
When TV’s iconic My Three Sons ended its 12-year, 380-episode run in 1972, Stanley Livingston, who portrayed one of the sons,Chip Douglas, thought, “that would be it.”
But television’s second-longest-running live-action sitcom, which starred Fred MacMurray as a widowed dad presiding over a household of sons, immediately went into syndication and aired daily for the next 13 years. Then in 1985, Nickelodeon began airing early black-and-white episodes. In 1995, Sons helped launch the TV Land network. And today the show is on ME-TV’s daily lineup.
“ME-TV is introducing the show to another [audience],” says Livingston, the only cast member besides MacMurray to be with the show’s full run. “It’s amazing to me how dearly loved that show is.”
LIFE AFTER CHIP IS BUSIER THAN EVER
Relaxing on an outdoor patio on a warm California evening for his interview with BOOMER, Livingston sports a thick shock of graying hair and the albeit-older good looks of his alter ego “Chip.” He’s maintained a prolific career that began at age 5 when he played a neighborhood kid on TV’s longest-running live-action sitcom, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. Film, television and stage roles followed. Behind the camera, he’s written, produced and directed commercials, music videos and films.
At 62, Livingston is busier than ever and advises boomers, “Whatever you want to do, there’s no time like the present. Your age is no excuse for not trying.”
For Livingston, there’s The Actor’s Journey, his First Team Productions company’s eight-DVD set featuring interviews with more than 100 industry veterans sharing insider information on the business of acting. There’s his production of “Checkers,” a dark comedy about an elderly father making a surprise visit to four dysfunctional adult sons, as well as a new film he’s pursuing with actor Steve Railsback. There’s his artistic career, including paintings that he plans to offer for sale as signed limited edition prints on stanleylivingstonart.com. There are personal appearances where fans still line up for autographs.
And in 2012, he returned to the big screen, the really big screen, as an actor in “In The Picture,” the first film shot in widescreen, three-strip Cinerama process in 50 years.
Premiered to rave reviews at Los Angeles’ Cinerama Dome (one of only three theaters in the world capable of projecting Cinerama films), the 30-minute short reunited Livingston with Debbie Reynolds. The two shared a number of on-screen moments, including the final scene, in 1962’s How The West Was Won, the last movie to be filmed in Cinerama. (Reynolds was one of the stars; Livingston appeared in an uncredited role as her character’s great-nephew.) To complete the full-circle irony, In The Picture was filmed with the same cameras that photographed How The West Was Won.
“Yeah, it was a little bit bringing back the [acting] bug,” Livingston admits, adding that he still loves the deal-making and creative energy involved in his film production company.
‘I NEVER BOUGHT INTO THE STAR THING’
He remains close to Tim Considine, who played eldest son Mike until he left the show in 1965. Considine, 71, whose passions include cars and writing, has written three books and is a contributing editor for Road & Track magazine. Likewise, Livingston remains close with real-life brother Barry, 58, who played adopted son Ernie, brought in to replace Considine, and who remains a busy working actor. Don Grady, who portrayed son Robbie, a successful film, stage and television composer, died in June 2012 at age 68 after fighting cancer.
Livingston, engaged to attorney Paula Drake, has a grown daughter, Samantha, from a brief early marriage. He’s lived in the same Los Angeles home for 36 years, and his closest friends are non-show-biz buddies he’s known since childhood.
“We had 70-80 million people watching Sons when there were only three networksand for a while, you couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed. But I never bought into the star thing,” he says.
“The writers in the early days of television were really remarkable,” he continues. “They came with a different set of skills than [TV] writers do today; they had a real life and came with real-world experience. We did a family-friendly show. Boomers watched it sitting there with their parents, then their kids watched it and now there is probably a third or fourth generation watching.”
Audrey Hingley is a Richmond-based freelance writer who writes frequently for BOOMER. Her website is AudreyTHingley.com.