The City of Los Angeles honors MY THREE SONS on May 16th., an Interview with Stanley Livingston 'Chip'
The City Council of Los Angeles has declared May 16, 2012, MY THREE SONS DAY in Los Angeles. The city will honor and celebrate the show and the cast of television's second longest running situation comedy series, MY THREE SONS. The official ceremony will be at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, May 16th at City Hall.
I remember the show fondly. For baby boomers, it was a staple of television watching. I remember being four-years-old, my mother was babysitting my cousins and they didn’t want to watch... I thought, 'What?!, no MY THREE SONS?' That was a very bad night for me. That show was one of my favorites.
Years later, I ran into Stanley Livingston who played “Chip” on the show at Jerry’s Deli in the valley. Jerry's was one of the few places open late at night, a place to go after a show and we were both there often. I had read about Stanley's stained glass artwork in People Magazine. I would pass the glass daily, hanging in front of his house in the canyon on my way into L.A. The stained glass pieces were beautiful. Until the article, I didn’t know he was the artist. That night at Jerry's, my husband, Cory Riback and I complimented his artwork. That was twenty years ago and we’ve been very good friends ever since.
LAW: What are you doing right now?
SL: I'm watching a re-run of last night's episode of MAD MEN. It’s my favorite show on television. It's also the best written. Great characters and character arcs. I love the early 1960's atmosphere and sets. I think MAD MEN has won the prime time Emmy for best show for four years in a row.
LAW: How did you find out that the city was going to honor MY THREE SONS?
SL: My brother, Barry [Livingston, who played Ernie] called me to tell me. I was floored. It's nice to be honored anytime... but fifty years later and by the City of Los Angeles? Wow! I was born and raised in Los Angeles.... so this really is special. I'm a Hollywood kid.
LAW: Why do you think they picked now to honor you and the series?
SL: The show has reached that magic benchmark of fifty plus years old. I'm older than that. I'll be sixty-two. I guess it's now, or never for both the show and me!
LAW: Why do you think the series has sustained time and is still popular?
SL: The show has never gone off the air in over fifty years - ABC, CBS, Syndication, Nick-at-Nite, TV Land, The Family Channel, The Odyssey Channel, The Hallmark Channel, The Family Net.... and now: the ME-TV Network. MY THREE SONS is an institution because it promulgates the kind of family values that resonate with audiences who have children. The rest of our audience are probably baby boomers who love to re-live their past and the good ol' days. Also, my guess is,... that most of the members of the L.A. City Council are baby boomers. Plus,... the way I see it, giving us an award is much more fun than arguing about a budget to fill pot holes in the streets of L.A.
LAW: How old were you when you got the role of Chip?
SL: I was hired to do the pilot episode of MY THREE SONS at the end of 1959. I was only nine-years- old at the time. However, I was a very old nine-year-old, because I had already been working for a living in the entertainment industry for five years.
LAW: Did you have to audition?
SL: Yes, I did audition, but at a private interview. The producer's requested to see me because I already had a large body of work behind me - TV shows like OZZIE AND HARRIET, LASSIE, DENNIS THE MENACE - and movies: RALLY 'ROUND THE FLAG, BOYS (with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward), PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DASIES (with Doris Day and David Niven). I was hired the very next day. It was a good thing too... because my unemployment benefits were just about ready to run out.
Unemployment benefits at nine-years-old?
SL: (Laughs) Yes….
LAW: What was your favorite episode of My Three Sons?
SL: My favorite episode is called "Raft on the River". The story line was that I was too young to go on a camping trip with the show's two older siblings, Robbie (Don Grady) and Mike (Tim Considine). So, before they leave on their exciting trip, they quickly build a raft with a little cabin on it out of a pile of scrap lumber sitting in the family's back yard. When I am too afraid to spend the night in the raft by myself - Steve (Fred MacMurray) spends the night with me. What happens next on a peaceful summer night becomes quite an adventure: Steve gets locked out of the house, thunder, lightning, rain, eerie sounds,... and finally... a ghostly apparition appears. The ghost turns out to be...Bub (William Frawley) who returns home late that night and rescues us,... mostly from our vivid imaginations.
LAW: Who was your favorite fellow actor on the set?
SL: My brother, Barry, later played Ernie on the show. I finally had someone my age to go to school with, play with and share a dressing room with. We also teased the teacher-welfare worker mercilessly together.
LAW: Was tramp one dog or more?
SL: The first year of the show we had two dogs playing the difficult role of "TRAMP". Their names were Spud and Speed. Turns out Speed was the better actor (Stanislavski Method, I think) and we stuck with him for the next seven years. His grandson, whose name escapes me, filled in as Tramp for the last five years of the show. Those were some large paws to fill (laughs)!
Speed retired a very rich dog and lived out his remaining days on an island he purchased in the Bahamas with his MY THREE SONS earnings. Incidentally, Tramp is the only actor on MY THREE SONS to actually win an award. He won two PATSY AWARDS (the equivalent of an EMMY or ACADEMY AWARD... but for animal performers). He was still the same humble dog in spite of all the awards.
LAW: Was he a great dog?
SL: Speed was my best friend on the set! We spent quite a few hours playing fetch and other fun and "dogly" games.
LAW: Anything that stands out from the episodes good or bad that is etched in your memory?
SL: You know,... it all kind of merges into one big experience that I had in the distance past at this point in time. It was probably the best time I will ever have in show business. MY THREE SONS was a great show, with a great cast and a crew that was just like family to me for twelve years. It's going to be pretty hard to top this one! I'm not even going to try.
LAW: What are you up to these days?
SL: I'm trying to get another feature film produced (with my partner, actor-director, Steve Railsback of THE STUNTMAN fame. The movie is called BARSTOW. It's a great character driven story about some low-lifes who are stranded by circumstance in the desert town of Barstow. The town is on the ladder of life, one rung above hell and these characters are hanging onto that rung with their fingernails.
I also have a company that produced the first and only comprehensive educational program on the business side of being an actor - which is much needed in our industry. It's called THE ACTOR'S JOURNEY PROJECT. The Program is just coming up on actors' radar right now. We've been advertising a lot in Back Stage Magazine. This program is the alternative to the school-of-hard-knocks method of learning about the business and what it takes to function, survive and flourish in it.
LAW: Your brother Barry just wrote a book, can you tell me about it?
SL: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNIE, is a biography that follows Barry's life and career that has spanned over 50 years in the industry. Barry's had his highs and lows, but he is a survivor as a person and especially as an actor. Barry's recent work includes THE SOCIAL NETWORK, HOSTEL - PART 3, CSA - MIAMI and he just finished work on Ben Affleck and George Clooney's new feature film ARGO. Barry is a very busy actor, my best friend and I love him dearly. We're like twins... he just popped out three years later.
LAW: What’s your favorite thing to do when you are not working?
SL: Who's got time to relax! When I'm not working,... I work some more. I plan to be working right up to the moment I take my last breath. I can't imagine not working in this industry, or having nothing to do. NOW... THAT'S SCARY!!
LAW: What are you going to do on Wednesday, what's lined up for the special day?
SL: Well,... the ceremony at City Hall will take about forty-five minutes to an hour. ME-TV plans to be there to cover the event for their Network. MY THREE SONS plays on their Network 8:30 a.m. every morning. We're going to do some interviews and promos for them after the event. After that, think I'll go home and... WORK!