Jun 22, 2018

Don Grady/Robbie Douglas

When I was a kid in the 1960s, a trio of teenage legs signified my bedtime on Thursday nights.  Mom and Dad refused all pleas to stay up longer and investigate, though later, in our basement room, my brother and I heard teenage voices and sitcom laughter.  In November 1966, I was finally old enough.

I found My Three Sons (1960-72), a sitcom about two men who were married: Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray), who read the newspaper on a reclining chair, and Uncle Charlie (William Demarest), who puttered around with sack lunches and vacuum cleaners.

Their three sons: college boy Robbie (Don Grady), sleepy teenager Chip (Stanley Livingston), and little kid Ernie (Barrie Livingston).  I later discovered that another son, Mike (Disney regular Tim Considine) had been written out.

All of the boys were cute, but I liked Robbie best.

He was not a jock yet trim and energetic, innocent and even naïve yet self-assured; his dark-eyed dreamy expression, shy half-smile, and endless supply of cool varsity sweaters made him seem distant but attainable, a perfect fantasy boyfriend.

And most importantly, he liked boys, not girls!  I watched week after week, as Robbie fell for a cute bullfighter, an Italian exchange student, a hunky college boy named Kerwin, even a gay pal (played by Sal Mineo).  Sometimes he pretended to like girls, too; but it was all an act, to get something he wanted (like a passing grade in chemistry).  When he grew up, he would certainly marry a boy, like his Dad.

One day in 3rd grade, my boyfriend Bill and I were sorting through his older sister's record collection, and we were amazed to find two Canterbury singles by Robbie Douglas, Don Grady.  "Impressions with Syvonne" had Robbie shirtless, displaying warm tanned arms and shoulders, smiling his shy yet knowing smile, but it was too scratched to play.

"Children of St. Monica" was hard to hear, but one line stood out: two children, no doubt boys,  hiding in a church, holding hands among the candles.

An evocation of same-sex romance!

Bill's older brother obligingly took us to the Record Barn every couple of weeks, but we found no more Robbie Douglas records until one day I saw The Yellow Balloon (1969), the cover displaying a hard-muscled young man sullen on a beach.

To my surprise, one of the performers, “Luke R. Yoo,” turned out to be Don Grady in a wig and dark glasses, Robbie Douglas leading a secret life!

Most of the lyrics were heterosexist, but “A Good Man to Have Around the House,” hinted at hidden knowledge.  Robbie argues that he should move in with someone -- I assumed a boy -- because he could help out with the chores: take out the trash, and so on. Then he adds with a lascivious laugh, “I know how to do some things your father just can’t do.”

What things could a boyfriend do that a father couldn't?  In a couple of years, I would know what he meant, but I didn't then.  It had something to do with the boys holding hands among the candles.

The gay-vague Robbie didn't last.  He fell in love with a girl, Katie (Tina Cole),  and married her, and became a nuclear family dad before vanishing from the show. But the image of Robbie Douglas remained with me, the promise of hidden knowledge, of boys holding hands, of men married to each other.

I saw Don Grady many years later, during the late 1980s, in the crowd at a gay sports event in Los Angeles, shirtless, toned and handsome. He saw me looking and smiled shyly. You see heterosexual celebrities at gay events all the time, but still, I was afraid to go over and talk to him.

It was enough to know that he had been a friend all along.

Don Grady died on June 28, 2012.


  1. How can you say he was gay, just because he was at a Gay Pride Parade? Lots of straight people go to gay pride parades.

  2. I didn't say he was gay, I said he was a gay ally. That's a heterosexual who supports gay rights.

  3. Was the character supposed to be gay? Was he scripted that way?

    1. I don't think the producers, writers, and so on planned for the character to be read as gay. But subtexts don't require authorial intent. Like a Rorschach Test, they come from the interaction between the ambiguities in the text and the viewer's own desires.

    2. Don Grady was/is, a Great person and his work is GREAT, I was Shocked to hear we had lost him before. All the best to his family. I wish I had known him, a great friend he would be. Thank you Don Grady for all the GREAT work you did and gave us to enjoy. I know it was wishful thinking but I wanted to know them. Thank you.

    3. Gay characters on TV in the previous century were generally a Rorschach test. Oh, you started getting canon gay characters in the 80s, more so in the 90s. But subtext was everything. Apparent lack of interest in women as an adult, or disgust toward women from a teenager or older. Spending all his time with male friends. An instant intimate connection between two male characters.

      It gets more complicated from there. For instance, buddy-bonding doesn't necessarily make one gay, there are many cultures where male friendship is more important than romantic relationships, so there are your Westerns, your Orientalist fantasies, but it makes for the possibility. Lack of interest in women, same thing: Not only does such a man have possibly a vow of chastity in his background, but there's a completely different sexual orientation which has no interest in men or women.

    4. There were almost no characters on tv or in movies who were written as gay, so we had to make do with "queering," finding unintentional subtexts, claiming texts that were written for somebody else.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. LOL. No, I've never gotten a review that bad before.

  5. I found it a milestone that Robbie Douglas would be a wrestler when so many other TV sitcoms woud have the son be in a safe and boring sport like footbore, basketbore or basebore. Robbie was a wrestler!

  6. I was never really into this show. That is until I noticed that the producers took no steps to cover Robbie's bulge. And in "My son, the ballerina", he's in running shorts and he's hanging out the bottom. I never miss an episode now.


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