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Caine Mutiny Costume

Naval uniform costume worn by actor Fred MacMurray in the 1954 motion picture "The Caine Mutiny."
(Museum object #2009.19.1)

Native of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, movie star Fred MacMurray made his fame and fortune playing nice guys in motion picture comedies during the 1930s and 1940s. He continued this tradition in a slew of 1960s Disney films, and later as Steve Douglas in the television show My Three Sons (1960-1972). Despite his tendency to play affable and likable roles, many critics have argued that he did his best work portraying bad guys, as he did in Double Indemnity (1944), The Apartment (1960), and The Caine Mutiny. In the latter movie, MacMurray portrayed Lt. Thomas Keefer, a naval officer on board the U.S.S. Caine, where he wore this costume during a short but pivotal scene.

MacMurray did not start out wanting to be an actor. In fact, he expected to be a musician like his father, Frederick MacMurray, Sr., a violinist who traveled around the country giving concerts. In 1904 Frederick, Sr., had married Maleta Martin, a popular and beautiful Beaver Dam girl he met while briefly living in the same town. She joined him on the road, and on August 30, 1908, during a stop in Kankakee, Illinois, their only child, Fred, Jr., was born. Maleta soon tired of the constant traveling and returned to Beaver Dam with her baby. In 1911 MacMurray's parents officially separated, and he never saw his father again after 1913.

In Beaver Dam MacMurray was the all-American boy. He loved sports, especially football, and music, becoming proficient on the saxophone. After graduating Beaver Dam High School in 1924, he took a year off before attending Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on a football scholarship. MacMurray spent his days playing football and the saxophone rather than studying, so after a year he left to make his way as a musician, first in Chicago and then New York City.

In 1933 Paramount's talent office discovered the handsome and tall MacMurray as part of the stage band for the Broadway musical Roberta and sent him off to Hollywood to be screen tested. By the late 1930s he had become a major movie star and remained on top throughout the next decade. By the 1950s, however, his career had begun to fizzle.

MacMurray married model and chorus girl Lillian Lamonte in 1936. Early in 1953 she read The Caine Mutiny script and suggested to her husband that he approach Paramount Studios about playing the challenging role of Lt. Thomas Keefer, "a stinker" as MacMurray later described the character. This was a dramatic break from the likable personas he had depicted in his other movies and a considerable acting risk. MacMurray rose to the occasion, portraying Keefer as a leader of the mutiny against Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), who later denies his involvement in a riveting courtroom drama, and received much critical acclaim.

This costume, a "Class A" khaki naval jacket, with insignia and epaulettes made by MacIntosh Studio Clothes, has a label with Fred MacMurray's name and the date "May 28, 1953." The insignia indicate, among other things, that the character of Lt. Keefer had already participated in four Pacific World War II campaigns by the time the movie takes place, making him a seasoned veteran. MacMurray wears the dress uniform jacket during the scene when the crew of the U.S.S. Caine welcomes Captain Queeg, their new leader, aboard. MacMurray, as Lt. Keefer, stands quietly behind Queeg during the introductions, taking the captain's measure. By the next scene Keefer has returned to his work clothes and he never wears the outfit again.

The Caine Mutiny revived MacMurray's career, but for the most part he returned to playing amiable characters in a host of Disney movies and as the paternal Steve Douglas in the television show My Three Sons. MacMurray ended his long and illustrious career with the 1978 movie The Swarm. In 1991, MacMurray died at age 83 after an extended illness.

[Sources: Tranberg, Charles. Fred MacMurray: A Biography (Albany, GA: BearManor Media, 2007); Gilpatrick, Kristin. Famous Wisconsin Film Stars (Oregon, WI: Badger Books, Inc.).]


Posted on April 06, 2009

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