By Daniel P. Elkins, Mission and Installation Contracting Command Public Affairs OfficeAugust 2, 2018
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Aug. 2, 2018) -- You need not look further than the headlines of the latest tabloids in the grocery checkout line or scroll through social media viral videos that often find their way to television broadcast entertainment news to see the destructive paths often taken by child actors following stardom.
Access to practically anything they want while under the spotlight of Hollywood movie sets and paparazzi tempers reality and can lead to treacherous choices when transitioning to and accepting the real-life consequences of growing up.
For the Mission and Installation Contracting Command's Joe Todd, it was a combination of the short-lived acting role along with typical boyish pursuits that contributed to a different direction after costarring with brothers Mike and Dan as the young Douglas triplets during the final two season of "My Three Sons."
As a native of San Diego, it was Todd's grandmother in Los Angeles who spotted a newspaper ad seeking twins to join the cast of the long-running series "My Three Sons" in 1970. And as boastful grandmothers often do, promptly informed show producers that she could do one better.
"Because the show was called 'My Three Sons,' they thought it was cool to put triplets in the show," said Todd, the youngest of the three brothers who turn 51 later this month. "So while most people get into acting because they're talented, we got into it more because of the novelty of being triplets than anything else."
Baby Boomers and those born on the front decade of Generation X are most likely familiar with the show. It ran an impressive 12 seasons on both ABC and CBS and starred one of Hollywood's top paid actors of that time, Fred MacMurray. MacMurray played widower Steve Douglas raising his three sons with the aid of his father-in-law. One of those boys, Robbie, eventually left home to marry his high school sweetheart who had triplets, leading to the role as Charley Douglas for Todd from 1970 to 1972.
Todd readily admits that because of his young age, he recalls little about taping the series.
"We were just young kids, so everybody was real nice and friendly. There are pictures from the set that I view now that I don't remember seeing or doing. A lot of people ask me after looking at the pictures on the internet, which triplet I am. I could not point myself out," Todd said. "We didn't put anything into context. It wasn't until later on that I realized that show had a big impact on people because it ran for a lot of years, even though we were only on it for a couple of years."
There are few exceptions from his time on the show where certain methods, considered non-traditional by today's standards, may have been used to achieve the desired scene response.
"The show aired back in the late 60s and early 70s, so the techniques and procedures were a little bit odd. For instance, if they needed you to cry for a scene, they might poke you or something," Todd said. "I remember the movie set trailers. Can you imagine three hyperactive kids bouncing around in a trailer? If it were me, I'd put concertina wire around us and say, 'you guys stay in there.'"
Following the two seasons on the show, his family remained in San Diego where the Todd triplets went on to tape a few commercials for such products as Doublemint chewing gum, the California restaurant chain Mr. Steak and others.
"There was never a strong desire to stay in the business. Hollywood always portrays itself as lollipops and rainbows, but there's more to it. If you're interested in that, then you're willing to overlook some things. It's not for everybody," Todd said. "But if you're kids, you just want to be outside and do normal kid stuff. (Acting) was just something to do, and again, it goes back to the talent versus the novelty of being triplets."
The Todd brothers made an appearance on "The Joan Rivers Show" in 1989 to recount their experiences on "My Three Sons," but have since been absent from the small screen.
Their father's job relocated the family to Houston during the triplets' senior year. All three finished high school and began college.
"We realized we weren't mature enough to handle college, and decided to join the Army. It was the best thing we could have ever done," Todd said. "Some people believe we all joined the Army for the same reason. Well, we did, to find our own individuality. When you're always lumped in with your brothers, sometimes you want to stand on your own two feet, and the military let us do that."
The three brothers joined the service at age 19 electing different military occupational specialties but unexpectedly were all assigned to different areas of Germany for their first tour of duty.
"We were not know as the triplets. Even though it is a blessing and truly great growing up as a triplet, it allowed us to all stand on our own and establish our own identities more so than if we had stayed together and just hung out in the same town and same jobs," he said.
Todd served as an Army medic for 20 years before retiring in March 2007 and accepting a contract position to teach Soldier medics at Fort Sam Houston. Soon after, he accepted a civil service position to continue training Soldiers.
Today, as a training and readiness manager for the MICC, his attention is squarely on Soldier-oriented tasks but also supports the acquisition career management of the command's civilian workforce. He is responsible for the update of key data in the digital training management system, the commander's portal and other career management systems that all contribute to the Army top priority of readiness.
"We're in an organization where there aren't too many military, but the care and feeding of these military folks is pretty substantial when you look at the man-hours it takes to support the military folks instead of the civilian folks," Todd said.
And while successfully avoiding the consequences many child actors often cope with, Todd instead teaches the value of resiliency to the uniformed and civilian members of the MICC workforce as one of his duties.
"The Army has a great resiliency program for Soldiers who have trouble with coping skills. If you use and implement 12 of the 14 skills, there are two soft skills, it's got to help people. And this goes for any age," Todd emphasized. "Even though we're all able to manage ourselves, a lot of times we don't focus on the simple things and simple tasks or give them the attention they need and lose sight of priorities."
He added the Army mandates resilience training for Soldiers but believes many civilians across the MICC could also benefit from such training.
"I look at myself as less of a child actor since I did it for such a short period of time and during some innocent years," he said. "I don't think I would have fallen into any of the pitfalls that occur during teenage years when you could make bigger mistakes or if you had a large amount of money associated with your success or perceived success when you have the potential to do a lot of stupid things. If you're broke, dumb, happy and satisfied, the potential to make those stupid decision aren't that available."
His brother, Mike, retired from the Army as a combat engineer and now teaches at the Army Medical Department at nearby Camp Bullis. Dan separated from the service after eight years and went on to graduate from the University of Houston before starting up his own small business in Houston.
"When we get together, we feel like we've never been apart. We take up just where we left off," Joe Todd said.
And while Todds' recollection of acting remains fuzzy at best after more than 40 years, there is one thing of which they are quite sure.
"People ask me about royalties and if I get paid. If you were part of the Screen Actors Guild and you were represented and paid dues, there was a way to get residual money, but I do know I'm not getting paid," he said with a hearty laugh. "I don't watch TV Land or those channels where I might find an old episode of "My Three Son," but I do like to catch "Rockford Files" now and again."