William Frawley biography

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Clement Frawley (February 26, 1887 -€“ March 3, 1966) was a stage and screen actor, with well over a hundred films to his credit, but gained greater fame in television as Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy and as “Uncle” Bub O’Casey on My Three Sons.

He began in vaudeville and possessed of a fine singing voice in his younger days. It was supposedly Frawley, not Al Jolson, who introduced the song “My Mammy” to vaudeville audiences. He was also an early and persistent exponent of the hit song “Carolina in the Morning“. His film credits include Miracle on 34th Street (1947), in which he portrayed “Charlie”, the judge’s campaign manager, and B-movies like Treat ‘Em Rough (1942) with Eddie Albert and Peggy Moran.

Fred and Ethel Fight - Fred Mertz (William Frawley)

On I Love Lucy (1951) and on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957), Frawley played Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s friend and landlord Fred Mertz. He and Vivian Vance, who played his wife Ethel in the series, had great chemistry on screen, but in real life had a dislike for each other. This was attributed to her vocal resentment of having to play wife to a man 25 years her senior, which she took as an insult. When he got wind of it, it offended him so he never forgave her.

William Frawley (1951)

The two co-stars were given the opportunity to move into their own “Fred and Ethel” spin-off once Lucy had run its course in 1960. Despite his animosity towards her, Frawley saw a lucrative opportunity and was game, but Ms. Vance nixed the idea, having no interest in ever working with Frawley again. He never forgave her for this, since the series could have made him extremely wealthy.

Fred MacMurray, William Frawley, and Tim Consadine in My Three Sons
Fred MacMurray, William Frawley, and Tim Consadine in My Three Sons

William Frawley next hit it big on My Three Sons 1960 in his role as “Uncle Bub” O’Casey, a role he played from 1960 to 1965. The original premise for the series was for Frawley to be the show’s star, overseeing three nieces, but the network decided to switch the kids to boys, then snapped up Disney’s top movie star Fred MacMurray as the lead when he indicated interest after they offered him a preposterously shortened work schedule, relegating Frawley to another supporting role after all. William Frawley reportedly never felt comfortable with the out-of-sequence filming method used on My Three Sons after doing I Love Lucy in sequence for years. Most television series are filmed out of sequence, but My Three Sons was unusually so, to an almost surreal degree: each season’s episodes were arranged so that series star MacMurray could shoot all of his scenes during a single intensive two-week period; Frawley and the other actors worked around the absent MacMurray the rest of the year. It was a very different experience from the sequential filming schedule of I Love Lucy.

Harold Lloyd and William Frawley in Professor Beware
Harold Lloyd and William Frawley in Professor Beware

By almost all accounts, Frawley’s off-screen personality was not that much different from his on-screen demeanor. A notorious misanthrope, with one brief failed marriage behind him and a fondness for the bottle, he lived in the same bachelor apartment most of his years in Hollywood.

According to Desi Arnaz‘s memoir A Book, Frawley eventually lost his driver’s license due to drunk driving, and befriended a cabbie who drove him around regularly.

When deciding whether to hire Frawley for the role of Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, Arnaz made it clear to him that, if he showed up drunk for work, he would “work around it” twice, but after that, Frawley would not only be fired from the program but blacklisted throughout the entertainment industry. Frawley, whom no one would hire at that point, readily agreed.

He never showed up drunk to work, and in fact, Arnaz became one of his few close friends.

Poor health forced Frawley’s retirement. He was dropped from My Three Sons after the studio could no longer obtain insurance on him. He was angry about being let go, and developed a dislike of actor William Demarest, who replaced him, accusing him of stealing his job. (One of his final performances was an October 1965 guest appearance in Lucy’s subsequent series The Lucy Show (1962-1968).

He collapsed of a heart attack on March 3, 1966, and died, aged 79. He had been walking along Hollywood Boulevard after seeing a movie.

After he died, Desi Arnaz took out a full-page ad in the trade papers, consisting of William Frawley’s picture, framed in black, and three words: “Buenas noches, amigo!” Vivan Vance’s reaction was the polar opposite. She and her second husband were dining out when they heard the news, and reportedly, Vance shamelessly shouted, “Champagne for everybody!”

William Frawley is buried in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles, California.

Filmography of William Frawley

  • Lord Loveland Discovers America (1916) as Tony Kidd
  • Persistent Percival (1916, Short) as Billy
  • Should Husbands Be Watched? (1925, Short) as Beat Cop
  • Ventriloquist (1927, short subject listed in BFI Database) as ‘Hoak’ salesman
  • Turkey for Two (1929, Short) as Convict
  • Fancy That (1929, Short) as Percy
  • Moonlight and Pretzels (1933) as Mac
  • Hell and High Water (1933) as Milton J. Bunsey
  • Miss Fane’s Baby Is Stolen (1934) as Captain Murphy
  • Bolero (1934) as Mike DeBaere
  • The Crime Doctor (1934) as Fraser
  • The Witching Hour (1934) as Jury foreman
  • Shoot the Works (1934) as Larry Hale
  • The Lemon Drop Kid (1934) as William Dunhill
  • Here Is My Heart (1934) as James Smith
  • Car 99 (1935) as Sergeant Barrel
  • Roberta (1935)
  • Hold ‘Em Yale (1935) as Sunshine Joe
  • Alibi Ike (1935) as Cap
  • College Scandal (1935) as Chief of Police Magoun
  • Welcome Home (1935) as Painless
  • Harmony Lane (1935) as Edwin P. ‘Ed’ Christy
  • It’s a Great Life (1935) as Lt. McNulty
  • Ship Cafe (1935) as Briney O’Brien
  • Strike Me Pink (1936) as Mr. Copple
  • Desire (1936) as Mr. Gibson
  • F-Man (1936) as Detective Rogan
  • The Princess Comes Across (1936) as Benton
  • Three Cheers for Love (1936) as Milton Shakespeare
  • The General Died at Dawn (1936) as Brighton
  • Three Married Men (1936) as Bill Mullins
  • Rose Bowl (1936) as Soapy Moreland
  • High, Wide, and Handsome (1937) as Mac
  • Double or Nothing (1937) as John Pederson
  • Something to Sing About (1937) as Hank Meyers
  • Blossoms on Broadway (1937) as Frances X. Rush
  • Mad About Music (1938) as Dusty Turner
  • Professor Beware (1938) as Snoop Donlan
  • Sons of the Legion (1938) as Uncle Willie Lee
  • Touchdown, Army (1938) as Jack Heffernan
  • Ambush (1939) as Inspector J.L. Weber
  • St. Louis Blues (1939) as Maj. Martingale
  • Persons in Hiding (1939) as Alec Inglis
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939) as The ‘Duke’
  • Rose of Washington Square (1939)[19] as Harry Long
  • Ex-Champ (1939) as Mushy Harrington
  • Grand Jury Secrets (1939) as Bright Eyes
  • Night Work (1939) as Bruiser Brown
  • Stop, Look and Love (1939) as Joe Haller
  • The Farmer’s Daughter (1940) as Scoop Trimble
  • Opened by Mistake (1940) as Matt Kingsley
  • Those Were the Days! (1940) as Prisoner (uncredited)
  • Untamed (1940) as Les Woodbury
  • Golden Gloves (1940) as Emory Balzar
  • Rhythm on the River (1940) as Mr. Westlake
  • The Quarterback (1940) as Coach
  • One Night in the Tropics (1940) as Roscoe
  • Dancing on a Dime (1940) as Mac
  • Sandy Gets Her Man (1940) as Police Chief J. A. O’Hara
  • Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga (1941) as Chauncey Beheegan
  • Footsteps in the Dark (1941) as Hopkins
  • Blondie in Society (1941) as Waldo Pincus
  • The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941) as Sheriff McGee
  • Cracked Nuts (1941) as James Mitchell
  • Public Enemies (1941) as Bang
  • Treat ‘Em Rough (1942) as ‘Hotfoot’
  • Roxie Hart (1942) as O’Malley
  • It Happened in Flatbush (1942) as Sam Sloan
  • Give Out, Sisters (1942) as Harrison
  • Wildcat (1942) as Oliver Westbrook
  • Moonlight in Havana (1942) as Barney Crane
  • Gentleman Jim (1942) as Billy Delaney
  • We’ve Never Been Licked (1943) as Traveling Salesman
  • Larceny with Music (1943) as Mike Simms
  • Whistling in Brooklyn (1943) as Detective Ramsey
  • The Fighting Seabees (1944) as Eddie Powers
  • Going My Way (1944) as Max Dolan – the Publisher (uncredited)
  • Minstrel Man (1944)
  • Lake Placid Serenade (1944) as Jiggers
  • Flame of Barbary Coast (1945) as ‘Smooth’ Wylie
  • Hitchhike to Happiness (1945) as Sandy Hill
  • Lady on a Train (1945) as Police Sergeant Christie
  • Ziegfeld Follies (1946) as Martin (‘A Sweepstakes Ticket’)
  • The Virginian (1946) as Honey Wiggen
  • Rendezvous with Annie (1946) as Gen. Trent
  • The Inner Circle (1946) as Det. Lt. Webb
  • Crime Doctor’s Man Hunt (1946) as Inspector Harry B. Manning
  • Hit Parade of 1947 (1947) as Harry Holmes
  • Monsieur Verdoux (1947) as Jean La Salle
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947) as Charlie Halloran
  • I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (1947) as Jim Mason
  • Mother Wore Tights (1947) as Mr. Schneider
  • Down to Earth (1947) as Police Lieutenant
  • Blondie’s Anniversary (1947) as Sharkey, the Loan Shark
  • My Wild Irish Rose (1947) as William Scanlon
  • Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven (1948) as Agent
  • The Babe Ruth Story (1948) as Jack Dunn
  • Good Sam (1948) as Tom Moore
  • Joe Palooka in Winner Take All (1948) as Knobby Walsh
  • The Girl from Manhattan (1948) as Mr. Bernouti
  • Chicken Every Sunday (1949) as George Kirby
  • The Lone Wolf and His Lady (1949) as Inspector J.D. Crane
  • Home in San Antone (1949) as O’Fleery
  • Red Light (1949) as Hotel Clerk
  • The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949) as Oliver Harker
  • East Side, West Side (1949) as Bill the Bartender
  • Blondie’s Hero (1950) as Marty Greer
  • Kill the Umpire (1950) as Jimmy O’Brien
  • Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) as Byers
  • Pretty Baby (1950) as Corcoran
  • Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) as Detective Roberts
  • The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) as Gloomy Willie
  • Rhubarb (1951) as Len Sickles
  • Rancho Notorious (1952) as Baldy Gunder
  • I Love Lucy (1953, unreleased feature) as Fred Mertz / Himself
  • The Dirty Look (1954, Short)
  • Better Football (1954, Short) as Himself
  • Safe at Home! (1962) as Bill Turner

Selected television appearances of William Frawley

  • I Love Lucy (1951–1957)
  • The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (1957–1960)
  • The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford
    (December 5, 1957)
  • My Three Sons (1960–1965)
  • The Lucy Show (1965 cameo, one episode)

Broadway credits for William Frawley

  • Merry, Merry (1925–1926)
  • Bye, Bye, Bonnie (1927)
  • She’s My Baby (1928)
  • Here’s Howe (1928)
  • Sons O’ Guns (1929–1930)
  • She Lived Next to the Firehouse (1931)
  • Tell Her the Truth (1932)
  • Twentieth Century (1932–1933)
  • The Ghost Writer (1933)
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