William Frawley: Wikis


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William Frawley
Born William Clement Frawley
February 26, 1887(1887-02-26)
Burlington, Iowa, U.S.
Died March 3, 1966 (aged 79)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1916 – 1965
Spouse(s) Edna Louise Broedt (1914-1927)

William Clement Frawley (February 26, 1887 – March 3, 1966) was an American stage entertainer, screen and television actor. Although Frawley acted in over 100 films, he achieved his greatest fame playing landlord Fred Mertz for the situation comedy I Love Lucy.


Early life and career

William was born to Michael A. Frawley and Mary E. Brady in Burlington, Iowa. [1] As a young boy, Bill (as he was commonly called), attended Roman Catholic school and sang with the St. Paul's Church choir. As he got older, he loved playing bit roles in local theater productions, as well as performing in amateur shows. However, his mother, a religious woman, discouraged the idea.

William did two years of office work at Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, Nebraska. He later relocated to Chicago and found a job as a court reporter. Soon thereafter, against his mother's wishes, Frawley obtained a singing part in the musical comedy The Flirting Princess. To appease his mother, Bill relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, to work for another railroad company. [2]

Unhappy with his railroad job, William longed to be an actor. He finally decided he couldn't resist and formed a vaudeville act with his younger brother, Paul. Six months later, William's mother told Paul to return to Iowa. It was during this period that William wrote a script named Fun in a Vaudeville Agency. He earned over five hundred dollars for his efforts. After this, he decided to relocate to the West, settling in Denver, Colorado. He was hired as a singer at a café, and after earning a strong reputation, teamed with pianist Franz Rath. The two men relocated to San Francisco with their act, "A Man, a Piano, and a Nut." During his vaudeville career, Frawley introduced and helped popularize the songs "My Mammy" [3], "My Melancholy Baby", and "Carolina in the Morning". Years later during 1958, he recorded many of his old stage songs on the LP Bill Frawley Sings the Old Ones. [4] During 1965, he performed for the CBS-TV show I've Got A Secret, where he sang "My Melancholy Baby" to the panel after revealing his secret (that he first introduced this famous song).

During 1914, Frawley married fellow vaudevillian Edna Louise Broedt. They developed an act, "Frawley and Louise," which they performed all across the country. Their act was described as "light comedy, with singing, dancing, and patter." The couple separated during 1921 (later divorcing during 1927). They did not have any children. Soon, Frawley began performing in Broadway theater. His first such show was the musical comedy Merry, Merry during 1925. Frawley made his first dramatic role during 1932, playing press agent Owen O’Malley in the original production of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's Twentieth Century. He continued to be a dramatic actor ate various locales until 1933. [5]

During 1916, Frawley had appeared in two short subject silent films. He performed subsequently in three other short films, but it wasn’t until 1933 that he decided to develop a cinematic career. He soon relocated to Los Angeles and signed a seven year contract with Paramount Pictures. Finding much work as a character actor, he had roles in many different genres of films — comedies, dramas, musicals, westerns, and romances. A notable performance was made for the 1947 holiday favorite Miracle on 34th Street as Judge Harper's political adviser (who warns his client in great detail the dire political consequences if he rules that there is not any Santa Claus). Other memorable film roles were as the baseball manager in Joe E. Brown's Alibi Ike (1935), and as the wedding host in Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux (1947).


I Love Lucy

By 1951, the 64-year-old Frawley had appeared in over 100 movies but was starting to find film role offers becoming fewer. When he heard that Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were casting a new television situation comedy, he applied eagerly to play the role of the cantankerous, miserly landlord Fred Mertz.

Actor Gale Gordon, a friend of Lucille Ball, was the first choice to play the character. Gordon was unavailable, however, due to a prior commitment.[6] One evening, Frawley telephoned Lucille Ball, asking her what his chances were. Ball was surprised to hear from him — a man she only barely knew from the 1940s. Both Ball and Arnaz agreed that it would be great to have Frawley, a motion picture veteran, appear as Fred Mertz. Less enthusiastic were CBS executives, who warned Desi of Bill's frequent alcohol drinking and instability. Arnaz immediately told Frawley about the network's concerns, telling him that if he was late to work, arrived drunk, or was unable to perform because of something other than legitimate illness more than once, he'd be written out of the show. To the contrary, Frawley never arrived at work drunk, and in fact mastered his lines after only one reading. Arnaz became one of his best friends. [7]

I Love Lucy debuted October 15, 1951 on CBS and was a huge success. The series was broadcast for six years as half-hour episodes, later changing to hour-long specials from 1957 to 1960 titled The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (later retitled The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour).

Vivian Vance played Ethel Mertz, Frawley’s on-screen wife. Although the two actors worked well together, they greatly disliked each other in real life. Most attribute their mutual hatred to Vance's vocal resentment of having to play wife to a man 22 years her senior. Frawley reportedly overheard Vance complaining; he took offense and never forgave her. "She's one of the finest girls to come out of Kansas," he once observed, "But I often wish she'd go back there." [8]

An avid New York Yankees baseball fan, Frawley had it written into his I Love Lucy contract that he did not have to work during the World Series if the Yankees team was playing. The Yankees were in every World Series during that time except for 1954 and 1959. He missed two episodes of the show as a result.[9]

For his work on the show, Frawley was Emmy-nominated five times (for 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957) for "Outstanding Supporting Actor" in a comedy series.

During 1960, Ball and Arnaz gave Frawley and Vance the opportunity to have their own "Fred and Ethel" spin-off series for Desilu Studios. Despite his animosity towards her, Frawley saw a lucrative opportunity and accepted. Vance, however, refused the offer, not having any desire to work with Frawley again, and the proposed series was nixed. [10]

My Three Sons

Frawley next performed for the ABC (later CBS) situation comedy My Three Sons, playing live-in grandfather/housekeeper Michael Francis "Bub" O'Casey beginning during 1960. Featuring Fred MacMurray as main actor, the series was about a widower raising his three sons.

Frawley reportedly never felt comfortable with the out-of-sequence filming method used for My Three Sons after doing I Love Lucy in sequence for years. Each season's episodes were arranged so that main actor Fred MacMurray could film all of his scenes during two separate intensive blocks of filming for a total of 65 working days on the set; Frawley and the other actors worked around the absent MacMurray for the remainder of the year's production schedule.

Poor health forced Frawley's retirement from the show after five years. He was dropped from My Three Sons after the studio could no longer obtain insurance for him. He was replaced as live-in housekeeper by actor William Demarest, who played Uncle Charlie. According to the book Meet the Mertzes, Frawley often would visit the studio after his retirement. He did not hide his resentment of Demarest and was eventually asked not to return to the set.


Frawley made two final on-screen appearances before his death. An appearance on I've Got a Secret consisted of contestants guessing Frawley's "secret," which was that he was the first performer ever to sing My Melancholy Baby. He then performed the song one last time. His final on-camera performance was in October 1965, making a brief cameo appearance in Lucille Ball's second television sitcom The Lucy Show with Frawley playing a horse trainer and Lucy commenting "He reminds me of someone I used to know". (Vivian Vance, who by then had left The Lucy Show except for an occasional guest appearance, does not appear in that episode.)

On March 3, 1966, Frawley collapsed of a heart attack while walking down Hollywood Boulevard after seeing a movie. He was dragged to the nearby Knickerbocker Hotel, where he had previously lived for many years, by his male nurse — a constant companion since his prostate cancer operation more than a year before. He was then rushed to the nearby Hollywood Receiving Hospital (now the Hollywood LAPD Precinct) on Wilcox Ave, where he was pronounced dead.

Soon after his death, Desi Arnaz paid for a full-page advertisement in the newspaper Hollywood Reporter. It had a picture of Frawley, surrounded in black, the dates of his birth and death, and the caption, "Buenas Noches, Amigo!" ("Good Night, Friend!").

Lucille Ball issued the statement: "I've lost one of my dearest friends and show business has lost one of the greatest character actors of all time. Those of us who knew him and loved him will miss him." [11]

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

For his achievements in the field of motion pictures, Frawley was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6322 Hollywood Blvd.

Frawley is memorialized in the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, New York, which also contains his "Froggie" costume from an episode of I Love Lucy.


  • Lord Loveland Discovers America (1916)
  • Persisent Percival (1916) (short subject)
  • Should Husbands Be Watched? (1925) (short subject)
  • Turkey for Two (1929) (short subject)
  • Fancy That (1929) (short subject)
  • Moonlight and Pretzels (1933)
  • Hell and High Water (1933)
  • Miss Fane's Baby Is Stolen (1934)
  • Bolero (1934)
  • The Crime Doctor (1934)
  • The Witching Hour (1934)
  • Shoot the Works (1934)
  • The Lemon Drop Kid (1934)
  • Here Is My Heart (1934)
  • Car 99 (1935)
  • Roberta (1935)
  • Hold 'Em Yale (1935)
  • Alibi Ike (1935)
  • College Scandal (1935)
  • Welcome Home (1935)
  • It's a Great Life (1935)
  • Harmony Lane (1935)
  • Ship Cafe (1935)
  • Strike Me Pink (1936)
  • Desire (1936)
  • F-Man (1936)
  • The Princess Comes Across (1936)
  • Three Cheers for Love (1936)
  • The General Died at Dawn (1936)
  • Three Married Men (1936)
  • Rose Bowl (1936)
  • High, Wide, and Handsome (1937)
  • Double or Nothing (1937)
  • Something to Sing About (1937)
  • Blossoms on Broadway (1937)
  • Mad About Music (1938)
  • Professor Beware (1938)
  • Sons of the Legion (1938)
  • Touchdown, Army (1938)
  • Ambush (1939)
  • St. Louis Blues (1939)
  • Persons in Hiding (1939)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939)
  • Rose of Washington Square (1939)
  • Ex-Champ (1939)
  • Grand Jury Secrets (1939)
  • Night Work (1939)
  • Stop, Look and Love (1939)
  • The Farmer's Daughter (1940)
  • Opened by Mistake (1940)
  • Those Were the Days! (1940)
  • Untamed (1940)
  • Golden Gloves (1940)
  • Rhythm on the River (1940)
  • The Quarterback (1940)
  • One Night in the Tropics (1940)
  • Dancing on a Dime (1940)
  • Sandy Gets Her Man (1940)
  • Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga (1941)

Selected television (actor)

Broadway credits

  • 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)



  • Bill Frawley Sings the Old Ones (1958)


  1. ^ James Pylant (2005xx). "The Irish-American Roots of William Frawley (“Fred Mertz”)". genealogymagazine.com. http://www.genealogymagazine.com/williamfrawley.html. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  2. ^ Chris JH. "William Frawley: A Biography". Lucy & Company. http://members.aol.com/beedow1/william.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  3. ^ "Al Jolson “The Jazz Singer”". ParlorSongs Association, Inc. (ParlorSongs.com). http://parlorsongs.com/bios/aljolson/aljolson.asp. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  4. ^ George Gimarc & Pat Reeder. "Bill Frawley aka Fred Mertz (“I Love Lucy”)". SITCOM SERENADERS. gimarc.com - Excerpted from Hollywood Hi-Fi. http://www.gimarc.com/H-frawley.html. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  5. ^ "William Frawley". Famous Burlington Citizens. Burlington by the Book. http://www.burlingtonbythebook.com/williamfrawley.html. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  6. ^ "Fred Mertz". The Fred Society. http://www.fredsociety.com/mertz.html. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  7. ^ "William Frawley Biography". IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0292433/bio. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  8. ^ Jacob M. Appel (2002). "William Frawley". St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g1epc/is_bio/ai_2419200426. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  9. ^ "Biography for William Frawley". TCM Movie Database. http://www.tcmdb.com/participant/participant.jsp?participantId=65571. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  10. ^ Libby Pelham (March 25, 2006). "I Really Love Lucy". Popular Culture Blog. families.com. http://popular-culture.families.com/blog/i-really-love-lucy. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  11. ^ "William Frawley". LucySong.com. http://www.lucysong.com/William/william.html. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 

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