William Frawley

William Frawley

Frawley in 1951, shortly before he assumed the role of Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy.
Born William Clement Frawley
(1887-02-26)February 26, 1887
Burlington, Iowa, U.S.
Died March 3, 1966(1966-03-03) (aged 79)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1916–1964
Spouse(s) Edna Louise Broedt (1914-1927; divorced)

William Clement Frawley (February 26, 1887 March 3, 1966) was an American stage entertainer, screen and television actor. Frawley is best known for starring as the landlord, Fred Mertz, in the famous American television sitcom I Love Lucy. He is also known for playing "Bub" in the television comedy series, My Three Sons.

In 1914, Frawley and his wife Edna Louise Broedt began performing a comedy act known as "Frawley and Louise"; they continued the act until their divorce in 1927. Frawley performed on Broadway multiple times and signed a contract with Paramount Studios in 1916 to play in silent films. Frawley appeared in more than 100 films over 35 years.[1]

Frawley was reputed by fellow actors to be cantankerous and difficult, likely exacerbated by a drinking problem. His bad temper led to problems with producers; he was once fired for punching another actor in the nose. When he got the call offering him the part of Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, Desi Arnaz told him he would only get three chances before getting fired.[1]

William Frawley died on March 3, 1966, from a heart attack suffered while walking home from seeing a movie.[1]

Early life

Frawley was born to Irish immigrants Michael A. Frawley (20 October 1857 - 1907) and Mary E. Brady (b. 5 March 1859- d. 1921)[2] in Burlington, Iowa.[3] 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.

Frawley 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.[4]

Unfulfilled with his railroad job, Frawley longed to be an actor. He finally decided he could not resist and formed a vaudeville act with his younger brother, Paul. Six months later, Frawley's mother told Paul to return to Iowa. During this period, Frawley wrote a script titled Fun in a Vaudeville Agency. He earned more than $500 for his efforts. After this, he decided to relocate to the West, settling in Denver. Frawley was hired as a singer at a café and 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",[5] "My Melancholy Baby", and "Carolina in the Morning." In 1958, he recorded many of his old stage songs on the LP, Bill Frawley Sings the Old Ones.[6] In 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).

Early career

Frawley began performing in Broadway theater. His first such show was the musical comedy, Merry, Merry, in 1925. Frawley made his first dramatic role in 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 at various locales until 1933.[7]

In 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, beginning with short comedy films, and the feature musical Moonlight and Pretzels (Universal Studios, 1933). He 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. Frawley had a notable performance in the 1947 holiday favorite, Miracle on 34th Street, as Judge Harper's political adviser (who warns his client in great detail of the dire political consequences if he rules that there is not any Santa Claus). Some of his other memorable film roles were as the baseball manager in Joe E. Brown's Alibi Ike (1935), as the wedding host in Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and as a hard-nosed insurance investigator in My Home in San Antone, with Roy Acuff and Lloyd Corrigan.


I Love Lucy

Cast members from left, standing: William Frawley, Desi Arnaz, seated: Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball.

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.

Actress Bea Benaderet, a friend of Lucille Ball, was the first choice to play the character of Ethel Mertz. Benaderet was unavailable, however, owing to a prior commitment.[8] One evening, Frawley telephoned Lucille Ball, asking her what his chances were. Ball was surprised to hear from him — a man she barely knew. 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 of Frawley's frequent 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 would be written out of the show. Contrary to the network's concerns, Frawley never arrived at work drunk, and in fact mastered his lines after only one reading. Arnaz eventually became one of the misanthropic Frawley's few close friends.[9]

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. 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."[10]

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 were playing. The Yankees were in every World Series during that time except for 1954 and 1959. He did not appear in two episodes of the show as a result.[11]

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.

In 1957, at the end of I Love Lucy, 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, having no desire to work with Frawley again (fearing another nervous breakdown) and because she felt Ethel and Fred would be unsuccessful without the Ricardos.[12] Afterward, and for the remainder of Frawley's life, Vance and he had very little contact with each other.

My Three Sons

While appearing on My Three Sons, Frawley was the subject of This Is Your Life in January 1961. He received a lifetime baseball pass from the Angels' Fred Haney. Fred MacMurray also was part of the show.

Frawley next joined the cast of the ABC (later CBS) situation comedy My Three Sons, playing live-in grandfather/housekeeper Michael Francis "Bub" O'Casey beginning in 1960. Featuring Fred MacMurray, the series was about a widower raising his three sons. Frawley was originally slated to be the series lead before MacMurray joined the cast, relegating Frawley to supporting player.

My 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 was 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 by actor William Demarest, who played the role of Bub's brother, Uncle Charley, who moved in to keep house and take care of the family in Bub's absence. 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.

Personal life

In 1914, Frawley married fellow vaudevillian Edna Louise Broedt (1893–1992).[13] 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 in 1921 (later divorcing in 1927). They did not have any children.

His brother Paul Frawley (1889-1973) also was an actor on Broadway with relatively few appearances in motion pictures.[14]


Frawley made two final on-screen appearances before his death. His appearance on the panel show I've Got a Secret on May 3, 1965, consisted of contestants guessing Frawley's "secret", which was that he was the first performer ever to sing "My Melancholy Baby" in 1912.[15] He performed the song previously on TV as Fred Mertz in 1958 in the "Lucy Goes to Sun Valley" episode of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.[16]

His final on-camera performance was on October 25, 1965 with 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 the movie Inside Daisy Clover. He was dragged to the nearby Knickerbocker Hotel, where he had previously lived for many years, by his nurse — a constant companion since his prostate cancer operation more than a year before. He then was rushed to the nearby Hollywood Receiving Hospital (now the Hollywood LAPD Precinct) on Wilcox Avenue, where he was pronounced dead.

Soon after Frawley's 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!"). Arnaz, Frawley's My Three Sons co-star Fred MacMurray, and executive producer Don Fedderson were pallbearers at Frawley's funeral.

Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6322 Hollywood Blvd.

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."[17]

In Memoriam

Frawley is buried in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles.[18]

For his achievements in the field of motion pictures, Frawley was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6322 Hollywood Blvd on February 8, 1960.[19] [20]

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

Frawley and Vance were inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in March 2012.


Selected television (actor)

Broadway credits




  1. 1 2 3 "Being Fred Mertz: The Life of William Frawley". Mental Floss. Retrieved 2016-03-02.
  2. 1910 US. Federal Census
  3. James Pylant (2005). "The Irish-American Roots of William Frawley ("Fred Mertz")". genealogymagazine.com. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  4. Chris JH. "William Frawley: A Biography". Lucy & Company. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  5. "Al Jolson "The Jazz Singer"". ParlorSongs Association, Inc. (ParlorSongs.com). Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  6. George Gimarc & Pat Reeder. "Bill Frawley aka Fred Mertz ("I Love Lucy")". SITCOM SERENADERS. gimarc.com - Excerpted from Hollywood Hi-Fi. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  7. "William Frawley". Famous Burlington Citizens. Burlington by the Book. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  8. "Fred Mertz". The Fred Society. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  9. "William Frawley Biography". IMDB. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  10. Jacob M. Appel (2002). "William Frawley". St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  11. "Biography for William Frawley". TCM Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  12. Libby Pelham (March 25, 2006). "I Really Love Lucy". Popular Culture Blog. families.com. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  13. "Edna Frawley". IMDB. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  14. Paul Frawley; IBDb.com(Internet Broadway Database)
  15. "I've Got a Secret Episode dated 3 May 1965". IMDB.com. Retrieved on 2013-03-08.
  16. Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf (1958-04-14). "Lucy Goes to Sun Valley". Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Season 7. Episode 5. 30:02 minutes in. CBS.
  17. "William Frawley". LucySong.com. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  18. "William Frawley (1887 - 1966) - Find A Grave Memorial". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2016-06-26.
  19. "William Frawley | Hollywood Walk of Fame". www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved 2016-06-26.
  20. "William Frawley". latimes.com. Retrieved 2016-06-26.


Edelman; Rob; Kupferberg, Audrey (1999). Meet the Mertzes (Renaissance Books)

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