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 William Frawley Biography

  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 on the landmark American television sitcom I Love Lucy.

Early life and career


Frawley was born to Michael A. Frawley and Mary E. Brady in Burlington, Iowa.  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. A career in show business seemed out of reach, however; his mother, a deeply religious woman, frowned upon the idea.

Frawley did two years of office work at Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, Nebraska; he later moved to Chicago and found a job as a court reporter. Shortly thereafter, against his mother's wishes, Frawley landed a singing part in the musical comedy The Flirting Princess. After the news reached his mother, she was greatly dismayed. To appease her, Bill moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to work for another railroad.

Unhappy in his railroad job, Frawley longed for the stage. He finally decided he couldn't resist and formed a vaudeville act with his younger brother, Paul. Six months later, Frawley's mother ordered Paul back to Iowa. It was during this period that Bill wrote a script called Fun in a Vaudeville Agency. He earned over five hundred dollars for his efforts; after this, he decided to move West, ending up in Denver, Colorado. He was hired as a singer at a café, and after building up a strong reputation, teamed with pianist Franz Rath. The two men headed 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" , "My Melancholy Baby", and "Carolina in the Morning". Years later in 1958, he recorded many of his old stage songs on the LP William Frawley Sings the Old Ones. In 1965, he appeared on 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).

In 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 in 1921 (later divorcing in 1927). The couple had no children. Soon, Frawley moved on to Broadway. His first 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 act on and off Broadway until 1933.

Back in 1916, Frawley had appeared in two short subject silent films. He made subsequent appearances in three other short films, but it wasn’t until 1933 that he decided to pursue an ongoing career in the movies. He soon moved 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 appearance was made in 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 no Santa Claus). Other memorable film roles were as the baseball manager in Joe E. Brown's Alibi Ike (1935), and as a wedding guest in Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux (1947).

Television

 I Love Lucy

By 1951, the 64-year-old Frawley had appeared in over 100 films. The roles were soon drying up, however. When he heard that Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were casting a new television sitcom, he jumped at the chance to play the role of the cantankerous, penny-pinching landlord Fred Mertz.

Actor Gale Gordon, a friend of Lucille Ball's, was the first choice to play the character. Gordon was unavailable, however, due to a prior commitment.  One evening, Frawley phoned 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 heavy drinking and instability. Arnaz immediately leveled with Frawley about the network's concerns, telling him that if he was late to work, showed up drunk, or was unable to perform except because of legitimate illness more than once, he'd be written out of the show. To the contrary, Frawley never showed up drunk to work, and, in fact, mastered his lines after only one reading. Arnaz became one of his closest friends.

I Love Lucy, which debuted October 15, 1951 on CBS, was a huge success. The show ran for six years as half-hour episodes, later switching 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 shared a great comedic and musical chemistry on-screen, 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."

A rabid 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.

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 1960, Ball and Arnaz gave Frawley and Vance the opportunity to star in 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, declined the offer, having no desire to work with Frawley again, and the series was nixed.

My Three Sons

Frawley next appeared in the ABC (later CBS) sitcom My Three Sons, playing live-in grandfather/housekeeper Michael Francis "Bub" O'Casey beginning in 1960. Starring Fred MacMurray, the series focused on a widower raising his three sons.

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. Each season's episodes were arranged so that star Fred MacMurray could shoot 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 on 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.

Death

Frawley's final performance on-screen was in October 1965, making a cameo appearance in Lucille Ball's second television sitcom The Lucy Show with Lucy saying "He reminds me of someone I used to know".

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 nearby Wilcox Ave, where he was pronounced dead.

Shortly following his death, Desi Arnaz paid for a full-page ad in the Hollywood Reporter. It had a picture of Frawley, surrounded in black, the dates of his life 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."

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.

 Filmography

* 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)



* Footsteps in the Dark (1941)
* Blondie in Society (1941)
* The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
* Cracked Nuts (1941)
* Public Enemies (1941)
* Treat 'Em Rough (1942)
* Roxie Hart (1942)
* It Happened in Flatbush (1942)
* Give Out, Sisters (1942)
* Wildcat (1942)
* Moonlight in Havana (1942)
* Gentleman Jim (1942)
* We've Never Been Licked (1943)
* Larceny with Music (1943)
* Whistling in Brooklyn (1943)
* The Fighting Seabees (1944)
* Going My Way (1944)
* Minstrel Man (1944)
* Lake Placid Serenade (1944)
* Flame of Barbary Coast (1945)
* Hitchhike to Happiness (1945)
* Lady on a Train (1945)
* Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
* The Virginian (1946)
* Rendezvous with Anne (1946)
* The Inner Circle (1946)
* Crime Doctor's Man Hunt (1946)
* Hit Parade of 1947 (1947)
* Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
* Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
* I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now (1947)
* Mother Wore Tights (1947)
* Down to Earth (1947)
* Blondie's Anniversary (1947)
* My Wild Irish Rose (1947)
* Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven (1948)
* Good Sam (1948)
* The Babe Ruth Story (1948)
* Joe Palooka in Winner Take All (1948)
* The Girl from Manhattan (1948)
* Chicken Every Sunday (1949)
* The Lone Wolf and His Lady (1949)
* Home in San Antone (1949)
* Red Light (1949)
* The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949)
* East Side, West Side (1949)
* Blondie's Hero (1950)
* Kill the Umpire (1950)
* Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)
* Pretty Baby (1950)
* Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
* The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)
* Rhubarb (1951)
* Rancho Notorious (1952)
* I Love Lucy (1953) (unreleased feature)
* The Dirty Look (1954) (short subject)
* Better Football (1954) (short subject)
* Safe at Home! (1962)

Selected television (actor)

* I Love Lucy (1951-1957)
* The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (1957-1960)
* My Three Sons (1960-1965)
* The Lucy Show (1965 — cameo)

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)

 Discography

Albums

* William Frawley Sings the Old Ones (1958)