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William Frawley

William Frawley

N/A (passed away Mar. 3rd, 1966)
Born in
Burlington, Iowa, USA
5' 7

William Frawley's Main TV Roles

Show Character(s)
I Love Lucy TV Show
I Love Lucy
The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour TV Show
The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour
Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse TV Show
Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse
Summer Playhouse TV Show
Summer Playhouse

Main Movie Roles

1952 - Rancho Notorious
1951 - Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man
1951 - Rhubarb
1951 - The Lemon Drop Kid
1950 - Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
1950 - Blondie's Hero
1949 - Red Light
1948 - The Babe Ruth Story
1947 - Blondie's Anniversary
1947 - Monsieur Verdoux
1947 - Blondie's Anniversary
1947 - Miracle on 34th Street
1945 - Lady on a Train
1944 - Going My Way
1942 - Gentleman Jim
1941 - The Bride Came C.O.D.
1941 - Blondie in Society
1940 - One Night in the Tropics
1939 - Rose of Washington Square
1936 - The Princess Comes Across
1935 - Roberta

Guest TV Roles

Show Name
Characters Played
Ep Count
Michael Francis 'Bub' O'Casey
The Trainer
Det. Gladwin
Mr. Thomas
Jim Comstock
[Complete List]


William Frawley was born in Burlington, Iowa. As a boy he sang at St. Paul's Catholic Church and played at the Burlington Opera House. His first job was as a stenographer for the Union Pacific Railroad. He did vaudeville with his brother Paul, then joined pianist Franz Rath in an act they took to San Francisco in 1910. Four years later he formed a light comedy act with his new wife Edna Louise Broedt, "Frawley and Louise", touring the Orpheum and Keith circuits until they divorced in 1927. He next moved to Broadway and then, in 1932, to Hollywood with Paramount. By 1951, when he contacted 'Lucille Ball' about a part in her TV show "I Love Lucy" (1951), he had performed in over 100 films. His Fred Mertz role lasted until the show ended in 1960, after which he did a five-year stint on "My Three Sons" (1960). Poor health forced his retirement. He collapsed of a heart attack on March 3, 1966, aged 79, walking along Hollywood Boulevard after seeing a movie. He is buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery.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. 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.

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 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), 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.

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."

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 missed two episodes of the show as a result.

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. Afterward, and for the remainder of Frawley's life, he and Vance had very little contact with each other.

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.

  • Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith, pg. 168-169. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
  • Unable to secure his first choice, 'Gale Gordon' (qv) for the role of "Fred Mertz," 'Desi Arnaz' (qv) agreed to consider Frawley, who heavily lobbied for the part. 'Desi Arnaz' (qv) and 'Lucille Ball' (qv) had invested everything they had for the pilot and were concerned about Frawley's alcoholism--- which was no secret around Hollywood--- Arnaz made it clear to him that, if he showed up drunk for work more than once, he would not only be fired from the program but blacklisted throughout the entertainment industry. Frawley, despite his lengthy film resume, was virtually unemployable by 1951--- thanks to a combination of his fondness for the bottle, and his disagreeable personality. He readily agreed to Arnaz's condition. He never showed up drunk on the set at all, and, in fact, Arnaz became one of his very few close friends. When Frawley died, Arnaz took out a full-page ad in the trade papers, consisting of Frawley's picture, edged in black, and three words: "Buenas noches, amigo!".
  • In 1912, he was the first person to sing the classic, 'My Melancholy Baby.' He was appearing at the Mozart Cafe in Denver, Colorado. He happened to visit a pub on Curtis Street, where he knew the proprietor. Knowing Bill was looking for a new song for his act, the proprietor directed him to the pub's back room, where George Norton and Ernie Burnett were in the process of composing 'My Melancholy Baby.' He introduced the song that very night at the Mozart Cafe. In the audience that night was writer Damon Runyan, well-known for his drinking. After he introduced the song, Runyan, drunken and maudlin, called out 'Get Frawley to sing 'Melancholy Baby'!' repeatedly throughout the rest of the evening. Bill sang many encores. The comedy staple of a drunk requesting 'My Melancholy Baby' actually has a basis in fact!.
  • Is portrayed by 'John Wheeler (I)' (qv) in _Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter (1991) (TV)_ (qv)
  • By almost all accounts, Frawley's off-screen personality was not all that much different from his on-screen one. A notorious misanthrope, with one brief failed marriage behind him and a fondness for the bottle, he lived in the same spare bachelor apartment for most of his years in Hollywood.
  • Possessed of a fine singing voice in his younger days, it was supposedly Frawley, not 'Al Jolson' (qv), who introduced the song "My Mammy" to vaudeville audiences.
  • In early 1928, was fired from Broadway show 'She's My Baby' starring 'Beatrice Lillie' (qv) for punching 'Clifton Webb' (qv) in the nose.
  • He said he introduced the classic song "(Nothing Could Be Finer Than to Be in) Carolina in the Morning" in the Broadway Musical Revue "The Passing Show of 1922", which ran at the Winter Garden Theater in New York September 20 - December 2, 1922. As of this writing (May 2008), this has not been positively confirmed, as he is not listed in the Internet Broadway Database as being a cast member of that show.

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