Obituary for William Frawley
William Frawley, who cut an indelible image as the gruff Fred Mertz on the “I Love Lucy” series died on this date, March 3, 1996. He had just turned 79 the previous week — after attending a movie, he suffered a heart attack while walking on Hollywood Blvd.
Aside from his television appearances, Frawley was a veteran of vaudeville and Broadway. He introduced the song, “Melancholy Baby,” and was among the first to sing “Carolina in the Morning.’
He is best known for his portrayal of Lucille Ball’s gruff landlord ‘Fred Mertz’ on the groundbreaking 1950s television situation comedy “I Love Lucy.” By the time he came to “I Love Lucy” he was a veteran of vaudeville, the theatre and over 100 Hollywood motion pictures. Born in Burlington, Iowa, in his youth he sang in the St. Paul’s Catholic Church choir, played at the Burlington Opera House, and also appeared in amateur shows at the Garrick Theater. His first “real” job was as a stenographer for the Union Pacific Railroad. But his true love was show business, which he pursued in a vaudeville act with his brother Paul, and later joined pianist Franz Rath in an act they took to San Francisco, “A Man, a Piano, and a Nut.” After four years, in 1914 he formed a light comedy act with his new wife Edna Louise Bloedt, “Frawley and Louise,” touring the Orpheum and Keith vaudeville circuits until they divorced in 1927. Then he moved to Broadway and appeared in such shows as “Here’s Howe!” “Bye, Bye Bonnie,” “The Gingham Girl,” “Sons o’ Guns,” and “She’s My Baby” (with Bea Lillie, Clifton Webb, and Irene Dunne). His first dramatic role was that of press agent ‘Ward O’Malley’ in a 1932 production of “Twentieth Century” at the Broadhurst Theater. Then in 1932, it was off to Hollywood for a seven-year contract with Paramount. When Frawley approached Lucille Ball about a part in “I Love Lucy” in 1951, she was surprised to hear from a man she knew only barely from the forties. Lucy responded, “Bill Frawley, how are you?” and promised to discuss the matter with Desi Arnaz. Arnaz agreed that Frawley would be wonderful for the ‘Fred Mertz’ role, but shared the network’s concern over his reputation for instability and drinking problems. Arnaz immediately leveled with Frawley about CBS’s reservations. He denied it, but Desi warned him that if he was late to work, or unable to perform except because of legitimate illness more than once, he’d be written out of the show. So began the saga that continued until 1957 when “Lucy” went off of prime time after 179 episodes. In 1960, Frawley accepted an offer to do a show with ABC, “My Three Sons,” portraying ‘Michael Francis “Bub” O’Casey,’ a character not unlike ‘Fred Mertz.’ He continued with “My Three Sons” for five years, until failing health forced him to retire. On the evening of March 3, 1966 while strolling down Hollywood Blvd. after seeing a movie, Frawley suffered a heart attack and collapsed. He was rushed to nearby Hollywood Receiving Hospital where he was pronounced dead, a week after his seventy-ninth birthday.
Bio by: Edward Parsons
OBITUARY CREDIT: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/365/william-frawley