William Frawley (February 26, 1887 - March 3, 1966) was an actor who played Fred Mertz, the landlord and husband of Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy. Frawley was born in Burlington, Iowa and died in Hollywood, California from a stroke.
On I Love LucyEdit
By 1951, the 64 year-old Frawley had appeared in over one hundred 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 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 and the series was nixed.
- Best Series Supporting Actor, 1954
- Best Supporting Actor in a Regular Series, 1955
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role, 1956