A former vaudevillian, William Frawley was born in Burlington, Iowa on Feb. 26, 1887. He began his film career in the 1930s, and for 20 years, in approximately 150 films of every conceivable genre, Frawley played variations on the 'gruff but likeable' character. Some of his more notable films include: The Lemon Drop Kid
, Strike Me Pink
, The General Died at Dawn
, Huckleberry Finn
, Roxie Hart
, Gentleman Jim
, Going My Way
, Ziegfeld Follies
, The Virginian, The Miracle on 34th Street, Monsieur Verdoux, The Babe Ruth Story, the remake of The Lemon Drop Kid and Rancho Notorious. His last film appearance was in 1962's Safe at Home!
Frawley is best known, however, as Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy. Mertz is the next-door neighbor, close friend and penny-pinching landlord of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Frawley had to fight for the part -- Lucille Ball had wanted Gale Gordon for the role, but he was unavailable.
During his time on I Love Lucy, Frawley made no bones about his dislike for his on-screen wife, Vivian Vance. He once remarked: "She's one of the finest gals to come out of Kansas, but I often wish she'd go back there." Likewise, Vance was often vocal with her disgust about having an onscreen husband who was old enough to be her father.
During his I Love Lucy years, Frawley found time for occasional guest appearances on other shows such as The Mickey Mouse Club, The Gale Storm Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Loretta Young Show and Shower of Stars. In 1960, he began work on another long-running series, My Three Sons. On that show he played Michael Francis "Bub" O'Casey, father-in-law to Fred MacMurray's character and housekeeper for the family of men. In 1964, Frawley became too ill to work and was replaced on My Three Sons by William Demarest at the end of the season.
Frawley's last TV appearance was a cameo on a 1965 episode of The Lucy Show entitled "Lucy and the Countess Have a Horse Guest." In that episode, Lucy Carmichael commented on how familiar he seemed to her. Frawley died on March 3, 1966.
A World War I vet, Fredrick Hobart Mertz is married to Ethel Mertz. Though the two often have disagreements, they always manage to find mutual ground. Fred is very good friends with Ricky Ricardo, his tenant, and they often plot revenge on their wives after one of their schemes has run amok. Using his showbiz background, Fred gives Ricky advice on his bandleader act, and sometimes appears in it alongside his wife.