William Frawley

Active - 1933 - 2000  |   Born - Feb 26, 1887 in Burlington, Iowa, United States  |   Died - Mar 3, 1966   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical, Drama, Romance, Crime

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American actor William Frawley had hopes of becoming a newspaperman but was sidetracked by a series of meat-and-potatoes jobs. At 21, he found himself in the chorus of a musical comedy in Chicago; his mother forced him to quit, but Frawley had already gotten greasepaint in his veins. Forming a vaudeville act with his brother Paul, Frawley hit the show-business trail; several partners later (including his wife Louise), Frawley was a headliner and in later years laid claim to having introduced the beer-hall chestnut "Melancholy Baby." Entering films in the early 1930s (he'd made a few desultory silent-movie appearances), Frawley became typecast as irascible, pugnacious Irishmen, not much of a stretch from his off-camera personality.

Though he worked steadily into the late 1940s, Frawley's drinking got the better of him, and by 1951 most producers found him virtually unemployable. Not so Desi Arnaz, who cast Frawley as neighbor Fred Mertz on the I Love Lucy TV series when Gale Gordon proved unavailable. Frawley promised to stay away from the booze during filming, and in turn Arnaz promised to give Frawley time off whenever the New York Yankees were in the World Series (a rabid baseball fan, Frawley not only appeared in a half dozen baseball films, but also was one of the investors of the minor-league Hollywood Stars ball team). Frawley played Fred Mertz until the last I Love Lucy episode was filmed in 1960, then moved on to a five-year assignment as Bub, chief cook and bottle-washer to son-in-law Fred MacMurray's all male household on My Three Sons.

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  • Began his acting career on the vaudeville stage, traveling the country and performing primarily in comic duos.
  • Widely credited as being the first public performer of the popular song "My Melancholy Baby," in 1912, which was later recorded by several famous artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand.
  • Followed his younger brother Paul to the Broadway stage in 1925, landing a role in the musical comedy Merry, Merry.
  • Returned to his vaudeville performance roots in 1958, recording the album Bill Frawley Sings the Old Ones.