FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – I don’t know what prompted me to see if there was some sort of anniversary date for the late character actor William Frawley, but there is this year… sort of!
This past February 26 was the 130th anniversary of Frawley’s birth. Born in Burlington, Iowa, he worked a number of jobs in the railroad industry but longed to be an actor. He starred in several silent movies and in vaudeville. When movies became “talkies,” he was cast mainly as a “tough guy.” He appeared in the 1947 FOX movie, “Miracle on 34th Street” as the guy who advises the judge not to rule that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. But he is best remembered as the cantankerous, tight wad landlord and neighbor of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, Fred Mertz, along with Vivian Vance as his wife Ethel. After “I Love Lucy” completed its run, he was later cast in “My Three Sons” as Fred MacMurray’s father-in-law and housekeeper. Frawley was also a singer in the 1920s with his wife Edna, and had a singing/comedy routine. (They married in 1914 but separated in 1921 and divorced in 1927.)
The writers of “I Love Lucy” — Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr. and Bob Schiller — gave him some of the best lines with the best laughs. Here are some of my favorites:
Lucy, Ethel and Fred at the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood, and over the loudspeaker the operator there says: “Telephone call for Ava Gardner!” Fred jumps up and says, “Where?” Ethel: “Now, Fred, sit down, you just said they’re people like you and me.” Fred: “They may be people but they’re not like you and me!”
Fred and Ethel appear to be on the verge of divorce. Ethel: “Fred Mertz, I’ve given you the best years of my life!” (sobbing). Fred: “Those were the best?”
Fred and Ricky are discussing Lucy’s crazy behavior. Ricky: “Lucy’s acting crazy!” Fred: “Crazy for Lucy or crazy for ordinary people?”
The Ricardos and Mertzes are headed to California from New York in the car and as they drive off, Fred says to tenant Mrs. Trumball (who is keeping an eye on things at the apartment): “And remember, no matter how hard they bang on the pipes, don’t give them any more heat!”
The episode “Country Club Dance,” one of the last episodes filmed in 1957, featured an unbilled young actress named Barbara Eden, who plays a hot-looking gal that’s supposed to sit at the same table with the Ricardos, Mertzes, Ramseys and Munsons. She is introduced to everyone with the men drooling over her but with raised eyebrows from the wives. The guys’ reactions are all different but similar as they are falling all over her. Ralph Ramsey (played by Frank Nelson) says, “How dooooo you do!” Ricky just says “Hello” with a huge smile, and Fred says, “And I’m Freddie Mertz!” Needless to say, Ethel didn’t like that response and says, “I’m Mrs. Mertz!” And Fred says “Oh yeah!” Needless to say, Lucy wasn’t happy with Ricky either!
Both of these shows ran on the CBS Television Network and were then sold into local syndication thereafter for years to come.
Frawley passed away on March 3, 1966. Happy birthday, Mr. Frawley. Thank you for the laughs!