On February 26, 1887, William Frawley was born. Throughout his extensive work in film, appearing in over 100 films, he is best remembered as playing landlord Fred Mertz in “I Love Lucy” and the “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour,” and his work afterwards in “My Three Sons.”
During his time on “I Love Lucy,” Frawley often memorized his lines in one take, and always arrived on time to shoot. Before being cast as Fred Mertz, CBS executives were worried about Frawley’s drinking and accompanying instability, which Arnaz pointed out to Frawley. Imitating their on-screen friendship, Frawley and Desi Arnaz were close friends off the set as well, but not with Vivian Vance. While Vance and Frawley had great chemistry on screen as Fred and Ethel Mertz, off screen they essentially despised each other. Most of the hatred came from Vance, who disliked the idea of playing a wife to a man who was over 20 years her senior. It was rumored that Frawley overheard this complaint, to which he commented that even though she’s one of the most attractive people he’s seen come out of Kansas, that he at times wished she would go back there.
After “I Love Lucy” went off the air, Frawley and Vance were the given the opportunity to have their own spinoff focusing on Fred and Ethel. Even though Frawley and Vance didn’t get along, Frawley saw it as a great business opportunity. Vance, on the other hand, shot down the idea, refusing to want to work with Frawley ever again.
His final on-camera performance was in October 1965, appearing in “The Lucy Show.” Frawley played a horse trainer, to which Lucy commented that he reminded her of someone she used to know.
Frawley died of a heart attack on March 3, 1966. He collapsed on Hollywood Blvd, was taken to the famous Knickerbocker Hotel by his nurse (who was his constant companion for years after a prostate cancer operation), and then taken to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital on Wilcox Avenue. He was pronounced dead on arrival. The hospital now is the location of the Hollywood LAPD precinct.
Both Arnaz and Ball issued statements surrounding his death. Arnaz had a full-page advertisement in the “Hollywood Reporter,” with the caption, “Buenas Noches Amigo!” Ball released a personal statement regarding him as one of her best friends, and someone she will always be loved. Vance didn’t release anything. After “I Love Lucy” Vance and Frawley had very little contact.
Random Pop Culture Fact: Frawley, like Fred Mertz, was a huge baseball fan. In his contract he had it written that he didn’t have to work during the World Series if the Yankees were playing. As a result, he didn’t appear in two episodes of “I Love Lucy.”