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Here’s What Happened to William Frawley Before, During and After Playing Fred Mertz on ‘I Love Lucy’

If there is one person from the cast of Classic TV sitcom I Love Lucy who seems to remain a mystery all these years later, it would be actor William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz, husband of Ethel (Vivian Vance) and best friend to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz). When that show ended its run, Bill did move on to My Three Sons where he was beloved, but people nonetheless know so little about him — which is particularly unfortunate when you consider the longevity of his career.

Stanley Livingston — who, as a child actor, played “Chip” Douglas to Bill’s “Bub” on My Three Sons — explains to Closer Weekly in an exclusive interview, “I have no idea what he was like when he was younger, but by the time I met him I guess he was already in his early 70s. I knew him from being a kid and watching TV, especially I Love Lucy. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be working with him. When I was hired on My Three Sons and then found out he was going to be the grandfather, I was blown away. I wasn’t sure how he would be; I just knew I liked him. In fact, he was my favorite character on I Love Lucy — I just liked his weird grumpiness, which I thought was funny. And what you saw on the show pretty much mirrored what he was like in real life. Minus the four-letter words.”

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“He was a guy out of the Depression,” comments Barry Livingston, who played Ernie Douglas on My Three Sons and wrote his memoir, The Importance of Being Ernie. “He was a hard, hard nut and didn’t take any gruff from anybody, and it was shocking that he got away with a lot of the shenanigans that happened as soon as he got up in age. That was mainly the alcohol consumption, but he was also a big prankster and he was genuinely fun.”

In reflecting on Bill, Geoffrey Mark, often referred to as a walking encyclopedia of show business history, and author of The Lucy Book and Ella: A Biography of Legendary Ella Fitzgerald, offers, “His story is a sad one. You have to keep in mind who he was, what he came from and how he felt about I Love Lucy. With William Frawley at the time, we have a man who is in his early 60s. He has been in a hundred films. He’s been on radio. He has been on the vaudeville stage, first with his wife Louise, the only wife he ever had, who broke up with him years and years and years earlier. He had been a handsome song and dance man. He had introduced the songs ‘Carolina in the Morning’ and ‘My Melancholy Baby.’

Courtesy Geoffrey Mark

“He’d just made a big Bob Hope film [The Lemon Drop Kid], but he’s beginning to get a reputation for being an alcoholic and undependable,” he continues. “The parts aren’t as many as they used to be, which happens anyway. In show business, you reach a certain age and they just don’t have as many old man parts as they have young man parts.”

“So he reads in the trades that I Love Lucy is happening,” Geoffrey adds. “The pilot had been made and there was no Fred and Ethel; they weren’t characters yet. He, of course, had listened to the radio show My Favorite Husband, from which I Love Lucy was born, so he knew there was an older couple and he knew that they were using My Favorite Husband as the paradigm on which to build.”

Scroll to take an exclusive look at William’s incredible career.