|It is said of William Frawley that his appearance hardly changed over the decades. In this newspaper artist's rendering from The Ghost Writer, (1933), his final Broadway appearance before signing a Paramount Pictures contract and heading for Hollywood, he looks as if he is ready to play Fred Mertz - even though he would not be cast in the role for another eighteen years. Frawley is pictured top right with Ara Gerald; the other actors are Hal Skelly and Peggy Conklin.|
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BEFORE I LOVE LUCY, William Frawley had been a beer-and-pretzels vaudevillian who appeared on Broadway during the 1920s and made scores of Hollywood films in the 1930s and 1940s. At the time he was hired for I Love Lucy, he was 64 years old and his career was definitely on the wane. The seven-year Paramount Pictures stock-player contract he signed in 1933 had long since expired and, as the Hollywood studio system was in the process of being dismantled, no such security would be forthcoming for any screen performer, let alone an aging and relative unknown.
|William Frawley displays uncharacteristic sweetness in this early Paramount Pictures publicity still. |
Frawley's irascible personality, his insistence on offering a profanity-spewn opinion even in the presence of major studio executives, and his propensity for too frequently savoring alcoholic beverages, had caused his acting career to slump badly.
It has been written that when he was imbibing, Frawley became downright mean. However, the truth of the matter was that even when stone-cold sober, he was perfectly capable of expressing himself loudly and for any and all to hear in language spiced with raw, salty expletives. If he felt so inclined, Frawley would label a producer or director or studio head an idiot (to use a gentler term), or an actor a ham, or an actress an egomaniac. He cared little about the company he was in or who heard him.
The manner in which Frawley conducted himself was not politic for any person in any business. And once too often, his intake of alcohol was used as an excuse for his less-than-solicitous, often politically incorrect behavior.
Nonetheless, those who knew him were well aware that Frawley essentially was a harmless old Irishman who loved drinking, and talking sports, and singing with his buddies, barbershop-quartet style. His zest for life bursts forth from a birthday poem he composed for Jess Oppenheimer, one of the creative forces behind I Love Lucy. He signed it "F. Mertz," and it began, "Dear Jess--... Let's cheer n' drink some beer" and ends with "I hope you live forever."
© 2000 by Rob Edelman and Audrey Kupferberg. All Rights Reserved
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