William Frawley found ''a little dignity'' after I Love Lucy
One star forever tied to his most famous role is William Frawley, eternally linked to Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy. By 1951, the esteemed actor had starred in over 100 movies but realized that the offers for roles were becoming sparse as he aged. Then 64, Frawley contacted celebrity couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz regarding the casting of their new show. He was interested in playing Lucy's cantankerous landlord and personally called Ball to check his chances. Ball and Arnaz agreed they'd benefit from having a veteran of the film world on set, and the rest is history. For the rest of his days, William Frawley was best known as Fred Mertz.
While he'd co-star with his Car 99 castmate in Fred MacMurray's 1960 My Three Sons, to the press and the public, Frawley was always going to be Mertz. According to a '61 article in The Modesto Bee, Frawley was frequently called by his former onscreen name. Frawley noted how frequently he was approached and asked of his old TV wife, Ethel, played by Vivian Vance. His response? "She's home doing the laundry like she should," said Frawley.
Compared to I Love Lucy, his later role in My Three Sons was a lot less trouble.
"One day Lucille was supposed to toss a pie at me for some silly reason," Frawley remembered. "Seven or eight pies were available, but Lucy wanted an extra one for rehearsal, to get her eye back. She got her eye back alright, and splat, I got it right in the puss."
"If I didn't have pie on my face, I had a helmet on, or chickens were getting in my way on the stage floor. On [My Three Sons], the only thing I have to worry about is tripping over that silly dog."
The later role sounded much more appropriate for the rapidly-aging star. Whereas Lucy and Ethel's antics were enough to give anyone grey hair, My Three Sons was much tamer. Plus, the show was shot at the same production lot as Lucy, so Frawley was surrounded by old friends.
While he remained good-natured and seemed to only reflect positively upon the time he spent on I Love Lucy, Frawley was definitely clear that it was a younger man's game. "Thank goodness, we have a little dignity on this series," said Frawley, speaking of My Three Sons.
William Frawley loved this new job and stayed with My Three Sons until his declining health forced him to leave.
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