William Frawley, 'I Love Lucy's Fred Mertz: A Bit Of A Jerk

By Rebeka Knott
William Frawley as Fred Mertz on the television comedy 'I Love Lucy', 1952. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

On I Love Lucy, Fred Mertz, played by William Frawley, was one of the show's four main characters; the Mertzes (Fred and Ethel) were the best friends of the titular character Lucy Ricardo and her husband Ricky. The program was a showcase for the comedic genius of Lucille Ball (Lucy), who was always annoying Ricky (played by Desi Arnaz) with her antics and conspiring with Ethel (played by Vivian Vance). Fred Mertz was the Ricardos' landlord, and like Ethel he was a former vaudevillian, giving him a dual personality on the show as a bit of a grump but also encouraging of Lucy's showbiz ambitions. Ultimately, Ethel and Fred Mertz were I Love Lucy's catalysts, endearing characters who helped advance the drama of each episode. Nobody didn't like Fred and Ethel Mertz.

On the other hand, William Frawley was a jerk -- that's the actor's legacy, at least. Frawley was a big drinker whose obvious talent as a performer could never quite compensate for his offscreen (or offstage) unpleasantness. His career successes tended to be followed by falling-outs with his colleagues, and by the time he was up for his career-defining role he was considered an undesirable by many in the industry. Harmless curmudgeon Fred Mertz was a risk.

First working as a stenographer for the Union Pacific Railroad and then as a court reporter, William Clement Frawley was eventually bitten by the showbiz bug. As a boy, he sang at the Catholic church, so it wasn’t shocking when he decided to go into the entertainment arena. Frawley and his brother, Paul, found their niche when they launched a successful vaudeville bit.

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