Star bios; William Frawley
William Frawley was born on February 26, 1887 in Burlington, Iowa. As his uncle remembers, "Bill had a head of golden curls. His
mother prided in showing them off, but as Bill grew up he wanted
them cut, as his playmates called him a 'sissy.'" As he was
growing up, Bill sang with the St. Paul's Catholic Church choir,
played small parts at the Burlington Opera House, and performed in
amateur shows at the Garrick Theater.
mother was a very religious woman and didn't want her son in show
business. She wanted him to work as a stenographer
for the Union Pacific Railroad. He took the job for a while, as a
co-worker remembers, "Bill would walk into the office every
morning dressed in a brown derby hat with white eyelets, a
shepherd plaid suit, and spats. He looked as though he'd break
into a song and dance any minute. While he worked, he'd be
humming and singing the latest ragtime tunes and Irish
songs." Bill had a lovely Irish tenor voice.
he arrived in Chicago, he, without mom's consent, landed a
spot in the chorus of The Flirting Princess. Mrs.
Frawley once sent Bill a letter which prompted him to move to St.
Louis to work for a different railroad. The note said that she'd
rather plant flowers on his grave than see him on the stage. With
performing in his blood, he couldn't resist and formed a
Vaudeville act with Paul, his younger brother. Six months later,
Mrs. Frawley ordered Paul back home, so Bill went west. He got
his first real solo professional engagement in Denver. He was hired as a singer at the Rex Cafe for twenty-three dollars a
week. After building up a strong reputation in Colorado, Bill
teamed with pianist Franz Rath and headed to San Fransisco with
their act, "A Man, a Piano, and a Nut." During this
four year job, Bill introduced the song "My Melancholy
formed a new act in 1914 with his new wife, Edna Louise Broedt, which they called "Frawley and Louise." Listed among
"the great comedy acts of Vaudeville" in the book Vaudeville,
"Frawley and Louise" was described as "light comedy, with
singing, dancing, and patter." They played the Orpheum and
Keith circuits until their divorce in 1927.
Bill moved on to Broadway and appeared in such shows as Here's
Howe!, Bye, Bye Bonnie, The Gingham Girl, Sons o' Guns, and She's
My Baby(with Bea Lillie, Clifton Webb, and Irene Dunne.) His
first dramatic role was that of press agent Ward O'Malley in a
1932 production of Twentieth Century at the Broadhurst
Theater. Another big role in The Ghost Writer in New
York and then off to Hollywood for a seven-year contract with
had appeared in over one-hundred films by 1951. His face was
familiar and was an added plus for "I Love Lucy." One
evening, he called Lucille Ball and said, "I'm wondering if there's a role for me in your TV show."
to hear from a man she knew only barely from the forties, Lucy
responded, "Bill Frawley, how are you?" She agreed to
discuss the issue with Desi Arnaz. They agreed that it would be
marvelous to have the motion picture veteran of such shows as The
Lemon Drop Kid and Miracle on 34th Street appear as
Fred Mertz. However, network and agency people warned Desi of
Bill's chronic drinking problem and instability. Desi immediately
leveled with Bill about CBS's worries. Of course, Bill denied it,
but Desi warned him. "If he was late to work, or unable to
perform except because of legitimate illness more than once, he'd
be written out of the show." And so began the saga that
continued until 1960 when "Lucy" went off of prime
his contract with Desilu didn't run out for two months, Bill
accepted an offer to do a show with ABC, "My Three
Sons." "Desi was a little irate about my accepting
another job while I was under contract to him," Bill once
admitted. On "Sons," Bill portrayed Michael Francis
O'Casey, more commonly known as "Bub" and was not
unlike the character of Fred Mertz.
five years, Bill continued the "My Three Sons"; gig
until failing health forced him to retire. On the evening of
March 3, 1966 while strolling down Hollywood Blvd. after seeing a
movie, Bill collapsed of a heart attack on the corner. He was
rushed to nearby Hollywood Receiving Hospital where he was
pronounced dead, a week after his seventy-ninth birthday.
fate would have it, the last time Frawley appeared on video was
with Lucy in a segment of "The Lucy Show" on October
25, 1965. Bill once told a reporter, "I've loved her [Lucy]
since she was a star-struck kid at RKO. I get along all right
with Desi, too."
commented, "I've lost one of my dearest friends and show
business has lost one of the greatest character actors of all
time. Those of us who knew him and loved him will miss him."
also showed his sympathy on the day of Bill's funeral at San
Fernando Mission Cemetery. Desi paid for an entire page in the Hollywood
Reporter. It featured a picture of Frawley along with the
dates of his life and the words, "Buenas Noches,
Amigo!" (which means, "Good Night, Friend.")
*Visit William Frawley's Picture Gallery