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Fred Gwynne

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Fred Gwynne

Fred Gwynne
Gwynne and Joe E. Ross in Car 54, Where Are You? in 1962
Born Frederick Hubbard Gwynne
(1926-07-10)July 10, 1926
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died July 2, 1993(1993-07-02) (aged 66)
Taneytown, Maryland, U.S.
Cause of death
Pancreatic cancer
Alma mater Harvard University, 1951
Occupation Actor
Years active 1951–1992
Spouse(s) Jean "Foxy" Reynard (1952–1980) (divorced, five children)[1]
Deborah Flater (1988–1993) (his death)

Frederick Hubbard "Fred" Gwynne (July 10, 1926 – July 2, 1993) was an American actor. Gwynne was best known for his roles in the 1960s sitcoms Car 54, Where Are You? and (as Frankenstein's monster type character Herman Munster) The Munsters, as well as his later roles in Pet Sematary, The Cotton Club and My Cousin Vinny. He was recognized for his distinctive bass-baritone voice.

Early life

Gwynne was born in New York City, son of Frederick Walker Gwynne, a partner in the securities firm Gwynne Brothers, and his wife Dorothy Ficken.[2] His paternal grandfather was an Episcopal priest born in Camus, near Strabane, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, and his maternal grandfather was an immigrant from London, England.[2] Gwynne attended the Groton School, and graduated from Harvard University, where he was affiliated with Adams House, in 1951. Although Gwynne grew up in Tuxedo Park, New York,[3] he spent most of his childhood in South Carolina, Florida, and Colorado because his father traveled extensively. At Harvard, he was a member of the Fly Club, sang with the a cappella group the Harvard Krokodiloes,[4] was a cartoonist for the Harvard Lampoon (eventually becoming its president), and acted in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals shows.

During World War II, Gwynne served in the U.S. Navy. He later studied art under the G.I. Bill.

Career

Gwynne as Herman, sharing a toast with Al Lewis (Grandpa) while Beverley Owen (Marilyn) looks on

Gwynne joined the Brattle Theatre Repertory Company after graduation,[5] then moved to New York City. To support himself, Gwynne worked as a copywriter for J. Walter Thompson, resigning in 1952 upon being cast in his first Broadway role, a gangster in a comedy called Mrs. McThing, which starred Helen Hayes.[5]

Phil Silvers was impressed by Gwynne from his work in Mrs. McThing and sought him for his television show. As a result, in 1955, Gwynne made a memorable appearance on The Phil Silvers Show, in the episode "The Eating Contest" as the character Private Ed Honnergar, whose depressive eating binges are exploited by Sgt. Bilko (Phil Silvers), who seeks prize money by entering Honnergar in an eating contest. Gwynne's second appearance on The Phil Silvers Show (in the episode "Its For The Birds" in 1956 in which Bilko persuades bird expert Honnergar to go on The $64,000 Question) and many other shows led writer-producer Nat Hiken to cast him in the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? as Patrolman Francis Muldoon, opposite Joe E. Ross. During the two-season run of the program he met longtime friend and later co-star, Al Lewis. Gwynne was 6 ft 5 in (1.96 mt) tall, an attribute that contributed to his being cast as Herman Munster, a goofy parody of Frankenstein's monster, in the sitcom The Munsters. For his role he had to wear 40 or 50 lbs of padding, makeup, and 4-inch asphalt spreader boots. His face was painted a bright violet because it captured the most light on the black-and-white film. Gwynne was known for his sense of humor and retained fond recollections of Herman, saying in later life, "... I might as well tell you the truth. I love old Herman Munster. Much as I try not to, I can't stop liking that fellow."[5] After his experience in The Munsters, however, he found himself typecast. In 1969, he was cast as Jonathan Brewster in a television production of Arsenic and Old Lace.

A talented vocalist, Gwynne sang in a Jake's M.O. where he played an investigative reporter.

Gwynne's performance as Jud Crandall in The Cotton Club, Captains Courageous, The Secret of My Success, Water, Ironweed, Fatal Attraction and The Boy Who Could Fly. Despite his misgiving about having been typecast, he also agreed to reprise the role of Herman Munster for the 1981 TV reunion movie The Munsters' Revenge. In his last film, Gwynne played Judge Chamberlain Haller in the 1992 film comedy My Cousin Vinny, in which he used a Southern accent, and his verbal sparring with Joe Pesci's character, Vincent "Vinny" Gambini, over how to pronounce the word "youths" was prominently featured in the film's trailer.

Vinny: Is it possible that the two yout's--
Judge Haller: Uh, the two what? Uh, uh, what was that word?
Vinny: Uh, what word?
Judge Haller: Two what?
Vinny: What?
Judge Haller: Did you say "yutes"?
Vinny: Yeah, two yout's.
Judge Haller: What is a yute?
Vinny: Oh, excuse me, Your Honor, two youths.

In addition to his acting career, Gwynne sang professionally, painted, and wrote and illustrated children's books, including It's Easy to See Why, A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, The King Who Rained, Best In Show, Pondlarker, The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, and A Little Pigeon Toad. Many of these efforts were based on children's frequent misperceptions of things they hear from adults, such as the "chocolate moose for dinner," which was illustrated as a large brown quadruped seated at the dinner table. The other books on this theme were "The King Who Rained," "A Little Pigeon Toad" (in which a child's mother thus describes her father), and "The Sixteen Hand Horse." Perhaps one of the reasons the books did not achieve wider popularity was the fact that their format was geared to a very young audience, but the concept itself was more appealing to older children and adults. He also lent his voice talents to commercials and radio shows such as CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and for some radio fans, he is known foremost for his contribution to CBSRMT's success. Later, he held a number of shows of his art work, the first in 1989.

Personal life

In 1952, Gwynne married socialite Jean Reynard, a granddaughter of New York City mayor William Jay Gaynor.[1] They had five children—three sons, Evan, Dylan, and Keiron, and two daughters, Madyn and Gaynor—before divorcing in 1980.[6][7] Dylan died in a drowning accident as a child in 1963, and Keiron was born with developmental disabilities. In 1988, Gwynne married Deborah Flater.[6]

Death

Gwynne died of pancreatic cancer on July 2, 1993, at the age of 66.[8]

Selected filmography

References

  1. ^ a b "Enchanted Lady: The colorful columnist is moving into Ridgefield". January 4, 2010. Ridgefield Holiday magazine '09-'10 archives.
  2. ^ a b "Gwynne family genealogy". Rootsweb.com.
  3. ^ "Harvard Crimson 1949"
  4. ^ "Tribute to Fred Gwynne". Harvard Krokodiloes website.
  5. ^ a b c Lambert, Bruce (July 3, 1993) "Fred Gwynne, Popular Actor, Is Dead at 66". The New York Times, p. 8: Reference for Harvard Lampoon, Hasty Pudding Theatricals, Brattle Theatre, "Mrs. McThing."
  6. ^ a b Lambert, Bruce (July 3, 1993). "Fred Gwynne, Popular Actor, Is Dead at 66". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "Fred Gwynne". Biography.com.
  8. ^ http://www.biography.com/people/fred-gwynne-9542215

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