William Frawley: Fred Really Was in Vaudeville


Yes, I Love Lucy’s “Fred Mertz”, and “Bub” from those old My Three Sons episodes that they never rerun, was an old time vaudevillian, and I bet you’re not a bit surprised, especially if you’ve seen this.

Born in Iowa in 1887 (for some reason there is a high percentage of successful vaudevillians from Iowa), he worked the western wheels as a singer and light comedian with a succession of partners, first his brother Paul, then pianist Franz Rath, and then his wife Louise. By the mid-twenties he was a success on Broadway.

In 1933, he moved to Hollywood where he had a good run as a character actor before making a hit on the small screen. He passed away in 1966, deeply resentful that fellow vaudeville veteran William Demarest had replaced him on My Three Sons. Frawley’s birthday is today….Demarest’s is tomorrow! So stay tuned!

To learn about the roots of variety entertainmentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc



  1. This clip gives a hint of Frawley’s approach to vaudeville:

    Years ago, I saw him on the old Tonight Show, in which he claimed to have introduced “Carolina in the Morning” in 1920….Could never find any archival confirmation of this, but anything’s possible……. See More

    Thanks for giving this old trouper his due, Trav….

    (P.S. A couple of years after Demarest replaced Frawley, Demarest himself was gone from the show, and on the talk shows promoting himself as wanting to keep working…just as Frawley had!!! It comes to us all….)


  2. yes! I loved him on I LOVE LUCY which I still watch (and proudly own on DVD). I knew he was a vaudeville star, it was obvious. He’d do some vaudeville sketches on the show whenever Lucy wanted to sneak into Ricky’s nightclub and would ask Fred to help her.

    RIP William Frawley


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