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. The 1927 Deforest short Ventriloquist is a nice record of this phase of his career.

By the mid-twenties he was a success on Broadway, in shows like Sons o’ Guns (1929), and the original production of Twentieth Century (1932).

In 1933, Frawley moved to Hollywood where he had a good run as a character actor in such films as Moonlight and Pretzels (1933), both versions of The Lemon Drop Kid (1934 and 1951), Hold ‘Em Yale (1935) with Wheeler and Woolsey, Alibi Ike (1935) with Joe E. Brown, Harmony Lane (1935), Strike Me Pink (1936) with Eddie Cantor, High Wide and Handsome (1937), Professor Beware (1938) with Harold Lloyd, St. Louis Blues (1939), Rose of Washington Square (1939), One Night in the Tropics (1940) with Abbott and Costello, Roxie Hart (1942), Gentleman Jim (1942), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), The Virginian (1946), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), My Wild Irish Rose (1947), several Blondie movies, Kill the Umpire (1950), Rancho Notorious (1952, and about a hundred others

Then of course I Love Lucy (1951-57) and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957-60), and My Three Sons (1960-65). Frawley 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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