Monday, October 26, 2009

FRED GWYNNE REMEMBERED...

While on vacation this past summer, I spent a couple of hours with a long lost friend. I hadn't seen him in 25 years and was disappointed that he wasn't fun to be around, entertaining or interesting. In fact, I thought he was still dopey...which was okay in our hey-day (1979-1984). But in nowadays, it was disturbing that he hadn't changed.

During our short conversation, I brought up the time, (August 2, 1979) that he incorrectly told me that Herman Munster had died. Dopey being Dopey, didn't recall. So I reminded him how on his say-so, I felt a sudden sense of loss because I liked that actor (Fred Gwynne) from 50's and 60's sit-coms.

When I found out that my genius friend was dead wrong...the situation became oddly funny. I'm guessing because Dopey wasn't a sports fan, he got confused and substituted Herman Munster with baseball player Thurman Munson who's plane had tragically crashed.

Fredrick Hubbard Gwynne was born in New York City on July 10, 1926. A Harvard man, the six-foot-five giant became a respected character actor in both film and TV. He is most famous for portraying the goofy Frankenstein-esque patriarch in, "THE MUNSTER'S," along side the lovely and talented Yvonne DeCarlo and "Grandpa"Al Lewis.

"THE MUNSTER'S," premiered in 1964, one week after its direct rival, (my preferred), "ADDAMS FAMILY." "THE MUNSTER'S" did better in the ratings and aired six more episodes (70). In 1966, both of these black and white shows were killed in the ratings war by the colorful, "BATMAN." Despite its mere two-year run, Fred Gwynne as lovable Herman made a lasting impression on me and a generation of baby-boomers.

"HERMAN" (center), TYPE-CAST GWYNNE AND HURT HIS CAREER BY RESTRICTING HIM TO GHOULISH ROLES.

In 1955, Gwynne got his big TV break on the "PHIL SILVERS SHOW." He received glowing reviews as a competitive eater (Private Honigan) in Ernie Bilko's platoon. In 1961, he was selected to star as patrolman Francis Muldoon in, "CAR 54 WHERE ARE YOU." Which was filmed on a sound-stage in the Bronx. "CAR 54" only lasted two seasons. It frequently used outdoor scenes in New York City which in retrospect, when viewed today are more interesting than the show itself.

JOE E. ROSS (left) WAS GWYNNE'S MISMATCHED PARTNER, GUNTHER TOODY. TOODY'S CATCH PHRASE, "OOH OOH FRANCIS, FRANCIS," BECAME A LASTING PART OF THAT ERA'S POP-CULTURE.

Let's see how well you know you're Fred Gwynne TV trivia. What role did Gwynne have on 1960's, "SHARI LEWIS SHOW?" (Scroll down to bottom of the column for the answer).

Luckily Fred Gwynne survived my friend's imagined visit from the Grim Reaper for another 14 years. Although Gwynne used this time to fly beneath the radar screen of mainstream acting, he made a late career renaissance when he resurfaced in time to leave us with two memorable movie roles. First in 1989, Gwynne played Judd Crandall in Stephen King's, "PET SEMATARY." Then a 1992, as conservative Judge Chamberlain Haller in, "MY COUSIN VINNY."GWYNNE'S FIRST MOVIE APPEARANCE WAS A SMALL ROLE IN THE 1954 CLASSIC, "ON THE WATERFRONT." IN HIS LAST FILM, "MY COUSIN VINNY," HE PROVED HIS ACTING RANGE...FROM SERIOUS SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN TO COMEDIC STRAIGHT-MAN OPPOSITE JOE PESCI.

On July 2, 1993, Fred Gwynne at 66, passed away from pancreatic cancer in rural Taneytown Maryland. His long and great career was compressed into just a few highlights but thanks to DVD's and our ever-advancing video technology, he'll never be forgotten.

My dopey friend in Las Vegas...well let's just say...25 years from now, I'll be in no hurry to see him again.

*

What role did Fred Gwynne have on the "SHARI LEWIS SHOW?"

ANSWER - Gwynne was Lamb Chop's doctor.

3 comments:

tim_ mason said...

steve...read your blog. was very impressed....tim

Anonymous said...

Do I look like Herman ?

EDITOR'S NOTE - Because you remain anonymous...it is difficult to give you a definitive answer.

MGTP Headquarters...Woonsocket Rhode Island

Anonymous said...

I saw a really cool "Car 54 Where Are You," comic on EBAY.