Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Archive for July 10, 2012

Fred Gwynne

Frederick Hubbard “Fred” Gwynne (July 10, 1926 – July 2, 1993) was an American actor. Gwynne was best known for his roles in the 1960s sitcom The Munsters, as well as his later roles in Pet Semetary and My Cousin Vinny. 

Gwynne was born in New York City, a son of Frederick Walker Gwynne, a partner in the securities firm Gwynne Brothers, and his wife Dorothy Ficken. Gwynne attended the Groton School, and graduated from Harvard University, in 1951. At Harvard, he 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.

Gwynne joined the Brattle Theatre Repertory Company after graduation, then moved to New York City. To support himself, Gwynne worked as a copywriter, resigning in 1952 upon being cast in his first Broadway role, a gangster in a comedy called Mrs. McThing. 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. 

This led to him being cast 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 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 elevated shoes. 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, claiming 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.” After his experience in The Munsters, however, he found himself typecast. In 1969, he was cast as Jonathan Brewster, a Frankenstein monster-like character, in a television production of Arsenic and Old Lace. 

Gwynne’s performance as Jud Crandall in Pet Semetary (1989) was based on author Stephen King himself, who is also quite tall, only an inch shorter than the actor, and uses a similarly thick Maine dialect. Gwynne also had roles in the movies On The Waterfront (1954), The Littlest Angel (1969), Simon (1980), The Cotton Club (1984), Fatal Attraction and Ironweed (both 1987). In his last film, Gwynne was hilariously straight-faced as Judge Chamberlain Haller opposite Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny (1992).

Gwynne died of pancreatic cancer in Taneytown, Maryland, on July 2, 1993, at the age of 66, eight days before his 67th birthday. Gwynne was survived by his second wife, Deborah, and four children. He is interred at the Sandymount United Methodist Church graveyard in Finksberg, Maryland, in an unmarked grave.