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Frederick Hubbard "Fred" Gwynne (July 10, 1926 – July 2, 1993) was an American actor. Gwynne is best known for his roles as Francis Muldoon and Herman Munster in the 1960s sitcoms Car 54, Where Are You? and The Munsters, respectively, and as Jud Crandall in "Pet Sematary."

Biography

Early life

Gwynne was born in New York City, the son of Dorothy (née Ficken) and Frederick Walker Gwynne, a partner in the securities firm, Gwynne Brothers. His paternal grandfather was an Episcopal priest born in Camus, County Tyrone, Irelandmarker, and his maternal grandfather was an immigrant from London, Englandmarker. Gwynne attended the Groton School, and went on to graduate from Harvard Universitymarker in 1951. Gwynne spent most of his childhood in South Carolinamarker, Floridamarker, and Coloradomarker because his father travelled extensively. At Harvard he was a member of the Fly Club, sang with the a cappella group the Harvard Krokodiloes, was a cartoonist for the Harvard Lampoonmarker, (eventually becoming its president), and acted in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals shows. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy and studied art under the G.I. Bill.

Career

Gwynne joined the Brattle Theatre Repertory Company after graduation, 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 Broadwaymarker role, a gangster in a comedy called Mrs. McThing, which starred Helen Hayes.

In 1955, Gwynne made a memorable appearance on The Phil Silvers Show, in the episode entitled "The Eating Contest," as the character Private Honigan, whose depressive eating binges are exploited by Sgt. Bilko, who seeks prize money by entering Honigan in an eating contest. Gwynne's second appearance on The Phil Silvers Show (in the episode "For The Birds" in 1956) 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 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 elevator 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 identified with the character, which led to difficulty in being cast in different kinds of roles. For example, in 1969, he was cast as Jonathan Brewster, a Frankenstein monster-like character, in a television production of Arsenic and Old Lace.

He displayed his singing voice in a Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-television production, The Littlest Angel (1969), and went on to perform in a variety of roles on stage and screen. In 1974, he appeared in the role of Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea and Kate Reid. In 1975 he played the Stage Manager in Our Town at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticutmarker. He returned to Broadway in 1976 as Colonel J. C. Kinkaid in two parts of A Texas Trilogy. In 1984, he tried out for the part of Henry on the show Punky Brewster. He is said to have withdrawn from the audition in frustration when the auditioner identified him as Herman Munster rather than by his real name. The role of Henry subsequently went to George Gaynes.

His performance as Jud Crandall in Pet Sematary 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's Pet Sematary character has had recurring parody appearances in the South Park episodes "Butters' Very Own Episode," "Asspen," and "Marjorine." Gwynne also had roles in the movies On the Waterfront, So Fine, Disorganized Crime, The Cotton Club, Captains Courageous, The Secret of My Succe$s, Water, Ironweed, Fatal Attraction and The Boy Who Could Fly. In his last film, Gwynne played Judge Chamberlain Haller in the 1992 film comedy, My Cousin Vinny, in which he used a Southern accent.

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. 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.

Death

Gwynne died of pancreatic cancer in Taneytown, Marylandmarker, on July 2, 1993. He was eight days shy of his 67th birthday. Gwynne left behind a wife, Deborah, and four children. He was interred at the Sandymount United Methodist Church's graveyard in Finksburg, Marylandmarker in an unmarked grave.

References

  1. Gwynne family genealogy on Rootsweb.com
  2. Tribute to Gwynne on Harvard Krokodiloes website
  3. Lambert, Bruce (2004): Fred Gwynne, Popular Actor, Is Dead at 66. The New York Times, August 28, 2004, p. 8: Reference for Harvard Lampoon, Hasty Pudding, Brattle Theatre, "Mrs. McThing."


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