‘I Love Lucy’ Actor William Frawley Recruited These ‘My Three Sons’ Actors to Prank Vivian Vance
William Frawley portrayed Fred Mertz on the iconic sitcom I Love Lucy from 1951 to 1957. His animosity towards his onscreen wife, Vivian Vance, was public knowledge and added to their chemistry as sparring spouses. When Frawley later starred on My Three Sons, he enlisted this child actor and his brother to play some tricks on his former co-star.
Barry Livingston worked with William Frawley on ‘My Three Sons’
Actor Barry Livingston joined the cast of My Three Sons in 1963 as youngest son Ernie Douglas. Frawley was already on the cast, playing grandfather and live-in housekeeper “Bub”. Livingston recalled working on the same studio lot as I Love Lucy icon Lucille Ball, as well as Frawley’s former co-star Vance. He noted that Vance tended to have a harsh demeanor.
“As sweet as Lucy [Ball] was, Vivian Vance seemed like a grouch to work with,” Livingston wrote in his memoir, The Importance of Being Ernie: From My Three Sons to Mad Men, a Hollywood Survivor Tells All. “Maybe I caught her at a bad time. William Frawley had nothing good to say about her, though. He played Vance’s husband, Fred Mertz, on I Love Lucy for six seasons.”
Livingston went on to describe how the two actors had a tumultuous relationship as soon as they began working together on I Love Lucy. Yet their real-life tension benefitted their performances as the bickering husband-and-wife neighbors. Although the two no longer shared a screen, Frawley still had a beef with Vance.
“It was funny as hell on screen because the feelings were real,” the My Three Sons alum remarked. “Even though Frawley hadn’t worked with Vance on Lucy for years, he held a grudge like an elephant.”
William Frawley got help from his ‘My Three Sons’ co-stars
Apparently, Frawley was quite the practical joker and loved to use this talent to rouse his former co-star. He often asked his younger cast mates, Livingston and his brother Stan (who played Chip on My Three Sons) to assist him in carrying out a prank.
“Occasionally, he would recruit Stan and me to help him harass Vance while she was working on the soundstage next to ours,” Livingston recalled. “When Frawley was in the mood for a sneak attack, usually after a few shots of Cutty Sark whiskey at lunch, we’d gather our ammunition: large circular film cans.”
The My Three Sons star revealed how Frawley would direct the two young actors in their high jinks to annoy Vance.
“Frawley would hold open The Lucy Show stage door and cock his ear, listening to a scene being rehearsed inside,” Livingston explained. “The second he heard Vivian’s shrill voice, he’d give us the signal to fling the metal cans through the open door. They would land with a loud metallic bang, and Frawley would yell, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here!’ We’d flee like three juvenile delinquents, Frawley leading the way.”
‘I Love Lucy’ alum had a sweet side
Despite his antics against Vance, Frawley often showed kindness to his co-stars on My Three Sons.
“If Frawley liked you, though, he could be surprisingly thoughtful,” Livingston wrote. “Example: when the surfing craze took off in the early sixties, the old guy heard that Stan was excited about the new fad. Soon after, a beautiful, expensive long board arrived as a present to my brother. Pretty sweet.”
Due to his declining health, Frawley was written out of My Three Sons in the 1964-1965 season, with his character moving to Europe. Frawley died in 1966, shortly after his departure from the sitcom.
“Despite the bad news, Frawley graciously returned to do a number of episodes that would explain his leaving the show,” Livingston said. “Bub was going to return to his native Ireland. … [Frawley] passed away a few months after he left the show.”