What ‘I Love Lucy’ Star Desi Arnaz Told Fred MacMurray at William Frawley’s Funeral
Desi Arnaz starred with wife Lucille Ball on the hit show I Love Lucy as Ricky and Lucy Ricardo from 1951 to 1957. Arnaz cast Vivian Vance and William Frawley to play their neighbors and besties Ethel and Fred Mertz for the show’s six-season run. Frawley continued to land acting roles after the legendary sitcom ended, joining the cast of My Three Sons in 1960 alongside Fred MacMurray.
Arnaz and MacMurray served as pallbearers for Frawley’s funeral when he died in 1966 and shared some words about their famous friend.
Desi Arnaz was ‘convinced’ William Frawley was perfect for the Fred Mertz role
Frawley had an impressive list of film credits to his name when he threw his hat in the ring for the role of Fred Mertz. Arnaz was familiar with his work and could easily see him in the part of the cranky landlord after speaking with him on the phone.
“He had been a top character actor for years but hadn’t done anything lately,” Arnaz wrote of Frawley in his memoir A Book. “After I hung up, I kept seeing his puss and remembering how good he was at playing the gruff characters he usually played. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced he was Fred Mertz.”
When the network tried to discourage Arnaz from hiring Frawley due to his less-than-flattering reputation, the I Love Lucy star dug in his heels.
“The more they kept tearing the guy apart, the more I liked the idea of hiring him,” Arnaz revealed. “And the more I thought he’d be perfect for Fred.”
William Frawley died shortly after leaving ‘My Three Sons’
Frawley played the grandfather and live-in housekeeper “Bub” on My Three Sons when he joined the cast in 1960. The sitcom was produced by Desilu Productions and Arnaz and Frawley would often run into each other on the studio lot. Arnaz recalled when Frawley died and seeing his friend’s My Three Sons co-star at the funeral.
“Bill had a heart attack and died on March 3, 1966,” Arnaz shared. “His services were held at the Good Samaritan Catholic Church on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Fred MacMurray and I were paired as pallbearers at the front of the coffin. It was a very heavy coffin and a very hot day. Both of us were really sweating and struggling.”
Arnaz imagined what Frawley would be thinking if he caught a glimpse of his two pals at that moment.
“I looked across at MacMurray and said, ‘I know Bill is up there, looking down at us struggling with this g****** coffin, sweating, breaking our backs,'” Arnaz recalled. “‘And I’ll bet you he’s laughing like hell.'”
‘My Three Sons’ star called William Frawley ‘surprisingly thoughtful’
Actor Barry Livingston was cast as youngest son Ernie Douglas on My Three Sons in 1963. He remembered Frawley as being very kind and described a generous gesture the actor extended to Livingston’s brother and co-star Stan.
“If Frawley liked you… he could be surprisingly thoughtful,” Livingston wrote in his memoir, The Importance of Being Ernie: From My Three Sons to Mad Men, a Hollywood Survivor Tells All. “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.”
With his health rapidly declining, Frawley was written out of My Three Sons in the 1964-1965 season and died shortly after his departure from the sitcom.