The gentle giant that was Fred Gwynne.

Frederick Hubbard Gwynne born July 10th 1926 New York. His father Frederick was a successful stockbroker whose gregarious and whimsical personality delighted his young son.  His paternal grandfather was an Episcopal priest born in Camus, near Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland, and his maternal grandfather was an immigrant from London, England.

  1. Baby Fred!
    Baby Fred!
  2. Pram Fred.
    Pram Fred.
  3. Young Fred looking up to his father, Frederick Walker Gwynne.
    Young Fred looking up to his father, Frederick Walker Gwynne.
  4. Fred with his mother, Dorothy.
    Fred with his mother, Dorothy.
  5. Eight years of age.
    Eight years of age.
  6. Riding out!
    Riding out!
Fred’s mum Dorothy was a strong-willed and artistic woman who created the popular comic strip Sunny Jim.​​

When Fred was born he became the centre of her universe. He was sort of a miracle baby who enjoyed the benefits of a doting mother and being surrounded by the aristocracy of America.

During the winter the family would spend time at their home at Palm Beach next door was Joe Kennedy.

In 1935 8-year-old Fred’s world was shattered when his father died whilst undergoing a routine sinus operation. Shattered Fred would often go into his own little world where he let out his frustration in sketches a talent inherited from his cartoonist mother.

Suddenly whilst at school a sudden growth spurt put Fred’s height way above his fellow students. But despite this he was still very popular with his schoolmates.

In 1939 Fred entered Groton an East coast prep school. Becoming a popular student, he sang in the choir and excelled in the art department. Studying under the well known portrait artist R.S. Meryman.

  1. Death!
    Death!
  2. Fred with friends at Groton.
    Fred with friends at Groton.
  3. In the choir.
    In the choir.
He joined the drama society but throughout these years a dark cloud was closing in, World War II.​​​​​

Patriotic teens joined up eager to fight for their country. After Fred graduated in 1944 straight away he enlisted in the US Navy.  For 2 years six-feet-five inch Fred served aboard a sub-chaser in the pacific as a radio operative. The constant beep of the morse code machines proving to be a real thorn in his side.

  1. Groton School 1944. Middle of the picture.
    Groton School 1944. Middle of the picture.
Next up was an intellectual challenge in the form of Harvard University.

Here he discovered a place where he could show off his art and ready wit with the staff of the Harvard Lampoon……joining forces with fellow students, John Updike and George Plimpton. By 1950 Fred had secured the post of President of this notorious magazine.

He joined the university theatre group known as the Hasty Pudding society and  he also sang with the a cappella group the Harvard Krokodiloes. Here his legendary antics brought the campus down on many occasions.

  1. President of the Harvard Lampoon magazine.
    President of the Harvard Lampoon magazine.
  2. With fellow students, John Updike and George Plimpton.
    With fellow students, John Updike and George Plimpton.
  3. Hasty Pudding society.
    Hasty Pudding society.
  4. Hasty Pudding society.
    Hasty Pudding society.
  5. In Fred Gwynne, Poon had the funniest man in college.
    In Fred Gwynne, Poon had the funniest man in college.
  6. 1951 Swimming side. Despite the fact that he had never swum before in competition, Fred won most of his events in the backstroke.
    1951 Swimming side. Despite the fact that he had never swum before in competition, Fred won most of his events in the backstroke.
Fred loved the attention he received from an audience and the campus clown was anxious to test his skills on a bigger stage.

He began performing at a nearby theatre company and became enchanted with treading the boards.  After graduating from Harvard with the class of 1951, he acted in Shakespeare with a Cambridge, Massachusetts repertory company before heading to New York City.

In 1952 romance beckoned when he met 22-year-old Jean ‘Foxy’ Reynard, a granddaughter of New York City mayor William Jay Gaynor, at a friends wedding. Fred was love struck and pursued Foxy with vim and vigour. After a courtship of about a year, the couple got married on June 30th 1952.
  1. Performing at a local theatre.
    Performing at a local theatre.
In the Big Apple, the artistic hub of the country, the newlyweds moved into a modest apartment. Then Fred hit the streets looking for work. People initially said he was too tall, too thin, lantern jawed. Then people started to discover how talented he really was.​​

On February 20, 1952, at the Martin Beck Theatre, the "freshman" actor made his Broadway debut as the character Stinker, with a supporting role in Mary Chase's Mrs. McThing. This was opposite illustrious actress, Helen Hayes. The play ran for 320 performances.

  1. Fred, far left, as Stinker with Irwin Corey as Dirty Joe Jules, Jules Munshin as Poison Eddie Schellenbach, Helen Hayes as Mrs. Howard V. Larue III and Brandon de Wilde as the Boy.
    Fred, far left, as Stinker with Irwin Corey as Dirty Joe Jules, Jules Munshin as Poison Eddie Schellenbach, Helen Hayes as Mrs. Howard V. Larue III and Brandon de Wilde as the Boy.
  2. Fred, far left, as Stinker with Irwin Corey as Dirty Joe Jules, Jules Munshin as Poison Eddie Schellenbach and Brandon de Wilde as the Boy.
    Fred, far left, as Stinker with Irwin Corey as Dirty Joe Jules, Jules Munshin as Poison Eddie Schellenbach and Brandon de Wilde as the Boy.
The next year Fred was celebrating the birth of a new born son Kieron. But joy soon turned to sadness as at just over a year old, Kieron suffered a severe brain injury that left him mentally handicapped. To escape the torment Fred threw himself into his work. He appeared on Broadway in two more productions; these were, Love's Labour's Lost and The Frogs of Spring.

1954 saw Fred get a bit part in the classic movie On the Waterfront as Lee J. Cobb’s henchman.

Foxy gave birth to a daughter, Gaynor. Fred loved nothing better than to spend time with his children.

  1. Keiron.
    Keiron.
  2. On the Waterfront!
    On the Waterfront!
  3. A later picture of Fred, Keiron and Gaynor.
    A later picture of Fred, Keiron and Gaynor.
  4. Fred and Gaynor.
    Fred and Gaynor.
He took the role of breadwinner very seriously especially with the cost of Keiron’s special needs escalating. He took a job as a copywriter at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency where he was credited with coming up with the slogan “the world’s most beautifully proportioned car”.​

For the next five years he juggled his roles as ad man with a variety of stage and television work. Phil Silvers the star of You'll Never Get Rich (later changed to The Phil Silvers Show) saw his performance in Mrs McThing and made a mental note of the lanky fellow that he had watched perform.  A few years later in 1955, whilst preparing production on the show called The Eating Contest, Kevin Pines, of the casting department, was sent out to track down Fred. All initial inquiries failed. Kevin then went through all of the New York Times and the CBS research department's archives. He phoned people on Madison Avenue and finally located the would-be actor who was then working as a copyrighter at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency.  He was that good, as Edwin C. Honergan (aka The Stomach), that Phil Silvers et al wanted him back for a second time, in a parody of the $64,000 Question, in a show called; It's for the Bird's.

After his Bilko show appearance Fred went from strength to strength. He made appearances on; Studio One, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Suspicion, Kraft Television Theatre, The Steve Allen Show and The DuPont Show of the Month.

In 1958 he created Best in Show, a book of pets and their lookalike owners.

In 1960 he published Whats Nude? A volume of racy cartoons for adults. On the telly he played the doctor on The Shari Lewis Show.

  1. Fred's Best in Show cartoon.
    Fred's Best in Show cartoon.
  2. 1960.
    1960.
Although happy with his artwork the next year saw Fred reappear on Broadway, after an eight year gap, playing the pimp Polyte-Le-Mou in the Peter Brook-directed hit Irma La Douce (the show went on to win the 1961 Tony Award for Best Musical)
  1. Irma La Douce: Fred with Elizabeth Seal and George S. Irving.
    Irma La Douce: Fred with Elizabeth Seal and George S. Irving.
In 1961 Fred got a call from the genius that was Nat Hiken, who remembered Fred from his appearances on his Sergeant Bilko show. This time he offered Fred a starring role as a New York City cop, Patrolman Francis Muldoon, alongside another Bilko stalwart Joe E Ross in a prime time NBC sitcom. That show was called Car 54 Where Are You?​

Filmed in the Bronx the show followed two patrolman and their escapades around the city. The on-screen chemistry between the two worked a treat. Ably supported by a who’s who of character actors. Fred relished the chance to work alongside actors of all ethnic diversities, including Al Lewis, Hank Garrett and Nipsey Russell. The show became an immediate hit and 35-year-old Fred was now a household name!

  1. Nat Hiken.
    Nat Hiken.
  1. Promo shot for Car 54.
    Promo shot for Car 54.
When he and Foxy had their third child, Dylan. Fred was more than content with how his life was panning out.

Then on July 12th 1963, whilst working on Car 54, Fred received devastating news that his son had drowned in the swimming pool at the families’ new house in Bedford. He was only ten months old.

Fred was inconsolable. The strain on his marriage proved too great and the couple separated.

Fred returned to the set of Car 54 and carried on but hid his hidden grief under a stoic demeanor. He carried on his work as professionally as possible.

He buried himself in work, somehow combining theatre work in the form of Meredith Willson’s Here’s Love (playing Marvin Shellhammer in over three hundred performances) and finishing the Car 54 series.

The laugh-out-loud-comedy Car 54 Where Are You? was cancelled after two hugely successful seasons.


In 1964 Hollywood rang Fred and in so doing changed his life forever. 
  1. Here's Love with Janis Paige.
    Here's Love with Janis Paige.
​​Within months of the cancellation of Car 54 Fred was offered the lead in a proposed television show based on the classic movie monsters, Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman. An eerie batch of monsters living in a typical suburban area of America the show was called The Munsters with Fred playing the male head of the household, Herman Munster.

Here he again teamed up with his good friend and Car 54 co-star Al Lewis. After major recasting, of the original pilot show cast, Fred reluctantly agreed to sign up to the project stating that the money was too good to turn down.

With the show now in full blown production Fred and his wife, Foxy reconciled their past differences and settled down together, with their children, in Los Angeles.

On September 24th 1964 The Munsters premiered on CBS TV.

  1. How Fred appeared in the pilot show.
    How Fred appeared in the pilot show.
The show proved an immediate hit, although it was Fred’s portrayal of Herman that captivated audiences everywhere.

For the role Fred created a unique voice by capturing his mother’s vocal tones and then he added a prop man's laugh and this became his trademark guffaw!! He really immersed himself into the role of Herman. The comedic quality of his scenes with Al Lewis evoked memories of Laurel and Hardy at their finest. The Munsters went on to be national phenomena, becoming one of the first series to be mass merchandised.

  1. Between takes.
    Between takes.
The actors played their parts by making lots of promotional work including making personal appearances and television commercials.
  1. Al Lewis shows a nurse his blood sucking technique!
    Al Lewis shows a nurse his blood sucking technique!
At this point Fred was one of the most famous faces on television, but the make-up and heavy costume was taking its toll on the 38 year old. Sweating terribly under the foam outfit, barely able to breathe - going to lunch with Al, after a morning filming, he’d pour out a half a gallon of sweat from one of his massive boots.​

Fred started getting terrible back pain and was also forced to regularly take salt tablets to prevent dehydration, growing dangerously thin in the process. He’d put a cold air tube down his suit and drink gallons and gallons of lemonade.

In its second season ABC put its Batman on at the same time as The Munsters. To counter this the bigwigs decided to make a feature film of the creepy family in glorious colour. That film was called Munster, Go Home.

But by the end of the year the show had lost the ratings war to Batman and was cancelled. After two years of playing Herman, Fred was relieved and looked forward to finally getting some real family life back.

But for Fred getting rid of the ram shackles of Herman Munster was to prove a very difficult task.

Asked later why he had wasted his undoubted acting abilities on the show Fred replied; 'Making $200,000 a year."

By autumn 1966, The Munsters had vanished from network TV, after a brief sabbatical Fred was ready to return to the small screen but he was shocked to discover everyone now just thought of him as goofy Herman Munster.

1967: Down, the 41 year old moved away from Tinsel town and back to the Big Apple.

According to Al Lewis “Fred hated Hollywood he found it too fake and glitzy and he didn’t want to put up with that.”

Fred wanted to retire from appearing in public and giving autographs etc. He was now free to spend more time with his family including his new daughter, Madyn and son Evan.

  1. Evan.
    Evan.
  2. Fred and Madyn.
    Fred and Madyn.
  3. Madyn.
    Madyn.
Fred returned to the boards on the sound stage taking any role to change the public's view that he could only play big-hearted-scary-looking, Herman Munster.​

1969 saw him sing in a Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-television production, The Littlest Angel that same year he played the grotesque villain, Jonathan Brewster, in a television production of Arsenic and Old Lace.

1970: NBC then hired Fred to star in a new show called Anderson & Co. Here he played a turn of the century store owner with eight kids. But the period comedy never caught on and the network shelved the project.

1971 saw Fred make an unusual appearance on the Hollywood Television Theatre show in the black comedy titled The Police.
  1. Anderson and Co.
    Anderson and Co.
  2. The grotesque villain, Jonathan Brewster.
    The grotesque villain, Jonathan Brewster.
  3. Hollywood Television Theatre (The Police) with Murray Hamilton, Fred and Bob Dishy.
    Hollywood Television Theatre (The Police) with Murray Hamilton, Fred and Bob Dishy.
  4. Anderson and Co.
    Anderson and Co.
Fred turned his creative mind to his other great asset, his tremendous artistic work. Wise investments allowed Fred to invest his talent in his passion. Inspired by his daughter, Madyn he began working on a kids book that combined his sense of humour with his word play. This led to a series of books being written including; The King Who Rained, A Chocolate Moose for Dinner and A Little Pigeon Toad.
  1. A Chocolate Moose for Dinner.
    A Chocolate Moose for Dinner.
  2. The King Who Rained.
    The King Who Rained.
  3. A Little Pigeon Toad.
    A Little Pigeon Toad.
Whilst the books brought success Fred still wanted to prove himself as an actor. So he decided to return to the small stages of New England.​

Late 1972 saw Fred play the ultimate role, when he appeared in the stage drama, The Lincoln Mask. Playing Abraham Lincoln no less.

In 1974, he appeared in the role of Big Daddy Pollitt in the Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea and Kate Reid. In this play Fred turned in such a stellar performance that even Tennessee Williams, the renowned writer of the drama  loved it.

Fred then appeared as Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In 1975 he played the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut.

  1. Fred as Abraham Lincoln in 'The Lincoln Mask'.
    Fred as Abraham Lincoln in 'The Lincoln Mask'.
  2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
    Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
  3. Stage Manager in 'Our Town'.
    Stage Manager in 'Our Town'.
  4. 1978 Minskoff Theatre production of Angel, starring Fred and Tony nominee Frances Sternhagen.
    1978 Minskoff Theatre production of Angel, starring Fred and Tony nominee Frances Sternhagen.
  5. 1978: Players cast at the Lyceum Theatre in New York City.
    1978: Players cast at the Lyceum Theatre in New York City.
  6. Award.
    Award.
Theatre work was where you’d find Fred in his element; although it took a lot out of him he loved treading the boards. He returned to Broadway in 1976 as Colonel J. C. Kinkaid in two parts of A Texas Trilogy.  Winning the 1977 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play.​

May 1978: Fred appeared at the Minskoff Theatre playing W. O. Gant in the musical Angel.

In 1979 the accomplished actor received an Obie award for his off-Broadway performance in Grand Magic.

At 53 he was now established as a leading light on the stage. His TV work being well behind him. But this situation didn’t last long. Italian film Director Bernardo Bertolucci, whose films included Last Tango in Paris, approached Fred and offered him a pivotal role in his new movie, Luna.

By now Fred had more than proved that there was more to him than Herman Munster!

Fred and his wife, Foxy drift apart and decide to separate.

In 1980 a friend introduced him to 30 year old Deborah Flater and they got on so well that they started seeing each other.

During 1981 Fred received an offer to reprise the role of Herman Munster in the NBC movie, The Munsters’ Revenge.  Fred didn’t want to do the role again so he named a huge figure to price himself out of the picture. But shock of shocks the producers agree tp pay what he was asking!

Herman Munster used a very familiar phrase that was associated with Fred in his earlier television career.
Download the phrase (1.13mb)
After filming was finished Fred wanted to get straight back into serious film roles. In 1984, he got his chance when he was cast as Big Frenchie, starring alongside Richard Gere and Bob Hoskins, in The Cotton Club. The 'watch scene', with Bob, was actually cooked up buy the pair.
  1. Cotton Club!
    Cotton Club!
After this performance Fred came to the attention of an array of film directors. he was cast in some great movies of the era: The Boy Who Could Fly, The Secret of My Success, Fatal Attraction and Ironweed.​

His personal life was going great and on March 9th 1988 he wed his new love, Deb.

The very next year he decided to show off his artwork to the masses. The exhibit he called Drawn and Quartered featured paintings that combined his manic ideas with word play and his great sense of humour. On opening night the exhibition was thronged with people so much so that many were forced to wait outside.
Fred was now in his prime, he turned in superb characterizations in Pet Sematary and Disorganized Crime. The latter film was shot in Montana, Fred travelled to the site, with Deb, by Motor home due to his fear of flying.
  1. On the set of 'Disorganized Crime'.
    On the set of 'Disorganized Crime'.
  2. Fred in 'Pet Sematary'.
    Fred in 'Pet Sematary'.
  3. 'Disorganized Crime'.
    'Disorganized Crime'.
  4. 'Disorganized Crime'.
    'Disorganized Crime'.
Now 63 the lanky star decided to put his long legs up and rest - or so he thought - In 1989 Fred and his wife decided to leave New York as they really missed the country. they bought a 280 acre farm where Deb had grown up, Maryland. While Deb concentrated on building up the ranch, Fred put his efforts into his art. A big spacious studio was built for him to use. To help finance the project, Fred turned to the world of voiceover work lending his dulcet tones to a variety of TV adverts. This turned out to be an easy way for him to make money. he now had time to paint, draw and do children’s books. Fred had more or less given up on his movie career, and yet. In 1991, he accepted a key role in the Joe Pesci headlining comedy movie, My Cousin Vinny. In this film Pesci played a rookie attorney who defends his cousin in the court of a Southern Judge played by Fred. The chemistry and banter between the two lead men helped make the picture a huge box office success.  At the age of 66 Fred was now in even higher demand!!
  1. As Judge Chamberlain Haller in 'My Cousin Vinny'.
    As Judge Chamberlain Haller in 'My Cousin Vinny'.
During 1993 Fred kept getting severe back pain, after a trip to the doctors he was devastated to find out he had pancreatic cancer. He was given just six months to live. He would still carry on in his studio, drawing and doodling, to his hearts content.​

On July 2nd 1993 Fred sadly passed away in his sleep. Fred Gwynne brought pleasure to millions with his great acting skills, but he also left a legacy few thespians have done, a collection of delightful children’s books and artwork in the form of sculptures and paintings.

Fred Gwynne you truly were one of a kind, thank you for everything you did!!

  1. Publicity photo featuring casts of CBS shows in 1965, including actors from The Munsters, Gilligan's Island, The Baileys of Balboa, My Living Doll, and Many Happy Returns.
    Publicity photo featuring casts of CBS shows in 1965, including actors from The Munsters, Gilligan's Island, The Baileys of Balboa, My Living Doll, and Many Happy Returns.