Better Off Fred
There have been a bunch of postings on social media today about it being the birthday of Fred Gwynne, who passed away in 1993 at the age of 67. And all of these postings have a photo of him from the TV series The Munsters, clearly his more recognizable role. But --
Back in my dark days when I was a unit publicist, I worked on the Stephen King film Pet Sematary that Fred was the co-star of. He gave a extremely good performance and was a nice man -- not overly outgoing, but personable and approachable. But when it came time for me to interview him...he would NOT talk about The Munsters. He almost shut down when I brought the topic up. And no, it's not that I just sort of got that impression, but he specifically said that he wouldn't talk about it. He fully recognized that the show made him famous, and clearly there were benefits from that, but he said bluntly it pretty much ruined his acting career. He was deeply typecast and couldn't get roles -- or at least decent roles -- for a long time. Happily, late in career he started getting hired in some solid roles and gave wonderful performances, most particularly in The Cotton Club memorably paired alongside Bob Hoskins, but also My Cousin Vinnie, as the judge, and the aforementioned, Pet Sematary. Unfortunately, he passed away in the midst of this long-overdue renaissance -- but at least he had the renaissance.
And lest one think that he was being presumptuous about his acting career -- know that he appeared on Broadway quite a bit, making his debut in Mrs. McThing (by Mary Chase, who wrote Harvey) opposite Helen Hayes. And his first movie, though uncredited, was On the Waterfront. And during the years he had difficulty getting solid roles in films and TV, he returned to the stage often, such as the Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as 'Big Daddy,' and in two parts of the Broadway production of A Texas Trilogy, as well as the stage manager in the American Shakespeare Festival production of Our Town. He was also a good singer -- appearing on Broadway in the Meredith Willson musical, Here's Love, based on The Miracle on 34th Street, for which I included one of his songs here. And I also embedded a video of him here singing a song in his first sitcom, Car 54, Where Are You? And an accomplished painter and illustrated and wrote several well-regarded children's books.
I've tried to "correct the record" when I've seen some social media postings on Fred with those photos, since I'm certain it would have galled him. But that's an uphill battle with no expectation of success. But at least here I can not only give the proper record -- but have a proper photo, as well.
And what the heck, let's end it with a bonus: Here's Fred Gwynne singing Gilbert & Sullivan's "A Policeman's Lot" (from The Pirates of Penzance, though with altered lyrics) from an episode of Car 54, Where Are You?. at the precinct's holiday party.
Leave a Reply.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor