Thursday, April 29, 2021

Ethel Merman

"I can hold a note as long as the Chase National Bank."
   -- Ethel Merman

Ethel Merman was born Ethel Agnes Zimmermann in Queens, New York on January 16, 1908.  Her father was an accountant who worked for a dry goods business in Manhattan.  Her mother was a school teacher.  

On Friday nights, the family would go to the Palace Theatre in Manhattan, which was home to the vaudeville stage.  Inspired by the talents of Sophie Tucker, Nora Bayes and Fanny Brice, Merman aspired to be a singer herself.  Although she tried to emulate their singing abilities, it was obvious she had a style all her own.

During her high school years, Merman took secretarial training classes.  Upon graduation, she went to work as a stenographer at the Boyce-Ite Company, makers of fine antifreeze.  She later moved to the Bragg-Kliesrath Corporation, an automobile parts manufacturer, where she served as personal secretary to company president Caleb Bragg.

During this period, Merman began performing in nightclubs and at personal parties.  She was first hired by Lou Clayton, who was a business partner of Jimmy Durante.  As her career began to take off, she opted to shorten her name, believing Zimmermann too lengthy to appear on a theatre marquee.  

Her first theatrical role was in the 1930 film Follow the Leader starring Ed Wynn and Ginger Rogers.  That same year, she was discovered by George and Ira Gershwin, who asked Merman to audition for their new stage musical, Girl Crazy (right).  Upon hearing her rendition of the show's single "I Got Rhythm," the Gershwins signed her on to the show.  It was an overnight success, running for 272 performances.  

In August 1932, Merman signed on to the musical Humpty Dumpty in Pittsburgh.  The show closed in less than a month, but producer Buddy DeSylva was convinced it had commercial appeal.  Following an extensive re-write, it re-opened under the new title Take a Chance, and the audience did just that.  When it re-opened at the Apollo Theatre, it ran for 243 performances and all but made Ethel Merman a household name.

She returned to Hollywood in 1934 and appeared in the comedy We're Not Dressing with Bing Crosby and Carole Lombard.  It was a box office success, but Merman often dismissed the film and director Norman Taurog, whom she blamed for cutting one of her musical performances.

That same year, she returned to Broadway in the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes.  It was a huge success, prompting Hollywood to produce a theatrical version.  Merman was invited to re-create her role on the big screen alongside star Bing Crosby.  Although she had enjoyed the stage production, the film version was a great disappointment to her, as the focus shifted off her character and onto Crosby's, leaving her in more of a supporting role.  Audiences and critics were equally disappointed.

She rebounded nicely however, starring in two of the biggest hits of 1938, Happy Landing (left) and Alexander's Ragtime Band.  The films would be the highlight of her 1938, as her marriage to agent William Smith that year would end in divorce just two months later.  Strike one!

In 1939, she walked down the aisle once again, this time marrying Robert D. Levitt, a New York City promotional director.  Although the couple had two children, this marriage would also end in divorce, but not until 1952.  Strike two!

In 1946, Merman headlined the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun, one of her most successful performances yet.  It ran for three years and 1,147 performances.  Despite this, Merman was not cast in the theatrical version, as her role went to Wizard of Oz star Judy Garland.

With a string of successful productions under her belt, Merman decided to relax and focus on her personal life.  In 1953, she married Robert Six, an executive with Continental Airlines.  They settled in Colorado and Merman assumed a new role, that of suburban housewife.  It didn't sit well with Six however, who had expected her appearances to generate publicity for the airline.  He encouraged her to return to the stage, so she accepted the lead in the Broadway musical Happy Hunting.  Although it was a modest success, Merman was reportedly disappointed with the production and frequently clashed with its producers.  It closed after 412 shows, which Merman described as "a dreary obligation."  The best was yet to come.

In 1959, Merman began her most remembered performance, that of Rose Hovick in the musical Gypsy (right).  It ran for 702 performances, earning Merman critical praise, both for her singing and acting abilities.  Despite this, she was once again passed over by Hollywood, when Rosalind Russell was cast in the film adaptation.  Additionally, Merman lost the Tony Award for best actress to her friend Mary Martin, who took home the trophy for her performance in The Sound of Music.  Merman later famously quipped "how are you going to buck a nun?"

During the run of Gypsy, Merman filed for divorce from Six after learning of his affair with Honeymooners star Audrey Meadows.  Strike three!

In 1963, Merman joined the ensemble cast of one of her best-remembered films, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (below).  It was something of a departure for her career, since the film was not a musical and relied solely on her acting abilities.  Those who've seen it know she played the part of the nagging mother-in-law to perfection.  It was a huge box office success, taking in nearly six times it's production budget.

Merman continued acting on stage throughout the 60s, and turned up on many popular television series as well, including The Carol Burnett ShowThe Lucy Show and That Girl.  She was also a frequent panelist on the game show Match Game, a show perfectly suited for her bawdy sense of humor.  And although not a series highlight, this blogger probably first saw Merman on the Adam West Batman series, playing special guest villain Lola Lasagna.

In 1980, Merman made her final appearance on the big screen, a cameo performance in the comedy hit Airplane!, wherein she sang her signature song "Everything's Coming Up Roses."

In 1983, Merman's health began to decline.  She was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma and underwent brain surgery to have the tumor removed.  It turned out to be inoperable however, and Merman was given less than a year to live.  She eventually passed on February 15, 1984.  She was 76 years old.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Merman has a family tomb at the Shrine of Remembrance Mausoleum in Colorado Springs, Colorado (below).  According to an employee who this blogger spoke to, Merman's ashes may or may not be stored there.  Some believe that her ashes remain with her surviving family members, to be interred in Colorado at a later date.

Rest in peace, Lieutenant Hurwitz.


  • Although born in 1908, Merman would often cite her birth year as 1912.

  • Merman published two personal memoirs, Who Could Ask for Anything More? (1955) and Merman (1978).  Both are available from Amazon. 

  • Merman sang her hit song "Everything's Coming Up Roses" at two presidential inaugurations, first for John F. Kennedy in 1961, then for Ronald Reagan in 1981.  In her personal life, she was a lifelong republican and frequent guest at the Eisenhower White House.

  • Merman kept her Christmas tree up year round.  Purportedly this was due to her love of the holiday.  Right.

  • Merman has not one but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for her singing abilities, the other for her roles in television and films.

  • In 1963, The U.S. Postal Service introduced ZIP codes (Zoning Improvement Plan) in an effort to make mail delivery more efficient.  No really.  Merman was hired to be the voice of a new PR campaign, singing a catchy jingle.  You can hear a clip of it here.  She comes in at the 1:50 mark.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Estelle Getty

"If there are two things in life you want to do and one of them is the other."
  -- Estelle Getty

Estelle Getty was born Estelle Scher in New York City on July 25, 1923.  Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland who settled on the Lower East Side, where her father operated an automobile glass business, fixing windshields in cars and trucks.

As a young girl, she spent her Friday nights with her family at the Academy of Music in lower Manhattan, which was home to the vaudeville stage and a movie house.  These performances inspired her into becoming an actress herself.

After graduating from high school, she took a job as a secretary while attending auditions at night.  She often found work in the New York theater district, but success and stardom were still years away.  

In 1947, she married Arthur Gettleman, from whom she would later adopt her stage name of Getty.  He went to work for her father in the glass business and continued running it for the next five decades.  They raised two boys together, while she continued taking theatrical roles.  Her big break however, didn't come until 1982, when she was cast in a Broadway production of Torch Song Trilogy, in a role that playwright Harvey Fierstein created just for her. 

The play was an overnight success and Getty earned widespread acclaim for her performance.  She continued in the role for the next three years, both on Broadway and off.  It was because of this role that she came to the attention of executives at Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions in Los Angeles, who were casting a new sit-com for the Fall 1985 season, one that featured four senior citizens sharing a condo in Miami.  That year, Getty was cast as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls, the role that would define her career.

The series lasted for seven seasons and Getty proved to be the breakout star.  In 1988, she won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.  The character proved so popular that NBC farmed her out to its other sit-coms, and Sophia found herself visiting the casts of Empty NestNurses and Blossom.  Sadly, she never visited that bar where everybody knows your name.

The series came to an end in 1992, when lead actress Bea Arthur opted to pursue other projects.  Rival network CBS convinced Getty, Rue McClanahan and Betty White to continue their roles in a series dubbed The Golden Palace.  It would only last for one season however, as it was obvious that the magic was gone.  The series is notable for introducing audiences to supporting actor Don Cheadle, who has since gone on to find great success at the box office.

When that series ended, Getty continued acting on television, guest starring on such series as The Nanny and Mad About You.  Her roles were often thinly veiled replicas of her Sophia character, which I'm sure delighted Golden Girls fans.  She also appeared in a few feature films, including Stuart Little and the Sylvester Stallone action comedy Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, for which she was honored with a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress.

By the early 2000s, Getty's health had started to decline, and according to her Golden Girls co-stars, she was no longer able to recognize them or hold conversations with them.  She was ultimately diagnosed with dementia, from which she passed away on July 22, 2008, just three days shy of her 85th birthday.

Estelle Getty was buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.  Arthur passed in 2004 and was cremated.  The location of his ashes remains unknown.

A rare shot of this blogger.  Although you can't see it in the photo,
the grave of voice actor Mel Blanc is directly behind me.

Thank you for being our friend, Estelle.


  • Although she played Bea Arthur's mother on television, Getty was more than a year younger than her.  

  • Getty released a book of her wit and wisdom in 1988.  You can pick up a copy of If I Knew Then What I Know Now....So What from Amazon.

  • Getty released an exercise video for seniors in 1993.  You can watch Young at Heart: Body Conditioning with Estelle in its entirety on YouTube.  I highly recommend it.

  • Getty was politically active, once stating "the only time you'll see me as a democrat is when I play Sophia.  In the real world I'm a republican from head to toe."  She was especially active on the issue of AIDS, caring for her 29-year-old nephew as he died from the disease.  She later started a charity for AIDS research.

  • In September 1999, this blogger attended a taping of Wheel of Fortune at the Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles.  Sitting in the audience not too far away was Ms. Getty herself, who was introduced to the rest of us by announcer Charlie O'Donnell.  She explained that she was on the lot that day filming a movie and decided to stop by and see her favorite game show live and in person.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Charles Bronson


"Some day I'd like a part where I can lean my elbow against a mantlepiece and have a cocktail."
  -- Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania on November 3, 1921.  He was the 11th of 15 children and was of Lithuanian ancestry.  His father, born Valteris Bucinskis, immigrated to the U.S. and changed his name to Walter Buchinsky as it sounded more American.  He settled in Pennsylvania, where he met Mary Valinsky, who was also of Lithuanian heritage.  The two married and settled in the coal mining town of Tamaqua.

When Bronson was just ten years old, his father died unexpectedly.  It couldn't have come at a worse time, as America was already in the throes of the Great Depression.  So when he turned 16, he put school on the back burner and joined his brothers in the mines, earning $1 for every ton of coal he produced.  He stuck with it until 1943, when he was drafted into the Army and assigned to the Air Corps.  He served as a tail gunner aboard a B-29 bomber and flew 25 missions, earning the Purple Heart.

After the war, Bronson joined a theatrical group in Philadelphia and worked a series of odd jobs.  He made his way to New York City, intent on making it on the Broadway stage.  But by 1950, Hollywood was calling, so Bronson headed west and started finding small roles.

His first role was as a sailor in the 1951 film You're in the Navy Now.  He'd follow it up with roles in House of Wax (1953) and Apache (1954).  He was also making early appearances on television, on a bunch of series that you've probably never heard of.  Two that completely astound this blogger are the crime drama Biff Baker, USA, which starred the Skipper himself, Alan Hale, Jr., and Knockout, a boxing show hosted by Roy Rogers.  Bronson and Rogers even squared off against each other in the ring (above).

Now I've been referring to him as Bronson herein, but he didn't take that name until 1954 at the height of the Red Scare and the McCarthy hearings.  On advice of his agent, he changed his named from Charles Buchinsky to something that sounded a little more American, just as his father had done years earlier.  He took the name Bronson from the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios.  

New name in tow, Bronson headlined a detective series on ABC called Man With a Camera.  He moved from there to a series of low-budget films, including Machine Gun Kelly (1958) and Showdown at Boot Hill (1959).  He was still taking roles on television though, most memorably on The Twilight Zone ("Two," with Elizabeth Montgomery) and a recurring role on Have Gun - Will Travel.

Bronson's first major role, the one would make him a household name, was in the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven.  He was paid $50,000 for the role and according to co-star Eli Wallach, Bronson was a loner who kept to himself throughout production.  But director John Sturges was impressed enough to cast Bronson in his next blockbuster The Great Escape (1963).  For this role, Bronson had to conquer his claustrophobia, developed from his childhood years spent in the mines, to play a Polish prisoner of war tunneling his way out.

His next major role was in the 1967 film The Dirty Dozen.  Although the film was a box office success, Bronson was only third billed.  Seeking more starring roles, he left for Europe, where he worked regularly for the next five years, starring in such features as Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), You Can't Win 'Em All (1970) and Rider on the Rain (1970).  Note: If you click on only one link in this whole blog post, make it Rider on the Rain.  It does not disappoint.

It was during this period that he married British actress Jill Ireland.  The two were introduced by their mutual friend David McCallum, who coincidentally, was Ireland's husband at the time.  Bronson famously told McCallum "I'm going to marry your wife."  I like a man who keeps his word.

Bronson returned to the U.S. in 1972.  It was a smart move, as he was cast in the role that would define his career, that of Paul Kersey in Death Wish (1974).  The story sees Bronson as a successful New York City architect who turns into a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is assaulted.  The movie was so successful that it spawned four sequels, all of diminishing quality.  But you gotta love the title Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

In 1990, Ireland lost her battle with cancer.  By then, she and Bronson were living in Vermont, and he had her interred at Brownsville Cemetery in West Windsor.  He continued acting throughout the 1990s in a series of films that you've probably never heard of.

Then in 1998, Bronson had hip replacement surgery.  It marked the end of his career as he was no longer able to perform the action sequences that had defined him.  He officially retired from acting and began to focus on his health.  But his years of smoking finally caught up with him, and he died of lung cancer on August 30, 2003.  He was 81 years old.

He was buried with Jill at Brownsville Cemetery.  It's a very elaborate and expensive marker.  Despite that, only his name appears on it.  Though unconfirmed, I suspect the children from his first marriage didn't care much for Jill.

Rest in peace.


  • Bronson's life was chronicled in the biography American Legends: The Life of Charles Bronson by the Charles River Editors.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • The poem on Bronson's marker was written by poet Mary Elizabeth Frye in 1932.  It wouldn't gain popularity until 1979, when it was used in an NBC movie of the week called Better Late Than Never.  Neither Bronson nor Ireland appeared in the film.

  • As a young actor in the 1940s, Bronson shared a New York City boarding house with Jack Klugman, who was also yet to be discovered.  I wonder which one was the slob.

  • Bronson was considered for but not offered the lead role in Superman (1978), Escape From New York (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Die Hard (1988).  He was offered the role of the Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) but passed, believing it to be a bad script.  The role went to Clint Eastwood, and the film was a box office success spawning two sequels.  He was also offered the role of Adam Sandler's father in Billy Madison (1995) but turned it down.  The role went to Darren McGavin.

  • Bronson had a lot of fans, one of whom took it a little too seriously.  When she passed away in the 1990s, she left her estate (worth over $1 million) to the actor, whom she had never even met. Her family sued Bronson and the two parties settled out of court. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Robert Lansing


"People don't want to mess with success.  If you do one thing well, then that's all they want you to do.  Very often if you're not careful it just gets narrower and narrower."
  -- Robert Lansing, on being typecast

Robert Lansing, while not exactly a household name, was born Robert Howell Brown in San Diego on June 5, 1928.  He knew from a young age that he wanted to be an actor and was intent on making it on the Broadway stage.  

After completing his education, Lansing enlisted in the Army and went to serve his country during World War 2.  He was stationed in Osaka, Japan, where he worked for Armed Forces Radio.

After the war, he relocated to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he continued working in radio.  He served as an announcer on WANE-AM, where he used his real name of Bob Brown.

In the early 1950s, Lansing settled in New York City.  There he was hired as an actor by a stock company based in Michigan.  The position required that he first join a union, but when he attempted to do so, he was told he would have to change his name, as there was already one Bob Brown.  As the stock company was located in Michigan, he adopted its capital city, Lansing, as his official stage moniker.  He'd use it for the rest of his life.

After Michigan, Lansing returned to New York.  He made his Broadway debut in a 1951 production of Stalag 17.  The play was directed by Broadway legend Jose Ferrer, who was impressed by Lansing's commanding presence.  He cast him in a number of follow-up productions, including Cyrano de Bergerac and Richard III.

Lansing made his television debut in 1956, appearing on Kraft Television Theatre.  A film career followed.  He starred in the 1959 science fiction film 4D Man, in which his character had the ability to walk through walls.  Here's the theatrical trailer.  He later starred in the classic B movie Namu, The Killer Whale, a film imfamous for featuring one of the first orcas ever displayed in captivity.  At some point or another, MGM decided to change the film's title to Namu, My Best Friend.  That's like a complete 180.  You can watch the film in its entirety here.

Lansing returned to television in 1961, when he was cast as Detective Steve Carella on the NBC series 87th Precinct. His co-stars included Norman Fell and Ron Harper.  Here's an episode in its entirety.  He'd continue to act on television throughout the 1960s, appearing on a number of popular series, including The Twilight ZoneThe Mod Squad, and as was required by law of all actors at the time, Gunsmoke.

The guest role Lansing is best associated with however, was as Gary Seven on Star Trek.  The episode entitled "Assignment: Earth" was actually created as a backdoor pilot for a new series, which would have seen Lansing in the starring role alongside a still-unknown Teri Garr (left).  Here's the trailer for the episode.  NBC decided to pass on the new series, but fortunately for creator Gene Roddenberry, they picked up Star Trek for one more season.

Although the series wasn't picked up, Lansing never hurt for work.  He continued acting on television, most notably in a recurring role on the CBS series The Equalizer.  He also had a supporting role on one of the most infamous television bombs of the 1980s, Automan, which looked a lot like the Disney movie Tron.  Here's the series intro.

In 1993, Lansing was cast on the television revival series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.  He was hired by Executive Producer Michael Sloan, who had worked with Lansing on The Equalizer.  In fact, Lansing's character of Police Captain Paul Blaisdell was written specifically for him.  Here's a scene in which he blows his top at series lead Chris Potter.

Although the series would run for four seasons, Lansing only appeared in the first two.  As his health began to decline, his character was written out of the series, with the hope that he'd one day return.  Sadly, it would never happen. 

Lansing was a lifelong smoker and by all accounts, a heavy one at that.  It ultimately took his life on October 23, 1994.  He was just 66 years old.  His final episode of Kung Fu aired one month later and was dedicated to his memory.

He was buried at Union Field Cemetery in Queens, New York.

Rest in peace, Mister Seven.

  • Union Field Cemetery is also the final resting place of Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz

  • Lansing did a lot of commercial work as well.  Here's a spot for the 1974 Mercury Marquis with actress Jennifer O'Neill.  Here's another for Eckerd Drugs.  Finally, here's one for Giant Eagle grocery stores.

  • Lansing appeared as a special guest on the 1960s game show What's My Line.  Were celebrity panelists Soupy Sales and Charles Nelson Reilly able to correctly guess his identity?  Find out here.

  • Lansing was president of The Players Club, a New York social club for actors, in the early 1990s.  It was founded in the 1880s by Edwin Booth, brother of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Wayne Rogers


"If I had known that the show was gonna run that long, I probably would have kept my mouth shut and stayed put."
  --Wayne Rogers

William Wayne McMillan Rogers III was born in Birmingham, Alabama on April 7, 1933.  A gifted student, he graduated from Princeton University in 1954 with a degree in history, intent on becoming a lawyer.  Before applying to law school however, Rogers enlisted in the Navy and served as navigator on a cargo ship.

After his discharge from the service, Rogers went to visit a friend in Brooklyn who was rehearsing for a local stage production.  In that moment, he began having reservations about a future in law, believing a career in show business was a much better fit.

His first major role was on the daytime soap opera Search for Tomorrow in 1959.  This led to a variety of primetime guest star roles in the 1960s, on such series as The Fugitive, Gunsmoke and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.  But his big break came in 1967 with a supporting role in the Paul Newman classic Cool Hand Luke.  Here's the scene you probably best remember him from.

In 1972, Rogers was asked to audition for a new television series called M*A*S*H, based on the feature film of the same name (right).  He was initially drawn to the role of Hawkeye Pierce, but ultimately found the character to be too cynical, opting to play the more light-hearted Trapper John McIntyre instead.

When the series went into production, Rogers became close friends with co-star Alan Alda.  Initially, neither of their characters was any more important to the show than the other.  But as the series progressed, Alda's Hawkeye became the central focus, both with the writers and the fans, a fact that did not sit well with Rogers. 

He spent the next three years fighting for a bigger role, but saw little in the way of character development, and he ultimately left the series in 1975.  As a result, the producers sued Rogers for breach of contract, but the case was ultimately thrown out of court, as Rogers, in fact, had no contract.

After his departure from the series, Rogers continued working in television.  He had a starring role in the 1975 made-for-TV movie Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan.  Then in 1976, he had a short-lived detective series called City of Angels, which only lasted for one season.  You can watch an episode in its entirety on YouTube.

The post-M*A*S*H series that Rogers is best remembered for however, was the medical sit-com House Calls, which lasted for three seasons on CBS.  For this role, Rogers was nominated for an Emmy Award for best actor in a comedy series, while his co-star Lynn Redgrave received a best actress nomination.

He continued acting throughout the 1980s and 90s, including a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote.  He also assumed the role of Major Tony Nelson alongside Barbara Eden in the TV reunion movie I Dream of Jeannie....15 Years Later (left).  Larry Hagman, who had created the role for television, was unavailable for some reason or another.  Then in 1990, he co-starred with Connie Selleca in the made-for-TV movie Miracle Landing, the true story of an airliner that made it to safety after the cabin depressurized.

Rogers was simultaneously building an impressive resume in the world of personal finance.  He was president of his own stock market investment company and testified as an expert on Capitol Hill before the House Committee on the Judiciary.  He also appeared as a spokesman for Senior Home Loans, one of the early reverse mortgage firms.  You can watch his commercial on YouTube.

By the early 2000s, he was appearing regularly on the FOX Business Channel and was a regular panelist on the news program Cashin' In.  This was his last television role however, as soon he'd be Cashin' Out.

Wayne Rogers died of pneumonia on December 31, 2015.  He was 82 years old.  He was entombed at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in Los Angeles.   I'm sure the name is a total coincidence.

Indeed it was.  Rest in peace, Trapper.


  • This blog is coincidentally posting on Rogers' 88th birthday.

  • Rogers died exactly one year before his M*A*S*H co-star William Christopher, aka Father Mulcahy.

  • One of Rogers' co-stars on House Calls was actor Roger Bowen, a M*A*S*H veteran himself, having originated the role of Henry Blake in the 1970 feature film.

  • During the early days of their respective careers, Rogers and Peter Falk were roommates in New York City.  Today, they are both laid to rest in the same Los Angeles cemetery, only a short distance apart from one another.

  • Rogers wore a number of different hats following his departure from Hollywood.  He was co-owner of a string of bridal boutiques called Kleinfeld Bridal and was managing director of the Stop-N-Save convenience store chain in Tallahassee, Florida.  

  • In 2011, Rogers co-authored a book on achieving financial success.  You can pick up a copy of Make Your Own Rules: A Renegade Guide to Unconventional Success from Amazon.

  • Rogers' crypt is beneath that of actor Les Tremayne, best remembered for his role of "Mentor" on Shazam.

  • Rogers has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 7018 Hollywood Boulevard.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Hidden Grave of Fred Gwynne


"Funny thing, yesterday morning I found my youngest son and daughter watching the rerun of an old (Munsters) episode and I said, "My God, THAT's not still on, is it?"
  --Fred Gwynne

Frederick Hubbard Gwynne was born in New York City on July 10, 1926.  His father was partner in the family business, the securities firm Gwynne Brothers.  His mother was a successful artist, known for an advertising mascot named "Sunny Jim," which she created to sell cereal.  The more you know.

As a child, Gwynne was often traveling with his family, as his father's business took them all over the country.  He'd live in Colorado, Florida, South Carolina and ultimately back in New York, settling in the Manhattan suburb of Tuxedo Park.

Gwynne attended the Groton School, a private, Episcopalian boarding school in Massachussets.  Upon graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and served as a radio operator during World War 2.  After his tour of duty, he returned to the U.S., enrolling at Harvard University under the G.I. Bill.  He graduated in 1951 with a degree in Art.

After graduation, Gwynne moved to New York City, intent on becoming a Broadway star.  He wouldn't have long to wait, earning his first role in a 1952 comedy called Mrs. McThing, starring Helen Hayes.  Two years later, he'd make his big screen debut, in the Oscar-winning film On the Waterfront, opposite Superman's dad, Marlon Brando. 

Gwynne with Al Lewis on Car 54.....
In 1955, Gwynne made his television debut on The Phil Silvers Show, recruited by the star himself.  Silvers, having seen a stage production of Mrs. McThing, was so impressed with Gwynne's comedic timing that he offered him a guest-star spot on the show.  Entitled "The Eating Contest," it remains one of the series most popular episodes.  You can watch him as "The Stomach" on YouTube.

After appearing on the series, Gwynne was offered one of his own, a sitcom titled Car 54, Where Are You?  He portrayed New York City police officer Francis Muldoon, opposite comic legend Joe E. Ross.  The series was a moderate success, running for two seasons. 

During the run of Car 54, Gwynne met actor Al Lewis.  The two would later co-star on the series Gwynne is most famously known for, The Munsters.  On this series, Gwynne portrayed Herman Munster, a parody of the Frankenstein monster.  Like Car 54, the series was a moderate success, lasting for two seasons on CBS.  It is often compared to The Addams Family, a series that premiered one week earlier on rival network ABC, which also lasted a mere two seasons.  Both shows however have survived in endless syndication.  Although it made him a household name, Gwynne was never fond of the series, refusing to discuss it in interviews.  

....and on The Munsters.

As often happens to actors, Gwynne found himself typecast following the series' cancellation.  Movie roles were hard to come by, but he had great success performing in regional stage productions, including a Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

During the 1980s, Gwynne made a modest return to the silver screen, with small roles in a number of popular films, including The Cotton Club, Fatal Attraction and Pet Sematary (actual spelling).  These were all leading up to the movie role for which he is most famously known, that of Judge Chamberlain Haller in the 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny.  You can watch one of his more famous scenes here.  As successful as the film was, it would prove to be the last major role of Gwynne's career.

By the early 1990s, Gwynne and his second wife were living in a Maryland community called Taneytown, just outside of Baltimore.  His health was starting to decline, and by 1993, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  It would ultimately take his life on July 2, 1993, just one week shy of his 67th birthday.

Fred Gwynne was buried at Sandy Mount United Methodist Church in Finksburg, Maryland.  To this day, there is no headstone commemorating this Hollywood heavyweight.  The best way to find him is to look for the gray headstone (top left) that reads "Shannon."  Gwynne is buried in front of it.

Rest in peace, Mr. Gwynne.


  • In his later years, Gwynne wrote a series of children's books, with such delightful titles as The King Who Rained, A Little Pigeon Toad, and A Chocolate Moose for Dinner.  He also drew the illustrations for his works, which, as the titles suggest, are a collection of humorous homonyms.  You can peruse his collection on Amazon.  Wanna hear a creepy fan read one?  Check it out on YouTube.

  • Gwynne was the original choice to play Henry Warnimont on the NBC sit-com Punky Brewster, until a dimwitted casting agent referred to the actor as Herman Munster.  Upon hearing that name, Gwynne withdrew from the role, which was ultimately given to George Gaynes.

  • Super fans Sandra and Charles McKee have painstakingly re-created the Munsters mansion in Waxahachie, Texas.  Their stated goal is to "spread the passion with the general public of the Munster television series" and they do just that.  Visit their web site for information on tours, which this blogger highly recommends.