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.

No comments:

Post a Comment