Born on this day July 10, 1926 American actor Frederick Hubbard “Fred” Gwynne was best known for his roles in the 1960s sitcoms Car 54, Where Are You? and The Munsters, as well as his later roles in Pet Sematary and My Cousin Vinny. He was recognized for his distinctive baritone voice.
Born in New York City, a son of Frederick Walker Gwynne, a partner in the securities firm Gwynne Brothers, and his wife Dorothy Ficken, Gwynne attended the Groton School, and graduated from Harvard University, where he was affiliated with Adams House, in 1951. Gwynne spent most of his childhood in South Carolina, Florida, and Colorado because his father traveled extensively. At Harvard, he was a member of the Fly Club, sang with the a cappella group the Harvard Krokodiloes, was a cartoonist for the Harvard Lampoon (eventually becoming its president), and acted in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals shows.
During World War II, Gwynne served in the U.S. Navy.
Gwynne joined the Brattle Theatre Repertory Company after graduation, then moved to New York City. To support himself, Gwynne worked as a copywriter for J. Walter Thompson, resigning in 1952 upon being cast in his first Broadway role, a gangster in a comedy called Mrs. McThing, which starred Helen Hayes.
Phil Silvers was impressed by Gwynne from his work in Mrs. McThing and sought him for his television show. As a result, in 1955, Gwynne made a memorable appearance on The Phil Silvers Show, in the episode “The Eating Contest” as the character Private Honigan, whose depressive eating binges are exploited by Sgt. Bilko (Phil Silvers), who seeks prize money by entering Honigan in an eating contest.
Gwynne’s second appearance on The Phil Silvers Show (in the episode “For The Birds” in 1956) and many other shows led writer-producer Nat Hiken to cast him in the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? as Patrolman Francis Muldoon, opposite Joe E. Ross.
Gwynne was 6 ft 5 in tall, an attribute that contributed to his being cast as Herman Munster, a goofy parody of Frankenstein’s monster, in the sitcom The Munsters. For his role he had to wear 40 or 50 lbs of padding, makeup, and 4-inch elevator shoes.
A talented vocalist, Gwynne sang in a Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-television production, The Littlest Angel (1969), and went on to perform in a variety of roles on stage and screen. In 1984, he tried out for the part of Henry on the show Punky Brewster. The role of Henry subsequently went to George Gaynes. In 1987, Gwynne starred in a short-lived TV series Jake’s M.O. where he played an investigative reporter.
Gwynne’s Pet Sematary character has had recurring parody appearances in the South Park episodes “Butters’ Very Own Episode”, “Asspen”, and “Marjorine”. Gwynne also had roles in the movies Simon, On the Waterfront, So Fine, Disorganized Crime, The Cotton Club, Captains Courageous, The Secret of My Success, Water, Ironweed, Fatal Attraction and The Boy Who Could Fly. In his last film, Gwynne played Judge Chamberlain Haller in the 1992 film comedy My Cousin Vinny, in which he used a Southern accent.
In addition to his acting career, Gwynne sang professionally, painted, and wrote and illustrated children’s books, including It’s Easy to See Why, A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, The King Who Rained, Best In Show, Pondlarker, The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, and A Little Pigeon Toad.
1899 – John Gilbert (John Cecil Pringle) (silent film star: Bullets and Brown Eyes, The Merry Widow, The Big Parade; died Jan 9, 1936)
1921 – Jeff (Jean Marie) Donnell (actress: The George Gobel Show, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Gidget Goes to Rome, My Man Godfrey; died Apr 11, 1988)
1923 – Earl Hamner Jr. (writer: Palm Springs Weekend, Spencer’s Mountain, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story; creator: Falcon Crest; executive producer, narrator: The Waltons)
1926 – Fred Gwynne (actor: The Munsters, Car 54 Where are You?, My Cousin Vinny, Fatal Attraction, Pet Sematary, Ironweed; died July 2, 1993)
1931 – Nick Adams (actor: The Rebel, Mister Roberts, Picnic, Our Miss Brooks, No Time for Sergeants, Hell is for Heroes; died Feb 6, 1968)
1933 – Jerry Herman (composer, lyricist: Hello, Dolly!, La Cage aux Folles, Mame, Dear World, Mack and Mabel)
1939 – Lawrence Pressman (actor: The Late Shift, Fire and Rain, The Hanoi Hilton, On Wings of Eagles, For Love or Money, The Winds of War, The Gathering series, Rich Man, Poor Man, The Man in the Glass Booth, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Mulligan’s Stew, Ladies’ Man, Doogie Howser, M.D.)
1945 – Ron Glass (actor: Barney Miller, Deep Space, Houseguest)
1946 – Sue Lyon (actress: The Invisible Strangler, The Flim Flam Man, The Night of the Iguana, Lolita)
1949 – Winston Rekert (actor: Agnes of God, Droids, Adderly, Glory! Glory!, Neon Rider, Moonlight Becomes You, Murder at the Cannes Film Festival)
1980 – Thomas Ian Nicholas (actor: Radio Flyer, A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, American Pie, Party of Five, Halloween: The Homecoming)