Who was Fred Gwynne?

He was an actor with over 60 acting credits to his name, however, Fred Gwynne left his mark in the entertainment industry playing Herman Munster, a goofy parody of Frankenstein in the series “The Munsters”. Being 6ft 6ins (1.98m) tall, Fred seemed to be perfect for the role, and although his towering height contributed to him being cast for this role, many said that Fred’s sense of humor and enormous acting talent was crucial.

When it comes to his movie roles, Fred is probably remembered as Judge Chamberlain Haller in “My Cousin Vinny”, which earned him a nomination for the American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.

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Early life, family, and education

Born Frederick Hubbard Gwynne under the zodiac sign of Cancer on 10 July 1926, in New York City USA, he held American nationality and had Irish and English heritage. Fred was raised by his parents, Frederick and Dorothy, and it is believed that he had two siblings, who sadly both died young.

Most of his childhood days Fred spent in Tuxedo Park, New York, although the family moved and he spent some time in Florida, Colorado, and Massachusetts, where he attended Groton School. During World War II, as an 18-year-old boy, he served in the United States Navy.

When the war ended, Fred worked as a swimming instructor at the yacht club in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Subsequently, he enrolled at Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1951. There, he sang with a cappella group and acted for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. Following his graduation, Fred moved back to New York City, to launch his acting career. His first Broadway role came in 1952 when he was cast to play in the comedy “Mrs McThing”.

Roles in series

Fred made his television debut in an episode of “The Philco Television Playhouse” in 1952. In the following year, he was seen as Davy Crockett in two episodes of the series “You Are There”, followed by guest roles in “The Phil Silvers Show” (1955), “Suspicion” (1957), “The Investigator” (1958), and “Play of the Week” in 1961.

Later that year, Fred was cast to play his breakthrough role as Officer Francis Muldon in the sitcom “Car 54, Where Are You?” also starring Joe E. Ross, with whom Fred shares the TV Land Award nomination for Favorite Crime-stopper Duo. From 1961 through 1963, Fred was seen in all 60 episodes of this hilarious show, focused on the antics of New York’s finest.

In the following year, Fred was seen playing his most notable role as Herman Munster in “The Munsters”, starring opposite Al Lewis and Yvonne De Carlo. Fred was seen in all 72 episodes of this family comedy about friendly monsters and their misadventures. For his role, Fred had to wear make-up and his face was painted purple (it captured the most light on the black-and-white screen). The show aired between 1964 and 1966, had five award nominations, and Fred was nominated for the TV Land Award- Most Uninsurable Driver.

After his role in “The Munsters”, Fred was typecast, which caused his decision to focus on movie roles. He made some guest appearances in series and shows such as “Great Performances” (1971) and “Norman Corwin Presents” (1972) and a decade later he was seen as Charles Dickens in “American Playhouse”.

Fred’s last TV series appearance was his portrayal of Davis LeRoy in two episodes of the comedy “Kane & Abel” in 1985. Later, he was heard as Fred the Moose in an episode of the “HBO Storybook Musicals” in 1990.

Roles in movies

Fred made his movie debut as Slim in the 1954 movie “On the Waterfront”, but his role was uncredited. In the late ‘60s, he was seen as Herman Munster in the TV movie “Marineland Carnival: The Munsters Visit Marineland” (1965) and he reprised his role in “Munster, Go Home” in 1966.

Two years later, Fred was cast to play Warren Springer in the TV movie “Mad Mad Scientist”, followed by his role as Jonathan Brewster in another movie made for television, entitled “Arsenic and Old Lace”. The early ‘70s saw Fred in the TV movies “Dames at Sea” (1971), “Harvey” (1972), and “Bound for Freedom” (1976).

He returned on the big screen as Douglas Winter in the 1979 drama “Luna”, written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, which won the Turkish Film Critics Association Award for Best Foreign Film.

Fred followed with his role as Major Korey in the 1980 science-fiction comedy “Simon” which followed the story of Professor Simon who after a brainwashing experiment has been convinced that he’s from another planet. The movie was nominated for the Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Most Painfully Unfunny Comedy.

The early ‘80s saw Fred starring in movies made for television, and among others, he again reprised his role as Herman Munster in “The Munsters’ Revenge” in 1981. Later that year, he was cast to play Chairman Lincoln in “So Fine”, starring Ryan O’Neal and Mariangela Melato, followed by his role as Frenchy Demange in the 1984 movie “The Cotton Club”.

The movie followed the story of jazz musicians, dancers, guests, and owner of Harlem’s The Cotton Club, starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane, and Gregory Hines. It was written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and nominated for two Oscars (Best Film Editing, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration).

Fred was next seen as Spender in the 1985 adventure comedy “Water”, followed by his roles in “Off Beat”, “The Boy Who Could Fly”, and “The Christmas Star”, all in 1986. He played Donald Davenport in the 1987 comedy “The Secret of My Success”, starring Michael J. Fox, and later that year, Fred was seen as Arthur in “Fatal Attraction”.

He followed with his roles in “Pet Sematary” (1989) and “Shadows and Fog” (1991) before he landed his most notable (and last) movie role as Judge Chamberlain Haller in the 1992 comedy crime drama “My Cousin Vinny”. The plot revolved around two New Yorkers who were accused of murder in rural Alabama while returning to college. They seek the assistance of one of their cousins, a brash lawyer with no trial experience. Fred co-starred with Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, and Marisa Tomei.

Love life and wives

Fred’s first wife was Jean Reynard, the granddaughter of William Jay Gaynor, who was a New York City mayor. The two married in 1952, and their first son, Kieron, was born in 1953. Their first daughter, Gaynor was born in the following year, while their second son, Evan, was born in 1956. In 1962, Jean gave birth to their fourth child, Dylan, who sadly drowned in 1963. Two years later, the family welcomed another daughter they named Madyn.

Fred and Jean divorced in 1980, and Fred married his second wife, Deborah Flater in 1988. They were married until Fred died in 1993.

Cause of death? How rich was Fred Gwynne?

Fred was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and due to complications, he died on 2 July 1993, at his and Deborah’s home in Taneytown, Maryland. For unknown reasons, he was buried in an unmarked grave.

There have been some rumors saying that he died in poverty, however, according to sources, at the time of his death his net worth was estimated at over $2 million.

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