Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘I Love Lucy’: Why Star William Frawley Always Kept His Hands in His Pockets

‘I Love Lucy’: Why Star William Frawley Always Kept His Hands in His Pockets

For years, I Love Lucy fans have carefully watched this show’s actors work within their characters — this includes William Frawley. Frawley, for six seasons on I Love Lucy, played Fred Mertz opposite Vivian Vance’s Ethel Mertz, his wife on the show. Eagle-eyed fans know that Frawley puts his hands in his pockets a lot of the time he’s on camera.

This seems like a rather weird tick to have for a character. Well, it wasn’t so much for Mertz but for Frawley himself. Desi Arnaz, who co-produced the show that starred his wife Lucille Ball, took a chance by hiring Frawley. He was down on his luck and Arnaz threw him a lifeline. What was the problem here? Frawley dealt with alcoholism in his real life.

William Frawley Learned to Hide His Hands

There were times when Frawley would be detoxing from another round with the bottle. William Frawley would get the shakes, which affected his hands. Arnaz was quite clear upon hiring Frawley that he had a three-strike rule about getting drunk.

During the show’s run, Frawley probably did have a drink or two at times. Yet he was able to show up for work and perform his lines. Still, the fact that he stuffed his hands in his pants a lot lets you know he was suffering.

After I Love Lucy wrapped, Arnaz and Ball created The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. For a series of specials between 1957 and 1960, Frawley and Vance reprised their roles. But Frawley would find himself on another TV show later on, according to Crosswalk.

My Three Sons starred Fred MacMurray as widower Steve Douglas, who was the father of three boys. Frawley played “Bub,” who was the housekeeper for the Douglas home. In the show’s first five seasons, Frawley was able to keep working but his health got worse. That reportedly affected his on-set behavior, too. He was forgetting his lines and even had trouble staying awake on the set.

Health Issues Force Frawley Off ‘My Three Sons’

Eventually, Frawley left My Three Sons and William Demarest took over as Uncle Charley.

Sadly, Frawley’s health deteriorated. He rarely made television appearances anymore. His final one was a cameo on Ball’s The Lucy Show in October 1965. Frawley plays a horse trainer, has a couple of lines, then walks out of the scene. After he leaves, Lucy’s character says, “You know, he reminds me of someone I used to know.”

On March 3, 1966, Frawley was walking out of a movie theater on Hollywood Boulevard when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 79 years old.

While Frawley’s name is forever connected to I Love Lucy, he had quite a career in Vaudeville and films before TV. During his stage career, Frawley introduced such songs as My Mammy, My Melancholy Baby, and Carolina in the Morning. Frawley, as Mertz, sang that final song with Vance in an episode of I Love Lucy.