Fred Gwynne, best known for his role as Herman Munster in “The Munsters,” had a great career in Hollywood. However, his life behind the scenes wasn’t always a bed of roses.
Standing at six feet and five inches, Fred Gwynne was easily noticed by others. So when he enrolled in a drama class, his teacher told him that he was too tall for acting.
His features, however, made him the perfect cast for Herman Munster in the hit series “The Munsters” and landed him other roles as well. Here’s a glimpse into his life.
Gwynne was born Frederick Hubbard Gwynne in New York City on July 10, 1926. His father, Fredrick, was a stockbroker, while his mother, Dorothy, was a comic strip creator.
His father’s job made their family live in different states such as Colorado, South Carolina, and Florida. Unfortunately, their comfortable life was cut short when the patriarch died. The actor was eight at that time.
Still, life went on for Gwynne, and soon he found himself on the creative spectrum. He studied art at Harvard and became a cartoonist for The Harvard Lampoon.
His acting career came shortly after when he took on plays in the Hasty Pudding Theatrical shows and joined the Brattle Theatre Repertory Company.
Although Gwynne decided to stop acting and work as a copywriter in New York, he found himself back on stage when he was cast for the Broadway play “McThing.” Soon after, he appeared in several more plays. Writer and director Geoffrey Mark said:
“I don’t know if you’d call him a big Broadway star, but Fred was a featured player in play after play after play in the 1950s, doing a lot of comedy and singing. And this led him to doing live television and being seen by television people.”
Because of his on-stage roles, Gwynne was in “The Phil Silvers Show” and later, “Car 54, Where Are You?” The sitcom aired from 1961 through to 1963 and received four Emmy Award nominations.
The legendary actor died of complications from pancreatic cancer in July 1993 at his home in Taneytown, Maryland.
Eventually, Gwynne was cast for the leading role in “The Munsters,” thanks to his tall build and unique features, including his naturally big voice. In a previous interview, he revealed:
“I think the size of my voice goes back to the fact that my father was deaf and hated wearing a hearing aid. So my mother always TALKED LIKE THIS, which tended to be embarrassing to a ten-year-old child in a restaurant.”
Herman Munster was a character whose similarity to Frankenstein’s monster was anything but unexpected. The show was a success, and Gwynne gained immediate popularity as a devil with an endearing personality.
In a 1978 interview with The New York Times, Gwynne said that he made cash from it despite the fact he didn’t get rich from the show.
“I was working for Universal under what they called a minimum residual deal,” he explained. “That means I got paid for the first years of reruns, but that’s all.”
Notwithstanding, the acclaimed actor’s role in “The Munsters” was not easy. He would constantly sweat with his costume on the set. Gwynne likewise endured a lot of back pain. Also, the make-up procedure took three hours consistently.
“The Munsters” ran from 1964 to 1966. Gwynne then did a wide range of various things, ranging from writing and illustrating books to showing up in plays. Sadly, Gwynne had been typecast as a monster since then. He did the television film “Munsters’ Revenge” in 1981.
All through the ’80s and ’90s, Gwynne did commercial voice-overs and kept on doing motion pictures like “The Mysterious Stranger,” “The Boy Who Could Fly,” “Disorganized Crime,” and “Shadows and Fog.”
Behind the scenes, Gwynne was a doting father to five children, Evan, Dylan, Keiron, Madyn, and Gaynor, all of whom he shared with his first wife, Jean “Foxy” Reynard.
Sadly, their family faced tragedies that left their children broken. When their child, Keiron, was over one year old, a severe brain injury caused the boy to be mentally handicapped.
In addition, during the run of “The Munsters,” Gwynne received mortifying news one day — his child, Dylan, had drowned in the family pool. Mark said:
“It had such a devastating effect on him, but he kept that very much to himself. When he was acting, he acted, but offscreen, he was a bereaved parent.”
He continued, “Between all of that and how hard he was finding it to get work, he bought a farmhouse in Maryland and retreated into that very private life.” Following his on-screen career, Gwynne eventually found his way back to the theater.
In 1980, Gwynne divorced his first wife, and eight years later, he married Deb Gwynne. The legendary actor died of complications from pancreatic cancer in July 1993 at his home in Taneytown, Maryland. He was buried at Sandy Mount United Methodist Church Cemetery in Finksburg, Maryland.