The Munsters was one of the most successful sitcoms of the 1960s. Taking advantage of the public’s infatuation with classic monster movies. The show followed a family whose members were all based off of classic monsters, from Frankenstein’s monster to Dracula. In the role of father Herman Munster Fred Gwynne, tasked with playing a spot-on caricature of Frankenstein’s monster. As one might imagine, the heavy make-up and costume took an incredible toll on the actor and his health. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Fred Gwynne almost died for The Munsters.
The Munsters was a successful sitcom that ran from 1964 to 1966. Although the series only lasted for two seasons. It continued to air in reruns after it’s initial airing and is still considered one of the most popular sitcoms of it’s time. The show centered on the novel premise of following a typical sitcom family that happened to made up of caricatures of classic monsters. This included a grandfather that was essentially Dracula, and a father that was essentially Frankenstein’s monster. Actor Fred Gwynne played the latter character, whose name was Herman Munster. Playing the character took an incredible tool on Fred due to the strenuous costume and make-up.
Fred Gwynne was born in New York City on July 10, 1926. His father a partner in a notable securities firm known as Gwynne Brothers. And his mother a performance artist that had gained some notoriety around the city thanks to her various comedic characters, such as “Sunny Jim”. Fred’s parents had two other children, who both died well before their time. These were the first of several tragic deaths that Fred would experience over his lifetime.
Much of Fred’s childhood spent in the states of Colorado, Florida, and South Carolina, despite the fact that he had been born and initially raised in New York City. Fred’s father forced to move around continuously due to his work. Sadly, Fred’s father died while Fred was still young. His father had gone into the doctors for a fairly innocuous sinus operation that freakishly turned deadly after an unfortunate mistake. The loss of his father was devastating to Fred, who was only eight years old at the time.
A few years after his father’s death, Fred began going through the growth spurts that would lead him towards his eventual staggering height of 6’ 5”. Of course, this height would come to the future actor’s advantage when playing a caricature of Frankenstein’s monster many years later on The Munsters. However, Fred still had a long ways to go before life took him on the path to that successful show.
Due to the fact that he had travelled around so much as a child. Fred already had a hard time fitting in with his peers before his growth spurts. However, the teen managed to escape his anxieties by dedicating his time to his school’s theater department. The boy had a predilection for performance at an early age thanks to his mother. And found he had a natural talent for acting on the stage.
After he graduated from high school, Fred decided to enlist in the United States Navy. In the Navy, Fred given a job as a radio operator aboard a submarine chaser. This during World War II, which meant that Fred given plenty of work to do. Legend has it that the job took a tool on Fred due to the cacophonous and monotonous nature of the Morse code beeps. Apparently, Fred broke down in tears on one occasion due to the noise. And subsequently given a different position aboard the submarine chaser.
Fred returned from World War II in the 1940s. And worked for a time as a swimming instructor in the state of Massachusetts. He continued his education, attending Harvard and graduating from the prestigious university in 1951. While attending the school, Fred was a cartoonist for the Harvard Lampoon, and sang with an a cappella group. As well, he continued performing on the stage in theater productions for the school’s drama department.
After graduating from Harvard in 1951, Fred moved back to New York City. There, he continued performing in small theater productions while working as a copywriter for a local ad agency. In 1952, Fred given his first role in a Broadway production. This production a comedy play titled Mrs. McThing, in which Fred cast a gangster. Due to his intimidating demeanor, Fred fit the bill perfectly. Upon casted, Fred quit his job as a copywriter.
Fred continued performing on the stage for a few years before making his first appearance on the cinema screen. This came via a role in the film On the Waterfront. Although the role so small that Fred didn’t even receive a credit. The film a major success and allowed Fred to seen by more people than ever before. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Soon after making his first appearance on cinema screens in the 1954 feature On the Waterfront. Fred Gwynne made his first appearance on television. Apparently, Phil Silvers had taken notice of Fred’s small role in On the Waterfront. And subsequently tracked Fred down to cast him in his show. Fred appeared on The Phil Silvers Show shortly afterwards, playing the character of Corporal Ed Honnergar. The character proved popular with the show’s audience, and brought back again in another episode.
After his appearances on The Phil Silvers Show, Fred given an even more notable role on the cop sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? Fred casted as Patrolman Francis Muldoon, once again being perfect for the role thanks to his staggering size. However, his time on the show would lead him to a role that he was even more perfect for. With that being the role of Herman Munster on The Munsters.
Fred said to have nearly turned down the role of Herman Munster, and he possibly should have. Though both the show and the character proved incredibly successful, they took a toll on Fred that would haunt him for the rest of his life. As well, Fred suffered unrelated tragedies around the time of the show that caused him to look back on that period disdainfully for other reasons besides the physical demands of the costume and make-up.
As one might imagine, the costume and make-up required for Fred to accurately portray the character of Herman in every episode was both daunting for the actor to have applied and daunting for him to perform in. He had to take supplements so that he didn’t suffer from dehydration during his time in the make-up and costume due to how much he sweated. Fred began losing a great deal of weight while on the show, and many became concerned for his health.
Despite the physical demands of the make-up and costume, Fred managed to survive filming The Munsters’ two seasons. However, other tragedies occurred around the time period. In 1952, Fred had married his first wife. Fred’s first wife was a woman by the name of Jean Reynard. Together, the two had five children. They named their children Gaynor, Kieron, Evan, Madyn, and Dylan. Dylan was the youngest, born in 1962. When Dylan was less than a year old, he drowned in the family’s swimming pool. This was far from the first loss that Fred had experienced in his life, but the actor was still incredibly devastated. The dark shadow of his youngest son’s death loomed over the production of The Munsters.
The death of Dylan wasn’t even the only tragedy Fred faced regarding his five children. A year after second child Kieron’s birth in 1954, the child suffered a brain injury that left him seriously disabled for the rest of his life. Fred and Jean remained married until 1980.
A year after his divorce from Jean, Fred returned to the role of Herman Munster in a made-for-television reunion film titled The Munsters’ Revenge. Following this, the actor had an unlikely career renaissance that saw him being cast in various films over the course of the decade. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Fred Gwynne almost died for The Munsters.
Throughout the 1980s, Fred appeared in The Secret of My Success, The Cotton Club, Fatal Attraction, Pet Semetary, and many more notable films. In 1992, Fred gave the most acclaimed performance of his later career in the hit film My Cousin Vinny. Sadly, the actor’s newfound notoriety was cut short only a year later due to his untimely death.
Fred had allowed himself to suffer through so much to get where he was in Hollywood, but it sadly all came crashing down for the actor in 1993. After surviving the torturous make-up and costume it took to portray Herman Munster, many may have viewed Fred as an invincible giant. However, the actor sadly passed away in 1993 from pancreatic cancer. Fred was 66 years old at the time of his passing. In 1988, Fred had married second wife Deborah Flater, and they were together when he died.
Fred’s final acting role was performing the voice of real-life historical figure Edwin Stanton in a 1992 made-for-television educational feature depicting the life of Abraham Lincoln, titled Lincoln. The actor’s most iconic role remains Herman Munster, despite the fact that The Munsters only ran for two seasons. Many believe that The Munsters was cancelled after only two seasons due to the success of Batman. That show came on the air in 1966, the same year The Munsters was cancelled. However, The Munsters lives on in reruns, and is still viewed as a classic sitcom of it’s time today.
Thanks to both The Munsters and The Munsters’ Revenge, there are plenty of opportunities for audiences to revisit Fred Gwynne in character as Herman Munster. Comment down below to share if you’re a fan of Fred’s portrayal of the iconic character, or if you were surprised to learn that the role was so hard for Fred to perform! As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!