Biography

The son of a Wall Street broker, towering (6'5") actor Fred Gwynne was born sucking on the proverbial silver spoon. Gwynne attended the prestigious Groton prep school, where he made his acting bow in a student production of Henry V. He then attended Harvard, where he studying drawing with artist R.S. Merryman and was active in dramatics and as a staffer of the Harvard Crimson. Upon graduation, Gwynne played Shakespeare with the Cambridge repertory before heading to New York City. He appeared in such Broadway plays as Mrs. McThing and was cast in a bit role in the Oscar-winning film On the Waterfront, but for many years his principal source of income was as a book illustrator and commercial artist (his first published work was titled The Best in Show). In 1961, Gwynne was co-starring in the Broadway musical Irma La Douce when TV producer/writer Nat Hiken, who'd cast Gwynne in a handful of guest roles on the 1950s sitcom Sgt. Bilko, hired the actor to play NYPD officer Francis Muldoon on the weekly comedy Car 54, Where are You? A year after the series' cancellation, Gwynne was starred in his most famous TV role: bolt-necked, soft-hearted Herman Munster in The Munsters (1964-66). Afterwards, Gwynne distanced himself from television for the most part. In the 1970s and 1980s, he distinguished himself on Broadway in powerful dramatic roles, often playing autocratic Southerners (e.g. Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and an elderly Klansman in Texas Trilogy). Fred Gwynne also returned to films during this period, playing key roles in such major productions as The Cotton Club (1984) and Shadows and Fog (1992); he died of pancreatic cancer shortly after completing his critically acclaimed role of the judge in My Cousin Vinny (1993). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi