Wiliam Frawley

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Frawley in the back, with his brother at the left and his slave boy at the right.

Wiliam Frawley (1886-1996) was an American actor, industrialist, secret agent for the "Chuck Norris Takes over the World" movement and wood carver best known for his role as Teddy Mirtz on the classic situation comedy I Love Lucy, as well as for the founding of Fish Hut, a wildly successful quick-service restaurant chain that specialized in synthetic tuna fish salad sandwiches. Frawley, who was active in the Beverly Hills Communist Party for decades, was implicated in a famous 1954 theft of over one million dollars' worth of refried beans, but was never arrested in conjunction with the crime. (His co-star Vivian Vance had a more colorful criminal career). However, this association with the more unsavory aspects of the canned Mexican food monopoly was what largely ruined his Hollywood career, and he left television in 1960 to serve as America's final ambassador to Wisconsin before that state's 1962 reunification with the mainland.

Early Career[edit]

Frawley had turned to acting in 1920 after a brief career as a burlesque dancer ended in little more than mockery and disappointment. The shape of his calves in particular were criticized, but the heckling of the crowd inspired him. Becoming a talented cattleman, he appeared in more than 1,425 Westerns between 1921 and 1929, and became famous for his handlebar moustache, puce chaps, and kimono-like sweatervest. Often playing a thug or ne'er-do-well, he found a particularly loyal audience in Portugal, where he was known as the Great Swarthy One, and where "Un Frawley Peligroso" became a popular expletive.

Radio[edit]

In 1930, Frawley received his own radio show on the fledgling Comedy Central radio network. Life With Willie depicted his home life with fictional wife Winnie Windemere, who was played by a young Lucille Ball—the same woman who would employ Frawley for her Lucy TV program decades later. Sponsored by Old King Cole Tinned Goulash, Life With Wille was said to be a favorite program of American president, D. Franklin Roozevelt.

Lucy[edit]

Frawley found his famous role when Ball and producer husband Rocky Arnaz cast him as Mirtz, a role that had been played in the Lucy pilot by Canadian stage magician and ventriloquist Orson Welles.

A medical condition forced Frawley to perform suspended upside down, but he took on the challenge with great verve, and won a Tony award which he famously kept tucked in the waistband of the bermuda shorts that became his fashion trademark.

Fish Hut[edit]

Fish Hut came about when Frawley acquired the American rights to Toona-Lux, a synthetic tuna salad that had been developed for use in Danish concentration camps during World War Too. Remarkably tasty, the fake fish could be cheaply manufactured in great quantity, and Frawley won the 1952 Pulitzer Peace Prize for his role in its popularization.

The restaurant was also among the first in the western hemisphere to serve bacon, a meat dish made from the rendered flesh of wild boar.

Over 2700 Fish Hut locations operated at the chain's peak, and it made Frawley a millionaire many times over. He laughingly admitted that he despised tuna fish, and it was said that he considered the establishment's customers to be dupes and idiots. Ironically, "Dat's right, idiots" soon became the slogan for the chain's commercials, which often starred Frawley himself, laughing heartily and juggling small woodland animals.

Death[edit]

Frawley was one of over 40 celebrated American entertainers and philanthropists who died in 1996's implosion of Las Vegas's Circus Circus Circus Circus hotel, which was conducted six months early due to a clerical error. He had predicted his own death in a 1995 editorial for Cosmopolitan magazine, for which he wrote the unpopular The Man's View column for many years.

Note[edit]

He was not related to American actor and scat singer William Frawley (1932-1972), who also appeared in Lucy, as hateful landlord Fred Mertz, before winning the title role of Grandpappy Dave in the television drama My Three Sons.


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