Frederick Hubbard “Fred” Gwynne was born on July 10, 1926, and was best known for his roles in the 1960s sitcoms Car 54, Where Are You? And The Munsters, as well as his later roles in Pet Sematary, The Cotton Club and My Cousin Vinny.
Gwynne was born in New York City, son of Frederick Walker Gwynne, a partner in the securities firm Gwynne Brothers, and his wife Dorothy Ficken.
His paternal grandfather was an Episcopal priest born in Camus, near Strabane, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, and his maternal grandfather was an immigrant from London, England.
Gwynne attended the Groton School, and graduated from Harvard University, where he was affiliated with Adams House, in 1951. Although Gwynne grew up in Tuxedo Park, New York, he spent most of his childhood in South Carolina, Florida, and Colorado because his father traveled extensively, but where did Fred Gwynne get the acting bug?
During World War II, Gwynne served in the U.S. Navy. He later studied art under the G.I. Bill, to support himself, Gwynne worked as a copywriter for J. Walter Thompson, resigning in 1952 upon being cast in his first Broadway role, a gangster in a comedy called Mrs. McThing, which starred Helen Hayes.
In 1954 he made his first cinematic appearance playing in an unaccredited role the laconic character “Slim” in the Oscar-winning film On the Waterfront opposite Marlon Brando and Lee J. Cobb.
As career started to plummet into stardom, a talented vocalist, Gwynne sang in a Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-television production, The Littlest Angel (1969), and went on to perform in a variety of roles on stage and screen.
Today’s YouTube video clip shared by user name Craig Patterson is Fred Gwynne playing the judge in the movie called, “My Cousin Vinny.” As Joe Pesci character explains to the judge, “What two yutes are?”
In addition to his acting career, Gwynne sang professionally, painted, and wrote and illustrated children’s books, including It’s Easy to See Why, A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, The King Who Rained, Best In Show, Pondlarker, The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, and A Little Pigeon Toad.
Many of these efforts were based on children’s frequent misperceptions of things they hear from adults, such as the “chocolate moose for dinner,” which was illustrated as a large brown quadruped seated at the dinner table.
Perhaps one of the reasons the books did not achieve wider popularity was the fact that their format was geared to a very young audience, but the concept itself was more appealing to older children and adults. He also lent his voice talents to commercials and radio shows such as CBS Radio Mystery Theater.
In 1952, Gwynne married socialite Jean Reynard, a granddaughter of New York City mayor William Jay Gaynor.
They had five children, three sons, Evan, Dylan, and Keiron, and two daughters, Madyn and Gaynor, before divorcing in 1980.
Dylan died in a drowning accident as a child in 1963, and Keiron was born with developmental disabilities. In 1988, Gwynne married Deborah Flater. Gwynne died of pancreatic cancer on July 2, 1993, at the age of 66.
One of Fred Gwynne’s personal quotes was when he said, “yesterday morning I found my youngest son and daughter watching the rerun of an old The Munster episode that was made in 1964, and I said, “My God, THAT’S not still on, is it?” Well, even so, I was very lucky and it was great fun to be as much of a household product as something like Rinso. I almost wish I could do it all over again.”
Here’s to Herman Munster, the judge in my cousin Vinny, to all his wonderful characters portrayed by Fred Gwynne, as we wish him a happy birthday!
Written & Designed by JD Mitchell