Frederick Hubbard Gwynne was born in New York City in July 1926. Gwynne’s father was a successful stockbroker whose job demanded frequent travel; as a result, Gwynne spent his childhood living in several different states, including South Carolina, Florida and Colorado. Gwynne enlisted in the Navy during World War II, serving as a radioman aboard a sub-chaser.
After the war, he attended Harvard University. An aspiring painter, Gwynne drew cartoons for the school’s notorious humor magazine, “The Harvard Lampoon,” and later became president of the publication. Upon graduation in 1951, he returned to New York and worked several jobs, such as creating commercial artwork and copywriting at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, where he wrote slogans for the Ford Motor Company. Although a drama teacher had once told him that he was too big to be an actor—Gwynne stood six feet, five inches tall—he performed in Shakespearean plays and appeared on Broadway in the early 1950s. His first on-screen appearance was an uncredited role in the Oscar-winning film “On the Waterfront” in 1954. He played a variety of television roles throughout the rest of the decade.
Gwynne’s first big break came in 1961 when he was cast in the role of police officer Francis Muldoon on the comedy series “Car 54, Where Are You?” The show aired until 1963; the following year, he was cast in “The Munsters.” With a high forehead, a square jaw and a deep voice, he was a natural fit for the role of Herman Munster, a friendly parody of Frankenstein’s monster. But even then, he needed some help to bring Herman to life; he wore heavy makeup to play the character, including elevator shoes that added four inches to his already imposing height, 50 pounds of padding and a wig. Like “Car 54,” “The Munsters” was not on the air for long and ended its original run on television in 1966, but both shows were popular in syndication.
That same year, Gwynne returned to the role of Herman Munster for the feature film “Munster, Go Home!”, as well as the TV reunion movie “The Munsters’ Revenge” in 1981. Gwynne was reportedly paid $200,000 a year for playing Herman, but the success was like a double-edged sword; after “The Munsters” ended, he found himself typecast and had difficulty landing new parts in film and television. Despite that, he admitted that Herman was one of his favorite roles to play. “I love old Herman Munster,” he told The New York Times. “Much as I try not to, I can’t stop liking that fellow.”
During the 1970s and 1980s, Gwynne largely avoided television; when a casting director for the 1980s sitcom “Punky Brewster” called him “Herman Munster” during an audition, the insulted Gwynne dropped out of the role. He occasionally appeared in films and played dramatic roles on Broadway. He also distinguished himself as a voice actor, as his distinctive voice made him an ideal narrator for radio and TV advertisements.
When he was not acting, Gwynne practiced his painting. Inspired by his daughter, he wrote and illustrated several children’s books based on puns and wordplay, such as “A Chocolate Moose for Dinner,” “A Little Pigeon Toad” and “The King Who Rained.” Gwynne began the public exhibition of his paintings in 1989. His final on-screen role was that of Judge Chamberlain Haller in the 1992 film “My Cousin Vinny,” the end of an acting career that spanned 42 years.
Gwynne died on July 2, 1993, at the age of 66.
We honor his service.