‘I Love Lucy’: ‘Fred Mertz’ Actor William Frawley Had One Condition Written Into His Contract

by Josh Lanier

Before there was Reggie Jackson, there was William Frawley — the true Mr. October. That’s because the I Love Lucy actor had a very specific clause in his contract that dealt with the Yankees.

Frawley, who played Lucy and Ricky’s loveable landlord Fred Mertz, was a devout Yankees fan. In fact, he was so devoted to the team that he refused to work if the Bronx Bombers made it to the World Series. Unfortunately for I Love Lucy, the 1950s were some of the most productive years for the team ever. They made the World Series in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, and 1958. According to The Lucy Desi Museum, Frawley’s character was written out of two episodes to accommodate this contractual stipulation.

‘I Love Lucy’ Had 3 Strike Rule with Fred Frawley

Unfortunately, this wasn’t Frawley’s only special accommodation. Fans of I Love Lucy will notice the actor often had his hands in his pockets, and on occasion, the camera would spot his hands shaking. Sadly, he was battling alcoholism. Since he couldn’t drink on set, he would begin to go into withdrawals, which made his hands shake.

William Frawley would keep his hands in his pockets as much as possible to hide this from audiences. The show turned it into one of the character’s quirks and worked having his hands in his pockets into few storylines.

Frawley’s alcoholism was no secret in Hollywood. In fact, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball both wanted Gale Gordon for the role, but he was unavailable. Arnaz knew Frawley and offered him the job. It ironically came with a three-strikes clause. Production would only allow three screw-ups from Frawley. The first would be a warning, the second would have consequences, and on a third, he would be out of a job.

That system worked well for Frawley. He appeared on the show and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour for nine years. During that time, Frawley was ever the professional and endured withdrawal symptoms for the role. By the end of his tenure, Frawley received $7,500 for the role.

Sadly, he never beat his addiction. He had another memorable role on My Three Sons in the 1960s but suffered several health conditions over the years. Frawley began to show up to work late and argue with his coworkers. He was eventually fired from My Three Sons after he failed an insurance exam.

When Frawley died in 1966, Arnaz took out an ad in the paper to remember Frawley with the memorial: “Buenos noches, amigo.”