“I Love Lucy” actor William Frawley was a hilarious addition to the sitcom. But he often appeared on screen with hands in his pockets for one specific reason. In real life, Frawley battled alcoholism. While filming, Frawley couldn’t drink on the set. So, the actor began to experience withdrawals.
The alcohol withdrawals made Frawley’s hands shake as a result. In order to hide the symptom from audiences, Frawley kept his hands secured inside of his pockets. This created one of Mertz’s signature traits on the show. Frawley’s battle with alcohol was well known in the industry. Prior to appearing on “I Love Lucy,” Frawley’s career was in decline. The actor didn’t have steady employment and was also divorced. He lived alone in Los Angeles when Desi Arnaz approached him for the role.
Initially, both Arnaz and Lucille Ball wanted Gale Gordon for the role. But Gordon was unavailable. The couple decided to give Frawley a second shot at his career with conditions. Before offering him the role, Arnaz told Frawley the terms of his employment. 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.
William Frawley and His Later Career
But Frawley never beat his battle with alcohol. During the 1960s, the drink began negatively effect Frawley’s health. He struggled to maintain his professional career as his personal life slipped further away. The actor had a memorable role on “My Three Sons” in the 60s but suffered a myriad of health problems.
Frawley started forgetting his lines on-set and allegedly reacted angrily at his co-stars and crew as a result. He also began to fall asleep during filming. The problem got so bad that the show incorporated a prop man out of view to keep the actor awake when he started to nod off. After failing the show’s annual health insurance exam, Frawley was let go of the hit show.
The actor ended up passing away from a heart attack in 1966. Arnaz took out an ad in the paper to remember Frawley with the memorial: “Buenos noches, amigo.”