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Fred Gwynne; Actor Played 'Munster,' 'Car 54' Roles

July 03, 1993|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fred Gwynne, a dour but lovable stage, film and television actor for four decades who was best remembered for his leading roles in the 1960s cult television series "The Munsters" and "Car 54 Where Are You?" died Friday. He was 66.

Gwynne died in his home near Baltimore of pancreatic cancer, his New York legal representatives at Kraditor, Haber & Bienstock announced.

The versatile character actor had most recently appeared as the Southern judge in the popular comedy film, "My Cousin Vinny," released last year.

Asked about his favorite parts, Gwynne named serious roles such as Big Daddy in the play "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," but then added:

"And I might as well tell you the truth. I love old Herman Munster. Much as I try not to, I can't stop liking that fellow."

The 6-foot, 5-inch Gwynne wore elevator shoes, plugs on his neck and a square head to play the seven-foot, Frankenstein monster-like Herman, patriarch of an odd clan that lived in the eerie Gothic mansion at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in the 1964-66 CBS series.

Although the original black-and-white series was short-lived, it has enjoyed a longstanding history in reruns and was remade as "The Munsters Today" with John Shuck as Herman in 1988-91.

Gwynne's television life as the New York cop Francis Muldoon in "Car 54 Where Are You?" was also short-lived, running on NBC from 1961 to 1963, but that series also has enjoyed perennial reruns. With Joe E. Ross as his short, nosy partner, Officer Gunther Toody, the taciturn Gwynne managed to find more comedy than crime in the 53rd Precinct station house and on the streets of New York's Bronx.

Gwynne was also a gifted writer and illustrator of children's books, including "The King Who Rained" and "Chocolate Moose for Dinner." He had recently completed a book to be published at Christmastime.

Born July 10, 1926, in New York City and the son of a stockbroker, Gwynne began his acting career in 1952, when he was featured with Helen Hayes in the Broadway play "Mrs. McThing." He appeared in such plays as "The Fogs of Spring," "The Lincoln Mask," "The Enchanted," "Our Town," "The Winter's Tale" and "Hamlet." He last appeared on Broadway in "Who Dunnit?" in 1983.

In 1979, Gwynne won an Obie, the off-Broadway award comparable to a Broadway Tony, for his role in "Grand Magic."

He made his film debut in "On the Waterfront" in 1954, and later appeared as a mobster in "The Cotton Club" in 1984, as leading man Michael Douglas' co-worker in "Fatal Attraction" in 1987, and as a curmudgeon in "Pet Sematary" in 1989.

Gwynne also was a familiar character on quality drama programs, including "Studio One," "Kraft Theater," "DuPont Show of the Month," "Play of the Week," "U.S. Steel Hour," and "Hallmark Hall of Fame."

Gwynne's distinctively deep voice was also familiar in television commercials and voice-overs for documentaries.

He served in the Navy during World War II and graduated from Harvard University in 1951.

Gwynne is survived by his wife, Deborah, and four children.

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