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Fred Mertz Meets The Man In Black & The Guy Who Climbed Blueberry Hill

March 2, 2012

March just came in like a lion in New Hampshire, USA (we got a foot of snow, our
first big storm since October), and I’m coming in late with my latest birthday clock tribute illustration, which features three guys born on February 26th: character actor William Frawley (1887-1966), country music singer Johnny Cash (1932-2003), and R&B pianist and songwriter Fats Domino (b. 1928). Here’s the final:Birthday tribute illustration featuring caricatures of actor William Frawley who played Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, country singer Johnny Cash, and rhythm and blues singer Fats Domino, all born on February 26th

The name William Frawley might not be familiar to those living outside the United States, but I’ll bet most people know the name Fred Mertz. That’s because the old television series I Love Lucy is known and loved throughout the world. Frawley played Mertz, the Ricardos’ landlord, for the entire run of the series. Here’s a larger detail image:

Detail image of birthday tribute illustration featuring caricatures of actor William Frawley who played Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, country singer Johnny Cash, and rhythm and blues singer Fats Domino, all born on February 26th

You may be thinking: I thought Johnny Cash played the guitar– why is he playing that odd-looking drum? That’s a conga drum, and it’s the musical instrument most associated with bandleader Desi Arnaz who starred with his wife Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy. I decided to squeeze in an extra joke by having Johnny Cash stand in for Desi with his old pal Fred Mertz.

These birthday tributes give me a chance to have some fun with type. Here’s a close-up of my Fats Domino caricature. Fats always had a rather sparse moustache, giving me a chance to work in the title of his biggest hit.

Detail close-up of Fats Domino from birthday tribute illustration featuring caricatures of actor William Frawley who played Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, country singer Johnny Cash, and rhythm and blues singer Fats Domino, all born on February 26th

William Frawley had a long career as a movie character actor, almost always playing an irascible curmudgeon. One of my own personal favorite Frawley roles is in the Christmas movie Miracle On 34th Street. He plays a “political advisor” who tells a judge in no uncertain terms that his political career is over if he rules there is no Santa Claus.

I was unable to find a decent still from that movie, but here’s a nice studio portrait of Frawley, along with a typical scene from I Love Lucy. Frawley had a paunch and wore
his pants fairly high, giving me an idea for where to place the birthday clock.   Portrait photo of actor William Frawley and scene from an episode of the television series I Love Lucy, starring Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley

Frawley played Fred Mertz from 1951 to 1960. He then played “Bub” O’Casey, the live-in grandfather and housekeeper for the first five seasons of My Three Sons, which starred Fred MacMurray as a widower raising three boys. Frawley and MacMurray had first worked together in a forgotten film called Car 99 way back in 1935.

Here’s a scene from My Three Sons, along with a publicity shot for Car 99, which also starred a very young Ann Sheridan.

Scene from episode of television series My Three Sons, starring Fred MacMurray and William Frawley, and scene from old movie Car 99, starring William Frawley, Fred MacMurray, and Ann Sheridan

Johnny Cash (d. 2003) is an undisputed country music legend. He was famous for performing free concerts in prisons, which led to hugely successful live recordings: At Folsom Prison (1968) and At San Quentin (1969) were both multi-platinum best-selling albums. Over time, he began wearing black for his stage performances, which led to his nickname, The Man In Black.

His hit songs are too numerous to mention, but they included Ring Of Fire (#1 Country, #17 Pop, 1965) and the hugely successful A Boy Named Sue, a novelty song by Shel Silverstein (#1 Country, #2 Pop, #4 UK, 1968).

Cash wore his hair in a bit of a pompadour in his early rockabilly days (below, left). I thought it gave him a slight resemblance to Desi Arnaz which led to my conga drum joke. His hair got lower as he became an established country star (below, right).

singer Johnny Cash, one photo showing younger Cash when he was starting out as rockabilly singer, the other as a more mature country singer in recording studio with his guitar

Fats Domino is primarily remembered today for one song: Blueberry Hill, which peaked at #2 on the Pop charts in 1956 (#1 R&B, #6 UK). That’s a pity because he racked up 37 Top 40 hits during a racially-segregated era when R&B (rhythm and blues) meant “black music,” and white artists like Pat Boone had greater success with milder versions of the same songs (Domino’s first Top 10 record, Ain’t That A Shame, peaked at #10; Boone took it to #1).

Here’s the studio portrait of Fats that I based my caricature on, along with a shot showing the obvious joy and energy he brought to a live performance.

rhythm and blues pianist, singer, and songwriter Fats Domino, studio portrait and in concert playing the piano and singing his big hit songs Blueberry Hill and Walking To New Orleans

Did our three birthday boys have anything in common besides February 26th? Incredibly, yes: they were all recording artists. I was astounded to learn in researching this post that Frawley had been an old song-and-dance man, and the first person to publicly perform some songs that were immensely popular in their day, including Melancholy Baby (1912) and Carolina In The Morning (1922). Frawley recorded an album of his old songs, Bill Frawley Sings The Old Ones, in 1958. Fred Mertz, crooner– amazing.Three record album covers: Bill Frawley Sings The Old Ones, Johnny Cash Ring Of Fire, and Fats Domino's Greatest Hits Blueberry Hill and I'm Walkin'

What do you think? Why are certain cranky old curmudgeons so lovable? Think you’ll be adding any Bill Frawley songs to your iPod? Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Pass The Popcorn And Embrace Your Inner Child!

What Kind Of Man Inserts Himself Into Old Print Ads??

Honest To Gosh Singing Caricatures

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2012 12:05 PM

    I LOVE Johnny’s hair!

    Like

    • March 2, 2012 4:54 PM

      Ha! Me, too. In fact, I think I’m gonna start wearing mine that way– as soon as I can import some industrial strength mousse from Nashville!! : P

      Always great to see a famous painter here! : )

      Like

  2. March 2, 2012 12:38 PM

    Great caricatures! I love Lucy! and all the rest. Thanks for the day’s bright spot.

    Like

    • March 2, 2012 5:02 PM

      Aw, thanks– coming from someone with your keen artistic eye, that sure means a lot. Can you imagine if the three of them had recorded together?? Now there’s a concept album for you! I guess a lot of people love Lucy. In researching the post, I read that the show is still watched by 40 million Americans every year. The mind boggles to think what the world-wide total must be…

      Always a pleasure, thanks so much for your kind support! : )

      Like

  3. March 2, 2012 1:08 PM

    Did Frawley and Vivian Vance… (I think that was Ethel)… really hate each other?

    Like

    • March 2, 2012 5:11 PM

      Sad to say, all the sources I found agreed on that point: Frawley and Vivian Vance (who did indeed play his wife Ethel Mertz) actively disliked each other. It’s tempting to laugh about that, but I think all of us have been on the wrong side of a personality conflict somewhere along the line– and they can produce some truly serious misery…

      Thanks for your comment, really appreciate your stopping by!

      Like

  4. March 2, 2012 3:36 PM

    I love how your mind works and flows all these greats together. The old curmudgeons are the greats. The older I get, the more I realize it:-)

    Like

    • March 2, 2012 5:20 PM

      Ha! I have no idea how my mind works (there are mysteries too dark to plumb), but I did get pretty excited when I saw those three guys shared a birthday– something hadda be done!

      Curmudgeons do seem to have a more enduring appeal than a pretty face. That gives a guy like me hope… : )

      Thanks as always for your good-humored support!

      Like

  5. March 4, 2012 11:06 AM

    What an interesting birthday gathering of entertainment greats. I loved all your caricatures Mark. I can imagine Frawley as a song and dance man in his early years if I try real hard. That pompadour on Johnny’s head made me smile as I recalled that some of my uncles had such hairstyles too. I can’t wait to see what creativity March birthdays result in. 🙂

    Like

    • March 4, 2012 3:50 PM

      Thanks so much, TT, for that very lovely comment. Glad you enjoyed the post, always so nice to see you here.

      Speaking of pompadours, it’s a funny thing, but in recent years I’ve learned that many countries have a rockabilly subculture, which mimics all the elements of the USA 1950’s original: big hair (“ducktails”), sideburns, leather jackets, twangy reverb-guitars, etc. One of our stranger exports, but essentially harmless and people seem to have a lot of fun with it. Must help sell a lotta hair cream, as well!! : )

      Like

  6. March 4, 2012 6:46 PM

    Cash has the best voice. I seem to remember him covering.an eerie song but now I can’t remember which one. Anyway, it was brilliant. I like certain curmudgeons because back then most people were serious, honest and worked hard.

    Sigh.

    Like

    • March 5, 2012 9:28 AM

      An eerie song… hm. Ghost Riders In The Sky? You’ve probably seen them during your nocturnal nature walks… : )

      Well, there are still a few serious, honest, hard workers around. Like you and me, for example. OK, and Ives.

      Many thanks for your kind visit! : )

      Like

  7. March 9, 2012 12:17 PM

    You’re blog is so enjoyable! Fred! A line that gets thrown around when the occassion arises is in our family culture is from I Love Lucy when Fred responds to Ethel’s evaluation that their apartment looks crummy. To which Fred responds,

    “It looks crummy because it is crummy!”

    I think you really captured the essence of William Frawley too! (and Johnny and Fats!) What fun it must be to be able to do that!

    I think it’s interesting that William Frawley really didn’t change all that much from his role in Car 99 to his I Love Lucy days. Actually, I think I read he was 64 when he started I Love Lucy. And they all aged so much over the next 7 years, expect for William Frawley who looked about the same by the end of the I Love Lucy episodes.

    I suppose if you look 50 when you’re 30, you got not place to go but up! 🙂

    Like

    • March 9, 2012 9:18 PM

      This comment was more enjoyable than an I Love Lucy rerun– and I’m talking about one of the classic episodes, like stompin’ the grapes or the candy conveyor belt!! : )

      It’s probably a good thing Fred’s not around today. I’d be afraid to show him the caricature– afraid he might say, “It’s looks crummy because it is crummy!” : )

      And you’re so right– Frawley always looked the same. It is a strange gift of sorts: looking old when you’re young, but then appearing ageless. Still, I don’t think I wanna see any of his baby pictures… : P

      Thanks as always, Linda, for your very generous comment!

      Like

  8. March 9, 2012 3:44 PM

    I might not know too much about those three, but I do appreciate your work, Mark! 🙂

    By the way thanks for the English proverb. I just knew it 🙂

    Like

    • March 9, 2012 8:20 PM

      Thank you, Dear Inge! I know you were at a disadvantage on this post. But hey, you can’t possibly be expected to know every nutty American entertainer. There are millions of them– I can hardly keep up with them myself! : )

      Yes, in like a lion, out like a lamb– that’s what I’ve always heard about the month of March. It’s supposed to be up in the 60’s here next week (near 18C), which is definitely lamb-like. It’s a long month, though– the lion may return! (shudder!) : (

      Like

  9. March 28, 2012 5:55 PM

    Awwwww! Fred Mertz! Brings back memories. I THINK I recall a couple of the old episodes, when Fred and Ethel and Ricky did musical numbers (and poor Lucy was trying so very very hard to sing and dance well enough to be included). He did the curmudgeon with a heart of gold so well! And Fred even has his own Wiki page:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Mertz
    (I hope you don’t mind the link…?)

    The image is absolutely super. My favorite part is how you deftly wrangled Cash’s pompadour so it would turn into Fats Domino!

    Like

    • March 28, 2012 8:44 PM

      Fred good, link good, everybody sing Babalu!!

      Lucille Ball could do it all. Sadly, I don’t think we shall see her like again. Except for you and me, of course. : )

      Bill Frawley was born to be a curmudgeon. In fact, I think he became one about two weeks after he was born. He wasted no time.

      Fats found his thrill on Pompadour Hill– hmm… that sounds familiar somehow… : P

      Thank you for your wunnaful comment! ::grabs conga drum, beats it mercilessly, falls into orchestra pit::

      Like

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