Though he only played the part for two years, 6’5″ Fred Gwynne will always be remembered as Herman Munster.
Gwynne was born on July 10, 1926 in New York City. After serving as a radio operator in the U.S. Navy at the tail end of World War II, Gwynne attended Harvard, where he began acting with the Brattle Theatre Group. A triumph in the role of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream led Gwynne to the Broadway production of Mrs. McThing, a small part in the film On the Waterfront, and eventually a few guest appearances on The Phil Silvers Show, produced by Nat Hiken. But he found acting work too sporadic, so he took a job as a copywriter in the late ’50s. There he developed skills that would serve him later when he became a writer and illustrator of several children’s books, including The King Who Rained and Chocolate Moose for Dinner.
When Nat Hiken created the comedy series Car 54, Where Are You? in 1961, he remembered Gwynne’s work with Phil Silvers and cast him as the lead. The two-year series introduced Gwynne to Al Lewis (Officer Schnauser). The two paired up again for The Munsters in 1964 and the feature film Munster Go Home in 1966. After the series was cancelled, Gwynne found it next to impossible to find acting work, so he retreated to New York to focus on painting and sculpture.
By the mid-1970s, however, Gwynne had returned to theater. In 1984, Francis Ford Coppola helped Gwynne revive his career by giving him a memorable role in The Cotton Club, which led to appearances in films such as Fatal Attraction, Ironweed, Shadows and Fog and Gwynne’s final film My Cousin Vinny, where he played an impatient southern judge. Fred Gwynne passed away in 1993.