Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fred Gwynne

Visiting a friend in the Bronx last week. We went into a video store, to the television DVD section, and I noticed a sale video of the TV show THE MUNSTERS, with Fred Gwynne's mug doing the Herman Munster smirk for all the world to see.

And it occurred to me...

THIS is how guy is going to be remembered?

Oh, I know, it was TV and he probably made a lot of dough and nobody was twisting his arm to play Herman. I know all that. But Fred Gwynne did a couple of other things which certainly need to be remembered.

First and actually foremost are his two outstanding appearances on The Phil Silvers "Bilko" show in the 50's. In one episode, he played "The Stomach," a champion at food-eating contests in the army. Bilko, of course, gets him in his platoon and starts making bets with other sergeants knowing he can't lose with The Stomach on his side. Trouble is, The Stomach has lost his one true love, and has gotten over her. When he lost her, he started eating to overcome his sadness. But he's past that, and now he's lost his appetite. Silvers' Bilko then proceeds to do everything in his power to bring the memory of the lost love (and the appetite) back to life. The segment when Gwynne is forced to listen to love songs on Bilko's record player is priceless, mainly due to Gwynne's sweet acceptance of all the friendly bullying Bilko imposes on him.

And in another episode, Gwynne plays a soldier who has spent waaaay too many months assigned to work alone in a radio shack in Alaska, where his only entertainment was a book about birds. He knows everything about birds. Everything. So, naturally, Bilko recruits him for the big TV quiz show, where he and his platoon can use Gwynne's expertise to get the ever-elusive "million dollars!"

Hijinks, and failure, ensue. It's hysterical.

Both these are classic episodes, made classic by Silvers, his writers--and Gwynne.

And Gwynne's last appearance before his death, as the southern judge in MY COUSIN VINNY, I believe, deserved an Oscar nomination. Honest and funny and very different from, but as brilliant as, his earlier TV and movie work, it is a wonderful performance.

So the next time you consider Fred Gwynne and his contribution to the world of show business, go back and look at his Bilko stuff, and MY COUSIN VINNY.

That's the real Fred Gwynne.

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