8 surprising facts about the great Fred Gwynne

The man behind Herman Munster wrote children's books.

Image: The Everett Collection

You know him best as Herman Munster. You laughed along with him on Car 54, Where Are You? The towering Fred Gwynne (he stood at 6' 5") was a one-of-a-kind talent on television. He led a fascinating life offscreen, too, living a quiet life devoted to his other talents. 

Let's take a closer look at Fred Gwynne.

1. He was an illustrator and children's book author.


Gwynne is a Harvard grad. He studied at the school on the G.I. Bill. While at Cambridge, he sang in the a cappella group the Harvard Krokodiloes and drew cartoons for The Harvard Lampoon. He put those art skills to good use later in life, writing and illustrated picture books for kids. His titles like A Chocolate Moose for Dinner and The King Who Rained were fond of wordplay and animals.

Images: Amazon

2. He lived in the suburbs.


Car 54, Where Are You? filmed in and around New York City. After filming, he would drive home, perhaps in one of the Chrysler-Plymouths supplied to the sitcom by the show's sponsor, to his comfy home in the suburbs of Bedford, New York. Never one for the Hollywood lifestyle, Gwynne later lived in Taneytown, Maryland.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. His first movie role was an uncredited part opposite Marlo Brando.


Gwynne cut an imposing figure in the American classic On the Waterfront. The 1954 film made Marlo Brando an icon. Keep your eye on the screen. The future Herman Munster cuts an imposing figure in a few scenes as "Slim." The relative newcomer was not credited for his role.

Image: Columbia Pictures

4. He wore about 50 pounds of padding in his Herman Munster costume.


Who says acting isn't hard work? Gwynne had to lug around an extra 40–50 pounds in his Herman costume.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. His face was actually painted purple on 'The Munsters' TV show.


Black-and-white film hid all kinds of secrets and cinematography tricks. The police cars on Car 54 were bright red. Gothic sitcoms like The Addams Family and The Munsters were not so creepy in real life. The Addams Family lived in a house with bright pink walls. Herman Munster's face was painted violet. These colors popped more on a black & white screen. Check out a behind-the-scenes photo of purple Herman here.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. He played Davy Crockett on TV, too.


Yes, in 1971, Gwynne played another icon, albeit briefly. Walter Cronkite hosted the educational series You Are There, which filmed reenactments of great moments in history. In the color episode "The Siege of the Alamo," the former Munster portrayed Crockett, coonskin cap and all.

Image: CBS / 70sKidVid

7. He almost starred on 'Punky Brewster.'


On the 1980s sitcom, George Gaynes, also known by Gen-Xers for his role in the Police Academy movies, played Henry, the elder man who adopts Punky. Gwynne was up for the role and auditioned. He might have landed it, too, if the casting director hadn't called the actor "Herman Munster." Insulted, Gwynne dropped out from consideration after that incident.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. He dyed his hair white for 'Pet Sematary.'


In one of his most memorable big screen roles (another being a judge in My Cousin Vinny) Gwynne played Jud Crandall, an old Mainer in 1989's Pet Sematary. The character was somewhat based on author Stephen King, who had a similar build (and accent) as ol' Crandall. Though he was in his 60s, Gwynne had to dye his hair white. His hair was still dark at the time.

Image: The Everett Collection

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


DavidInAustin 9 months ago
Fred Gwynne was one of the most talented and least appreciated actors ever. He was a class act - period.
ChrisPlatt 39 months ago
I saw Fred Gwynne perform in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at Stratford Connecticut.
I was ashamed of my junior high school classmates who taunted him mercilessly.
Buddymom ChrisPlatt 4 months ago
I saw that production too! Inspired a lifelong love of theatre. His acting with the great David Rounds:)
Runeshaper 57 months ago
WOW! That was so much wonderful information about Mr. Fred Gwynne! I never knew that he was a Harvard grad, that he wrote picture books for kids, drew cartoons, acted in On the Waterfront, was painted purple on set, etc. I think he would have been GREAT in Punky B!

Of course, I will always look at him on The Munsters & smile as I remember watching this super entertaining show with my family. I have the entire series on DVD & still watch it occasionally. He was a superb actor & seems like he was a nice man as well.
ChuckPayne 62 months ago
He also guest star on CBS Mystery Radio Theater over course from 74 to 82.
WILD 62 months ago
He sounds like he'd have been a great man to hang with.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?