'I Love Lucy': Why Desi Arnaz Cast William Frawley as Fred Mertz After Being Warned Not to Hire Him

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball produced and starred in the legendary sitcom I Love Lucy. Casting seasoned actors Vivian Vance and William Frawley to play their BFFs and neighbors Ethel and Fred Mertz, Arnaz had to go over some guidelines with Frawley before offering him the role.

Desi Arnaz got pushback from the network on hiring William Frawley for ‘I Love Lucy’

Arnaz recalled bringing Vance and Frawley on for the roles of the bickering Mertz couple. After speaking to Frawley on the phone and deciding he would make the perfect Fred Mertz, those backing the sitcom tried to convince him not to hire Frawley due to his penchant for drinking.

“I then checked with the CBS people, the sponsor, and the advertising agency,” Arnaz wrote in his memoir A Book. “They all said, ‘Yeah, we know what he has done in the past, but what has he done lately? Besides, he’s an alcoholic. You’d be out of your mind to hire him. There are a lot of actors who are much more dependable and can play the part.’”

Despite the pushback, Arnaz was determined to bring Frawley on board as Fred.

“According to my contract as executive producer, I had complete creative control of the show,” Arnaz explained. “I knew I could land on my ass by doing the wrong thing, but I’d rather land on it by doing that than by having someone else talk me into doing something which would land me there anyway.”

Desi Arnaz didn’t regret his decision

Frawley was given the part of Fred Mertz and became a fan favorite as the lovable curmudgeon of I Love Lucy. Arnaz praised his co-star for coming through with a strong work ethic and consistently entertaining performance.

“He never missed a day’s work nor was he even a few minutes late during all the years he was with us,” Arnaz revealed. “Every time Lucy and I went to any city in the United States the first thing the people would ask us was ‘Where’s Fred?’”

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