Fred Gwynne, born July 10th, 1926, gave the world a lifetime of lovable antics and treasured memories. Anyone fortunate enough to have grown up watching The Munsters will remember Gwynne’s career best as the endearingly clumsy patriarch of the monster-friendly family, Herman Munster.
Gwynne’s playful role as this gentle giant gave the already established look of Boris Karloff’s most famous role (Frankenstein) brand new life. Underneath the box-top cranium Gwynne rejuvenated a familiar looking icon and brought decades worth of giggles rather than screams as he lumbered around smashing down doors (accidentally) and breaking through walls episode to episode.
Gwynne brought humor to a character whose counterpart previously embodied pathos and dread, but he did so without one moment of disrespect to the revered Frankenstein franchise – even though it was a departure from the gothic take on the reanimated abomination sewn together by Dr. Frankenstein.
I must stress that Herman Munster is not the classic creation of Victor Frankenstein, but the similarities are undeniable, and not just in their dapper good looks.
Gwynne’s Herman – much like Karloff’s counterpart – was all too eager to fit in with his neighbors, but they just couldn’t see past the monster on the outside. However, Herman proved to his viewers that it doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside, it’s who we choose to be on the inside that makes the difference.
Gwynne’s portrayal was that of a loving father who was always ready to offer his son Eddie (Butch Patrick) sound words of wisdom, and was ever supportive to his vampire wife, Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), proving to be a genuine TV role-model.
With an irresistible smile and contagious charm, Fred Gwynne shone in the role. His Herman wasn’t afraid to just simply be himself regardless if he fit in or not.
Not content to leave the genre just yet, Fred Gwynne would play another pivotal role which would leave a lasting impression upon horror fans for generations to come. Still the gentleman as always, Gwynne would play the kind-hearted neighbor who would both befriend the Creed family and gravely warn them about “that damn rohd” that had claimed so many local pets.
Though the movie was not about his character, it’s hard to imagine Stephen King’s Pet Semetary without Fred Gwynne playing the crucial role of Jud Crandall. As the audience, we can’t help but hang onto every word he says.
When he begins to explain the darker nature of what lies restlessly beyond the make-shift graveyard, we all feel the temperature drop. Whatever scares him immediately scares us. Even South Park featured a character who was the spitting image of Gwynne’s Crandall, once again demonstrating the impact his career has held over our culture.
“Sometimes dead is better,” he would warn Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) with a heavy air of foreboding, but already the Creeds were doomed. The accursed powers silently waiting outside the limits of the Pet Semetary had patiently launched their evil schemes against the Creed household. Desperation can lead a man to do unwholesome things, and after all, “the soil of a man’s heart is stonier.”
For a lifetime of both laughs and chills, we fondly celebrate the successful life of a kind man and honor his memory.