Tuesday, May 29, 2018

William Frawley - "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now"

For a generation of TV-watchers, William Frawley was always a comical old cuss, first as Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy," and later as Bub on "My Three Sons," a role he played until he was too feeble and nap-prone to continue. He was dropped in favor of slow-burn vaudevillian William Demarest, and he dropped dead, age 79, walking home from a movie.

Frawley played squinty, raspy, cynical characters in movies for years. What you saw was the man himself, a hard-drinking tough guy with just enough grouchy humor to make him tolerable. Desi Arnaz warned him that everyone knew his reputation, and if he showed up drunk, he'd be bounced off "I Love Lucy." 

The only thing that was more scary than being bounced off "Lucy" was being on Lucy's friend Ethel Mertz. With typical ego, he thought that Vivian Vance was too shapeless and frumpy to play his wife. Vance, who like Audrey Meadows, could glam up and look quite presentable, could deal with playing a dowdy housewife but had openly expressed her qualms about playing opposite a man way too old for her.

If anyone asked you if you thought that Fred and Ethel still had sex, your reply, ala Ricky Ricardo, would've been, "No I dunt." Ethel's dunt was not a sight you wanted to ponder, and, to use a Kenneth Williams euphemism, that went double for Fred's cordwangle. 

Frawley's new-found TV fame led to a record deal, and an album on Dot (the record label of semi-singers Wink Martindale and Walter Brennan) was titled  "William Frawley Sings the Old Ones." Well, it wouldn't be "William Frawley Fucks the Old Ones," or even kisses the old ones, as the tune below would tend to prove. Wearing a striped vaudevillian jacket and a straw hat on the cover, he promised grand nostalgia. 

"I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" might have had Bill thinking back to his lone marriage, which ended in divorce in 1927. His wife was the latter half of "Frawley and Louise," who toured the vaudeville circuit. Frawley had been getting silent film roles, and that was good enough over the next decades. He supported Bing Crosby ("Going My Way"), grumped in "Miracle on 34th Street," and "Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man" among others. He was even in Charlie Chaplin's "Monsieur Verdoux." So while Louise faded into obscurity, bachelor Bill was a Hollywood personality.

On "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" and the others, Frawley's hokey tenor is suited to the rotten songs. He's ALMOST as awful as an aging Rudy Vallee would've been with the same material. But every now and then, Bill's "inner Mertz" comes through, and here, the tender whiffenpoofing gives way to a sneering, dark and bitter recitation: "I wonder who's kissing her now. Kinda wonder who's teaching her how. And I wonder who's looking into her eyes...breathing sighs...telling her LIES!" Then he flips back into singing wistfully, backed by a male choir. 

Wish he'd covered "Babalu," or the actual "I Love Lucy" theme, but this is quite memorable for all the wrong reasons. 

FRAWLEY SINGS and GROUSES - listen online or download - no wait time, egocentric passwords, or requests for donations

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