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Fred was born and raised on a farm in the midwest (episode #171), probably in or near Steubenville, Ohio (episode #134), although in one episode Ethel claims that Fred's mother comes once a year from Indiana. Fred is of Irish descent (episode #171) and has at least one brother (season 2, episode 29). He toured the country in vaudeville before retiring to New York City. He is a World War I veteran and is married to Ethel Mae Louise Roberta Potter Mertz (Vivian Vance), and they often jokingly make fun of each other. Their wedding anniversary is May 3 (episode #121). Ethel often calls Fred a "fat old goat", and in return Fred calls Ethel the "bottomless pit" due to her voracious appetite. Having been "wiped out" in the Great Depression (episode # 152), he is a penny-pincher and gives Ethel very little money. Nevertheless, Fred always has the money when an investment opportunity comes along (e.g., diner purchase, oil stocks).
As a young man, Fred was in vaudeville with his friend, Barney Kurtz, as the duo of 'Mertz and Kurtz' (known for "tap dancing, soft shoe and smart quips" (episode #23)). Later, Fred continued in Vaudeville with his wife, the former Ethel Mae Louise Roberta Potter. It had been mentioned that he was once a Golden Gloves boxer, and Fred wears a sweater from Golden Gloves 1909 in episode #76. Eventually, Fred and Ethel retired from show business and bought a brownstone apartment building in New York City. In the early 1940s, Lucy and Ricky moved into the brownstone, and Fred, Ethel, Lucy, and Ricky quickly develop their friendship (the date of the Ricardos' tenancy changed during the duration of the series), with Fred and Ricky Ricardo becoming best friends, and Lucy and Ethel doing the same. Despite being retired from show business, Fred and Ethel guest on Ricky's show, if asked.
When Ricky does something to upset Lucy, she plots revenge and drags Ethel into her plan, often against her will. Ethel almost always blabs to Fred, who tells Ricky, and the two come up with their own plan to get even with their wives. Once in a while, it is Ethel who is away and it is Fred who is dragged into Lucy's scheme. Usually, Fred expresses his exasperation with a phrase: "Oh, for corn's sake."
The Fred Mertz character, the actor who portrayed him (William Frawley), and some of their costumes are memorialized in the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, New York (Lucille Ball's real-life hometown).
Due to the personality of the television character, the name "Mertz" is sometimes used as a description of someone acting in an unaware or unconscious manner. For example, someone walking with his zipper down or food on his face may be described as being a "Mertz".