Revered character actor Fred Melamed was born in New York City. His birth-parents were unmarried; an American actress and British psychoanalyst. He was adopted as an infant by Manhattanites Lou and Syma Melamed (nee Krichefsky). His adoptive father was an early television producer, having contributed such watershed programs as Car 54, Where Are You?, Sergeant Bilko and Let's Pretend.
Fred received his theatrical training at Hampshire College and the Yale School of Drama. While still at Hampshire, he began working with playwrights Jean-Claude Van Itallie and John Guare. He was also influenced by members of The Living Theatre, and Tina Packer and Kristin Linklater, with whom he became a founding member of Shakespeare & Company. For his work with Packer, he was nominated for the Irene Ryan Award, a prize for the most promising young actors in the United States. At Yale, he was a Samuel F. B. Morse Graduate Fellow, and was much influenced by resident artists James Earl Jones, John Madden,