Vivian Vance

July 26th Celebrates Vivian Vance

Who remembers Ethel Mertz?

Vivian Vance was born as Vivian Roberta Jones was born on July 26th 1909, and died on August 17th 1979, and was an American television and theater actress and singer. Vance is best known for her role as Ethel Mertz, sidekick to Lucille Ball on the American television sitcom I Love Lucy.

When she was six years old, her family moved to Independence, Kansas, where she eventually began her dramatic studies at Independence High School with drama instructor Anna Ingleman.

Her love of acting clashed with her mother’s strict religious beliefs, and “Viv” soon became rebellious, often sneaking out of her bedroom and staying out after curfew. She soon changed her surname to Vance and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to find work as an actress.

If you’re a “I Love Lucy,” fan you would know that Ethel Mertz’s character was also born in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Vance was a founding member of the Albuquerque Little Theater, where she appeared in many plays, including This Thing Called Love and The Cradle Song. The local theater community helped pay her way to New York to study under Eva Le Gallienne.

Following her appearance in a revival of The Cradle Will Rock in 1947, Vance decided to move to California to pursue other theater projects as well as opportunities in film.

During her stay in Los Angeles, Vance appeared in two films: as streetwise chambermaid Leah in The Secret Fury (1950), and as Alicia in The Blue Veil (1951). She received several positive notices for her performances, but the films did little else to further her screen career.

When Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were casting their new television sitcom I Love Lucy in 1951, director Marc Daniels, who had previously worked with Vance in a theater production, suggested her for the role of landlady Ethel Mertz.

Lucille Ball had wanted either Bea Benaderet or Barbara Pepper, both close friends, to play the role. CBS refused Pepper on the grounds that she had a drinking problem, and Benaderet was already playing Blanche Morton on the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.

Watching her perform, Arnaz was convinced he had found the right actress to play Ethel Mertz. Ball was less sure. She had envisioned Ethel to be much older and less attractive; Vance was closer to Ball’s age and attractive.

Ultimately, the 42-year-old Vance won the role on the new television program, which debuted October 15, 1951 on CBS. Throughout the show’s run, Ethel Mertz was usually dressed in less-stylish clothing than Ball’s character, to make her look older and less attractive. Vance’s and Ball’s friendship was lukewarm at first, but Ball gradually overcame her resistance to Vance and grew to respect her as a friend and an actress, and the two became close friends.

Today’s YouTube video is Ethel Mertz and Lucy Ricardo in that duet song called, “Friendship.” Shared by user name Janet Marshall, as they keep singing the song each in return destroys the same exact dress they have on, for more information regarding today’s story check out my blog below:

Legend has it that a clause in her television contract required her to stay 10 pounds heavier than costar/producer Lucille Ball. Actually, this contract never existed, at least not in legal, binding form. It was a mock contract given to Vance by Ball as a gag gift sparking the legend it was a real contract.

In the 1970s, she discovered commercials were a lucrative way to capitalize on fame, with a 3 year $250,000 contract. She became known as Maxine, in the Maxwell House Commercials.

On screen, their chemistry as Fred and Ethel Mertz was fantastic. Off screen, they couldn’t bear each other trading insults constantly.

I think it’s partly what drove Vivian to mental illness. That and working for Lucy. Lucy’s “professionalism” is legendary, and you only have to look at her two kids, to see there was some serious damage done. Lucy and Vivian were very good friends for the most part, but their relationship had its ups and downs.

I remember one story I read somewhere that while Lucy was pregnant, she took Vivian’s dressing room, which was closer to the stage. Lucy also had people helping her with costume changes. Meanwhile, Vivian had to crawl across props and cables, change by herself and get back to the stage.

Both Frawley and Vance were veterans of the stage by the time they were cast in their roles as the Ricardo’s landlords.

Vivian Vance was almost thirty years younger than Frawley. She originally thought that William was being cast as her father, not her husband. The Mertzs were only going to be incidental characters, but much to Lucy’s annoyance, they gained popularity and were made into full-fledged regulars.

After I Love Lucy, Vivian continued to work, and was asked back to do more Lucy incarnations. Eventually she retired to Belvedere, California, where she worked on raising awareness for mental illness. Vivian suffered from depression, and had several nervous breakdowns in her life.

By 1979, Vance had suffered a stroke, and was in failing health. Mary Wickes, a close friend of Vivian and Lucy’s, was in a play in the area. She and Lucy visited Vivian one last time, in the summer of 1979. They got on like the good times in the old days. On their way back, Mary Wickes said she and Lucy cried the entire way.

Today as we celebrate Vivian Vance’s birthday we don’t think of her as Lucille Ball’s side kick, but as incredible actress as we silent wish you Happy Birthday today!

Written & Designed by JD Mitchell

J.D Mitchell Design Studio


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