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Vivian Vance: The Ultimate No.2

Updated on August 30, 2013
Created by Elizabeth Rayen using LogoDesignPro
Created by Elizabeth Rayen using LogoDesignPro | Source
Created by Elizabeth Rayen using LogoDesignPro
Created by Elizabeth Rayen using LogoDesignPro | Source

In 1951, a new comedy sitcom T.V. show was launched that focused on the antics of a “Screwball Redhead,” her “Dishwater Blonde Sidekick,” along with their husbands.

I Love Lucy produced some of the most memorable moments featuring Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance who somehow would always wind up in some wacky misadventures and find themselves entangled in “Schemes Gone Wrong.”

Vivian Vance’s comedic timing and talents rewarded her with four Emmy nominations which one of those turned out to be a winner for “Outstanding Supporting Actress” in 1954.

Growing up and watching I Love Lucy, I remembered Vivian Vance and the way she would complement each comedic routine with her uncanny wit and reaction to Lucy. Although the writers produced some of the funniest scripts for the show, it was the delivery and the influence of the actor behind the lines. Vance was the perfect example of what it takes to deliver!

Created by Elizabeth Rayen using LogoDesignPro
Created by Elizabeth Rayen using LogoDesignPro | Source


Vance was born Vivian Roberta Jones on July 26, 1912, in Cherryvale, Kansas.

With her love for acting and singing, Vivian would take acting classes at an early age first studying in Kansas. Vance’s mother was very religious and her beliefs clashed with Vivian’s love for acting. So when Vivian was 18 years old, she left Kansas and journeyed her way to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and because of her rebellious nature, she would change her surname to Vance (after folklorist Vance Randolph). Shortly after the name change, Vance would pick up and move to Albuquerque, New Mexico to find work as an actress.

Vance became the founding member of the Albuquerque Little Theatre. There she played in several plays including The Cradle Song and This Thing Called Love. This helped Vivian pay her way to New York to further her studies.

In the early 1930’s, Vivian began working in a theatre and 2 years later landed her first Broadway role in the musical comedy Music in the Air. More musical comedies would follow, including Let’s Face It with Danny Kaye and Eve Arden and Anything Goes with Ethel Merman.

In the late 1940’s, Vance suffered a nervous breakdown from all the stress place upon her and went back to New Mexico for some needed rest and to recuperate. After taking some time off from acting, she decided to move to California and return to acting on the stage there.
Vance landed a role in The Voice of the Turtle at the La Jolla Playhouse in La Jolla, CA.

Cast of "I Love Lucy" - William Frawley, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, Lucille Ball
Cast of "I Love Lucy" - William Frawley, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, Lucille Ball

A friend of Vance's, director Marc Daniels, had brought two special guests to one of her performances to see her perform. His guests were producer Jess Oppenheimer and Desi Arnaz. Arnaz and his wife Lucille Ball were looking for someone to play the part of Ethel Mertz on their new television show, I Love Lucy. Daniels had recommended Vivian for the part and after seeing her perform, Desi was convinced that she was perfect for the role. However Lucille Ball was not as convinced as her husband was. She envisioned Ethel Mertz to be much older and a lot less attractive. But Vance was very attractive and was also close to Ball’s age. With much persuasion, Vance was offered the role on the new comedy program which would debut on October 15, 1951.

Vivian Vance’s character, Ethel Mertz was dressed in old-fashioned and frumpier clothing to make her look older and less attractive than she actually was. However, no matter what she was dressed in, I always could see the Vance beauty. She had one of the most memorable and gorgeous faces in Hollywood and the theatre. It was not a secret that Vance’s and Ball’s friendship started out very mild and reserved, however, Ball overcame her resistance to Vance and their friendship grew to form an everlasting close friendship.

"I Love Lucy" cast celebrating at the Emmy Awards
"I Love Lucy" cast celebrating at the Emmy Awards

A Woman of Many Talents

Vivian Vance had a wide-spread career that included theater, movies and television.

Some of her Broadway credits would include:
Music in the Air, Anything Goes, Red, Hot and Blue, The Cradle Will Rock, My Daughter, Your Son, It Takes Two, and Hooray for What!.

Her film credits were few but were instrumental in her career as well. They would include:
Take a Chance on Me (1933)as she played a Dance Hall Girl and The Great Race (1965) where she would play Hester Goodbody.

Of course, her most memorable work will be Ethel Mertz on the I Love Lucy sitcom. She established her place in our hearts magnificently and it continued after I Love Lucy was cancelled and she began her role as Lucy’s best friend in The Lucy Show (1962-1965). After appearance with the Lucy Show, Vance would continue to make guest appearances on Lucy’s third sitcom, Here’s Lucy (1968-1974).

Another Star in Heaven

In 1973, Vance would be diagnosed with breast cancer and in late 1977, she would suffer a stroke that would leave her left side partially paralyzed. On August 17, 1979, Vivian Vance died of bone cancer, secondary to the breast cancer.
Desi Arnaz stated after her death, “It’s bad enough to lose one of the great artists we had the honor and pleasure to work with, but it’s even harder to reconcile the loss of one of your best friends.”

In 1991, Vivian Vance was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her achievements in the field of television.

Ethel to Tillie

Madam Ethel Mertzola!

One of my favorite episodes from I Love Lucy wasThe Séance season 1: Episode 7, where Lucy and Ethel have taken up the art of Numerology. When Ricky and Fred scoff, Lucy arranges for a "spirit" to show up at a séance that evening. Problems arise when Ricky and Lucy have the same idea! Ethel dresses up and portrays Madam Ethel Mertzola and when Lucy introduces her to Mr. Merriweather, she says, “I’d like to present Madam Ethel Mertzola. She’s going to be our Medium tonight. She’s psychopathic!” That had to be one of my favorite lines.

Job Switching

Pinching the Chocolates

One of the favorite Classics from I Love Lucy is from Season 2: Episode1, “Job Switching”

Both Ricky and Fred think that doing housework is so much easier than earning money. However, Lucy and Ethel fell differently. So the challenge is on between the men and women. The boys try doing the housework while the girls try their hand at a real job at a candy factory.

The problems and the craziness happen at both ends as the boys cause a whopper of a mess back at the apartment with getting food all over the kitchen, burning clothes with the iron and starching Lucy’s stockings so stiff you could use them as a baseball bat! Meanwhile, the girls have exhausted their warnings and have one last chance to hold onto their jobs.

Ethel got kicked out of the boxing department because she kept pinching the candies to see what kind they were. Now Lucy and Ethel are teamed up in the wrapping department and find themselves competing with a speedy belt of chocolates!

"A Star is Born"

“Ethel’s Hometown” from Season 4: Episode 16 has my vote on one of the funniest moments for Ethel.

On their drive out west to California for Ricky’s new movie he’ll be starring in, the Ricardos and the Mertz’s stop over in Ethel’s home town: Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ricky, Lucy and Fred are completely shocked and taken aback when the town folk give a huge welcome to Ethel because she has mentioned to them on more than one occasion that she is an aspiring star. They ask Ethel to put on a show. The other three refuse to support her, until Lucy gets one of her brainy ideas. The results are hilarious. Although the antics are in the three behind Ethel, pay attention to Vivians amazing voice and her expression as things unfold.


Longest Laugh in Television History

This final scene that I’d like to share with my readers is (in my opinion) probably the funniest scene in the history of the “I Love Lucy” run, and rightfully so! In season 6, Episode 20, “Lucy Does the Tango” there is the scene where Ricky wants to rehearse the “Tango” one more time before the school benefit. Nothing wrong with that, right? The episode starts out with Ricky threatening to get rid of the chickens that they bought to start their “Egg Business” with if they didn’t start producing eggs immediately.

To help boost the egg production along, Lucy and Ethel buy several dozen eggs, but are forced to hide them in the clothes that they are wearing to sneak pass Fred who is hanging out by the chicken coop so they can "plant the eggs" under the hens before Ricky comes home. Just as they finish stuffing their shirts and pockets, Ricky comes home unannounced to rehearse their tango number. The result is one of the longest sustained audience laughter in the history of sitcoms.

The Ultimate #2

July 26, 2012 will have marked Vivian Vance’s 100th birthday had she lived. It is hard to believe that she has been gone for nearly 33 years. We see her every day in reruns of the I Love Lucy show. Her pictures are as vivid as the day they were taken. The ever-loving side kick of that famous red head will forever be in our hearts and memories. She was the purest of comedy that ever graced the stage and television and she definitely made her mark in the life of entertainment.

In June of 2009 Entertainment Weekly voted Vivian Vance as “Ethel Mertz” the #5 spot on “The 50 Greatest Sidekicks Ever.” There were only two voted in the Top 5. Jason Alexander who played “George Costanza” on Seinfeld was voted #3.

Entertainment Weekly quoted the following regarding Vance:
"Without Ethel to bail her out of trouble each week on I Love Lucy, original desperate housewife Lucy would have been nothing more than an overbearing harpy. But as cannily played by Vivian Vance, Mrs. Mertz — whose spats with hubby Fred hinted at dysfunction when TV rarely even acknowledged marital discord — was a perfectly exasperated partner in crime: happy to play along, even happier to put the kibosh on her pickle-prone friend's worst impulses."

A little "Vance" pop quiz

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Elizabeth Rayen
Elizabeth Rayen | Source

About the Author

Lisa has directed and acted in musical theatre for nearly 30 years. Her musical upbringing allowed her to pursue her career in teaching and directing and continues to direct shows today. As the owner of 2 online Home Décor sites, Lisa’s passion for Rustic Living all begins with her love for the home, outdoors, and her many hobbies. Lisa loves to laugh, and she share’s that love through her comedic hubs centered on her MOM. Lisa’s passions include writing, directing, acting, photography, singing, cooking, crafts, gardening, and home improvement, including decorating. Lisa also writes under her penned name, Elizabeth Rayen.


Comments: Vivian Vance: The Ultimate No.2

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    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      Thank you so much Scribenet. I agree! Whenever I need to laugh and just relax, I watch an episode or two. :)

    • Scribenet profile image


      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Well written! Vivian Vance was just as funny as was the way those two played off each other that made the situations so funny. The material is still funny even if the subject matter is dated. I still burst out laughing... such great laugh therapy! Another for bookmarking; I enjoyed the clips, thank you for including them!

    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      Thank you Eiddwen! I am so pleased you enjoyed it!

      You have a great day as well!


    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      A greattrip down memory lane here.

      Thanks for sharing;take care and enjoy your day.


    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      When I was reading and doing my research on her, I found out that little tidbit about the theatre. I thought it was so cool. She really loved the theatre. Thank you so much for your comment, vote and sharing! :)

    • AEvans profile image


      6 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      I did not know Vivian was the founder of Alburqurque's little theater? I didn't spell the city right, Ugh! Anyway this was a wonderful read and Vivian Vance was a true beauty! I enjoy those of yesteryear and thank you so much for sharing! Voted and shared! :)

    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      Thank you so much JSMatthew~

      I really enjoyed writing this Hub and researching and deciding on just the right amount of info I wanted to share. I certainly appreciate the vote and definitely the sharing!:)


    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      This is put together so beautifully! You did an awesome job here and there is a lot of well researched information! Voting up and SHARING!


    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      You hit it right on the nose JayeWisdom! Viv was a big part of the success of that show. I think Desi new that right from the get go and that is the reason he was so insistant that she be given the part. Thank you for your comment. :)

    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      Thank you giocatore! I am so pleased you enjoyed this hub. :)

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I, like most Americans during the heyday of the I Love Lucy! show, adored the sitcom's characters.

      Viv's timing was superb, and she (like all great sidekicks) made Lucy seem even funnier than she would have been without Ethel, which is not to take anything away from Lucille Ball--a very funny commedienne--but to give credit to Viv for her part in the show's success.

      It's still fun to go back and watch such episodes as the fiasco in the chocolate factory and the grape-stomping.

      Lucy and Vivien were a great team, and I must agree with you--even with the added ten pounds and frumpy wardrobe, Viv's natural beauty shown through.

      Thanks for a very interesting hub.

    • giocatore profile image

      Jim Dorsch 

      6 years ago from Alexandria, VA

      Very nice hub. I remember Vivian Vance and William Frawley quite well! Thanks for telling us more about her. Up and sharing.

    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      Thank you so much Marcy!I am so pleased you enjoyed this hub. There is so much information on her life, where does one start and begin. Hubbing is perfect for pinpointing exactly what you want to focus on! Your comments and votes mean so much! :)

    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      Thank you so much! I totally agree with you. That's why I had so much passion to write this hub on Vivian. You are most welcome on the link, and thank you in return! :)

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      6 years ago from Planet Earth

      When I saw you had published this hub, I couldn't wait to read it! I always LOVED Lucy, and I still do, and I similarly adored Vivian Vance. I'd heard about the request for her to dress frumpier and look older, and I also heard she needed to weigh more than Lucy, to fit the 'frumpy' look.

      She hated William Frawley, and it was mutual, but the two were consummate professionals and you would never know they had such an off-screen animosity. I guess their war-zone marriage helped them snipe a bit on the screen, so maybe that helped.

      Thanks for publishing this wonderful tribute to another television icon! Voted up and awesome!

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 

      6 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Vivian Vance deserved so much credit for Lucy's success. They were quite the team, and Vance had talent and pinash that made it complete. I love this hub. Thanks for the link, and I will be linking it to my LUCY hub! AWESOME HUB! VOTES AND SHARED!! :-)

    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      Thank you for a wonderful comment ladyjane. She was an amazing woman both on screen and off. It's amazing to me all the challenges she went through. I love watching her as well. I base a lot of my acting skills with her in mind. Have a great day!

    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      Thank you so much for the sweet compliment marcoujor! Sentiment is mutual. Thank you for the vote. *hugsbackatcha* Lisa

    • ladyjane1 profile image


      6 years ago from Texas

      Great hub..I recently read The Other Side to Ethel Mertze and it was very interesting because for many years after I Love Lucy she couldn't shake the stigma of being the frumpy friend to Lucy. I enjoyed your hub it was very well written and I Love Lucy is still all time favorite show and it wouldn't have been what it was without Vivian Vance. Sometimes she is just thought of as a sidekick but when you watch her closely she was so professional in her acting and she never missed a beat...up and awesome. Cheers.

    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      Thank you kelley. I loved her comedic side. She kind of reminds myself of me! :)

    • Rusticliving profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Rayen 

      6 years ago from California

      I always like to find the less traveled in the eyes of fans. Makes us aware just how much they really attributed to the industry. She was an amazing woman! (I ate it):)

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      6 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Ethel was a class act and so are you, Lisa!

      Fabulous job on this -- Voted UP & ABI. Hugs, mar.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I did know she was connected to Oklahoma! Learn something new every day! She was ahead of her time in many ways. Great tribute!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Very interesting! I didn't know that Lucy wanted Vivian to appear less attractive! Women?!?! She's been gone 33 years...time sure does fly! I loved Ethel and still do. She was perfect for the role. Your tribute is awesome! Where's my chocolate?:)


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