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Vivian Vance
Vance in 1963
Vivian Roberta Jones

(1909-07-26)July 26, 1909
DiedAugust 17, 1979(1979-08-17) (aged 70)
Years active1926–1978
Joseph Shearer Danneck, Jr.
(m. 1928; div. 1931)
George Koch
(m. 1934; div. 1940)
(m. 1941; div. 1959)
John Dodds
(m. 1961)

Vivian Vance (born Vivian Roberta Jones; July 26, 1909 – August 17, 1979)[1] was an American actress best known for playing Ethel Mertz on the sitcom I Love Lucy (1951–1957), for which she won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress, among other accolades. She also starred alongside Lucille Ball in The Lucy Show from 1962 until she left the series at the end of its third season in 1965. In 1991, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She is most commonly identified as Lucille Ball’s longtime comedic foil from 1951 until her death in 1979.

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  • Lucille Ball & Vivian Vance interview in 1975
  • Things You Didn't Know About Vivian Vance - Ethel Mertz from TV's "I Love Lucy"
  • Ethel Loves Lucy - Vivian Vance salutes Lucille Ball - 1976
  • The "HERE'S LUCY" episode that SADLY ENDED her relationship with her friend VIVIAN VANCE!
  • REAL Reason Why VIVIAN Bagley (Vivian Vance) Left "THE LUCY SHOW!"-- Revealed!


Early life

Vance was born in Cherryvale, Kansas, the second of six children of Robert Andrew, Sr., and Euphemia Mae (née Ragan) Jones.[1] When she was six, her family moved to Independence, Kansas, where she eventually began her dramatic studies at Independence High School with instructor Anna Ingleman. Her love of acting clashed with her mother's strict religious beliefs.[2] "Viv" soon rebelled, often sneaking out of her bedroom and staying out after curfew. She changed her surname to Vance and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to find acting work, performing in the first show at the Albuquerque Little Theatre in 1930.[3] She appeared there in many other plays, including This Thing Called Love and The Cradle Song. The local theatre community helped pay her way to New York City to study under Eva Le Gallienne.



Starting in 1932, Vance was in a number of shows on Broadway, usually as a member of the chorus. Eventually, she graduated to supporting parts after she replaced Kay Thompson in the musical Hooray for What! (1937). Her most successful stage role was that of Nancy Collister in the Cole Porter musical Let's Face It! (1941), in which she starred alongside Danny Kaye and Eve Arden for over 500 performances.


Following her appearance in a revival of The Cradle Will Rock in 1947, Vance decided to move to California to pursue other theatre projects and 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. Following her departure from The Lucy Show at the end of the third season, Vance signed on to appear in a Blake Edwards film, The Great Race (1965); she saw this as an opportunity to restart a movie career, which never really took off. The film was a moderate success, receiving several Academy Award nominations.


1951–1958: I Love Lucy and success

Cast of I Love Lucy: William Frawley, Desi Arnaz; Vivian Vance, Lucille Ball

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.[4] 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,[5] and Benaderet was already playing Blanche Morton on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.[6]

Ultimately, the 42-year-old Vance won the role on the new television program, which debuted October 15, 1951, on CBS. Vance's Ethel Mertz character was the landlady of a New York City apartment that she and her husband Fred owned on East 68th Street. The role of Fred Mertz was played by William Frawley, who was actually 22 years her senior. Despite their exceptional chemistry, comedic timing, and musical prowess together onscreen, Vance and Frawley did not get along offscreen. According to some reports, things first went sour when Frawley overheard Vance complaining about his age, stating that he should be playing her father instead of her husband. She used to skim through the script before she memorized her lines to see how many scenes she had with "that stubborn-headed little Irishman."[7] Others recall that they practically loathed each other on sight and that Vance was put-off by Frawley's cantankerous attitude.[8]

Honored for her work in 1953, Vance became the first actress to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress; she accepted her award at the Emmy ceremony in February 1954. She was nominated an additional three times (for 1954, 1956, and 1957) before the series ended.

In 1957, after the highly successful half-hour I Love Lucy episodes had ended, Vance continued playing Ethel Mertz on a series of hour-long specials titled The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (later retitled The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour). When I Love Lucy was reformatted into the hour-long Lucy-Desi shows in 1957, Desi Arnaz offered Vance and Frawley the opportunity to star in their own "Fred and Ethel" spin-off show. Although Frawley was very interested, Vance declined, mainly because she did not want to work on a one-on-one basis with Frawley, as they already had an acrimonious relationship. Also, she felt the Mertz characters would be unsuccessful in a show without the Ricardos. Vance's choice to decline the would-be show intensified the animosity between Frawley and her.[9] Instead, Vance was interested in doing a series based on the life of Babs Hooten, a New York socialite who moves to New Mexico to run a hotel and ranch. Desi Arnaz financed a pilot starring Vance as Hooten titled Guestward, Ho!, which was shot in 1958 by Desilu; however, the show was rejected by CBS and Vance continued playing Ethel Mertz. Arnaz later retooled the show with model and actress Joanne Dru taking the lead role, selling the series to ABC, where it was subsequently cancelled after one season.

1962–1977: The Lucy Show and later works

Season-one cast of The Lucy Show: Candy Moore (in back); front, L-R: Jimmy Garrett, Lucille Ball, Vance, and Ralph Hart (1962)

In 1962, Lucille Ball was planning to return to television in a new series, The Lucy Show. The series starred Ball as Lucy Carmichael, a widow with two children living in Danfield, New York. Vance reluctantly agreed to be her co-star on the condition that she be allowed to appear in more glamorous clothes and have her character be named "Vivian". By this time in her life, Vance had grown tired of the public addressing her as "Ethel".

She appeared on The Lucy Show from 1962 to 1965, as Vivian Bagley, a divorced mother of one son, sharing a house with Ball's character. The character was the first divorcee ever on a weekly American television series. In the third season, Vance did not appear in seven of the season's 26 episodes. Vance was growing tired of commuting weekly between her home on the East Coast and Los Angeles. Vance's working relationship with Ball was also becoming strained. At the conclusion of the third season, Vance requested a new contract giving her more creative control with the opportunity to produce and direct episodes and better pay if she were to continue commuting for the show. Agents and studio executives misinformed Ball regarding Vance's desires, believing she wanted to be Ball's equal. Producers decided not to meet Vance's requests. Both Ball and Vance felt betrayed by the other and Vance left the series. Ball would later regret not giving Vance what she requested. Without Vance on the show, Ball seriously considered ending the series, feeling she could not continue without her. Once the two women were able to settle their differences and reconcile, Vance made three more guest appearances on the remaining seasons of The Lucy Show.[citation needed]

Vance with Allen Case on TV's The Deputy (1959)

After her departure from The Lucy Show, Vance appeared occasionally alongside Ball on reunion shows and made several guest appearances on Ball's third sitcom, Here's Lucy (1968–1974). In 1973, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. During this period, Vance's agent got her an endorsement deal with Maxwell House coffee. Over the next several years, she appeared in numerous commercials for Maxwell House. Vance made a number of TV guest appearances in the 1970s, including a 1975 episode of Rhoda, as well as appearing in a number of made-for-TV movies, including The Front Page (1970), Getting Away From it All (1972), and The Great Houdini (1976). Ball and she appeared together one last time in the 1977 CBS special Lucy Calls the President.

Personal life

Vance was married four times; her first three marriages ended in divorce. She was married to her third husband, actor Philip Ober, for 18 years. Ober was rumored to have abused Vance because he was envious of her successful career.[10] On January 16, 1961, Vance married literary agent, editor, and publisher John Dodds (1922-1986). They lived in Stamford, Connecticut, then moved to California in 1974, remaining together until Vance's death.

Death and legacy

Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7030 Hollywood Boulevard.

Vance died at age 70 on August 17, 1979, of metastatic breast cancer. After her death, Desi Arnaz said, "It’s bad enough to lose one of the great artists we had the honor and the pleasure to work with, but it’s even harder to reconcile the loss of one of your best friends."[11]

Family members donated Vance's Emmy Award to the Albuquerque Little Theatre after her death. In a 1986 interview, Lucille Ball talked about watching I Love Lucy reruns and her feelings about Vance's performance:

"I find that now I usually spend my time looking at Viv. Viv was sensational. And back then, there were things I had to do—I was in the projection room for some reason—and I just couldn't concentrate on it. But now I can. And I enjoy every move that Viv made. She was something."[12]

For her achievements in the field of television, Vance was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame February 14, 1991, at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard.[13]

Vance is memorialized in the Lucille Ball–Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, New York. On January 20, 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a local antique dealer had inherited many of Vance's photos and scrapbooks and a manuscript of her unpublished autobiography when John Dodds died in 1986.[14] Vance and Frawley were inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in March 2012.[15]

The story of how Vance was hired to play Ethel Mertz is told in I Love Lucy: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sitcom, a stage comedy that premiered in Los Angeles on July 12, 2018. Written by Gregg Oppenheimer (son of I Love Lucy creator-producer-head writer Jess Oppenheimer), it was recorded before a live audience for nationwide public radio broadcast, and later, online distribution.[16]

Vance was played by Robin Pearson Rose in the 1991 television movie, Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter. Thirty years later, she was portrayed by Tony-winning actress Nina Arianda in the motion picture film, Being the Ricardos (2021).


Vance in 1948, in costume for the play Springtime for Henry


Year Title Role Notes
1926 The Patent Leather Pug
1933 Take a Chance Dancehall Girl Uncredited
1945 Eadie Was a Lady Lady On The Stairs Uncredited
1950 The Secret Fury Leah
1951 The Blue Veil Alicia Torgersen
1953 I Love Lucy: The Movie Ethel Mertz Unreleased
1965 The Great Race Hester Goodbody


Year Title Role Notes
1951–1957 I Love Lucy Ethel Mertz 179 episodes
1954 Texaco Star Theatre Ethel Mertz Episode - "Episode #6.23"
1955 Shower of Stars Mrs. Mullins Episode - "High Pitch"
1957–1960 The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour Ethel Mertz 13 episodes
1959 The Deputy Emma Gant Episode - "Land Greed"
1960 Guestward, Ho! Babs Episode - "The Hootens Buy a Ranch"
1960–1964 The Red Skelton Show Clara Appleby 5 episodes
1962–1968 The Lucy Show Vivian Bagley 81 episodes
1967 Off to See the Wizard Sarah's Mother Episode - "Rhino"
1968–1972 Here's Lucy Vivian Jones 6 episodes
1969 Love, American Style Madame Zimia Zygmundt Segment: "Love and the Medium"
1970 The Front Page Mrs. Grant TV movie
1972 Getting Away from It All Mary Brodey TV movie
1972 The Lorax Singer TV special, Voice
1975 The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Season 1 Herself Episode - "Dean Martin and friends roast Lucille Ball"
1975 Rhoda Maggie Cummings Episode - "Friends and Mothers"
1976 The Great Houdini Minnie (Nurse) TV movie
1977 Lucy Calls the President Viv TV special
1978 Sam Episode - "Episode #1.6", (final appearance)


Awards and nominations

Major associations

Primetime Emmy Awards

  • Outstanding Supporting ActressI Love Lucy (Won; 1954)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress — I Love Lucy (Nominated; 1955)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress — I Love Lucy (Nominated; 1957)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress — I Love Lucy (Nominated; 1958)

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Other awards

TV Land Awards

  • Favorite Cantankerous Couple — I Love Lucy (Nominated, shared with William Frawley; 2004)
  • Favorite Second Banana — I Love Lucy (Nominated; 2004)


  1. ^ a b Edwards, Elisabeth (2008). ""I Love Lucy" Cast Biographies: Vivian Vance". CBS. Archived from the original on February 23, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-04.
  2. ^ Roberts, Kathleen (7 September 2014). "Vivian Vance's sister shares her memories of the 'I Love Lucy' star". Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  3. ^ "History". Albuquerque Little Theatre. 2016-08-01. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  4. ^ Thomas, Bob (October 15, 2001). "Still Loving Lucy TV Classic Debuted 50 Years Ago Today". The Cincinnati Post. Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved July 15, 2013 – via HighBeam Research.
  5. ^ Karol, Michael (2004-01-04). Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia. iUniverse. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-5957-5213-3.
  6. ^ Severson, Ken. "Biography for Bea Benaderet". IMDb. Retrieved 2008-04-04.
  7. ^ Karol, Michael (2006). "I Love Lucy". Lucy A to Z. Retrieved 2008-04-04.
  8. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara and David (May 27, 2002). "Weighty Matters". Snopes. Retrieved 2008-04-04.
  9. ^ Pelham, Libby (25 March 2006). "I Really Love Lucy". Retrieved 2022-07-22.
  10. ^ Birrell, Oliver. "4 Troubled Marriages Of 'I Love Lucy' Star Vivian Vance, And The Man Who Stayed Until Her Final Days". Fabiosa. Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  11. ^ "Actress Vivian Vance Dies". The Journal News. White Plains, NY. Associated Press. August 18, 1979. Retrieved July 24, 2022.
  12. ^ Shales, Tom (September 19, 1986). "Lucy, coming to life". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  13. ^ a b "Vivian Vance". Hollywood Walk of Fame. 25 October 2019. Archived from the original on March 17, 2022. Retrieved March 17, 2022.
  14. ^ "Vivian Vance papers and photos found". San Francisco Chronicle. 19 January 2010. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  15. ^ "TV Academy Announces 21st Annual Hall of Fame Inductees". Television Academy (Press release). November 28, 2011. Retrieved July 24, 2022.
  16. ^ "I Love Lucy: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sitcom". Broadway World. Retrieved July 16, 2018.

Further reading

  • Castelluccio, Frank and Walker, Alvin. The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: The Life Story of Vivian Vance. New York: Berkley Books, 2000. ISBN 0-425-17609-6
  • Edelman, Rob and Kupferberg, Audrey. Meet the Mertzes: The Life Stories of I Love Lucy's Other Couple. Los Angeles, Calif.: Renaissance Books, 1999. ISBN 1-58063-095-2

External links

This page was last edited on 23 November 2023, at 12:07
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