Vivian Vanceis one of my very favorite actresses. Of course I grew up watching I Love Lucy, and absolutely loved the program. This is what made me begin the search about Vivian Vance, as I knew nothing about her life or roles outside of the I Love Lucy Show. This is what I found.
Vivian Robert Jones was born in Cherryvale, Kansas on July 26, 1909. She was the second of six children from to Robert Jones and Euphemia Ragan. The family eventually moved to Independence, Kansas, when she was six years old. She eventually began her dramatic studies under the tutelage of Anna Ingleman and William Inge. Her love of acting often made her clash with her mother’s religious beliefs, and she was noted as being rebellious, often sneaking out and staying out after curfew. Later she changed her name to Vance, and moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. She found the name Vance from the folklorist Randolph Vance. She moved to Oklahoma with the hopes of becoming an actress.
It was 1951, when Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were casting for their new television show I Love Lucy. Their director Marc Daniels, had worked with Vance before and suggested her for the role of Ethel Mertz. Though she was not the first choice (first was Bea Benaderet, but she had a prior acting commitment) to play the landlady. Daniels then took Arnaz to see Vance in The Voice of the Turtle. While watching her perform, Arnaz, became convinced that this was the right woman for the job. Lucy is said to have been less sure, since she had pictured the role going to someone much older and less attractive. Regardless, Vance was given the role and the show debuted October 15, 1951.
Though Vivian and (Fred Mertz) William Frawley played marriage roles on I Love Lucy, the two did not get along in real life. Though on screen they shared a special chemistry, Vivian thought Frawley was too old to be playing her husband. Others say that Frawley disliked her on sight. It wasn’t long before Lucy and Vivian formed a close friendship.
Vivian Vance was honored for her acting work in 1953, when she 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 also nominated three more times, in 1954, 1956, and 1957. All of the nominations came before the end of the series.
Even after I Love Lucy ended in 1957, Vance continued playing Ethel Mertz on a series of hour-long spcials called The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (later it was changed to The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. It was 1959 when Vance divorced her third husband, Philip Ober, who she alleged physically abused her.
Though the hour-long specials of Lucy-Desi programs ended in 1960, Vance and Frawley were given the chance to take on their own spin-off. Frawley was interested but Vance declined the offer. The show was reworked and then broadcast as “Gestward Ho” with Joanne Dru taking the female lead role. Vance is noted as having appeared in the pilot, yet the pilot did not sell. A year later she married John Dodds, a literary agent. Dodds was thought to be gay, but the marriage is said to have worked. The newly married couple made a home for themselves in Stamford, Connecticut.
It wasn’t until 1962, that Vance and Ball appeared together again, this time in the new TV series The Lucy Show. Vance agreed to take part in the show very reluctantly, and stipulated that she be allowed to wear more glamorous clothing, and she wanted her character name to be Vivian, because she was tired of being called Ethel by the media. Vivian was on the The Lucy Show from 1962 to 1965, she played Vivian Bagley. Her character is known as the first divorcess ever to be on a weekly TV series.
After that Vivian could no longer tolerate the traveling to and from her home in Connecticut to Hollywood and by 1964, she was only in half of the episodes. The very next year Desilu Studios offered her a contract to direct, but it never happened since she could not agree on a salary.
Vivian Vance appeared alongside Lucille Ball on reunion shows and made several guest appearances on Ball’s third sitcom, Here’s Lucy (it ran from 1968-1974). It was 1969 when Vivian returned to Broadway and starred in My Daughter, Your Son.
Vivian was told that she had breast cancer in 1973. The next year she and her husband relocated to Belvedere, California, as she wanted to be near her sister. During this time Vance played Maxine in a series of TV commericals.
It was the year 1977 when Vance had a stroke that left her partially paralyzed. Her very last TV appearance with Lucy was on Lucy Calls the President, the program aired November 21, 1977.
Vance never had children, though she had been married four times. She died at the age of 70, on August 17, 1979. She was cremated and her ashed were spread at sea.
Vance was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991 at 7030 Hollywood Boulevard. She is also memoralized in the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, New York.
She was married four times.
Joseph Shearer Danneck, Jr. from 1928-1931.
George Koch from 1933-1940.
Philip Ober from 1941-1959.
John Dodds from 1961-1979.
The Secret Fury in 1950
The Blue Veil in 1951
I Love Lucy in 1953
The Great Race in 1965.
I Love Lucy 1951-1957.
The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour from 1957-1960.
The Deputy in 1959.
The Lucy Show from 1962-1965 as a cast member, 1967-1968 as a guest star.
Love, American Style in 1969
The Front Page in 1970
Getting Away From It All in 1972
Here’s Lucy (Guest Star 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972)
Rhoda in 1975
The Great Houdini in 1976
Lucy Calls the President in 1977
Music In The Air (1932-1933)
Anything Goes (1934-1935)
Red, Hot and Blue (1936-1937)
Hooray for What! (1937-1938)
Out From Under in 1940
Let’s Face It! 1941-43
It Takes Two 1947
The Cradle Will Rock 1947-1948
My Daughter, Your Son 1969
If you would like to read more about Vivian Vance
- Castelluccio, Frank and Walker, Alvin. The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: The Life Story of Vivian Vance. New York: Berkley Books, 2000. ISBN 0425176096
- Edelman, Rob and Kupferberg, Audre. Meet the Mertzes: The Life Stories of I Love Lucy’s Other Couple. Los Angeles, Calif.: Renaissance Books, 1999. ISBN 1580630952