Vivian Vance, well known in TV Land as Ethel Mertz, was born Vivian Jones in 1907 in Cherryvale, KS. Vance started acting when she moved to Albuquerque, NM; her performances inspired the local audience to take up a collection to send her to New York City to study acting. In New York, Vivian assumed her stage name and spent much of the '30s and '40s as a successful Broadway actress. In the late 1940s she suffered a nervous breakdown and moved to the West Coast, where she continued to perform in theater productions.
I Love Lucy
director Marc Daniels, who worked with Vance in a theater production of Counselor at Law, suggested her for the role of Ethel Mertz. Daniels took Desi Arnaz to see her in a revival of The Voice of the Turtle
, and they both knew at once that they had found the right actress to play opposite Lucille Ball.
Ball and Vance were not as easily convinced. Vance viewed herself as a glamorous Broadway actress -- not a frumpy, overweight, comedic landlady. For her part, Ball saw Vance as direct competition. Once Vance decided she wanted the role, however, she did everything possible to convince Ball that she was Ethel Mertz. She even spent the entire run of I Love Lucy
20 pounds overweight. Vance received several Best Supporting Actress Emmy nominations; she finally won in 1953.
After I Love Lucy
ended, Vivian Vance auditioned for Guestward Ho!
-- but the lead role eventually went to another actress. Vance went happily into retirement and moved to Stamford, Conn. In 1962, it took quite some complicated contract negotiations to persuade Vance to commute weekly to the West Coast for The Lucy Show
. Vance asked that her character name be changed to Vivian from Ethel. She also asked permission to lose the extra weight she had carried during I Love Lucy
and a more glamorous wardrobe.
After three seasons, Vance had had enough of her weekly commutes and returned to her life of retirement in Connecticut. She did, however, show up in yearly reunion episodes of The Lucy Show
until 1972. She also continued to make appearances on Ball's specials as well as on other series, including Love, American Style
Ethel Roberta Louise Mae Potter was born in Albuquerque, N.M. She marries Fred Mertz and the two have a popular vaudeville act. After vaudeville dies out, they buy a New York City brownstone and become best friends with their tenants, the Ricardos. Ethel is especially close to Lucy Ricardo. The two attempt many business ventures together, including a diner and a dress shop; many of them are total disasters. When their ideas don't pan out it naturally leads to quarreling, but the two always manage to patch things up. Ethel often accuses Fred of being cheap, but their relationship remains solid.