Vivian Vance

(Frank) You know we’ve talked about a lot of theatres and theatre people, and movie people and music people coming from the state of Kansas. And there’s one that, well you can see on MeTV now on the I Love Lucy that they’re showing again and that’s Vivian Vance. Vivian Vance is from, not Topeka, but from Kansas. And of course, I’ve done a story on William Inge. Well, she studied with William Inge. He really encouraged her to pursue her acting career. So, how about that? (Deb) You know it’s like Kevin Bacon and the degrees of separation, you know, because just what one or two, he was what, six degrees or seven degrees of separation? I’ve come to the conclusion there’s just one or two degrees of separation between everybody, especially in Kansas where everybody’s just, you don’t have to go far to find some kind of connection. (Frank) Right. (Deb) But how fortunate that he encouraged her. (Frank) Yea. Well, of course Vivian did much more than just I Love Lucy, so why don’t we kinda take a look. To millions of television fans she was, and always will be, Ethel Mertz, friend, co-conspirator, landlord and neighbor to Lucy Ricardo. She lamented to a fellow actor that she should have used her own first name in the show because, No one even knows who Vivian Vance is. Not so in her home state of Kansas. She was born Vivian Roberta Jones in Cherryvale in 1909. The family later moved to Independence and she would study acting with playwright William Inge. Later on, while living and acting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she took the name Vance. When she was suggested for the role of Ethel Mertz, Lucille Ball was lukewarm at best. Vivian was primarily a theater actress and Lucy had never heard of her. She had also envisioned someone older, not as pretty, and less stylish. There were rumors that Lucy in fact made Vivian sign a contract to be 10 pounds heavier than the star but that contract was a joke. The two soon developed a close friendship. Not so with her on-screen husband, Fred, played by William Frawley. He was 22 years her senior and while the pair was always professional, they were not friends. When Lucy starred in another sitcom, The Lucy Show, she again wanted Vivian but this time her co-star demanded some changes. She would use the name Vivian and she would get to dress more stylishly. She played a divorcee, one of the first such roles on television. Vivian was nominated for four Emmy awards during the run of I Love Lucy, and was the first person to win for best supporting actress in 1954. Vivian died from complications from cancer in 1979. She had no children but was godmother to John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful. After her death, Desi Arnaz remarked, 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. During a 1986 interview, Lucille Ball talked about watching I Love Lucy reruns and her reaction to Vance’s performance was 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.

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