9 reasons we absolutely love Vivian Vance
She's so much more than Lucy's best friend.
Top image: The Everett Collection
It must have been daunting for anyone to have a role opposite Lucille Ball, especially on a wildly successful show named after her. But with over 20 years of experience, Vivian Vance took on the challenge with gusto.
For six seasons in the 1950s, the skilled actress commanded huge laughs on I Love Lucy as Ethel Mertz, Lucy's best friend and landlady. Vance proved to be so popular among television audiences, she teamed up with Ball again for her follow-up program, The Lucy Show,in the 1960s.
The fact that Vance held her own next to the incomparable Lucille Ball proves just how talented she really was. Although we mostly remember her as Ethel, Vance was an accomplished stage and film actress too.
Today would have been Vivian Vance's 108th birthday. To honor the occasion, here are some reasons why she was one of the best in the business.
1. She was one of the first Emmy Award winners.
To honor her work on I Love Lucy, Vance won the first-ever Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 1954. That year, the program took home the award for Best Situation Comedy, although Ball lost out on an award to Eve Arden.
2. She broke new ground on sitcoms.
Vance's character on The Lucy Show, Vivian Bagley, became the first divorced woman on primetime television.
3. She has a hidden connection to 'Welcome Back, Kotter.'
Although Vance didn't have any children of her own, she was the godmother to John Sebastian, frontman of the band the Lovin' Spoonful. The singer-songwriter wrote and performed the song "Welcome Back," also known as the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter. The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
4. She didn't move to Los Angeles right away.
While most actresses move from small towns to big cities to pursue their dream of acting, Vance took baby steps. After high school, Vance left the small town of Independence, Kansas, to the slightly larger town of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The actress became a founding member of the Albuquerque Little Theatre, and eventually made her way to New York City.
5. She was originally a stage actress.
Although she's best remembered for portraying Ethel Mertz, Vance had a steady career as a stage actress. She appeared in 25 plays and musicals over the span of 45 years. Most notably, she completed over 500 performances for the musical Let's Face It! in 1941.
6. She's also had some noteworthy film roles.
Vance appeared in the 1965 comedy The Great Race, starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood. With a budget of $12 million, the film was notable for being the most expensive comedy produced at the time.
Image: Warner Bros.
7. She wasn't the first choice for Ethel.
Ball originally thought Vance was too young to play Ethel, who was supposed to be a generation older than her character. Originally, Bea Benaderet and Barbara Pepper were considered for the role, but contractual obligations with other studios lead to the eventually hiring of Vance.
8. Ethel and Fred had a tumultuous relationship.
Despite killer chemistry on camera, legend has it Vance and William Frawley didn't get along on the set of I Love Lucy. Vance resented the fact that her fictional husband was 22 years older. To retaliate, Frawley wouldn't agree to perform any of Vance's suggestions. After the show ended, Vance refused to do a spinoff with Frawley, mostly because she couldn't stand to work with him any longer.
9. She's also known as Maxine from Maxwell House.
Later in life, Vance discovered a good way to earn a little extra income was to appear in commercials. Although she'll always be Ethel from I Love Lucy, she was also known as Maxine from Maxwell House.