‘I Love Lucy’: Ethel Mertz Actress Vivian Vance Only Joined ‘The Lucy Show’ on One Condition

by Josh Lanier

I Love Lucy made Vivian Vance a star, but not a household name. She said she would often get fans coming up to her calling her by her character’s name Ethel Mertz. She was determined to change that.

So, when Lucille Ball approached her to be a part of The Lucy Show, Vance was game. But she had one stipulation: Vivian would have to be the character’s name, MeTV said. Vance as landlady Mertz was the perfect partner for Ball. They played well off each other. But fans didn’t know her by her actual name. They would yell out Ethel when they saw her on the street, and she hated it.

She told Kaye Ballard to use her own name whenever possible, according to Country Living. “You must use your own first name because I go through life just being called Ethel Mertz. No one even knows who Vivian Vance was.”

Though Vance’s time as a full-time member of the cast was short-lived. Vance lived in Connecticut with her fourth husband but would commute to Hollywood to shoot The Lucy Show. She got tired of the constant traveling and left the show, making only the occasional appearance on the show until its end in 1968, Country Living reported.

And, unfortunately for Vance, The Lucy Show wasn’t as popular or groundbreaking as I Love Lucy. So, despite her getting to use her own name, it didn’t help much with fans who still remembered her as Ethel Mertz.

People Thought She and Lucille Ball Were Too Close

After Vivian Vance died in 1979, her widower, John Dodds, passed her effects to a friend. He found an autobiography that she’d written. In it, she goes into detail about her relationship with Lucille Ball. At first, the two had a frosty partnership. Ball and several others thought Vance wasn’t right to play Mertz. But after some time, Ball realized the talent in her. And they became fast friends. And got too close, according to rumors Vance’s first husband heard.

“Lucille Ball and I were just like sisters. We adored each other’s company. She and I had so many laughs on ‘I Love Lucy’ that we could hardly get through filming without cracking up. Then I began hearing that Lucille and I were too close. My first husband disapproved of my closeness with Lucille. ‘People are talking about you two,’ he’d say. ‘You ought to be careful about the hugging and kissing you do on the show.’”

Vivian Vance’s manuscript

Vivian Vance and Her Mother Did Not See Eye-to-Eye

She also wrote about her oppressive mother and how it pushed her to the point of near insanity.

“To Mama, I was a ‘bad girl,'” she wrote. “From the time I could first remember she had said, ‘What did I ever do to have a child like you?’ I had a hang-up about showing my legs in public – Mama used to scream at me that showing my legs could drive men to sin. Whenever I heard four-letter words, I vomited.

“Once a man exposed himself to me on the New York subway, and I retched until I was sick. I blamed myself, thinking: ‘He wouldn’t have done that unless I looked like a whore.’”

Her mother had a mental breakdown in her mid-30s and Vance said she also “cracked up” around the same age. But doctors and medication, and seeing how strong Lucille Ball was helped rehabilitate her.