HomeEntertainment‘I Love Lucy’: How the Series Paid Tribute to Vivian Vance’s Small Town Roots

‘I Love Lucy’: How the Series Paid Tribute to Vivian Vance’s Small Town Roots

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

“I Love Lucy” may have starred Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as the titular couple. But Fred and Ethel Mertz often stole the show on the sitcom. The couple acted as best friends to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and often participated in Lucy’s schemes.

And in real life, Ball found a life-long friend and collaborator in Vivian Vance. Heralding from Cherryvale, Kansas, Vance always wanted to go into acting and be a star. But Vance’s mother was adamantly against the idea for much of Vance’s early life. Like any young person, Vance rebelled against her mother’s wishes to pursue her dream.

“As a teenager, she was a cheerleader for Independence High … But it was the legitimate stage that Vivian wanted, though her mother was dead-set against it. ‘You want to be an actress, trying to lead men into sin?’ she snarled. ‘You are going to hell,’” her mother reportedly said.

As a result, Vance decided to reinvent herself in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It may have not technically been her hometown. But it was where Vivian Vance was born. Vivian Roberta Jones changed her name to Vivian Vance and entertained up on stage. Later when Vance starred on “I Love Lucy” they gave a shoutout to Vance’s humble beginnings.

Like Vance, her “I Love Lucy” character Ethel came from Albuquerque as well on the show.

Vivian Vance After ‘I Love Lucy’

Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball became thick as thieves as the saying goes. During “I Love Lucy,” the two bonded and bounced off each other on set.

“We’re a couple of good, honest performers and we work well together. That’s not being immodest; I like to watch us work together as a member of the audience,” Vance once said.

After working on “I Love Lucy” and its sequel, Ball and Vance reunited for a follow-up. They starred together on “The Lucy Show” together. Since Arnaz was out of the picture, the show focused more on Ball as a working lady. And Vance played a bigger role in that sitcom. The two’s natural comedic timing helped make the show a success if not as popular as “I Love Lucy.”

But Ball’s and Vance’s friendship soured after contract renegotiations led to Vance leaving the sitcom. The show faltered in Vance’s absence as a result. But eventually, Ball and Vance ended up patching their friendship and working together again.

In fact, Vance starred in “Lucy Calls the President” for her final project. At the time, the actor was dying of breast cancer and retired from the industry afterward. Vance passed away on August 17, 1979, ending their iconic partnership.