‘I Love Lucy’: Why Star Vivian Vance Hated Being Called Ethel Mertz

by Will Shepard

For most of the 1950s, I Love Lucy was the go-to sitcom show for millions of Americans. The show was funny, creative, and was in tune with the times. Consequently, the U.S. loved it and the show’s characters.

Vivian Vance played Ethel Mertz on the show. Her character was Lucille Ball’s landlady and provided the perfect partner in crime for Lucy Ricardo. The two got into all sorts of shenanigans together and had a blast doing so.

However, when the show came to its end, fans of the show had a hard time separating Vance from her character. She became typecast as Ethel Mertz. Unfortunately, the I Love Lucy star did not like being seen only as the character she played.

Eventually, she got used to it, though. But, it took a while to accept that fact. According to Country Living, she gave Kaye Ballard some words of wisdom. “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.”

Although this was likely hard for Ballard to hear, the I Love Lucy star was speaking from experience. Vance made a career out of being known as Ethel Mertz, and hopefully, it wasn’t all bad being known as the character she portrayed.

Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance Had a Rocky Start to Their Working Relationship on “I Love Lucy”

Together, Ethel and Lucy crafted some incredible schemes. Quickly, fans fell in love with their friendship and recognized that without their comradery, the show would look quite different.

However, it wasn’t always a hunky-dory kind of relationship for them. In the beginning, Vance and Lucille didn’t hit it off instantly. According to IMDb, a staff member asked Vance if she was still willing to work with Ball after she was called the b-word.

But, Vivian just brushed it off and said, “If this show’s a success, then I’m going to learn to love that ‘female dog.’”

However, the two turned their relationship around quickly. It wasn’t long until Vance and Ball began to gel together and cultivate incredible chemistry on I Love Lucy.

Geoffrey Mark, who wrote The Lucy Book, said, “It took several months of filming for Ms. Ball to realize what she had with Vivian. [This] is why, as the show goes on, the Ethel Mertz character gets more and more prominent, because she realized that as well as she and Desi worked together, actually, the better team was Lucy and Ethel.”

Once they meshed, there was no turning back. The show took off, and fans fell in love with the duo. Vance won an Emmy Award as best supporting actress in 1954 for her role in I Love Lucy. She also earned three more nominations while on the show.