HomeEntertainment‘I Love Lucy’: Vivian Vance Once Joked Time on Show was ‘Biggest Ripoff of My Career’ in Hilarious Speech

‘I Love Lucy’: Vivian Vance Once Joked Time on Show was ‘Biggest Ripoff of My Career’ in Hilarious Speech

by Jennifer Shea
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

“I Love Lucy” star Vivian Vance loved Lucille Ball enough to travel to Las Vegas and roast her old co-star as a skinflint and a petty dictator.

During a Dean Martin celebrity roast in 1975, Vance, who played Lucy’s best friend and neighbor Ethel Mertz on the show, jokingly tore into Ball, casting her old friend as affected and cheap.  

“You probably don’t remember me,” Vance began, turning to Ball. “But we go back a long way.”

‘I Love Lucy’ Was a ‘Ripoff,’ Vance Joked

“Actually I’ve known Lucille Ball, man and boy, for over 20 years,” Vance continued. “And during that time, I consider the years I spent on ‘I Love Lucy’ to be perhaps the biggest ripoff of my career.”

“I remember when she was head of Desilu Productions,” Vance went on. “She had a sign on her desk that said, ‘The buck stops here.’ I didn’t realize at the time that she meant it literally.”

Vance further derided Ball as domineering toward her husband, Desi Arnaz, with whom she founded the production studio Desilu Productions. Arnaz also co-starred in “I Love Lucy.”

“Lucy was always very friendly with everybody on the show,” Vance added. “She called them all by their first names no matter how insignificant she considered them to be. It was always, ‘How ya doin, Harry? How’s the family, Pete? Hurry up with that coffee, Desi!’”

Watch Vance’s portion of the Las Vegas roast here:

Vivian Vance Died Relatively Young

Vance was just 66 when she died of cancer in 1979. She died at home in northern California.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Vance was an intellectual whose literary tastes were respected by her husband John Dodds, a publisher. That may surprise many who knew her as Ethel Mertz, Lucy’s somewhat frivolous wingwoman on “I Love Lucy.”

Vance was also a Broadway actress who was appearing in “The Voice of the Turtle” at the La Jolla Playhouse when Ball and Arnaz caught her on stage and discovered her.

Vance would go on to play Ethel Mertz for six years until “I Love Lucy” ended in 1957. She won a Primetime Emmy Award for her performance on the show.

Ball reportedly traveled to Belvedere, California to say goodbye to Vance in August of 1979, shortly before the actress’s death.

“You could hear them laughing, and towards the end there was a lot of sobbing,” Paige Peterson, who became friends with Vance after the actress rented her mother’s Belvedere house, told People last year.

Upon hearing of Vance’s death, Ball said, “I have lost the best friend I ever had. And the world has lost one of the best performers it ever had. I shall miss her terribly.”