‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance Went Separate Ways on Follow-Up Show Because of Contract Demands

by Joe Rutland

Comedic gold comes out of particular pairings on TV shows. One such pairing was Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance on CBS’ “I Love Lucy.”

Ball played Lucy Ricardo and Vance played Ethel Mertz, best friends, and conspirators of trouble for husbands Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) and Fred Mertz (William Frawley). “I Love Lucy” lasted six seasons on CBS, then Ball and Arnaz started an hour-long “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.” It ran from 1957 to 1960, the year when Ball and Arnaz divorced.

CBS didn’t want to lose Ball and she wanted to work. In 1962, “The Lucy Show” appeared on the network with Ball and Vance once again playing major roles.

Lucy and Viv, as Vance was called in this show, would get into different situations and work to get out of them. It followed a rather similar path of “I Love Lucy” except Ball was a divorced mother in this show, according to an article in Cheatsheet.com.

‘I Love Lucy’ Co-Star Kept Role Despite Making Commute

Vance, though, was having trouble staying committed to this show. She was a regular on “The Lucy Show” for three seasons but wanted a new contract drawn up. Vance was commuting between the East Coast and West Coast for this show.

She reportedly said, “I don’t want anything to happen to my marriage,” according to “Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz” by Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert.

By now, Vance lived in Connecticut with her fourth husband.

“All this flying back and forth is difficult. … I get up, go to the studio, go home, and fall into bed. It’s lonely.”

Vivian Vance was making $8,000 per episode at the time, but she was working with the owner of Desilu Productions.

What was Vance’s asking price? Nearly half a million dollars for another season on “The Lucy Show.” In addition, she wanted to write, direct, and produce episodes. Gale Gordon, another longtime Lucille Ball cast staple who played banker Theodore Mooney, said Ball liked the idea because she didn’t want to lose Vance.

Lucille Ball Didn’t Want To Lose Vivian Vance From Show

“Lucy cried in private talking to me because she depended on Vivian,” Gordon said. “She told me she could never do a show without Vivian. Lucy told me that, just prior to the break, Vivian was asking for more money than Lucy was willing to accept. It broke Lucy’s heart, really.”

Salary negotiations, though, were not going anywhere. Bernie Weitzman, vice president of Business Affairs for Desilu Productions, met with Vance’s agent. Weitzman was presented with some terms that seemed over the top.

“He gave me some numbers that were out of sight, what she wanted to do and the control she wanted on the show,” Weitzman explained. “I said, ‘That’s unreasonable. There’s no way we could live with that.’ He said, ‘Vivian doesn’t care about doing the show. She’s married, she’s happy, so if you want her to do the show, if Lucy wants her to do the show, these are her demands.'”

It’s also been reported that Lucille Ball was misinformed by agents and studio executives about Vance’s demands.

Ball called those demands “outrageous” and went ahead doing “The Lucy Show” without Vance.

Both actresses remained friendly, though, and Vance even showed up as a guest star on later episodes of “The Lucy Show.”