‘I Love Lucy’: The Truth Behind the Fred and Ethel Actors Tense Off-Screen Relationship

by Madison Miller

While Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were the star couple on “I Love Lucy,” their best friends and neighbors Fred and Ethel also stole the heart of viewers.

On the show, Ethel is the loving and devoted friend to Lucy that often gets caught in the middle of her hilarious schemes. However, she tends to be the voice of reason in their relationship.

Fred is the older, crankier man with a soft spot for both Ethel and Lucy.

In reality, without Fred and Ethel, the show would be missing something truly irreplaceable. At many moments the show is based around the two couples and their tight-knit relationship. In fact, during the last season, the two are separated after Lucy decides she wants to move to the country. It doesn’t last long and Fred and Ethel end up moving into the guest house to help with the chicken they started to raise.

“I Love Lucy” ran for six seasons. The original cast was in it throughout the show’s run. While it was on back in the ’50s, it continues to be a beloved sitcom today.

While the coupling was perfect on the show, how were things outside of the acting world?

Fred and Ethel Off-Screen

Ethel Mertz is played by Vivian Vance and Fred Mertz is played by William Frawley.

When it comes to relationships on-screen, “I Love Lucy” actually was groundbreaking and highly influential as to what future sitcoms would look like.

Lucy and Ricky were married in real life. They were one of the first mixed-race couples to be seen on television. Lucy was also pregnant in real-life when she was pregnant on the show.

While viewers thought Fred and Ethel were perfect, Vance did not think so. According to Screen Rant, she once said, “No one will believe I’m married to that old coot.” Apparently, her co-star, Frawley, heard her say that. After that, the on-screen relationship and friendship between the two were really just acting.

‘I Love Lucy’ Character’s Mutual Animosity

The two were 22 years apart so a portion of Vance’s hesitation toward their relationship was valid. Part of that contempt toward each other also worked in favor of a lot of the comedic moments on the show as well.

According to IMDb, Frawley was similar to his on-screen personality. He was known for being quite grumpy. During his life, he had a failed marriage, had a bit of a drinking problem, and lived in the same bachelor apartment in Hollywood for most of his career. Desi Arnaz made him promise to never miss a show or come to work drunk and it was a promise Frawley kept.

Frawley passed away on March 3, 1966. Even at the time of his death, the two were never seeing eye-to-eye. Vance was out eating with her husband when she heard the news Frawley died. Reportedly she said “Champagne for everybody!” when informed of the news.

It was common knowledge that the two hated each other. They never really made an effort to hide it. That is unless they were on-screen playing an adoring husband and wife.