Bea Benaderet was almost Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy
Here's why she had to decline the amazing opportunity.
It can be difficult to picture anyone besides the iconic Vivian Vance in the role of Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy, but what if it was a familiar face? In an interview with the Quad City Times, Bea Benaderet revealed that originally, she was being heavily considered for the role of Ethel Mertz.
Benaderet, known for a flurry of famous roles, including her starring role in the Paul Henning-created television series Petticoat Junction, said that at the time, Ball had actually called her herself to ask if she’d be likely to take the part.
While Benaderet was incredibly interested, she was currently working on the The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, where she was already playing neighbor Blanche Morton in the television series, starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. Benaderet recounted that she asked Burns if she could leave Burns and Allen in order to accept Ball’s offer and the role. As she tells it, Burns said, “Go ahead, and we’ll sue you in the nicest way possible.”
Obviously, Benaderet assumed that meant she’d be unable to take the part, but she later found success on shows like Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies. Bea later said, “I never played a part that I couldn’t think of ten people who could have done it better. I’m just lucky.”
Still, Lucille Ball wasn’t the only creator who kept Benaderet as their first choice. Henning reportedly created Petticoat Junction with Benaderet in mind to lead, and she also served as a voice actor for older female characters in Looney Tunes. Moreover, Benaderet also served as the voice of Betty Rubble in The Flintstones.
According to fellow Flintstones cast mate Jean Vander Pyl, the two came in to read during the show’s pre-production stages for Joseph Barbera. She recounted the experience to the Ashbury Park Press and said, “We read back and forth, this way and that way. Finally, Joe said, ‘Who wants to be Wilma, and who wants to be Betty?’ It was so informal in those days, so much more relaxed. Today, they would never do such a thing. So I said, ‘Oh, I want to be Wilma!’ I felt a real closeness to that character. Bea said, ‘That’s fine with me.’ So that was actually the way it was cast.’” Moreover, even though Benaderet missed out on her role as Ethel, she was able to make a guest appearance in I Love Lucy, adding to her iconic list of roles.