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.

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14 Comments

tootsieg 7 months ago
Great story. I love Wilma and Betty. Amazing how some actors and actresses are cast and they end up perfect for the role.
CoreyC 7 months ago
Bea would later guest star in I Love Lucy as the old lady next door neighbor.
Andybandit 7 months ago
Vivian Vance played the role of EM on ILL very well. I don't know if anyone could play that role better.
Lillyrose 7 months ago
I Love Lucy is my favorite show. I'm glad that Vivian Vance was Ethel instead of Bea Benaderet. I Love Lucy would have been a very different show if Vivian Vance wasn't on it. Vivian Vance was the perfect neighbor/best friend/landlady.
MrsPhilHarris 7 months ago
She was also on Lucy’s radio show My Favorite Husband.
ncadams27 7 months ago
George Burns didn’t seem to mind who played Bea’s TV husband - they had three different actors in that role.
cperrynaples 7 months ago
Bonus Question: What Future Lucy co-star was considered for Fred? Tough Followup: This actor co-starred with Benaderet in a radio program that would inspire what future MeTV show?
Bapa1 cperrynaples 7 months ago
Gale Gordon. I think he was in the same situation as Bea.
cperrynaples Bapa1 7 months ago
Yep, he was doing Our Miss Brooks! But Gale & Bea also did a summer series that would inspire Green Acres!
justjeff Bapa1 7 months ago
.. and the radio show was Granby's Green Acres...
daDoctah cperrynaples 7 months ago
Here's one I don't know the answer to. Was Mary Jane Croft ever considered for the role of Ethel? She was Lucy's bestest buddie on the two series that followed I Love Lucy, and I've only recently learned that she was Mel Blanc's girlfriend on his 1946-47 radio show.
Bapa1 daDoctah 7 months ago
She was one of Lucille ball's best friends, and would appear on her shows in different roles.
CoreyC cperrynaples 7 months ago
Only Desi Arnaz liked and put up with William Frawley. Both Lucy and Vivian Vance hated him.
Runeshaper 7 months ago
Very interesting. I'm glad Bea was able to play all of those other roles. Plus, everyone loves Betty Rubble.
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