Vivian Vance begged The Lucy Show writers to keep her character feminine
"I wanted to get away from those tough, hard-bitten, masculine sounding jokes."
Whether you call her Ethel Mertz or Viv Bagley, Vivian Vance is essential to Lucille Ball's television shows. She was the neighbor and best friend of Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy and lived in the same home as Lucy Carmichael, a widow with two children on The Lucy Show.
Although the character of Ethel Mertz is more prominent, Vance preferred Viv Bagley over her iconic role. "I think it's more of an expression of me," the actress said during an interview with The Kansas City Star in 1962.
She mentioned that she had to beg the writers to keep her character feminine when developing Viv. "Before we started the new show, I kept talking with the writers, begging them to keep the part feminine - I didn't mean that I didn't want to be funny, but I wanted to get away from those tough, hard-bitten, masculine sounding jokes."
Vance also revealed that the new role allowed her to wear nice clothes, as Ethel wore basic attire. She did anything she could to break out of the Ethel image, which brought a lot of mental hardship.
When the show started, she was unsure how viewers would feel about the absence of Desi Arnaz and William Frawley's roles, Ricky and Fred. Yet, with her and Lucille Ball's talents, Vance knew it wouldn't be much of a challenge to grab their attention.
"Of course, when I Love Lucy finished, we never dreamed we'd be back doing this. But now, we are - and I couldn't be happier," she said. "I must say I was not too worried about the absence of the men after we made a few shows, although I did wonder whether the audience would expect to see Fred or Ricky walk through the door at any time. But apparently, they haven't missed them much."
One thing Vance longed for fans and viewers to do was to stop calling her Ethel. She was grateful for the role and the opportunity to contribute to a legendary show, but she wasn't as rough on the edges as the character. Playing Viv Bagley allowed the actress to show a softer side, which Vance already saw taking over.
"And already people are starting to call me Viv - so I guess the new image is taking over."