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." 

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21 Comments

Jeffrey 16 months ago
I really liked "I Love Lucy", but I never saw much of "The Lucy Show". Maybe a few episodes, but not many. I think I saw more of "Here's Lucy" later on.
Tampammm 16 months ago
Apparently Vance also had a significant dislike for co-star William Frawley. And she was appalled to play his wife and had stated no one would believe that casting, with she being so much younger than him. I frankly never had any problem with her in the part of Mrs. Fred Mertz, seemed fine to me.
KayFetzer 16 months ago
I wasn't there, but I do believe part of the story, and jokes was about Ethel's weight. So if she had lost weight, there goes a major part of the dynamics between Ethel and Fred. In addition, Lucy played a mid 30s woman because back in the day it wasn't proper for the woman to be older than the husband. So they had to have Ethel lol older than Ethel. Lucy knew this as she was a shrewd business woman and knew they had to keep it perfect for people to watch. And...70 years later, we're still watching.
MrsPhilHarris 16 months ago
I always loved her as Ethel. Liked father as Viv although I’ve seen ILL more that I’ve seen TLS.
justjeff 16 months ago
"DON'T LOOK, ETHEL!!... Too late, she already been mooned!" - Ray Stevens, "The Streak" Barnaby Records #600; 1974...
Coldnorth justjeff 16 months ago
I have always loved that line. Sometimes when by the tomatoes in a grocery store, I randomly Say a little loud DONT LOOK ETHEL. Some smile and some think I flipped my lid but I can’t help myself
MichaelSkaggs 16 months ago
"Attack Of the Killer Pants!" Next week on Svengoolie.
harlow1313 16 months ago
Well, my only thought is that William Frawley wore his trousers pulled rather high.
justjeff harlow1313 16 months ago
High-waisted pants were the regular mode of dress until the 1960s. The had deeper pockets and were actually more comfortable...just not "stylish"...
harlow1313 justjeff 16 months ago
Well then, I suppose Frawley was quite the hipster, though his armpits likely chaffed from his trouser belt.
LoveMETV22 harlow1313 16 months ago
Well then, wouldn't that make him a pitster.
justjeff harlow1313 16 months ago
I kind of like the look... simple, unpretentious, comfortable, square...
Coldnorth justjeff 16 months ago
Convenient place to tuck his tie in
James9 16 months ago
I love Vivian Vance. I think Lucy wouldn't have been as good if she didn't have Viv to play off of.
Barry22 16 months ago
From what I read, Lucy and Vivian were close friends. It was Desi who wanted Vance to be a certain weight, and look like she did.
StrayCat 16 months ago
Vance was an attractive woman, and Ball not wanting any competition, insisted she gain weight and dress in frumpy clothes. There are also some stores that allude to a younger Vance working in burlesque for a while to make ends meet.
musicman37 StrayCat 15 months ago
Vivian was actually a year YOUNGER than Lucy.
calrich musicman37 10 months ago
Vivian was two years older than Lucy. Vivian was born in 1909 and Lucy in 1911.
CoreyC 16 months ago
Lucy always had a rivalry between her and Vivian. She and the producers forced Vivian to dress to look older.
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