Vivian Vance ~ The Iconic Ethel Mertz

Vivian Vance

Vivian Vance was a television actress who will always be remembered for playing Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy

She was born Vivian Roberta Jones on July 26, 1909 in Cherryvale, Kansas. Her family moved to Independence, Kansas when she was six. Vivian was raised in a strict religious home and her father could be abusive. She later claimed that he made her afraid of all men. After high school she went to Albuquerque, New Mexico and started acting in local theater productions. At the age of nineteen she married Joseph Danneck Jr, a publicity agent. They split up a few years later. In 1932 she moved to New York City where she studied with acting teacher Eva Le Gallienne. At first she had a lot of trouble finding work. Vivian's big break came when she was cast in the Broadway show in Musical In The Air. Then she was chosen to be Ethel Merman's understudy in the musical Anything Goes. She married violinist George Nathan Koch in 1933. Her success on Broadway continued with roles in Red, Hot, and Blue and Out From Under. Vivian began an affair with married actor Philip Ober in 1939. She and Paul both left their spouses so they could marry each other. They wanted to have a child together but she suffered a miscarriage early in their marriage. While touring with Voice Of The Turtle in 1945 she had a complete nervous breakdown. Her psychiatrist diagnosed her with "anxiety neurosis" that had been caused by her childhood trauma. In 1951 she had a small role in the film The Blue Veil starring Jane Wyman.

Vivian Vance

Lucille Ball Vivian VanceLucille Ball Vivian Vance
With Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy

That same year she auditioned for a role on Lucille Ball's new sitcom I Love Lucy. Vivian was cast as Ethel Mertz, Lucy's best friend and neighbor. The show would make her a household name and in 1954 she won the Emmy award for Best Supporting Actress. Although she enjoyed her newfound fame she hated being known as the frumpy, overweight Ethel. She never got along with William Frawley who played her husband Fred Mertz. Vivian even refused a lucrative offer to star in a spin-off because she didn't want to work with him again. Unfortunately her marriage to Phil had become tumultuous. He was very jealous of her success and often abused her. The couple were divorced in 1959. Two years later she married publisher John Dodds, who was twelve years younger than her and gay. She was aware of his sexuality but they seemed to have a happy marriage. In 1962 she reunited with her close friend Lucille Ball to co-star in the series The Lucy Show. After three seasons she left the show over a contract dispute. Vivian continued to work occasionally on television and appeared in commercials for Maxwell house coffee. Sadly she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1973. Four years later she suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed. On August 17, 1979 she died from cancer at the age of seventy. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea.


Vivian Vance Phil Ober
With her husband Phil Ober

Vivian Vance On I Love LucyVivian Vance

The Other Side Of Ethel Mertz is a fabulous biography of Vivian