Edit
Vivian Vance Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (4) | Trade Mark (2) | Trivia (19) | Personal Quotes (4) | Salary (6)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 26 July 1909Cherryvale, Kansas, USA
Date of Death 17 August 1979Belvedere, California, USA  (breast and bone cancer)
Birth NameVivian Roberta Jones
Height 5' 6" (1.68 m)

Mini Bio (1)

She was born Vivian Roberta Jones, with a brother and four sisters. After the family moved from Cherryvale to Independence, Kansas, she studied drama under Anna Ingleman and William Inge. Their next move, to Albuquerque, New Mexico brought her to the Albuquerque Little Theatre, which provided her the money she needed to study under Eva Le Gallienne in New York. After arriving in 1932 she had trouble finding stage work until she began a two-year stint in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's "Music in the Air." She next understudied Ethel Merman in the hit "Anything Goes." Her first starring role was as Kay Thompson's last minute replacement in "Hooray for What!" starring Ed Wynn. Other Broadway costars included Danny Kaye, Eve Arden and Nanette Fabray. In 1945 while starring in a touring company of "Voice of the Turtle" she had a nervous breakdown. After undergoing psychotherapy and limited movie work, she returned to the play at the La Jolla (California) Playhouse, where she was seen by Desi Arnaz who decided she was perfect for the role of Ethel Mertz (the Arnaz' first choice, Bea Benaderet was unavailable) in the I Love Lucy (1951) television series. At first she didn't want the part (too frumpy), and she always hated being cast as the wife of William Frawley (she was 42, he was 64; the two never got along). Frawley, an alcoholic and then on the professional skids, had actively campaigned for the role of Fred Mertz after learning that Gale Gordon was also unavailable. The runaway success of the series forced the two to work together, but their scenes often barely mask their mutual dislike. After I Love Lucy (1951) ended she divorced her third husband, married again, and moved to Stamford, Connecticut. In 1962, she began work on a different show, The Lucy Show (1962), but the pressures of long-distance commuting didn't suit her, so after three years she limited her herself to guest appearances. In 1974, she and her husband moved to Belvedere (just north of Francisco Bay) so she could be near her sister. Five years later she died there, of cancer.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Spouse (4)

John Dodds (16 January 1961 - 17 August 1979) (her death)
Philip Ober (12 August 1941 - 24 April 1959) (divorced)
George Koch (6 January 1933 - 11 July 1940) (divorced)
Joseph Shearer Danneck, Jr. (6 October 1928 - 20 April 1931) (divorced)

Trade Mark (2)

Often starred in Lucille Ball's television shows
Husky voice

Trivia (19)

First person to win an Emmy Award for 'Best Supporting Actress'
Was offered to do a spinoff of I Love Lucy (1951) with her costar William Frawley, but the two did not like each other at all in real life and refused to do it.
Battled ill-health throughout much of the 1970s, beginning with a series of strokes in 1973. She died of bone cancer.
Producer Jess Oppenheimer was quoted as saying that the infamous feud between Vance and William Frawley was exaggerated. While TV's favorite neighbors may not have been "chummy" in real life, they were professionals who for the most part treated each other with respect during rehearsals and filming.
Vance's I Love Lucy (1951) co-star, William Frawley, reportedly received a unique deal for early television. His contract called for residuals from I Love Lucy (1951) for years after the series ended production in 1957. Unfortunately, Vance did not have a similar clause in her contract.
One of her closest friends in childhood was the silent film star Louise Brooks, who was her neighbor in Cherryvale, Kansas.
Legend has it that a clause in her television contract required her to stay 10 pounds heavier than costar/producer Lucille Ball. Actually, this contract never existed, at least not in legal, binding form. It was a mock contract given to Vance by Ball as a gag gift sparking the legend it was a real contract.
Vivian started acting when she moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she took the last name "Vance" from a dramatics teacher who had been supportive of her acting career.
A founding member of the Albuquerque Little Theater, where she played a vamp in "This Thing Called Love" and a nun in "The Cradle Song," the local theater community helped pay her way to New York. The theater in later years was eventually nicknamed The Vivian Vance Playhouse.
Producer Vinton Freedley was preparing his next musical and offered Vivian a musical role in which she'd have to do a playful striptease. Known for her vulgar, tauntingly glamorous roles already, she turned him down lest she be typecast. The show was "Leave It to Me," the song was "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," and Mary Martin became a huge musical star as a result of it.
Best remembered as Lucy's best friend and land lady, Ethel in I Love Lucy (1951).
Miss Vance was honored by the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health for her contributions on behalf of the mentally ill.
Godmother to John Sebastian. She was best friend's with his mother, Jane Sebastian, and mentioned her name in many I Love Lucy (1951) episodes.
In the 1970s, she discovered commercials were a lucrative way to capitalize on fame, with a 3 year $250,000 contract. She became known as Maxine, in the Maxwell House Commercials.
She returned to Broadway in the late 1960s, early 1970s, and usually commanded a $2,500/week salary. When she would return to her hometown of Albequerque, New Mexico, she would only accept a maximum of $250/week for little theater performances.
After marrying publisher John Dodds in 1961, she left Los Angeles for good. The couple spent the next several years living in various locations. In 1961, they purchased an old white farmhouse in Stamford, Connecticut. They also purchased a 200 year old schoolhouse in Westchester County, New York to be used as a retreat for the two of them after her years on The Lucy Show (1962). As John's career took off, they lived in a penthouse at Beekman Place in Manhattan. Tiring of the big city life, in the late 1960s, they moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico owning and operating a Travel Agency. In 1974, after her first bout with cancer, they decided to sell the business along with property she owned in Solvang, California to finance a publishing business for John in San Francisco. She would live the rest of her life in Belvedere, California, near to her sister, in a shingle style house by the beach.
She left The Lucy Show (1962) as a regular in 1965, because the weekly commutes between Connecticut and Los Angeles put a strain on her marriage to publishing executive John Dodds. She asked the show for a $500,000 advance, more creative and directorial control,and a raise in weekly pay. These demands were in part to convince Lucille Ball not to try and talk her out of retirement. She would go on to guest star with Lucy in future projects.
Divorced Philip Ober in 1959 under allegations of spousal abuse. Because the majority of the wealth was earned during the success of I Love Lucy (1951), she was forced to hand over half of her $160,000 in community property, which included, among other things, her ranch in Cubero, New Mexico and home in California.
Appears on a 44¢ USA commemorative postage stamp in the Early Television Memories issue with Lucille Ball, as Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz in a scene from I Love Lucy: Job Switching (1952). The stamp was issued 11 August 2009.

Personal Quotes (4)

Lucille Ball was supposedly brutally cold to her at their first meeting and later that same day one of the show's staff asked her how she could work for such a bitch to which Vivian Vance replied, " If this show's a success then I'm going to learn to love that bitch.
"Champagne for everyone!" Dining at a restaurant, upon hearing of former costar William Frawley's death in 1966.
When I die, there will be people who send flowers to Ethel Mertz.
Advice to actress, Kaye Ballard on doing a series: Kaye, you must use your own first name because I go through life just being called Ethel Mertz. No one even knows who Vivian Vance was.

Salary (6)

I Love Lucy (1951) $280 /week (first season)
I Love Lucy (1951) $450 /wk (season 1)
I Love Lucy (1951) $1,000 /wk (season 2)
I Love Lucy (1951) $3,500 /wk (season 3)
I Love Lucy (1951) $7,500 /wk (season 6)
The Lucy Show (1962) $8,000 /wk + bonuses

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page