‘I Love Lucy’ Star Vivian Vance’s Mother Thought She’d Go to Hell for Acting Career

I Love Lucy was one of the most popular sitcoms of the ’50s. Not only did fans find it hilarious, but it was groundbreaking on many levels. It featured a woman as the lead and in many ways revolutionized the idea of what a sitcom could be. 

As great as Lucille Ball was in the lead role, she wasn’t the only person who made the show successful. Also contributing were her other cast members. One star of the show was named Vivian Vance.

But as great as Vance’s career was, her younger years were full of obstacles. One of those came in the form of her own mother. 

Who is Vivian Vance? 

Actor Vivian Vance at the time of her appearance in the television series I Love Lucy.
Vivian Vance | John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

RELATED: ‘I Love Lucy’ Was the First Major Television Show to Feature Pregnancy in a Storyline

Before she became a television star, Vance was a theater actor. According to IMDb, Vance struggled early on.

Her first big break came in 1932 when she appeared on stage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Music in the Air for two years. Following that she served as the understudy for the great Ethel Merman and then nabbed a lead role in Hooray for What! 

Sadly, Vance suffered a nervous breakdown in 1945. She took a break from the road and returned to California, acting at the La Jolla Playhouse. The move turned out to be one of the best breaks of her career. She was spotted by Desi Arnaz, who recommended her for the role of Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy. 

According to Hallmark, Vance was initially reluctant to take the role of Ethel. She found the part “too frumpy,” and felt hesitant to play across from William Frawley, a man 20 years her senior, as his wife. She did take the role though, and it changed her life and career. 

Ethel served as Lucy’s best friend throughout the show’s run. While the focus of the show was typically on Lucy and Desi, Fred and Ethel were worthy supporting characters. They gave the show more depth, as well as two other people for the main characters to bounce jokes off of.

The duo became iconic in their own way. Much like you can’t imagine Seinfeld without any specific member of its “Big Four” missing, I Love Lucy wouldn’t have worked without Vance. 

Vance wasn’t Ball’s first choice for the role of Ethel, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone else playing the character. That said, if Vance’s mother had her way, she would have never taken the opportunity. 

Vivian Vance’s mother thought she’d go to hell for acting career

Vance may have had success later in her career, but it was no thanks to her rocky upbringing. No one in her family seemed to support her decision to go into acting.

According to Closer Weekly, Vance was born to Robert Andrew Jones, Sr. and Euphemia May Jones, one of six children, in 1909. She grew up in the small town of Cherryville, Kansas. Vance loathed the town, mainly because she found it as suffocating as her own family. 

A cheerleader at Independence High School in town, Vance longed to perform onstage. The person least supportive of the idea? Her own mother. She bluntly told Vance what she thought would happen to her if she entered that profession: 

“You want to be an actress, trying to lead men into sin?’ You are going to hell.” 

With this in mind, it appears that Vance’s story is one of perseverance. To enter a field as fraught with complication as acting is hard enough even when you have a strong support system. The fact that Vance’s mother was dead set against her going into this makes it even more impressive she was able to attain success in her field.