Lucille Ball Met All of Vivian Vance’s Demands to Get Her Back in ‘The Lucy Show’

I Love Lucy is one of the most popular shows ever to air on television. The series made a star out of actor Lucille Ball, cementing her status as a pioneer for women in entertainment, and one of the all-time great cultural icons. While Ball was the star of the show, she was supported by several other talented performers, including her husband, Desi Arnaz, and Vivian Vance, the actor who played Ethel Mertz. Vance, an established stage actor, became famous for her work as Ethel Mertz and became close friends with Lucille Ball. Still, when Ball pursued her to appear in one of her later projects, Vance had some demands that she wanted to have met before she would agree to work with her old friend again. 

Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance on 'I Love Lucy'
(L-R) Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo, and Vivian Vance as Ethel Mertz | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

How did Vivian Vance get her start in show business?

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Long before Vivian Vance started playing Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy, she was an aspiring stage actor, rebelling against her traditional upbringing. Born in Kansas in 1909, Vance got her start in community theater productions, performing in plays such as This Thing Called Love and The Cradle Song. Eventually, Vance moved to New York City, where she worked hard to land more prominent roles.

In 1951, after a few years of working in New York on stage, Vance met with I Love Lucy showrunners to discuss the role of Ethel Mertz. At first, Lucille Ball balked at hiring Vance for the role. Reportedly, Ball had a specific vision of Ethel Mertz as being Lucy Ricardo’s frumpy second-in-command, and the glamorous Vance didn’t exactly meet those requirements, according to TV Over Mind

Vivian Vance played the frumpy Ethel Mertz in ‘I Love Lucy’

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Eventually, Lucille Ball was convinced that Vivian Vance was the perfect option for Ethel Mertz. Still, she conformed to Ball’s vision for the character, changing up the way that she dressed and carried herself in order to really sell the idea of Ethel being an unfashionable, dumpy woman who struggles with her weight. Reportedly, there was even a specification in Vance’s contract that demanded the actor consistently weigh 10 pounds more than Ball, in order to always make Ethel look as frumpy as possible — and, of course, to never outshine Ball herself. 

What demands did Vivian Vance make prior to starring in ‘The Lucy Show’?

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Vivian Vance became a fan-favorite on I Love Lucy, and she appeared in nearly every episode of the show until it went off the air in 1957. During that time, she also became great friends with Ball, falling into a sisterly relationship offscreen as well as on. After Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960, Ball herself went on to begin production on another TV series, The Lucy Show — and she wanted Vance at her side.

Still, before Vance would agree to sign on to appear in the show, she had some demands that needed to be met. According to historian Geoffrey Marks, Vance insisted that her new character, Vivian Bagley, have a look all of her own, Closer Weekly reports.

“She has a modern hairstyle and modern hair color and can wear whatever clothes she wants. And she plays television’s first divorcée. And Lucy’s character is very similar — Lucy Ricardo and Lucy Carmichael may not have been the same person, but they were more or less sisters or cousins,” Marks detailed.

“Vivian Bagley, though, is nothing like Ethel Mertz. She’s much smarter, she’s much more secure, she’s much more confident, she’s got a boyfriend and she’s nobody’s fool. She doesn’t suffer quite as much with Ms. Ball’s antics; she puts up more of a fight.”