Why This ‘I Love Lucy’ Star Hated 1 of Her Castmates

On the set of I Love Lucy, once the cameras started rolling, viewers enjoyed a look at two married couples who were neighbors but also as close as family. Why, Ethel and Fred Mertz were even named the godparents of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s son.

Off camera, it was quite a different story on the now-iconic series, especially between two of the castmates.

Lucille Ball, left, and Vivian Vance in a scene from 'I Love Lucy'
Lucille Ball, left, and Vivian Vance in a scene from ‘I Love Lucy’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The 1 comment Vivian Vance made that forever caused a rift between her and co-star William Frawley

Vance and Frawley at first had a fine working relationship. Until, according to I Love Lucy‘s producer and head writer, Jess Oppenheimer, Vance made an unkind remark that Frawley unfortunately overheard.

In his book, I Love Lucy: The Untold Story, Oppenheimer’s son, Gregg Oppenheimer, recalls the memories of those who worked on the show, including his father’s and those of others who made the show a hit.

William Frawley and Vivian Vance at the 1955 Emmy Awards ceremony
William Frawley and Vivian Vance at the 1955 Emmy Awards ceremony | Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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“Even though the entire world loved Lucy,” Oppenheimer wrote, “everyone on I Love Lucy didn’t love everyone else. For one thing, Vivian Vance couldn’t stomach Bill Frawley. Actually, they got along quite well at first. But before long, Viv became upset at the fact that people so readily accepted her lovely young self as the wife of ‘that old man,’ as she called him.”

Frawley was deeply hurt by Vance’s comment and made that known in his own way.

“When Bill got wind of her complaints, he was offended, and retaliated by suggesting lines for himself that characterized Ethel as having ‘a figure like a sack full of doorknobs’ or some other of a long list of insults.”

Frawley was famously difficult to work with

When Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz began considering actors to fill the role of Fred Mertz, they received word that character actor William Frawley, who had played a supporting role in 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street, was interested.

They were aware, however, of the 64-year-old actor’s difficult-to-work-with reputation.

In their book, Meet the Mertzes: The Life Stories of I Love Lucy’s Other Couple, Rob Edelman and Audrey Kupferberg detailed how the grumpy Frawley landed the role.

William Frawley and Lucille Ball in a scene from 'I Love Lucy'
William Frawley and Lucille Ball in a scene from ‘I Love Lucy’ | CBS via Getty Images

“Despite his reputation,” they wrote, “Ball and Arnaz came to like the idea of Frawley playing Fred Mertz and were determined to sign him.”

Not only was Frawley difficult to work with; he was also known for drinking excessively. Desi Arnaz offered Frawley the role of Fred Mertz, but under strict guidelines.

“Here, Arnaz established the rules for Frawley’s employment on I Love Lucy,” the authors continued. “If the actor were to miss three workdays for anything but a legitimate reason, he would be permanently written out of the show. In baseball lingo, which sports fanatic Frawley could readily understand, it meant three strikes and he was out.”

As difficult as it may have been for everyone to get along, it’s clear these actors were professional enough to set aside their feelings and produce a show that has entertained generations of viewers.