Skip to main content

Vance, Vivian (1909-1979)

Vance, Vivian (1909-1979)

In the early days of television when millions of Americans viewed small screen stars as personal friends, Vivian Vance became the nation's most celebrated neighbor. Vance, a Broadway veteran with credits for Voice of the Turtle and Jerome Kern's Music in the Air, rocketed to stardom as Lucille Ball's landlady and confidante on the immensely popular I Love Lucy show. Her character, Ethel Mertz, by nature homespun and pragmatic, wavers just enough in her resolve to be cajoled into participating in the hair-brained schemes of Ball's antic Lucy Ricardo. She also struggles to pump life into her happy but conventional existence with husband Fred (William Frawley). Vance proved to be Ball's ideal foil; their interaction helped make the sitcom the country's number one show from 1951 to 1957.

Vance's perennial good cheer on screen masked her personal frustrations and several bouts with mental illness. She resented the ease with which the public accepted her as Ethel Mertz. "Ethel is a frump," she lamented. "She's frowsy, she's blowsy, and talks like a man." Vance also grew increasingly dissatisfied with co-star Frawley; he was twenty-five years her senior and she complained, "He should be playing my father." Remarkably, the public remained entirely ignorant of the backstage feud between Frawley and Vance. Even after the secret leaked during the 1960s, an increasingly suburban America continued to view Fred and Ethel as representatives of a bygone era of neighborliness. Ironically, Vance's efforts on the I Love Lucy show helped popularize television, then a fledgling medium, and went a long way toward breaking down the traditional social patterns which Fred and Ethel Mertz represented.

—Jacob M. Appel

Further Reading:

Andrews, Bart. Lucy & Ricky & Fred & Ethel: The Story of "I Love Lucy." New York, Dutton, 1976.

McClay, Michael. I Love Lucy: The Complete Picture History of the Most Popular TV Show Ever. New York, Warner Books, 1995.

Wyman, Ric B. For The Love of Lucy: The Complete Guide For Collectors and Fans. New York, Abbeville Press, 1995.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Vance, Vivian (1909-1979)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . 24 Jan. 2019 <>.

"Vance, Vivian (1909-1979)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . (January 24, 2019).

"Vance, Vivian (1909-1979)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. . Retrieved January 24, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.