Lucille Ball Met Co-star Vivian Vance at the First Rehearsal & Said She Wasn’t Fit to Be Ethel

The “I Love Lucy” show co-stars Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball had one of the best on-screen friendships many people wanted and dreamed about.

They first met on the first day of rehearsal of the show, and their meeting wasn’t as smooth as you would have expected. Even though the director and head writer loved Vivian Vance, she still had Lucille Ball to contend with.

Lucille Ball wasn’t hesitant to let Vivian Vance know that she wasn’t fit for the role on their first meeting. Here’s how their relationship later turned out.

Vivian Vance on the set of “I Love Lucy” on January 12, 1953 (left), Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball on the set of “The Lucy Show” (center), Lucille Ball on the set of “I Love Lucy” on January 12, 1953 (right) | Photo: Getty Images

Before becoming a TV star, Vivian Vance, born Vivian Roberta Jones on July 26, 1909, was a stage actress. She started by studying drama with Anna Ingleman in Kansas.

After moving to New Mexico, she changed her surname to Vance and performed at the Albuquerque Little Theatre in 1930. Her work here provided her money to study under Eva Le Gallienne in New York.

In 1951, she got her big break with I Love Lucy and became the first actress to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 1954.

Vivian Vance on the set of “The Great Houdini” | Photo: Getty Images

Vance was married four times in her lifetime. On October 6, 1928, she married Joseph Shearer Danneck, Jr., and they divorced on April 20, 1931.

Two years later, on January 6, 1933, she married George Nathan Koch, and their marriage lasted till July 11, 1940. On August 2, 1941, Vance married  Philip Ober and was divorced on April 24, 1959.

When Vance died, she was married John Richard Dodds, an editor, literary agent, and publisher. They got married on January 16, 1961.

Vivian Vance on the set of “I Love Lucy” | Photo: Getty Images

Lucille Désirée Ball, a singer, model, and film star, was born on August 6, 1911, and at 15, she enrolled at John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York.

A couple of years later, Ball started working as an in-house model for Hattie Carnegie. After two years, she left when she suffered rheumatoid arthritis and learned to walk again.

She started modeling for posters and billboards, and when she had the opportunity to move to Hollywood, she took it and made her movie debut in 1933 with “Roman Scandals.”

Portrait of Lucille Ball | Photo: Getty Images

In 1942, she signed a contract with MGM and became a redhead. She left MGM in 1947 and took a lead role in a radio comedy, “My Favorite Husband.”

This role gave her the idea for “I Love Lucy,” in which she starred beside her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, and had it run under their production company, Desilu Productions.

Unlike Vance, Ball was married twice. She was first married to Cuban-born bandleader Desi Arnaz on November 30, 1940, and they divorced on May 16, 1961, after two children. However, until Arnaz’s death, they remained good friends.

Photo of Lucille Ball | Photo: Getty Images

On November 19, 1961, she was married to Gary Morton, a standup comedian, who remained by her side until her death on April 26, 1989.

On April 18, 1989, Ball had complained of chest pain, was taken to the hospital, and was diagnosed with a dissecting aortic aneurysm. 

Ball underwent successful surgery to repair her aorta and have an aortic valve replacement. Eight days later, she suffered a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm not related to her surgery.

Lucille Ball dancing in costume for the 1942 motion picture “The Big Street” | Photo: Getty Images


Vance and Ball had their first meeting at the first rehearsal for “I Love Lucy.” When Ball got to rehearsal, she wanted to know what Vance was there for. When Vance informed her, Ball said,

“You can’t play Ethel. You’re my age. You have the same color hair. You have an attractive figure. You’re pretty.”

Vance was smart and assured Ball that she couldn’t deliver on Ball’s version of Ethel Mertz that weekend, but she would do so the following weekend.

Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball on the set of “I Love Lucy” | Photo: Getty Images

Vance dyed her hair to a light yellow blonde with some dark roots to play the role perfectly, bought clothes that would look dumpy on her, and was willing to look the fool for a successful show.

Even though Vance had a great physique, she hid it behind her clothes, and people loved her character. Vance also went to therapy every morning to have her head in the right place while focusing on the work in front of her.

Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball on the set of “The Lucy Show” | Photo: Getty Images


For the role, Vance was recommended by Marc Daniels, who had seen her perform in New York. Once they saw her performance in “The Voice of the Turtle” in La Jolla, they signed her up during the play’s intermission.

However, once Ball met her, Ball wanted to fire Vance immediately. She was said to have believed that one shouldn’t have prettier people on set.

Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball on the set of “I Love Lucy” | Photo: Getty Images


After Ball realized Vance wasn’t a rival, the pair later became good friends. In later years, Ball said their friendship was destined and fated.

Ball also believed their friendship made the show so great because of their enchanted sense of play. However, every great friendship also passes through its tests.

As the show gradually ended, both women were experiencing issues in their personal lives. They were both going through a divorce. The pain they were both experiencing made them frequently argue on set.

Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball on the set of “The Lucy Show” | Photo: Getty Images

Fortunately, they did not let their romantic troubles get in the way of their friendship. Ball and Vance helped each other through the tough times in their lives, trusted each other, and had each other’s backs till the very end.

In August 1979, Ball said her goodbyes to Vance. In 1977, Vance had suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed, and before then, she had been diagnosed with breast and bone cancer.

After Vance was diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent a mastectomy and grueling chemotherapy before moving to Belvedere from Salem, New York.

Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball on the set of “The Lucy Show” | Photo: Getty Images

Shortly before Vance died, Ball had visited her, and they both had a good laugh and a good cry towards the end. Vance and Ball had lunch together, talked, and Vance knew she was dying.

Vance died on August 17, 1979, a few days later, at 70. Ball was said to have cried for days after Vance’s death. In March 2012, Vance was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

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