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Vivian Vance

Photograph of Vivian VanceActress from Cherryvale. Born: July 26, 1909 Cherryvale, Kan. Died: August 17, 1979 Belvedere, California

During her childhood in Cherryvale, one of Vivian Vance's playmates included actress Louise Brooks. Venus Jones and her little sister, Vivian, lived across the street from Brooks.

Vivian Roberta Jones was born July 26, 1909, one of six siblings. When Jones was six years old, her father moved the family to Independence so he could start a grocery business with his brother. Jones studied drama at Independence High School, where future playwright William Inge was her classmate. Jones changed her last name to Vance and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to work as an actress. Her work in the community theatre there paid the way for her travel to New York for study.

Vance had a difficult time on Broadway, often cast as a second or third lead. She had similar luck in films, making a total of four. One night in 1951, when she was playing in the La Jolla, California, production of The Voice of the Turtle, television director Marc Daniels was in the audience. He was there with film star Desi Arnaz to determine whether Vance would complement Arnaz’ wife, Lucille Ball, in the new television series I Love Lucy. Vance was cast and catapulted into fame as Ethel Mertz, one of TV’s most famous sidekicks. She was honored for her work, receiving the first Emmy Award given to a supporting actress, and would receive three additional nominations during the run of the show.

When Ball returned to television in 1962 for The Lucy Show, she wanted her friend and costar to join her. Vance, who was frequently called “Ethel” in public, asked that her character be called “Vivian.” Ball agreed and gave her the first role as a divorcée on American weekly television.

Vance continued to work in television and on stage throughout her career. She died in 1979.

Entry: Vance, Vivian

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2010

Date Modified: January 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.