Saturday, September 1, 2012

Vivian Vance's Friendship with Lucille

I thought I'd do up a post to explain more about Vivian and Lucille's friendship because I've been asked on this subject several times on Instagram (@welovelucilleball). Here goes...

Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball shared a special and complex friendship that could never be destroyed. When Vivian first went to Desilu studios to meet Lucille, she was so terrified because she was going to be playing second banana to the legendary movie star, Miss Ball. Of course, she wore formal clothes as she thought that Lucille would dress like that, and she wanted to give Lucille a good impression.

Everyone could remember their first meeting. There was sophisticated looking Viv, and there was Lucille, who dressed in her normal oversized blouse and black slacks. Lucille had worn a scarf that covered her red hair, and her face was bare. Basically, she looked like anything but a great movie star.

Lucille looked at Viv up and down and asked, "what part will you be trying out for?"
"For the landlady, honey," Desi said.
"She doesn't look like a landlady. She looks glamorous. Her hair's the same color as mine," Lucy stated.
"I can dye it. I don't care. It doesn't matter to me."
"I don't know. I want a dumpy, peroxide-blonde with curlers in her hair and a terry cloth robe and fuzzy slippers. That's what I want."
"You got her. I look just like that in the morning when I get out of bed."

Lucille laughed. Now if you can make Lucille laugh, you've worn her respect.

When rehearsals officially started, the two girls discovered that they had so much chemistry. That was the start of their enduring friendship. They enjoyed rehearsing so much that they they had a ball.

Lucille was tough on Viv. She would direct Viv and give her lots of instructions to follow while rehearsing. She knew that Viv needed someone to be strong and tough to straighten her out. Prior to being starred as Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy, Viv had suffered a psychological breakdown and was in recluse and her life was filled with episodes of visiting psychiatrists. Much of her mental anguish came from her then-husband, Philip Ober. He would beat her up and call her ugly names that made her feel small.

Eventually, Vivian learned from Lucille to be independent, strong and tough too. Viv knew that Lucille had struggled with her marriage for very long yet remained spirited and formidable, and Lucille always provided Viv advice on her own marriage. She eventually convinced Viv to muster enough courage to file for divorce from her abusive husband.

While most were intimidated by Lucille's bluntness, Viv would take no shit from her. She knew that beneath Lucille's tough exterior, she was a soft, kind and dependent lady who was extremely afraid of being hurt. She also knew that Lucille often tested people by provoking them to see if they would fight back. So, Viv always fought back when Lucille became too willful, and Lucille loved that. Additionally, while others couldn't get away with trying to direct Lucille or to offer suggestions or directions, Viv always did, and Lucille always listened to her. It was astounding how they two ladies always helped each other bring out the best of their characters in I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show.

If you're wondering why Vivian said "the greatest straight woman in show business" while thanking Lucille, here's why: Viv's husband felt threatened by their friendship. Knowing how conservative Viv was, he told her once that rumors have started in Hollywood, saying that Lucille and Vivian were so close that it seemed like they were lesbians, "a couple of cats in heat". Vivian was so affected that she drove 50 miles to her psychiatrist for a talk. Of course, his vindictive efforts didn't manage to break up their friendship.

Desi, Lucille and Viv remained close friends throughout their lives (William Frawley had spent his last years dealing with his health and finally passed away in 1966). After Desi and Lucille's divorce, Desi produced the first 6 episodes of The Lucy Show. On the first day of rehearsals, Desi sat at his chair, looked at Lucille rehearsing and promptly burst into tears. Viv went and hugged Desi, "it's never the same again, isn't it?"
Having gone through so much to produce the most phenomenal show on earth, I Love Lucy, it was impossible to just erase one another from their lives.

A famous quote from Vivian Vance that I'm sure fans have come across is "We fought like sisters and made up like sisters. We adored each other's company."

4 comments:

  1. Love I love lucy still today

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  2. A straight man is a term used in comedy...so Vivian said greatest straight woman in comedy-

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  3. I'm just wondering...I love your blog and this is a very interesting post. Where did you get this information about their friendship? Thank you!

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  4. I agree with the second anonymous comment: I doubt very much that Vivian Vance was making it clear that Lucy was heterosexual. Rather, she was making fun of Lucy's dominant position on the show by claiming that Lucy was *her* straight woman,rather than the other way around.

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