Comedic duo Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance were the best of friends both on camera and off. Their chemistry was obvious, and it’s safe to say that something magical happened when these two women were on stage together for their TV show — the iconic ’50s sitcom, I Love Lucy.
Ball played the protagonist of the show, Lucy Ricardo, while Vance played her hilarious sidekick, Ethel Mertz. On screen, the two got into mischief and mayhem as housewives and won the hearts of millions of Americans. Their show was the first scripted television program to be shot on 35 mm film in front of a studio audience, and it won five Emmy awards during its successful six-year run (per the Television Academy Foundation). Off screen, Ball and Vance’s bond was just as strong as their characters’.
Like all friendships, though, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance’s relationship had its ups and downs. Ultimately, they remained close until Vance’s death in 1979. Keep reading for an inside look at the close bond between the I Love Lucy stars.
Lucille Ball apparently didn't hit it off right away with Vivian Vance
You’d think these two hilarious women would have been friends right away, but in reality, it took Lucille Ball a while to warm up to her costar Vivian Vance. The two met on the set of I Love Lucy, but allegedly, Ball wanted Vance fired as soon as she showed up to set. “She was from the old school that said you never have prettier people on the set,” Frank Castelluccio, author of The Other Side of Ethel Mertz, has said (per Closer Weekly).
Ball’s first impression of Vance was clearly way off, and she quickly changed her mindset once she saw how dedicated Vance was to her character Ethel Mertz. It then did not take long for the pair to grow very close. “They became very good friends after Lucy realized Vivian wasn’t a rival,” actor Joe Mayer, who played Little Ricky on the show, told Closer Weekly.
In her autobiography Love, Lucy, Ball described their friendship as being destined and fated. She also said she believes their friendship is what made the show so great.
“As far as I was concerned, it was Kismet. Viv and I were extraordinarily compatible,” she wrote (via Cheat Sheet). “We both believe wholeheartedly in what we call ‘an enchanted sense of play,’ and use it liberally in our show.”
Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance's friendship was tested
While it was mostly nothing but laughs between Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance on the set of I Love Lucy, there was one period where their friendship was tested. During some of the last days of the hit comedy show, their friendship struggled as a result of the issues both women were experiencing in their personal lives. Ball was going through a divorce with her TV and real-life husband, Desi Arnaz. Simultaneously, Vance was in the process of divorcing from her husband of nearly two decades, Philip Ober (per Cheat Sheet). According to Ball’s autobiography Love, Lucy, the women began arguing on set, likely due to the pain they were both experiencing.
“Vivian and I have always been extraordinarily compatible, so we were especially close during this time of misery,” Ball wrote. “Occasionally, however, our tempers grew short; this was a very rough spell for all of us.”
They did not let their romantic relationships get in the way off their friendship, though, but the difficult experience they were both going through made them a bit more hostile than the usual happy-go-lucky women viewers saw on screen.
Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance were there for each other till the very end
Through years of being in showbusiness together, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance stuck by each other. The same goes for their personal lives as their friendship never drifted even after they stopped working together. In some ways, it got even stronger with time.
In 1979, Vance was dying of bone cancer and she and Ball had a tearful last goodbye before Vance passed away. Author Paige Peterson, who’d grown close to Vance after the actress rented her mother’s home in Belvedere, Calif., gave People an inside look at that intimate moment, which she witnessed from the other room.
“You could hear them laughing, and towards the end there was a lot of sobbing,” Peterson told People. “It was an amazing thing to witness. The love of these two women.” A few days later, Vance passed away and Ball was very distraught by the loss of her closest friend.
“She cried about losing Viv for months after that,” said Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (via People).”Viv was, in many ways, like a sister to my mother. She could talk to Mom like nobody else, and I don’t think my mother could confide in many people the way she would with Viv.”
Ball passed away about a decade later in 1989. The friendship these women shared and the legacy they left will live on forever, though.
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