Born in Kansas, Vivian Vance began appearing in community theater productions when her family relocated to Albuquerque, NM. Her friends and neighbors financed Vance's move to New York, where she planned to study with Eva LeGalliene. When these plans fell through, she made the auditions rounds, landing a job in the long-running Broadway production Music in the Air. She supplemented her income with nightclub performances, then received her big break when, with only a few hours' notice, she stepped into the female lead of the 1937 Ed Wynn musical Hooray for What? Subsequent Broadway credits included Anything Goes, Red, Hot and Blue, and Let's Face It, each one a hit. In 1951, Jose Ferrer cast Vance in the La Jolla Playhouse production of Voice of the Turtle. It was on the strength of her performance of this play that Vance was offered the role of Ethel Mertz on the Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz TV sitcom I Love Lucy. She played Ethel from 1951 through 1960, winning an Emmy in the process -- which hopefully compensated for the fact that, throughout the I Love Lucy run, she was contractually obligated to outweigh star Lucille Ball by 20 pounds. In 1962, Vance signed on for another lengthy co-starring stint with Ball on TV's The Lucy Show. Throughout her five decades in show business, Vance appeared in only three films: The Secret Fury (1950), The Blue Veil (1951), and The Great Race (1965). Married twice, Vivian Vance's first husband was actor Philip Ober.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Studied drama in high school with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and novelist William Inge.
- Began her stage-acting career in community theaters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, before finally moving to New York City in 1932.
- Understudied Ethel Merman in the 1934 Broadway musical Anything Goes, featuring the music and lyrics of Cole Porter.
- Won the Emmy Award for Best Series Supporting Actress in 1954, the first year the category was honored, for her portrayal of Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy.