If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Beyond Ethel Mertz
If Lucille Ball was America's "favorite redhead" during the 1950s and 60s, her I Love Lucy co-star and close friend Vivian Vance was without question "America's favorite frump." But it was only an act. Those of us who grew up watching the comedic exploits of Lucy and Ethel on TV were only seeing one side of the talented actress. Vivian Vance, born Vivian Roberta Jones on July 25, 1909, seemed an unlikely candidate for iconic status within the pop culture world when she was growing up in Cherryvale and, later, Independance, Kansas, the second of six children in a family where strict religious beliefs precluded any mention of her secret desire to become an actress. But although her future alter ego, Ethel Mertz existed mainly to provide Lucy Ricardo with a compliant sidekick, Vance had no qualms when it came to reaching for her own star. In fact, Vance (she took her surname from folklorist Vance Randolph) was so determined to become an actress that she once crawled out of her bedroom window in order to appear in a play at the local community theater after her mother had forbidden her to do so. Vance was a rebel, and when she was eighteen, she fled the strictures of her religious family and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico (which also served as Ethel Mertz's fictitious hometown) to begin her career as an actress.
Vance's theatrical aspirations may have created familial problems in Kansas, but her talent wowed 'em in Albuquerque. In 1952, after helping to found The Little Albuquerque Theater and honing her skills in dozens of plays there, she made the big move to New York City, where she landed jobs in the chorus of a number of Broadway productions before wending her way to co-star status alongside Danny Kaye in a long-running production of Let's Face It. Vance stuck it out on Broadway until 1947 when she decided it was time to try her luck in Hollywood. But the shift to film did little to advance Vance's career. Roles in movies like The Blue Veil and The Secret Fury won positive reviews for the actress, but she was hardly a break-out sensation and soon found herself back on the stage, in a 1951 production of Voice of the Turtle at the La Jolla Playhouse. Enter Desi Arnaz.
As luck would have it, Arnaz was in the process of casting the new TV sitcom he and wife Lucille Ball were producing for television. Realizing that Ball's crazy redhead antics needed to be tempered by a more down-to-earth "best friend", Arnaz had been searching for an actress a few years older than his wife and quite a bit frumpier, but his initial picks for the role had been rejected by studio heads, one because of an alleged drinking problem, the other because of a contractual snafu. When a mutual friend, director Marc Daniels, took Arnaz to the La Jolla Playhouse to check out Vance's performance, Arnaz was convinced that he had finally found the right actress to play Ethel Mertz. However, Ball was not so certain. The 42-year-old Vance was too attractive to fit in with Ball's conceptualized view of the character. It was only when Vance agreed to gain an extra twenty pounds and to adopt a purposely frumpy wardrobe for the series that Ball agreed to give her the job. The two women were not great friends at first, but over time, they grew close, their relationship forged on a mutual respect for one another's talent.
Vance's respect for co-star William Frawley was less ardent. She reportedly disliked Frawley intensely, referring to him as "that stubborn little Irishman" and complaining that he was too old to play her husband. Frawley wasn't overly fond of Vance, either, according to those who knew them, but their mutual disdain seemed to create just the right balance of chemistry for the show. Vance's work as Ethel Mertz garnered her an Emmy in 1953 (she was the first actress to receive an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress), and she was nominated for the same role an additional four times. When the series ended in 1957, Vance continued to appear as Ball's best friend on "The Lucy Show", although, this time around, she insisted that her character be called "Vivian" and be given a more flattering wardrobe. Vance stayed with the series until it ended in the early 70s, but was increasingly absent from episodes as her interests took her back into the realm of film, and once again, to Broadway. But despite her objections, her fans insisted on seeing her as Ethel Mertz and often called her by that name when they saw her in public. It was a bittersweet testimony to the iconic figure that she had become, one that she never quite accepted, even at the end of her life. Vance had been married for 19 years to literary agent John Dobbs (ten years her junior) when, in 1977, she suffered a paralyzing stroke following a bout with breast cancer,and, two years later, succumbed to bone cancer. Vance died on August 17, 1979, her death effectively ending what had been one of the great comedic partnerships of all time and prompting long-time admirer Desi Arnaz to remark, " "It’s bad enough to lose one of the great artists we had the honor and the pleasure to work with, but it’s even harder to reconcile the loss of one of your best friends."