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The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: The Life Story of Vivian Vance Hardcover – October, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"When I die, there will be people who send Ethel Mertz flowers," remarked Vivian Vance (1909-1979), Lucille Ball's neighbor and sidekick on the TV series I Love Lucy. Though the role of Ethel on the classic sitcom brought Vance fame if not fortune (she and stage hubby William "Fred Mertz" Frawley were not in on the deals that enriched others attached to the show), it also robbed her of her identity. In this candid, revealing first bio about Vance, fans will meet a vibrant woman who little resembled the frump she made famous. Long before her television career, Vance was well known as a sparkling comedic actress who worked with major stars including Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman, Bob Hope, Ed Wynn and Gypsy Rose Lee and who carried on passionate love affairs, some during her first three marriages. When she married for the fourth time, it was to a man 12 years her junior who had been involved in a 20-year relationship with another man. The marriage was, by all accounts, a happy one. Plagued by crippling bouts of depression, Vance was one of the first celebrities to speak openly about mental illness. Fans of I Love Lucy will be taken with the behind-the-scenes stories of the show and its feuds and friendships; one of the most surprising nuggets is that Lucy and Ethel didn't get along offstage. Those who wish to meet the woman who created Ethel Mertz are unlikely ever again to mistake Vance for her alter ego.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Vivian Vance pioneered the role of female sidekick as Lucille Ball's feisty neighbor Ethel on I Love Lucy. Yet little has been written about the beloved actress and her varied career before and after Lucy. Actors as well as authors, Castelluccio and Walker remedy this oversight with the first in-depth look at the woman born Vivian Roberta Jones. Before assuming the part of frowsy Ethel Mertz, Vance was known as a Broadway beauty whose singing roles included understudy to Ethel Merman. This candid retelling of her life reveals an ambitious woman who struggled with many problems, from her fear of being cast in an unflattering role to repeated bouts of mental illness. Verbal battles with Ball and stories of enmity between Vance and William Frawley (Fred Mertz) pepper this readable tale of a woman dedicated to the theater and willing to take the role of "second banana" to new heights. Recommended where star bios are popular.?Kelli N. Perkins, Herrick P.L., Holland, MI
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 319 pages
  • Publisher: Knowledge Ideas & Trends; 1st ed edition (October 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1879198266
  • ISBN-13: 978-1879198265
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #191,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By John McWhorter on October 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As is observed in this book, I LOVE LUCY without the Mertzes would probably not have been an immortal show, and more properly it was Vivian Vance who was key to the chemistry that made this show such an icon. It was high time there was a book about her, and what we get is a solid narration of an interesting story. Vance was a working third banana on the New York stage of the Golden Era, respected and dependable but never quite hitting the top, just missing getting Mary Martin's spot in LEAVE IT TO ME, just missing a key role in CAROUSEL, etc. One can read quite a bit about musicals and straight plays of this era without realizing that the future Ethel Mertz was one of the people regularlly filling key character roles on the Great White Way. The "slice of life" of one of the "state-of-the-art" performers in this world is great reading.
After this we get to Vance's work with Lucille Ball, and at this point, if one has already read the growing number of books on Lucy and her television work, there is really only so much more to be said that hasn't been said before. This is not the authors' fault, however, and they more than compensate with fascinating information about Vance's two main marriages and her bout with depression.
If there is one flaw in this book, it is that the authors appear to lose interest in their subject after Vance leaves THE LUCY SHOW. Vance was quite distraught that she was forever associated with the Ethel character, and yet for the last fifteen years of her life, the authors -- belying that what they are at heart is Lucy fans who came to wonder what was up with Vivian Vance -- seem mainly interested in her life to the extent that it occasionally reconnected with Lucy's.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Mark Norvell on May 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I ran across a softback edition of this book, I was floored. I had no idea a book had been written about Vivian Vance. Where had I been? I bought it thinking ,well, it'll be superficial at best. Boy, was I wrong. This is an excellent, in depth and very revealing life story of one of television's best loved ladies. Alvin Walker and Frank Castelluccio have written one of the best biographies on a legend I've ever read. And Vivian Vance is a legend, if an often overlooked one. From her humble showbiz beginnings, to a Broadway career, to her fateful reading with Lucille Ball for the part of Ethel Mertz---I could not put this book down. Vivian Vance came to life on those pages and I learned that there's a lot more to a "second banana" than just the character they play. Vance never escaped her role as Ethel, but she lived a full and complete life worthy of this book and was a more accomplished actress than given credit for. Her years of baffling mental problems, the estrangement with her mother, her extensive stage work, her often rocky relationship with Lucille Ball (not to overlook William Frawley) are all here as well as the huge amount of humanitarian work she did for mental health later in life. This is a highly recommended read for anyone who loved watching Ethel as well as Lucy. It reveals the fascinating woman behind the "mask" of Ethel Mertz, a landmark television icon and an American showbiz legend known as Vivian Vance.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mary G. Longorio VINE VOICE on August 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It came as a surprise that there had been no previous biography of the actress Vivian Vance before this. We all came to know her as the beloved sidekick and "best friend" of Lucy Ricardo on the long running "I Love Lucy" television show. It came as little surprise that the wise cracking, laughing person we all grew to love from TV was actually a person beset by family problems and anxiety. This is a well researched and written book. Following Vivian Vance's growing up in a small town, her early days in theatre, her disappointments in love, and her crossing paths with Desi Arnez, this book doesn't disappoint. Vivian Vance is shown to be a multifaceted, complex performer, trying to come to terms with the perpetual second bannana roll that became her offering in life. There are some particularly poignent sections dealing with the actress's struggle with depression and breakdowns, and touching tales of how she was the first to speak out about depression and mental illness, and how she reached out to others. This was a much needed glimpse into the life of someone we all thought we knew and loved.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Spady on September 4, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
She chaffed when people called her Ethel in public places, sometimes even exploding in anger, especially if they asked where Fred was. ("He's dead, thank God," was her reply in later years after he died.) Her blessing was her curse. Vivian Vance was such a fine actress, she convinced TV's millions that she was Ethel Mertz. Only a small percentage of her audience ever saw her on stage or in remembered her few forays onto the big screen, so we might be forgiven for not realizing how talented she really was. With the recently released "Ball of Fire" Lucy fans might want to read about Ball's talented side-kick.
Vance had a successful acting career before that fateful evening when Desi Arnaz first saw her on stage in La Jolla, and would continue her stage career after her years as Lucy's sidekick (Vivian Bagley in The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy being but a prettier, more sophisticated version of Ethel). Most Lucy fans already know quite a bit about those years from the many books about Lucy, but this concise book fills in what happened before and after.
The authors do an excellent sleuthing job. They highlight Vance's religious upbringing and trace some of her later emotional problems to her conflict arising from desire to be on the stage and her mother's admonitions that it was the road to perdition. They cover her early experiences on the stage in New York and then in New Mexico as well as her few films. From this, they illustrate her versatility and trace the roots of some of her funniest moments on "I Love Lucy."
Only in the bibliography do we learn that they most of the extended quotes are from Vance's unpublished memoirs.
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