The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> Dramatic Arts >> Biography: United States
Vivian Vance

stage and television actress

Vivian Vance

Vivian Roberta Jones was born in Cherryvale, Kansas, on July 26, 1909, one of six children born to Robert and Euphemia Ragan Jones (five girls, one boy). The family later moved to Independence, Kansas, and Vivian became active in drama at Independence High School, where she studied under Anna Ingleman and William Inge.

Moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her family after high school, Vivian became a founding member of the Albuquerque Little Theatre. Her work there, combined with donations taken in by the Theatre, provided her with enough money to move to New York City and pursue an acting career, in 1932. It was about this same time that she changed her last name to Vance, in honor of Vance Randolph, a drama teacher who had been supportive of her career choice.

Vance's first acting job was in "Music in the Air," for which she was paid $35 a week. Her big break came in 1934, when she was hired as a chorus member and understudy to Ethel Merman in "Anything Goes," which became a major Broadway hit. Her first major Broadway role followed soon after, as Ed Wynn's co-star in "Hooray for What!" She went on to enjoy a very successful Broadway career.

In the summer of 1951, Vance agreed to play in "Voice of the Turtle" after a call from actor/director Mel Ferrer. On July 28, 1951, director Marc Daniels brought actor Desi Arnaz and writer Jess Oppenheimer to see the play, and all three agreed Vance would be perfect for the role of Ethel Mertz in a new television show called I Love Lucy, starring Arnaz and his wife Lucille Ball. Vance was initially reluctant to take the part, however, because she did not want to give up her theater career for television, and because she did not want to play the wife of William Frawley's character because he was much older than she. She finally agreed, and went on to co-star in I Love Lucy through its entire run. In 1954 she became the first person ever to win an Emmy for Best Series Supporting Actress. I Love Lucy was cancelled in 1957, following the divorce of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. In 1962, Vance agreed to again team with Lucille Ball in The Lucy Show. After three years as a regular on that show she chose to become only a guest star with limited appearances because the commute from Connecticut (where she and her then husband were then living) to Los Angeles had become too much. She then returned to the theater stage, where she spent the rest of her professional career. Her only other regular television appearances came in the 1970's, when she was known as Maxine in a series of Maxwell House Coffee commercials.

Vivian Vance died of bone cancer on August 17, 1979, in Belvedere, California.


Joseph Shearer Danneck, Jr. -- October 6, 1928 to April 20, 1931 (divorced)
George Koch -- January 6, 1933 to July 1940 (divorced)
Philip Ober -- August 12, 1941 to April 24, 1959 (divorced, allegations of spousal abuse)
John Dodds -- January 16, 1961 to her death


Internet Movie Database

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Dramatic Arts >> Biography: United States

This page was last updated on 08/17/2018.