Sunday, April 12, 2015

Go West, Miss Vance

Here's something you don't see every day -- TV's Ethel Mertz on the set of a Western drama. In 1959, with the cast of I Love Lucy playing those characters only in occasional hour-long episodes, Vivian Vance was ready for an opportunity to broaden her horizons. She was therefore pleased by the booking to play a guest role on NBC's The Deputy, which starred Allen Case (above) as the title character, Clay McCord.

As a regular player on one of TV's first top-rated shows, Miss Vance was likely unprepared for the level of fame that weekly coast-to-coast exposure could bring to an actor. While the professional success was gratifying, she feared that her years as frumpy, plain-spoken Ethel Mertz had so overshadowed her previous achievements in films and theater that she would be irrevocably typecast. As she told a reporter while working on The Deputy, "When my friends begin calling me Ethel instead of Vivian, it is time to make a radical change in style."

Unfortunately, her efforts to change things up met with limited success. Her friend Desi Arnaz cast her in a 1960 sitcom pilot, "Guestward Ho," but the network insisted on a different leading lady. So, with some hesitation, she accepted a lucrative offer in 1962 to be Lucille Ball's co-star on The Lucy Show. As it turned out, she never quite escaped the enduring identification as Lucy's sidekick. While she's fondly remembered for those performances, we'll never know what other types of roles she might have played.

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