As long as television has existed, there have been epic womances. In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to talk about the earliest and most legendary female pair – Lucy & Ethel.
I Love Lucy ran from 1951 to 1957 and it blazed a trail for all other sitcoms to follow. It was one of the first shows to use a three-camera – 35mm film format. In order to meet the high standards of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, they formed their own company, Desilu productions.
The radio show upon which I Love Lucy was based, My Favorite Husband, featured an older couple as a foil to the main stars. Desilu wanted to do the same, and they settled upon William Frawley and Vivian Vance who would play Frank and Ethel Mertz, respectively.
When the show started filming, Lucy and Vivian didn’t hit it off right away. Initially, Ms. Vance objected to some of the terminology used (the word ‘crazy’ in particular), saying it was innapropriate – and Lucy used the words even when not scripted, just to see how Vivian would react. She showed her professionalism, and Lucy realized she was working with a truly classy lady. They developed a very strong lifelong friendship after their initial rocky patch.
The banter between the two women on the show made for some of the funniest and most memorable moments of its run. They frequently bonded over beauty, their husbands, and domestic chores. More specifically to the show itself, Ethel was constantly teasing Lucy about her IQ and her lack of talent, especially when she tried to perform alongside her husband, Ricky.
While Lucille Ball won two Emmys for her portrayal of Lucy Ricardo (1953 & 1956), Vivian Vance was the first actress to win the Best Supporting Actress Emmy in 1954.
I find myself still comparing contemporary womances to that of Lucy & Ethel’s, although none are quite as long-lived or historically important.
Ethel Mertz: Oh, Lucy, I know you’re not going to move, but if you ever do move, don’t move.
Ethel Mertz: There’s lots of things you’re good at.
Lucy Ricardo: Like what?
Ethel Mertz: Well, you’re awfully good at… uh… You’ve always been great at…
Lucy Ricardo: Those are the same ones Ricky came up with.
Ethel Mertz: This is Ethel, your friend, to whom you may turn in time of crisis.
Lucy Ricardo: Ethel, have you been drinking?
Ethel Mertz: Oh Lucy, you know Ricky’s temper!
Lucy Ricardo: Yeah, we’ve met.
Ethel Mertz: Well, you’re gonna meet again!
Ethel Mertz: What are you going to do?
Lucy Ricardo: I’ll leave him–no, that’s probably what he wants.
Ethel Mertz: Yeah, stay married to him. That’ll teach him!
Ricky Ricardo: You have fixed your sheets and blankets, now go take a nap!
Ethel Mertz: What’d he mean by that?
Lucy Ricardo: He was trying to say “You have made your bed, now lie in it.”