In 1951, Vivian Vance landed the life-changing role that she would later become synonymous with, playing Ethel Mertz on the sitcom I Love Lucy. Her 28-year friendship with costar Lucille Ball translated both on and offscreen. Outside of the show, Vance was married four times before her death in 1979.
When I Love Lucy ended in 1957, Ball insisted Vance join her for the spinoff, The Lucy Show. The actress portrayed the character Vivian Bagley, a divorcee. The bond between the two powerhouse actresses grew deeper on the CBS series which ran from 1962 to 1968.
“If something in the script wasn’t working, those two ladies would put their heads together and figure it out,” Ball’s former assistant Wanda Clark told Closer in 2020.
At the time, Vance had been divorced three times and living with her fourth husband, John Dodds. The opportunity came for the Emmy winner to potentially land her own spinoff show about Ethel and her onscreen husband, Fred, but she didn’t want to be known for the landlady role anymore. “She didn’t need the money, and she’d become quite famous as Ethel Mertz,” Geoffrey Mark, author of The Lucy Book told Closer in 2020.
Before her death at age 70 from cancer, Vance and Ball shared a few touching moments together at her bedside. “They spent the afternoon telling stories, hugging and loving each other. When Lucy left, you could tell it was an extraordinarily painful goodbye,” Vance’s close friend Paige Peterson told Closer.
Keep scrolling to learn more about Vance’s four marriages.
Who was Vivian Vance’s first husband Joseph Shearer Danneck Jr.?
Vance married her first husband, Joseph Shearer Danneck Jr., in 1928. At the time, she had her sights set on a theater career and had just moved to New Mexico. Though not much is known about their marriage, Danneck was also involved in theater, per 1999’s Meet the Mertzes. The couple divorced in 1931.
Who was Vivian Vance’s second husband George Koch?
Vance moved to New York City in the early ‘30s, establishing a tremendous on-stage career before her I Love Lucy fame. She met violinist George Koch and fell in love. The couple were married in 1933. It was during their marriage that Vance landed her first breakout role on Broadway, replacing Kay Thompson in Hooray for What! in 1937. The sitcom star and the New York native divorced in 1940.
Who was Vivian Vance’s third husband Philip Ober?
The Kansas native earned the role of Myra Strahope in Kiss the Boys Goodbye in 1939. She married Ober, her costar, in 1941. He had been rising up the Broadway ranks just like her, starring in Personal Appearance in 1934. The actor made his film debut that same year in Chloe, Love Is Calling You.
During their marriage, Ober landed a recurring role on I Love Lucy alongside his wife. The pair divorced in 1959. Ober went on to marry his third wife, Jane Westover, in 1961. They were married until his death in 1982.
Who was Vivian Vance’s fourth husband John Dodds?
The television icon married her fourth husband, John Dodds, in 1961. He was a book editor from the East Coast. The couple moved from New York to Belvedere, California, and Vance continued to make guest appearances on Lucy’s third spinoff, Here’s Lucy. Vance and Dodds were married up until her death in 1979.