Life, career of Cherryvale's own Vivian Vance recalledMontgomery County Chronicle
September 14, 2008
CHERRYVALE - About 50 people got a rare, behind-the-scenes look at one of television's funniest comedic teams on Saturday night when the careers and friendship of actresses Lucille Ball and Cherryvale's own Vivian Vance were retold. "We Love Vivian" was the theme of the event, sponsored by the Cherryvale Chamber of Commerce, which included presentations from Vance's youngest sister, Lou Ann Graham of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Wanda Clark, a Disney, Okla., resident who serve as Ball's personal assistant for 27 years. The two women spoke how Vance, who died in 1979, and Ball, who died in 1989, had an unusually sharp chemistry, not only on the television set of the "I Love Lucy," "Here's Lucy" and "The Lucille Ball Show" television series but also off the Desilu studio property. "Lucy and Vivian had the same timing," said Graham. "They could start at one spot in a block, go in opposite directions, and return at the same point at the exact same time. That's the part of comedy that is so difficult, probably more so than drama: knowing when to take those pauses, knowing when to come in with the laugh line, knowing when to expect what your partner is going to do next." Prior to Graham's and Clark's presentations, guests were treated to an 18-minute video prepared by Bob Blackard, technology teacher at Cherryvale Middle-High School. The video retold Ball's and Vance's early beginnings, including Vance's birth in Cherryvale in 1909, and their start in the show business industry. The video also included rare footage of Vance receiving the 1953 Emmy award for best supporting actress in a television series. It was the first time that the best supporting actress award had been presented. Later in the presentation, guests were treated to a second video which was produced for a Vivian Vance tribute held in 2007 at the Lucy-Desi Center in Jamestown, N.Y., the birthplace of Lucille Ball. The video was devoted strictly to Vance's career and showed film footage of Vance performing in a variety of television programs and movies not affiliated with the Lucy television series. Among the television programs in which Vance had a role included "The Red Skelton Show," "Love American Style," "Rhoda," "Toast of the Town," and a 1960 version of today's "Dancing With the Stars" called "Arthur Murray's Dance Party." Clark said Vance's influence was felt far beyond her best-known role as Ethel Mertz on the "I Love Lucy" television show. She said Lucy Arnaz, Jr., who is Lucille Ball's and Desi Arnaz's daughter, credits Vance for giving the younger Arnaz her start in theatre. Arnaz is an accomplished actress and entertainer, primarily in theatre circles. Graham gave personal insight into Vance's own life, including Vance's battle with breast cancer in 1979. The cancer soon moved into her bones, and Vance made the decision to no longer fight the disease. Graham was by her side each day in her final month of life. "I look back at that time and recall that it was an incredibly moving event for me," said Graham. "In 1979, no person wanted to die of cancer, but Viv didn't have any fight left in her. There were some humorous times during that period, including the one time I went into her bedroom and asked her if she needed anything and she quipped,'Yes, get me a new body.' She didn't lose her humor . . . or her timing . . . in her final days." Graham said was currently writing a theatrical drama about Vance's final month and plans to have it prepared for production for the Albuquerque Little Theatre, where Graham serves as an instructor and where Vance got her start in the theatre business. While in Cherryvale, Graham was reunited with several family cousins, including Imogene Littell and Carilyn Clark, both of Cherryvale. Both women are Graham's second cousins. They examined old photos of Vance's parents, the late Robert and Euphemia Mae (Ragan) Jones and other relatives when the Joneses lived in southeast Kansas. Graham said Vivian changed her name from Vivian Jones to Vivian Vance because she thought the Jones name sounded "too common." Next year would have been Vance's 100th birthday, and Graham challenged Cherryvale to hold an event in her honor. "If think if there is something that should be done to honor Vivian on her 100th birthday, it should be here in Cherryvale," said Graham, vowing to return to Cherryvale with Clark next year for the celebration.