For decades, “I Love Lucy” has been a source of endless laughter, captivating audiences worldwide. Remarkably, it has been 65 years since the airing of its last new episode in May 1957, yet the timeless comedy series continues to entertain through syndication. With record-breaking success, numerous awards, and the honor of being the most-watched show in the U.S. for four out of its six seasons, “I Love Lucy” remains as hilarious as ever.
On screen, Ricky Ricardo and his zany wife Lucy stole our hearts, but behind the scenes, the beloved sitcom harbored a web of dark secrets, feuds, resentments, affairs, and flaring tempers. While Ricky and Lucy were the stars, their neighbors and friends, Fred and Ethel, also held a special place in the hearts of viewers.
Ethel, brilliantly portrayed by Vivian Vance, was the loving and devoted friend who often served as the voice of reason for Lucy’s misadventures. Fred, the older and grumpier man with a soft spot for both Ethel and Lucy, was initially not meant to be played by William Frawley. The role was originally intended for Lucy’s actor pal, Gale Gordon, but he demanded a higher salary. Frawley, a character actor with a reputation for being an unreliable drinker, personally reached out to Lucy for the part.
Despite concerns about Frawley’s unreliability, Desi, no stranger to the bottle himself, decided to hire him. However, Desi issued a stern warning to Frawley, stating that if he missed a single day of work due to a hangover, he would face severe consequences. Frawley managed to toe the line, but a different problem soon arose. Frawley and Vance, who portrayed his on-screen spouse, despised each other. Vance once remarked, “No one will believe I’m married to that old coot.” Unfortunately, Frawley overheard Vance’s rant and any semblance of goodwill between the two vanished. Frawley would often refer to Vance as “that sack of doorknobs” or simply “that b****.”
When Frawley passed away on March 3, 1966, Vance happened to be dining with her husband. Overwhelmed with relief, she reportedly shouted to the other diners, “Champagne for everybody!” The tension between Fred and Ethel was finally put to rest, but the underlying animosity between the actors had persisted throughout the show’s run.