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'I Love Lucy': Desi Arnaz Revealed That William Frawley 'Couldn't Stand' Vivian Vance but She 'Never Felt Any Animosity' Toward Her Co-Star

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball created TV magic as Ricky and Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy. Recruiting actors Vivian Vance and William Frawley to play their neighbors and besties Ethel and Fred Mertz, Arnaz explained how his two co-stars had a somewhat tense relationship.

Desi Arnaz brought on William Frawley and Vivian Vance for ‘I Love Lucy’

As head of Desilu Productions, Arnaz was in charge of casting I Love Lucy in 1951. He was running out of time to find just the right actor for the role of Ethel. Fortunately, Vance was recommended by the sitcom’s director and Arnaz hired her after watching just a few minutes of her performance on stage.

“Right after I saw her do the first scene, I knew we had found Ethel,” Arnaz wrote in his memoir, A Book, on seeing Vance in a play. “She was such a wonderful actress, so honest. Every line, every reaction, every move she made was just perfect. … After the show I went backstage, talked to her, and signed her right there and then to play Ethel.”

Frawley had reached out to Arnaz to be considered for the part of Fred. Though Frawley had a less-than-stellar reputation in Hollywood as an alcoholic and being unreliable, Arnaz felt his crusty persona would be ideal for Ricky’s cantankerous landlord and pal.

“I kept seeing his puss and remembering how good he was at playing the kind of gruff character he usually played,” Arnaz explained. “The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced he was Fred Mertz.”

Despite the tension between his two co-stars, Arnaz felt their fiery chemistry was perfect for Lucy and Ricky’s bickering BFFs.

“Fortunately, that same gruff quality of Bill’s was perfect for the part of Fred,” the I Love Lucy star shared, and noted Vance’s forbearance with Frawley’s crotchety demeanor. “She just figured he was an old poop and too much so to change his ways.”

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