Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: I Love Lucy co-star Vivian Vance was contractually obligated to remain at least
Origins: In popular culture's pantheon of famous duos, sidekicks are usually drawn so as not to detract from the distinctive qualities of the main characters they support. John Watson was a physician and an able chronicler of Sherlock Holmes' cases, but he was positively dim-witted compared to the nimble-minded master detective. Kato may have been a skillful man in a fight or behind the wheel of the Black Beauty, but when he wasn't fighting crime with the Green Hornet, he was still a subordinate valet and chauffeur to newspaper publisher Britt Reid. Chester was a loyal and well-meaning deputy, but he was never as capable, resourceful, and daring as Marshal Matt Dillon.
The character of Lucy Ricardo played by comedienne Lucille Ball in the pioneering
Professionalism doesn't always trump vanity, though, and Lucille Ball was reportedly unwilling to share the screen with a
As we noted on a similar page about silent film star Buster Keaton, rumored unusual obligations in entertainment contracts were generally the concoction of studio publicity departments, not their legal departments. After all, how were such obligations to be enforced? Would the producers of a top-rated program really risk the show's popularity by dismissing one of their lead actors over a picayune contract item? Some producers have been willing to make such bold moves, but almost always over major contractual disputes (such as excessive salary demands, as actress Suzanne Somers found out when she was bounced from the hit series Three's Company in 1981 after demanding $150,000 per episode and a share of the profits) or disruptive behavior that made
Stories have circulated for years that Vivian's contract required her to gain significant amounts of weight for the role of Ethel Mertz. It is true that Vivian put pounds on but this had occurred naturally over the years. She dieted constantly, hoping to loose [sic] the extra weight. Her size does fluctuate noticeably over the course of I Love Lucy and Ball may have asked Vivian to stay hefty when her weight increased. But it is unlikely that Lucy demanded Vivian remain plump.Plenty of material there from which to concoct a tale about an unusual contract requirement, but in this case the rumor may also have been spurred by a jest gone awry:
What fuels the rumors of Ball's supposed demands on Vivian stems from a fictitious contract written by Ball and given to Vivian at a party. In the bogus contract, Ball outlines certain requirements — that Vivian gain five pounds a week, that she not wear eyelashes, that she not dye her hair within five shades of Ball's, and that Vivian never get more laughs than Lucy. These exaggerated conditions do bear some resemblance to the truth but by bringing these demands out in the open in the guise of a joke, Ball probably thought that everyone would have a hearty laugh and it would all be forgotten. However, the joke backfired. This mock contract took on a life of its own and through the years has become more fact than fiction.As announcer Doug Llewelyn used to say at the conclusion of The People's Court, "Next time, get it in writing" — but only if you really mean it.
Last updated: 8 August 2007
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