Monday, June 7, 2021

The Ethels

Vivian Vance achieved fame playing Lucille Ball's fretful, wisecracking sidekick, Ethel Mertz, on I Love Lucy.  In films of the 1930s and 1940s, the comic heroine was rarely without a wise-cracking best pal.  Today, I would like to acknowledge a few of Vance's sidekick predecessors, who did much to pave the way for the beloved Ethel.   

Minna Gombell 

Gombell with Clara Bow in Hoop-La (1933)

Gombell with James Dunn and Linda Watkins in Sob Sister (1931)

Gombell's wisecracks lighten a more somber mood in support of troubled Sally Eilers in Bad Girl (1931).

Minna Gombell with Boots Mallory, James Dunn and ZaSu Pitts in Hello, Sister! (1933)

Minna Gombell and Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald in The Merry Widow (1934)

Ruth Donnelly 

Donnelly (right) with Glenda Farrell in Heat Lightning (1934)

Donnelly with Ann Dvorak in Housewife (1934)

Donnelly with Jean Arthur in More Than a Secretary (1936)

Donnelly gets into madcap situations with Margaret Lindsay in Merry Wives of Reno (1934).  At times, the film resembles a dry run for I Love Lucy.  Guy Kibbee, who plays Donnelly's husband, could have easily played Fred Mertz. 

Helen Broderick 

Helen Broderick with Ann Sothern in Smartest Girl in Town (1936)

Broderick with Barbara Stanwyck in The Bride Walks Out (1936)

Binnie Barnes 

Barnes with Janet Blair and Joan Blondell in Three Girls About Town (1941)

Barnes with Linda Darnell in Day-Time Wife (1939)

Una Merkel 

Merkel with Ginger Rogers in 42nd Street (1933)

Merkel with Loretta Young in Midnight Mary (1933)

Merkel with Eleanor Powell in Born to Dance (1936)

Charlotte Greenwood 

Greenwood with Betty Garble in Down Argentine Way (1940)

Aline MacMahon 

MacMahon with Guy Kibbee and Ginger Rogers in Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

MacMahon with Ann Dvorak in Heat Lightning (1934)

Iris Adrian 

Adrian with Gene Tierney in Rings on Her Fingers (1942)

Mary Treen 

Treen with Jane Frazee in Swing in the Saddle (1944)

Treen with Ginger Rogers and K. T. Stevens in Kitty Foyle (1940)

Treen with Lynn Merrick in Blonde from Brooklyn (1945) 

Treen with Joan Crawford in They All Kissed the Bride (1942)

Eve Arden  

Arden was aptly described on the blog Moira's Thread:
. . . Eve was the truth-telling pal of the heroine, guiding (and sometimes needling) magnetic but somewhat clueless leading ladies like Joan Crawford (Dancing Lady, Mildred Pierce, Goodbye My Fancy), Barbara Stanwyck (My Reputation), Ann Sheridan (The Doughgirls, The Unfaithful), and even Doris Day (My Dream Is Yours, Tea For Two).

Arden with Constance Bennett and Franchot Tone in She Knew All The Answers (1941)

Arden with Jane Wyman and Dennis Morgan in The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949)

Arden with Doris Day in Tea for Two (1950)

Arden with Eleanor Parker in The Voice of the Turtle (1947)

In closing, let me provide a scene of Vivian Vance going tit for tat with Lucille Ball on The Lucy Show.

Reference Source 

Moira, "The Christmas Album: Eve Arden," Moira's Thread (December 16, 2011).

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