Nobody wants to be Ethel

I was dubbed Ethel to my friend “Lucy”, several years ago. She would attach herself to  my hip and drag me on crazy adventures when we would volunteer once a week every year for a charitable event.

Vivian Vance, who portrayed Ethel Mertz in the I Love Lucy television series of the 1950s and 60s, referred to herself as the “best second banana in the business”.  I never thought too much about the title until one night I was watching a TV Land documentary on Laverne and Shirley – the 70’s female comedy duo.  The comparison of their show to I Love Lucy  was made. Penny Marshall had lots of family connections with the show’s production (her brother was the director). And because of that pressure Cindy Williams exclaimed “I don’t want to be Ethel”.  Lucy was the star and Ethel was the nobody. Vivian Vance who played Ethel won one Emmy in her career as Best Supporting Actress; of course Lucille Ball won five in the course of hers. Lucy was always getting the sunlight and Ethel was adding color and depth to her star.

It made me think that yes, I am an Ethel. I support my family, my patients, my friends, my co-workers – for them to shine. But you know, where would Lucy have been without Ethel? Who would’ve been her sidekick, her steady stead. The role of Ethel is rare these days because everybody wants to be Lucy. On the Laverne and Shirley show they fought constantly about the number of lines written for each character and trying to keep everything completely balanced and fair. It was chaotic on the show with the writers and crew miserable.

The world is full of ego maniacs grabbing the spotlight. Everybody’s got to have their five minutes of fame, be it on You Tube or Facebook. You’re nobody until 50 million people have seen you through the internet. Oh I’ll admit my ego was the size of the Grand Canyon when I was full of myself as a young girl with hormones and energy. It was fun to be crazy with my girlfriends and see who could be the most outrageous with a comment and get everybody laughing. People thought I was funny. But I would go “over the top” sometimes and then nobody laughed. It happens when you go for the next attention grabber and you don’t know when to stop or change the subject. Usually someone gets hurt at that point and people just walk away.

There were plenty of comedy teams in the past, not so much anymore. Most comedians go solo to have the spotlight to themselves.  The funny half of the duo says her lines and the straight half of the duo responds. I liken it to tennis. A good player lobs the ball back  to the server and keeps it within the lines for the banter to continue. And both must be sharp to pick up the underlying sarcasm and subtleties. 

Second bananas are getting their time in the spotlight. Look at Sarah Palin – she’s carried her ride into 2011 since the 2008 election. So I’ve decided that Ethel needs her own identity and not wait for Lucy to define her. Second bananas can have a life outside of the stars they support and be funny. So break out Ethel find your own mojo! But most of the time life is messy and the egos can’t always be balanced. So somebody’s gotta be Lucy and somebody’s gotta be Ethel.

5 responses to “Nobody wants to be Ethel

  1. …being useful is a lot more rewarding than being a hot,
    shining star. the moon is cool, pulls the tides, gets to stretch her legs, has her dark side nobody but a satellite
    sees, she’s had her collision with earth and bounced back.
    the star however, suffers, is inflated to super nova and
    is always expected to shine whether it feels like it or not, other planets stay way from it because it has storms
    electromagnetic that disrupt communications for hours if
    not days, often cloudy, rainy, jeez, what a life, lazy,
    rolling around heaven all day nothing to do but fear being
    eclipsed now and then.

  2. Being an Ethel is fine as long as that “banana” is not judged according to the person who is the star. Ethel stood on her own, even though she was outshone by Lucy.

    People (many of whom are women) play second fiddle to their spouse. They shine only by being reflected in their spouse’s light. A less bright copy.

    Which was not at all what Ethel meant when she talked of being “second banana”. She was not a carbon copy of Lucy – she was her own person.
    ven though Ethel did not shine as brightly as Lucy, she was not a copy of the red-head.

    Do I make sense?

  3. You’ve got a point about egos and wanting the spotlight. The thing is, it’s really easy to get sucked in when you get a little attention, you just want a little more.

    In the case of Ethel, when the friend gets most of the attention, jealousy creeps in and amplifies the negative emotions.

    Being Ethel isn’t a bad deal. In her position, you don’t have the pressure of being the person everyone expects you to be. Ethel can just be Ethel.

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