According to actor Tim Considine, who starred on My Three Sons, William Frawley once said that his television wife, Vivian Vance, was a “miserable c–t.” The vulgar insult was allegedly made when a lieutenant general and his adjutant visited the set of their ‘50s sitcom, I Love Lucy.
81-year-old Considine said that the group shared a pleasant lunch one time, but that it didn’t last. “I was thinking, ‘Hey, this is a great success. [Frawley] hasn’t said anything to put anyone off.’ I was pretty pleased with myself.” However, when the lieutenant general asked Frawley what it was like working on the show, that’s when Considine’s stomach just dropped. He knew what Frawley was going to say.
The feud between William Frawley and Vivian Vance was very real
The antipathy between Frawley and Vance began early on, with her first arrival at the studio where she was told he would be playing her husband, to which she commented, “Husband? That old coot could be my grandfather.” Frawley happened to be the first person there that day and overheard her and, says, pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, author of The Lucy Book, “He took that one remark and ended up hating Vivian Vance with a vengeance that lasted the rest of his life.”
Mark adds rhetorically, “What happens two years into the run of My Three Sons? The Lucy Show comes along and it’s filming on the soundstage right next to Bill and now he’s got to live with Vivian Vance again. So what does he do? He enlists Stanley and Barry Livingston to torment her without them even realizing it.”
The Livingstons, of course, played Considine’s brothers, Chip and Ernie, on My Three Sons. “We were like Bill’s little army,” Barry laughs. “We would do his bidding to wreak havoc on Vivian whenever he felt like it. Back then, they would have these film cans, because everything was shot on film. Large, round film cans they would keep the raw stock in. So they’d be laying around the studio, in garbage cans, whatever. Our job was to collect those and at some point, when Bill was fueled up enough on Cutty Sark or whatever, he’d decide that today would be the day. He would hold open the door to The Lucy Show stage and you could hear everything that was going on in there. He’d hear Vivian’s voice, which is pretty loud and unmistakable, he would signal us to throw them and we’d throw these cans and the sound would just be explosive metallic, and then you’d get the hell out of there. We would run back into our soundstage, laughing. That was one of his little kicks that he got, and, of course, we were complicit in the whole crime. It was great for us; it was all done under the cover of intrigue and a mission.”
Adds Stanley, “Those cans just came crashing down; some of them took off rolling and spinning and running into each other. It really made a huge commotion, and I think Vivian must’ve known it was Bill, because you could hear her screaming out his name.”
While Frawley and Vance undoubtedly disliked each other, Considine reassures that Frawley was “a terrific guy.” So, what was Considine’s job in all of this, really? Simple. To bring Frawley back to the set from Nickodell, which was a popular hangout spot for actors and crew members where he often enjoyed drinking. “Sometimes he’d fall asleep in the middle of a scene,” Considine remembers. “He’d blow a line and say, ‘Who writes this crap?’”
Frawley passed away in 1966 at age 79 after suffering a heart attack and Vance would go on to lose her battle with breast cancer in 1979.
It was back in June that Barry Livingston talked about working with his co-star on set. “He loved to make me and my brother laugh by saying outrageous, sometimes quite vulgar things,” he said at the time. “When you’re eight or nine years old, it just cracks you up.”
“He wasn’t too far from the characters that he played,” the now-68-year-old shared. “He was a very well-known, established character actor even before ‘I Love Lucy.’ And in those days, when it came to doing a television series, there were only three networks. And when you tune in to a TV series, 25 million other people were watching. So his fame really exploded. But on set, he just loved to make my brother and I laugh.”