After six seasons on the air, the hugely successful I Love Lucy sitcom ended. The stars had tired of the weekly grind but transitioned to the more expensive The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show specials. A baker’s dozen of those were produced over three years. By the end, the writers had run dry and the marriage of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball had fallen apart. The day after the production wrapped, Ball filed for divorce.
Before the show ended, it was proposed that the Mertz’s, played by William Frawley and Vivian Vance, continue in their own spin-off. The two had never liked each other off-screen but Frawley realized that the show could be very lucrative and agreed. Vance didn’t want any part of it and refused.
Sadly, the end of the specials was the last time that the four actors would ever play their iconic characters. Arnaz continued to produce and direct and acted occasionally before eventually retiring. Ball went on to act in three more series, movies, and specials. Vance co-starred on The Lucy Show for three seasons and then did guest shots and commercials after that.
After the end of the Lucy-Desi series of specials, Frawley went directly into a regular role on My Three Sons, playing Fred MacMurray’s gruff father-in-law. Despite the persona of the characters he played, Don Grady and Stanley Livingston have both indicated that he was very warm and affectionate to them off-screen.
Frawley did have his nasty side though and still didn’t care for Vance. It seems that The Lucy Show and My Three Sons were produced on neighboring soundstages. According to a recent interview on Stu’s Show, Grady and Livingston said that Frawley would give them Frisbees and tell them to toss them into the Lucy soundstage, just as Vance was filming a complicated scene.
In 1965, after five seasons on My Three Sons, Frawley was fired. His health had become so poor that it was no longer possible to insure him for the show. The actor wasn’t pleased about being let go and reportedly returned to the set on a regular basis until he was asked to stop. He died on March 3, 1966.
Fittingly, Frawley’s last on-screen appearance came in October 25, 1965 on The Lucy Show. Vance had already left the series and Frawley appears in just a brief cameo with Ball. For one brief moment, it’s like Lucy Ricardo and Fred Mertz are together again.