I don’t mind admitting that I have a weakness for Lucy. No matter how many times I see the John Wayne episode, or the episode with Superman, it is still funny. That’s why it’s a classic. My favorite character is Ethel Mertz. After all, Vivian Vance is a New Mexico classic! There is something remarkable about her character and her friendship, that is never mentioned, but is such a remarkable example of life the way it should be.
Ethel Mertz did not have an envious bone in her body. Constantly, no matter how many gifts and perks Lucy would receive in her life, Ethel was content to sit back and enjoy them. If you watch the show long enough, you realize that Ricky Ricardo was a big-time band leader, with a recording contract, records, and a decent fan base. These were the years before Elvis changed the world. We Baby Boomers were either babies or still a gleam in the eyes of our parents. It takes a little math and back-ground to realize that Lucy and Ricky were married before World War II, and lived in the apartment house owned by Fred and Ethel during World War II.
Gradually, we realize that the Ricardos, had they been around today, would have had it all, and have been at least ‘B’ list celebs, with all that it entails. All you need to do is an extension on the money Lucy spent – comparing it to today – and realize they were not paupers. Neither were the Mertzes, but Fred was cheap to the point where Ethel rarely had anything new. Yet there are some interesting numbers hidden in Fred’s penury.
During the last season, where everyone has moved to Connecticut, Ricky gives Lucy $500 to buy furniture for the new house. She spends $3272.75. If you calculate for inflation, today, Ricky would have given her about $10,000. She spent the equivalent of $27,000. That’s a lot of money. I remember, in 1966, my parents spent about $2500 on furniture for their mountain house, and bought a magnificent walnut table with 10 chairs, sofa, 2 Queen Ann chairs, coffee table, end tables, 4 twin beds, an incredible chair I’m ready to steal for a project, lamps, clocks, and incidentals. That’s a lot of furniture – nearly a decade later.
Ethel did with left-overs. She never complained. In the episode where Ricky and Fred were discussing how much money Lucy and Ethel were spending, shopping in Miami, we get a real glimpse into Ethel’s spending power. They had been in Miami for about 2 weeks. Ethal was spending about $75 a day, Lucy about $150. On what Ethel was spending, the purchasing power today would be nearly $700. The value of that money, today, would be nearly $1500. Extend that over 10 days and Ethel was able to spend about $750 or nearly fifteen thousand bucks! That’s enough to keep me happy. Lucy was spending double – about thirty thousand – a good amount even today.
In other words, neither woman was a pauper. Both were housewives, with Ethel having had a vaudeville career, in her younger days. Today, both would qualify to be one of those ‘real’ housewives. When you factor sociology and changes in the way we live, both women had an easy time of it.
But – Lucy spent the money. We are led to believe that as her side-kick, Ethel did not have that much to spend. That, too, is deceptive. The apartment building Fred and Ethel owned was located at 623 East 68th Street. A fictional address, the block stops at around 500 East 68th Street. In other words, we’re talking almost river front property. If you know anything about NYC, wow! What an address! That is the Upper East Side, one of the most expensive locations, not just in the City, but the country, and even the world. It’s almost on the river, with Sloan Kettering the nearest building of note.
This is the world of Lucy and Ethel. It is a world that, today, only the upper percentile of the one percent can even hope to occupy. In other words – Ethel was worth far more than Lucy. She could afford to be a side-kick and enjoy what Lucy was buying. The Ricardos were paying about $125 a month in rent. Today that would be about $5000 a month – which appears to be average, today – for a studio. There is a 1300 sq foot apartment about a block away from the fictional address of the Ricardo family. It is listed on Trilla for $3,399,000. The apartment building owned by Fred and Ethel had about five floors. In other words – in today’s money, well, we’re talking close to a hundred million bucks!
The bottom line, Fred and Ethel could buy and pay for Ricky and Lucy, many times over, yet they lived very frugal lives. Even at that time, in their day, they were in excellent financial condition, even if the building did have a mortgage. Ethel took a back seat to Lucy. She never had a fancy house. She did not have a fur. She did not have the grand hotel suites. She bought on sale. She did not envy her friend.
Oh, to be a person who was free from envy. How many of us could be Ethel to Lucy’s spending and her nearly celeb life-style of the “B” list? It says so much about a person. Maybe it says more about me, and what I don’t do right in my life. If we’re lucky, we have friends like that in our lives. If we are doing what we should be, in life, we are like that, for our friends – always there, never envious.
Covetous is one of the Big Ten. We’re commanded NOT to covet. Eventually it leads to idolatry, which is also one of the Big Ten. How many of us live up to those two commandments? I don’t think we even think about it that much. We’re so tied up in the not killing, robbing, etc. that we don’t realize covetous – jealousy becomes a killer.