Fred and Ethel: Subversive Stars- Serena Daya

In our discussion of I Love Lucy, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that Fred and Ethel don’t have kids.  There is never any mention of the two of them having children, and no children of theirs are even present on the show.  This is interesting to me because of the time period the show reflects.

The 1950’s was supposedly a time for traditional family values to be expressed on television for the country to see.  Gender roles were depicted on television as the normative actions for daily life; men went to work, and women tended to the home.  Children grew up to be good people, with good manners, who did well in school.  This reflection of “daily life” in 1950’s television is why I’m so intrigued as to why Fred and Ethel don’t have children.


Still from I Love Lucy “The Charm School” (Season 3, Episode 14, 1954)

But in deeper thought, the idea of two retired, previously successful vaudeville performers, not having children, portrayed on the I Love Lucy show makes complete sense.  In our readings, Lori Landay discusses in her chapter, the idea that Lucy subverts the traditional gender roles ascribed to her.  Since Lucy is the focal point of the show, we attribute the subversive behavior of the time to her alone.

However, is it possible that Fred and Ethel’s lack of progeny is just as subversive?  It makes sense in terms of the goals of the show.  The show is designed to portray the opposition of Lucille Ball’s real life as a movie star.  As a movie star, she is still able to have children—they wrote it into the show.  But what about those career persons who do not have the opportunity to live their lives according to the traditional norms?

In come Fred and Ethel.  Fred and Ethel depict those very characters who have chosen to live their lives the way they wanted to without ascribing to any set standard of behavior.  I think that is just as, if not more subversive than Lucy in the show.

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2 Responses to Fred and Ethel: Subversive Stars- Serena Daya

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I noticed this as well, and think that it’s sort of an underappreciated aspect of the show. I also think you’re right to acknowledge Ethel as a character with an ability to subvert traditional gender roles. I sort of touched upon this in another blog post comment, but it feels relevant here as well: Ethel’s character seems to disrupt the narrative that motherhood is imperative for all women. While we don’t know why the couple is childless, it’s nice to imagine it as having been a decision that Ethel ultimately made on her own behalf. We know that Fred and Ethel were vaudeville performers before moving to NYC, and it would be entirely plausible that Ethel recognized early on such a lifestyle might not necessarily be amenable for raising a child. When the decision to have a child is ultimately placed into the woman’s hands (as opposed to those of her husband, society at large, legislation, etc.), women come out on top.

    -Callie Sartain

  2. marymdalton says:

    Excellent post and comment. I love this “reading against the grain” analysis and find it persuasive.

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