Beloved TV icon Vivian Vance made one of her last appearances in primetime as the neighbor in a delightfully clever 1975 episode of Rhoda. She fell easily back into the sitcom rhythm, as if she'd never left our screens (she hadn't, really, with the popularity of I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show reruns).
This was when the series dropped the idea of the lead character having a husband, during season 2. Rhoda was a hit with lots of bits that caught on big (the mom, the sister, Carlton the doorman) but the husband was dragging down the comedy.
But divorce, and the fighting you'll see in this episode that led up to it, was still frowned upon in 1975. The writers knew it would be difficult to get that carefree Rhoda character back into the bottle after that. Hence the children performing the theme song, anything to take the edge off. They basically had to make Rhoda's husband such a jerk that no one could fault Rhoda for splitting with him.
Valerie Harper and the producers enjoyed the experience of working with Vivian Vance so much that they considered making her a regular on the series - but she'd been diagnosed with cancer in 1973 and was too fragile for the weekly TV grind, she'd left that behind a decade ago as the co-star of the number 1 show in the nation, The Lucy Show. If it wasn't worth it to her then...
Still, the addition of Vivian Vance might have saved Rhoda from the slow ratings death that was to come.
Her fragility was proven tragically true in 1977 when Vivian Vance suffered a debilitating stroke while filming a TV special, Lucy Calls the President, the first scripted show she'd done with Lucille Ball since her final appearance on Here's Lucy in 1972. A pro to the last, she finished filming the special before seeking medical attention.
Vivian Vance died in 1979.
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