Ethel Louise Roberta Mae Potter Mertz (portrayed by Vivian Vance) was born sometime between 1905 and 1915 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1954, Ethel celebrated somewhere between her 40th and her 50th birthday. Lucy Ricardo turned 33 in 1953 (said in episode #72), so Lucy had to turn 34 in 1954, which also almost matches up with her given birthyear of 1921. If Ethel turned an age between 40 and 50 the year that Lucy turned 34, there is either six to sixteen years between the women. Using Lucy's birthyear of 1921 and subtracting from six to sixteen years, Ethel would have been born between 1905 and 1915. Her birthdate is never given, but she is a Leo, so her birthday must be sometime in late July or early-to-mid August.
Not much is known about her early childhood. She was raised in a ranch outside of Albuquerque. Her father, Will Potter, owns a successful soda shop in Albuquerque, and when Ethel visits him in early 1955, her mother is nowhere to be seen. Her mother is never shown or given a name, but Ethel has went home to her mother's when fighting with Fred in 1952, and Ethel told Fred she was visiting her mother when she went to help Lucy trick Ricky on the camping trip in 1953. However, Will Potter tells Ethel on her visit to Albuquerque, "WE haven't touched your room since you left it," so either Ethel's mother still is alive and living with her father, or Will Potter has since married somebody else. Her father, Will Potter, owns a successful soda shop in Albuquerque. Ethel never mentions having any siblings, but as for other family, her Uncle Oscar is married to her Aunt Emmy, and her Aunt Martha is married to her Uncle Elmo. Ethel attended Albuquerque Elementary School as a child, along with Betty Foster Ramsey, who she reunites with when she moved to Westport. Ethel's father even belonged to the same lodge as Betty's father, Leslie Foster. In high school, she took French, but she forgot it all by adulthood.
Ethel is a very talented singer and dancer, and she knew that she wanted to go into show business to use her beautiful soprano voice. As a young adult, the former "Miss Albuquerque" gave a performance at the Little Theater in Albuquerque, as a "farewell" to the town before she left for New York to pursue a career on Broadway. She considers herself to have been a "star of musical comedy." She was so well-liked and respected in her home town of Albuquerque that, when she returned in 1955, the Little Theater put up on their marquee: "Ethel Mae Potter, we never forgot her!" She was quite the catch in her young days, and while she was still living in Albuquerque, her long list of suitors included Billy Hackett (now editor of the newspaper in Albuquerque), Deke Arledge, and Hank Spear.
Sometime after she left her home town of Albuquerque, she met Fred Mertz, her future husband. Mr. Potter didn't like Fred, so Ethel and Fred eloped against Mr. Potter's wishes when Ethel was 19. Ethel and Fred got married on May 3rd. The year is unknown, but several possible dates can be calculated using given information. Using Ethel's tentative birthyears, she would have been 19 between 1925 and 1935. The Mertzes celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary in 1951, which would mean they eloped in 1933. They celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in 1952, which would give a wedding year of 1927. It is thought that Fred and Ethel were a couple for about a year before they eloped, as Fred once remarks that he has been buying Ethel birthday presents for 26 years. This, of course, is one year longer than their longstanding 25-year marriage period.
Fred and Ethel set out on having a rather successful vaudeville career together after their marriage. They performed all over the country. It appears that they performed under the name Mertz & Mertz; this was the name on their vaudeville trunk, which they bought from a man who had a seal act. One of their career highlights was starring in the Flapper Follies of 1927 at the Palace Theater in Jamestown, New York, an act which they reprised in 1952 at the Tropicana. They also did an apache dance together sometime during their act, and Ethel used to do some sort of an Egyptian dance. The Mertzes seemed to have lived a sort of vagabond life early in their marriage. They traveled a lot for vaudeville, and once, they somehow got stranded in Indianapolis. To survive, the couple worked at a diner, Fred as the waiter and Ethel as the cook. It is likely that they were in vaudeville together the first five years of their marriage, as Ethel once says (before her California trip) that she hadn't been out of New York for 20 out of the 25 years she had been married. The other five years most likely were spent traveling all around the country for her and Fred's act.
In 1937, the couple retired from show business and purchased a small brownstone apartment in Manhattan, located at 623 East 68th Street. (In 1953, Ethel says that they've been living in the apartment for 16 years.) The deed for the building was written in Ethel's name; the Mertzes moved in to apartment 3C, which is right across the hall from the Ricardos' second apartment of 3D. Fred and Ethel quickly grew accustomed to earning their living as landlords. When Lucy and Ricky Ricardo moved in to their building in 1948, Ethel and Fred quickly developed a very close friendship with these particular tenants of theirs. Ethel and Lucy became best friends and soon were inseparable. Not bearing to be apart from their best friends, Fred and Ethel went with the Ricardos on their 1955 trip to Hollywood. When Ricky had to tour Europe with his band a month after returning from Hollywood, he hurriedly asked Fred to be his business manager during the trip, knowing how Fred had managed his vaudeville act all by himself. Ethel was able to go on the Europe trip, too, with the money Ricky saved by his band members getting free boat fare by playing their instruments all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Ethel was responsible for speaking Italian on the trip. Fred continued to be Ricky's band manager long after the trip to Europe, which meant that Ethel was able to see even more exotic places for free that Fred otherwise never would have taken her, such as Las Vegas, Mexico and Tokyo, Japan.
The Mertzes never had any children for an unknown reason. It may have been that they were infertile or just from the lack of regular passion in their sex life and relationship. But through the Ricardos, they got to experience the joys of parenthood. When Lucy Ricardo became pregnant in 1952, she immediately declared that the Mertzes would be the baby's godparents. Ethel's godson, Ricky Ricardo, Jr. (AKA: "Little Ricky"), was born on January 19, 1953. Little Ricky calls his godmother "Aunt Ethel," showing a much closer relationship than merely being godparent/godchild.
In 1957, when the Ricardos moved to Westport, Connecticut, Ethel was devastated with the loss of her best friend. When the chance came for the Mertzes to apply for the job of hired hand in the Ricardos' chicken/egg business, they did so in a heartbeat and moved to Westport, too. This is their current living location. The Mertzes live in the Ricardos' guest house, and they get free room and board for taking care of the chickens, as well as a portion of the profits from the egg sales (60 cents a dozen). Once the Ricardos' landlords, the Mertzes now are the Ricardos' tenants.
Ethel lives a fairly healthy life, even though she once went to Mayo Brothers in Minnesota to have gallstones removed, and she broke her ankle in 1951. She works very hard, though, for how much she's appreciated. Ethel often lives in best friend Lucy's shadow, and she has to watch from afar as Lucy gets all the attention, new clothes, and new appliances. With her cheapskate of a husband, Ethel doesn't get many nice things, so she often gets Lucy's hand-me-downs for "new" items. Ethel has a complex relationship with her husband. Fred and his "honeybunch" Ethel love each other, but they constantly bicker and insult each other. Ethel often grows jealous of the marriage the Ricardos have, in addition to being jealous of the Ricardos having more money. Ethel is involved in many of the same activities as Lucy. She is co-president (sharing the title with Lucy) of her women's club, the Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League. She is also a long-time member of a bridge club. Ethel loves playing cards in general. She enjoys bridge, canasta, and gin the best. She also plays the piano. Her expertise as a piano player depends which season she plays. Sometimes, she's a whiz at the ivories. Other times, she only knows how to play "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain."
Like the rest, Ethel has her personality flaws. She is a noisy eater, always thinking about food, a blabbermouth, and very nosy. Even though she often is pegged as a glutton, she does have her food preferences. Her favorite dish is luau-type food, she really enjoys cherry cordial candies, but she detests jelly-filled candies. She also is quite a good cook, and she makes great crepe suzettes. She is somewhat tight with money, but who can blame her when considering who her husband is? And Ethel has trouble saying "no" to Lucy, which often makes her end up going along with Lucy's crazy schemes. But, like Lucy, Ethel's a good person.