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Long backstory on ‘I Love Lucy’ character

Q: On “I Love Lucy,” did the character Ethel Mertz, played by Vivian Vance, have a middle name? What about her maiden name? How did she and Fred meet? — C.J.J., Binghamton, N.Y.

A: Over the years, Mertz’s middle name has been reported as being Roberta, Louise and Mae. Most character biographies say she was born Ethel Mae Potter in Albuquerque, N.M. Ethel met Fred, played by William Frawley, in vaudeville, where they had a popular act. When vaudeville died out, the couple bought a New York City brownstone and became best friends with their tenants, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.

Q: Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, was nicknamed “the Angel of the Battlefield.” Is this a nickname from any particular battlefield? When was she born? When was the Red Cross founded? — A.L., Georgetown, Del.

A: Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born Dec. 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Mass. She was working in Washington, D.C., when the Civil War broke out, and she witnessed the influx of wounded into the city. Barton recognized the need for battlefield assistance. After much prodding, she was given permission to bring medical supplies to the scene. Her nickname does not come from one particular battle.

After the war, Barton continued her humanitarian work and helped with the women’s suffrage movement. Around 1873, she began a movement to gain recognition of the International Committee of the Red Cross by the U.S. government. During the administration of Chester Arthur, she succeeded. The first meeting of the American Red Cross occurred on May 21, 1881. She remained president of the organization until 1904, when she resigned due to political infighting within the organization. Barton never married; she died in 1912 at age 90.

Q: It won’t be long before iced tea season is over. How long has this summertime refreshment been around? — V.K., Rockford, Ill.

A: Iced tea has been around for more than 100 years. A vendor at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair was not doing well selling hot tea on a hot day. Out of necessity, the imaginative merchant added ice. It was a hit!

Q: I used to listen to “The Lone Ranger” on radio and watch it on television. How many years was the show on both venues? How many episodes were there? — I.J.L., Hays, Kan.

A: The adventures of the masked man hit the radio airways on Jan. 30, 1933. On Sept. 3, 1954, the last of 2,956 new radio episodes aired, and repeats played for at least two more years. There were 221 TV episodes. The show ran from September 1949 through September 1957.

Q: My father was a 1947 graduate of Harvard University. He said that the actor Jack Lemmon was a classmate. I saw a list of class members and found a John Lemmon. Is this the same person? How old was Jack Lemmon when he died? — C.F., Dover, Del.

A: John Uhler Lemmon was born in an elevator at a hospital near Boston on Feb. 8, 1925. He graduated from Harvard University in 1947. As a professional actor, Lemmon worked in radio, television and Broadway before moving to Hollywood. He won two Academy Awards in his career. He died of complications from cancer in 2001 at age 76.

Q: During the cattle drives of the Old West, was there any ratio of heads of cattle to cowboys? — H.M., Santa Rosa, Calif.

A: The ratios vary greatly, but, in general, there were about 250 head of cattle for each cowboy.

Q: In the movie “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” who was the good, who was the bad and who was the ugly? — O.U., Medford, Ore.

A: In the 1966 Sergio Leone-directed movie about three drifters in search of treasure, Clint Eastwood was the good; Lee Van Cleef was the bad; and Eli Wallach was the ugly.

Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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