10.22.12 Newsweek Ceases Print Edition Publication at End of 2012 While Newsweek becoming a digital-only publication does not have anything directly to do with Lucille Ball, as a writer and editor (and avid magazine reader) through most of my life, it marks a milestone that is an increasing marker of the power and future importance of digital versus traditional print publishing.
That said, look at this classic Newsweek cover from 1953 (left), published at the height of Lucy’s and I Love Lucy’s immense popularity. When CBS Sunday Morning did a short report yesterday on the magazine’s decision to go strictly digital via subscription, the piece was illustrated with a handful of classic Newsweek covers, and noted the magazine would always be remembered for its iconic cover images, especially those from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s—including, of course, this one of our favorite redhead.
The CBS piece noted that Newsweek was founded by an ex-TIME magazine staffer almost 80 years ago, in 1933. When Newsweek began, its logo read News-Week, with a hyphen, and over the years it and the weekly went through many transformations, the most recent redesign taking place in 2011. When it emerges as a digital publication, it will be known as Newsweek Global.
Charles Kuralt also reported that, as TIME’s major competitor, the two magazines often battled for newsstand supremacy by trying to pin down the hottest topic of the (weekly) moment and putting it on the cover. This often resulted in the two rivals publishing the same or similar pictures. This happened with the Queen of Comedy, although Newsweek’s date (January 19, 1953) indicates it was published to coincide with the combo birth of Little Ricky (on air) and Desi Arnaz Jr. (in real life)—which resulted in one of the most-watched TV series episodes of all time, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital”—while TIME’s cover, dated May 26, 1952, trumped it’s rival’s by eight months, and came at the end of I Love Lucy’s first groundbreaking season.
Still, both magazines went for pioneering TV moments, and even as we watch print turn into digital, we can at least be thankful that an eye-catching cover will always be a part of the mix.
10.15.12 Vivian Vance Bust-ed by ATAS! This is an exclusive…A few months from now, a bronze bust of Vivian Vance as Ethel Mertz will be placed in the TV Academy Hall of Fame plaza in Los Angeles, part of the Academy of Television Arts & Science’s (ATAS) Hall of Fame (HoF). As you probably know if you’re here reading this, Vance and her television hubby, William Frawley (aka Fred Mertz) were inducted in the ATAS HoF on March 1 of this year (see the 03.01.12 and 03.07.12 entries, below), making I Love Lucy the only series which has every one of its major cast members inducted separately into the HoF. The series it self was also inducted in to the HoF, and remains the only television show thus honored.
I’ve been waiting to share this news with you, but couldn’t until I got the okay from the artist, sculptor Richard Becker, which he needed to get from the ATAS HoF people. Becker was kind enough to get in touch with me toward the end of his sculpting process, and actually asked me if I had any suggestions! I was astonished, pleased, and unbelievably grateful and happy to be consulted on such a project obviously so dear to my heart. (Of course, Frawley is getting his own bust in the Plaza, but it’s by a different artist and I have no news on it.)
Here’s part of what Richard wrote me on October 2: “Hi, Michael. I am the sculptor commissioned by the Emmys to create a bronze bust of Vivian Vance for their Hall of Fame plaza. Long overdue! ... A neighbor is a huge I Love Lucy fan and helped me find good Vivian clips, and I think the clay sculpt is complete (preparing [it] for the Emmys committee), but if you are interested and have any minor suggestions that I might be able to integrate to convey a bit more of Vivian and Ethel, I would really appreciate it…. I did put Vivian in the dress she wore as Lucy attempted to sculpt her bust almost 60 yrs ago [“Lucy Becomes A Sculptress,” the January 12, 1953 episode]. That was a surreal experience—watching that episode, sculpting Ethel while Lucy did the same! If you would like to comment, here is the link….”
Would I??!! (as Lucy said in any number of episodes). Richard pointed out that at this stage only minor corrections could be made, and not to feel bad if he couldn’t do them. Feel bad? I was on Cloud Nine that my opinion was even solicited! (And need I add that Becker’s a fabulous sculptor, by the way; his website is at richardbecker.com.)
I checked out the photos and video he had made, and very gingerly commented that I thought as a whole Richard had done a fabulous job of catching Vance as Ethel, but that perhaps some minor adjustments around the mouth might make her smile more like the real thing—totally expecting to get a “Thanks, but I can’t do it” response. Instead, Richard responded enthusiastically and noted he had already tweaked it a bit, including the mouth and lips. The result—the picture you see at top left, which I can finally share with you; this is the clay bust from which a bronze cast will be made—is an unbelievably realistic and beautiful bust of Vance, that will totally spruce up the ATAS HoF once it is cast in bronze and installed. I just wonder how close it will be to Frawley’s bust, and what the two of them would have thought of the whole thing.
P.S. ATAS responded to Richard’s question about an unveiling ceremony that they didn’t have enough money, but were willing to entertain creative fundraising ideas. To me, it makes most sense to have the unveiling on Jan. 12, 2013, the 60th anniversary of the sculpting episode. If you think it’s a crime that there won’t be a ceremony, contact ATAS and let them know. After all, it took more than 8,000 phone calls to get Vance her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the meantime, I thank Richard profusely for letting me in on this, and I hope you enjoy the back-story and a preview of what our favorite TV neighbor will look like, installed permanently in the ATAS Hall of Fame plaza.
10.05.12 Lucy, We Hardly Knew Ye! Never mind that I Love Lucy was recently chosen the top sitcom of all time AND the top series of all time, period, in a poll conducted by ABC news and People magazine for a special edition of 20/20 that aired a few weeks ago (see 09.23.12, below). It seems the current crop of college kids (recently dubbed “Generation Me” in a study by the Association for Psychological Science that found they generally lack empathy) needs to do some cramming to find out who the Queen of Comedy was and what her legacy is.
According to the Yahoo! TV website, NCIS: LA co-star Eric Christian Olsen, who plays a detective, recently put his undercover skills to the test by becoming “Dean,” a page at the Paramount Studios Lot, where his series is filmed, and where Lucille Ball filmed her final (hit) series, Here’s Lucy. (Currently, you can visit Lucy's former dressing room on the Paramount lot, and Lucy Park, an area outside the building that used to house Lucille Ball's office when she was vice president and then President of Desilu Studios. Lucy sold Desilu to Paramount in 1967.) Yahoo! TV reported that Olsen tried to go unrecognized as he gave tours to unsuspecting visitors.
The prank came about when he and co-star Daniela Ruah saw one of the tour golf carts driving by on the lot, and Olsen told her, “I always wanted to be the tour guide on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. The Paramount Lot Tour is potentially the same thing, minus the hippo. And the next thing I knew, I was in a Paramount Page outfit, going undercover as ‘Dean, the Paramount Page.’" Olsen wryly noted that normally “the Paramount Pages take about two weeks of classes. I dedicated a solid 60 minutes to the official guidebook.”
Most unsettling, for this Lucy fan, anyway, were his comments about being recognized by visitors to the lot taking the tour: “About half the people recognized me and thought it was the best tour ever. The rest had no idea who I was and wanted their money back. I also told a group of college students who didn't know who Lucille Ball was, that she actually was one of the stars of Nickelodeon's Big Time Rush. Their mother just about fell out of the cart, laughing.”
This is no laughing matter to me! I prescribe a 24-hour I Love Lucy marathon followed by a week of reading about the Queen of Comedy (I suggest starting with my books, of course), followed by a three-day weekend excursion to Jamestown and the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy. Stat! ;-)
09.23.12 Julia Louis-Dreyfus Ties Lucille Ball's 13 Record Emmy Nominations, Wins Third Emmy
With her nomination as outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for Veep, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus made Emmy history by tying Lucille Ball's record of 13 nominations -- the most nominations ever for a comedic actress, CBS News reported.
When she was told of the accomplishment, Louis-Dreyfus said she was thrilled by her connection to the star of I Love Lucy.
She told TVLine.com, "I had no idea beforehand and I'm stunned by it. I'm really actually made speechless by it and don't even know what to say."
Louis-Dreyfus has won three Emmys -- one for Seinfeld another for The New Adventures of Old Christine, and the third just two days ago for Veep. Her nomination and win Sunday for the HBO freshman comedy Veep makes Dreyfus one of two actresses to have won three Emmys for three different roles (the other is dramatic actress Tyne Daly). HBO has renewed Veep for a second season.
I have felt for many years that Dreyfus is the most logical successor to Lucy as a physical comedienne after her hysterical, Lucy-like comedy and reactions during the entire run of Christine (2006-1010).
Ball won four Emmys in competitive categories during her career -- including two for The Lucy Show (both as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, in 1967 and 1968) and two for I Love Lucy (Best Comedienne in 1952 and Best Actress in a Continuing Performance, 1954) -- and received the Governor’s Award from the TV Academy in 1989.
The picture at top left shows Lucy with fellow Emmy winners Bill Cosby (I Spy) and Don Adams (Get Smart) after the 1968 ceremony. Ball famously teared up when she unexpectedly won in 1967, the first time since her I Love Lucy wins, saying she initially thought the Academy gave her the Emmy for "having a baby." After 60+ years of laughter, and I Love Lucy being voted the best television series of all time (see below), we know now nothing could be further from the truth.
09.23.12 It’s Official: I Love Lucy Is the Best TV Show EVER Anyone who is reading this text already believes that I Love Lucy is the best television show, period (I assume that’s one of the reasons you came to my site). But now there’s proof that a majority of Americans also believe it to be true. On Tuesday, September 18, ABC news magazine 20/20 revealed—on a special edition called Best in TV—that, more than 60 years after I Love Lucy premiered, the classic, groundbreaking sitcom was tops with TV fans in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine. According to ABC, “Nominees in all categories were determined by an all-star panel of television writers, producers, actors and directors. And from the list of nominees, Americans registered more than one million online votes earlier this summer at www.bestintelevision.com.”
I Love Lucy was voted the best show of all time, beating out finalists Seinfeld, M*A*S*H, All in the Family and Cheers. That all five finalists were comedies is no surprise to me, since I believe laughter is the best medicine for almost anything that ails you. Or, as 20/20 host Barbara Walters put it, "We were not surprised Americans chose comedies as their favorites of all time. We all like to laugh, and these shows still make us laugh today." She added that even though Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz created I Love Lucy more than 60 years ago, “We’re still watching, and we’re still laughing. It’s the sitcom that defined all sitcoms to come (after it).” I Love Lucy is the most watched show in television history, Walters reported, currently seen in 77 countries and broadcast in 22 languages.
In another no-brainer, I Love Lucy was chosen the No. 1 Best TV Comedy (the other shows voted as the Top 5 comedies ever, in order, were Seinfeld (No. 2), M*A*S*H (No. 3), The Cosby Show (No. 4), and All in the Family (No. 5).
Lucy told Walters in a rare TV interview in 1977 (see pic, right), that she didn't think she was funny. It was a statement Ball made many times over the years and one that was refuted consistently by those who knew. But perhaps her children said it best in recent interviews with Walters: Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. explained that their mother had a dry sense of humor: “She was witty, with a Will Rogers kind of sense of humor...great humor, but not like Lucy (on the show)," Desi Jr. noted. Sister Lucie added, "My mother was a clown, and she could turn funny, brilliantly funny written things into magic." In other words, Lucy understood humor but didn’t go around telling jokes or taking pratfalls all the time in real life. She was actually quite serious about her comedy, and always praised her writers, producers, and costars for their contributions to the success of I Love Lucy.
When Walters asked Desi Jr. why the show remains so popular, he commented, “Because its principles are timeless. Comedy. Laughter. Love. Friendship. And everyone identifies with that.” To that I would add, as I always do, I Love Lucy was just plain funny. The combination of the writers, producers, cameramen, editors, and especially the cast, which had perhaps the best chemistry of any four people ever to grace our home screens, was perfection. All the comedy sprang from the relationships and situations the Ricardos and the Mertzes got themselves into. And however much they argued, whether the couples or the foursome, we believed they really loved each other. And we loved them back. We still do. Because in this fractured world of ours, we need I Love Lucy’s precious gift of laughter more than ever.
[Please note: The fabulous caricature of William Frawley, Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, and Desi Arnaz at top left was drawn by the fabulous Dave Woodman. You can see more of his art at www.davewoodmanart.com]
09.15.12Lucy A to Z Redone in E-Book Format! Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia, was redone as an eBook for the Kindle, Nook and other formats several years ago. My publisher, iUniverse, converted all of its titles to eBooks, starting with the STAR titles, that is, its bestsellers. Lucy A to Z was one of those. I was very happy until I bought a copy two months ago and saw that it was marred by multiple formatting errors. Since I am a writer and editor by trade, it was inconceivable for me to leave the book as it was; after all, readers would see it and, at best, think I was careless with the editing; at worst, they might think, "What the @$#!?" Neither was acceptable. In truth, most of the mistakes were attributable to me; they happened because the eBook conversion process remains imperfect, and two-to-three years ago, when Lucy A to Z was converted, it was even worse.
The good news is, I contacted iUniverse, and the company was very sympathetic to my plight (after all, it wants its books to look and read their best, too). I was allowed to work with the company's eBook team, and re-create the book all over again for its digital version. The result: a cleaner, more perfect looking digital Lucy A to Z. It is now available; go here to take a sneak peak and purchase. Now, I'm not going to swear the book is error-free, but compared to the way it looked a few months ago on my Kindle, it's a dream. The pictures, especially, are now crisp and clear, and blow up real good (shout out to SCTV's Big Jim McBob, Joe Flaherty, and Billy Sol Hurok, John Candy) when you tap on them. (P.S. While I was re-working the manuscript, I updated a few entries here and there that had changed since I last published it in 2008.) I know you'll enjoy this new digital eRead.
08.21.12 Remembering Phyllis Diller I mark the passing of comedy legend Phyllis Diller not with sadness, but smiles and laughter, which she gave the world for more than half a century. Diller was one of my idols ever since the sixties, when her riot of an appearance – That hair! Those psychedelic outfits! That Laugh! – first started becoming a regular thing on television mid-decade. I may be one of the few people who watched all 30 episodes of her 1966 sitcom, The Pruitts of Southhampton (later changed to The Phyllis Diller Show) – and actually liked it! By then she was becoming a household name thanks to Bob Hope, who loved her, became her mentor, took her to Vietnam with him to entertain the troops, and put her in two of his movies: Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number, 1966, and 1968’s The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell.
She appeared on 32 of Hope’s TV specials, more than anyone else. It was on one of these that she performed the one and only time with Lucille Ball: 1987’s Bob Hope Salutes the U.S.A.F. 40th Anniversary (see pic at left; above the photo, Al Hirschfeld drawings of Lucy and Phyllis). As I reported in my book, Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia, in the entry on Diller: “Hope toasted his 84th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the United States Air Force in a show taped at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. In one segment, Diller played Lucy’s daughter (as did Brooke Shields and Barbara Mandrell); Lucy played their hillbilly mom, complete with shotgun, protecting their innocence. Diller, who was and remains in awe of Ball, says it was during this special that Ball directed Diller on making a memorable stage entrance, using the simple command: ‘Phyllis: Take stage!’ Diller also appeared with Ball on the 1970 patriotic special Swing Out, Sweet Land, and on Bob Hope’s Unrehearsed Antics of the Stars (which aired September 28, 1984), and saluted Ball on the Feb. 7, 1975 Dean Martin Roast of Lucille Ball (along with Totie Fields, Vivian Vance, and many others).”
Diller was in awe of Ball, and praised her to the skies at every chance, as she did during a phone call to Jamestown, N.Y., chatting with female impersonator Jim Bailey during his act at one of the Lucy Festivals. (Bailey had portrayed Diller on a 1972 Here’s Lucy episode.)
Of course, Diller’s career was so much more than the above, and her influence on female standup comedians, and comedy in general, will be felt forever. As with most of the best entertainers, there will never be another one like her. And I’ll end with a written approximation of that wonderful, insane Diller laugh: “Ah HAH ha ha!” RIP.
08.08.12 Lucy's hometown, Jamestown, N.Y., wants to become a "Comedy Mecca," according to a New York Times article published on August 5, the day before what would have been Lucy's 101st birthday this year. Here are some excerpts:
"Ms. Ball’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, said her mother had always wanted to do something for Jamestown. But rather than statues and a parade, her vision was a place where future generations of comics would come to develop their skills. Jamestown officials agreed, but Ms. Arnaz said the promise was not kept.
"A Lucille Ball New Comedy Festival was held, but quickly fizzled in the early 1990s. When reorganized, the event was focused on nostalgia, rather than developing future comics.
“It was kind of like a ‘Star Trek’ convention,” Ms. Arnaz said. “It was fun. But in reality, my mother wouldn’t have liked it.”
"Since then, new leadership has taken over, and now Ms. Ball’s original mission appears back on track. On Friday, Ms. Arnaz — making her first visit to Lucy Fest in several years — toured Jamestown’s train station, where a $12 million renovation is taking place with state, federal and private money. That is where Ms. Arnaz would like to see a Hall of Fame of Comedy; it is also possible that the station, idle since 1970, might come back to life, giving comedy lovers another way to reach Jamestown.
"The Jamestown area has a history of prosperity. It was once the “Furniture Capital of the World,” with 150 factories; Celoron Amusement Park on nearby Chautauqua Lake was called the “Coney Island of the Southern Tier,” where band leaders like Tommy Dorsey and John Philip Sousa performed.
"The Jamestown resident and industrialist B. F. Goodrich, who, like Ms. Ball is buried in Jamestown’s Lake View Cemetery, often entertained his friends Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford on summer outings at the lake."
The article skips over what happened circa 2007, when there was a scandal involving the then-executive director of the Center, who was subsequently ousted after being charged with stealing valuable Lucy- and I Love Lucy-related valuable props, and employee abuse. Lucie, her brother Desi, Lucy's personal secretary Wanda Clark, and most of the other original Board members of the Lucy-Desi Center resigned.
I attended many of the twice-yearly festivals in the 2000s, and they were more than "nostalgia conventions"; in fact, they were always downright enjoyable. But I do understand that Lucy's wish was to develop comic talent. So the Center has changed its focus for the time being, and is holding one festival, over Lucy's birthday weekend in August, and trying to develop a venue in which new comic talent can be showcased.
Here's a bit more from the article:
"Last year, with a $50,000 private grant, the comedy center conducted a feasibility study for a hall of fame, which found that remote, small-town locations are not necessarily a hindrance to creating a national destination. In fact, it might be an asset.
“'A lot of times it adds to the magic of a visit, being able to step back in time to a more serene, peaceful place,” said Jeff Idelson, the Baseball Hall of Fame president. “These days, so many Americans live in cities and suburbs; that’s what they’re looking for.'
"There are already plans to expand Lucy Fest; Mr. Benson, the board president of the Lucy-Desi Center, said the event next year would have a comedy film festival for the first time."
I hope it is successful, of course, but I also hope the Center does not underestimate the value of visitors personally interacting with celebrities, other fans, and (ahem) authors, and celebrating Lucy's extensive output on television and film. Perhaps both can somehow be accommodated in the Center's new mission.
Note: The pictures accompanying this article are ones I took during my visits to Jamestown: Above left, a look at one of the Lucy-Desi Museum's exhibits (this may have changed since the picture was taken in 2005); and top right is the sign at the entrance to the Lucille Ball Memorial Park in nearby Celeron, where Lucy lived for a time as a child.
07.31.12 File this under the category “Films We Wish Could Be Made” -- and with digital holograms of dead people showing up now…maybe it can be made: Lucy co-starring with Marilyn Monroe, River Phoenix, Ruth Gordon, Cary Grant, and Eve Arden! (Note: It would also be the first film to co-star Lucy and Eve since the classic Stage Door in 1937.) It never happened, of course, but LatinoBuzz at IndieWire.com recently interviewed director Gary Terracino, and his tongue-in-cheek response would make a fascinating, to say the least, piece of celluloid. The picture at right shows Marilyn Monroe, and Lucy (as Lucy Ricardo) dolled up as Marilyn on I Love Lucy to impress her husband Ricky’s talent scout in the 1954 episode “Ricky’s Movie Offer.”
"LatinoBuzz: [Let’s say] Time machines are on sale at Sears next to the A.C.’s. As a director, if you could bring two actors together to make the perfect love story who are they? Who wrote the screenplay? What's the plot and who's the director of photography (everyone has to be dead)?
"Gary Terracino: Marilyn Monroe is the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. She falls for rich, dashing Cary Grant. Her brother is a young, starving artist played by River Phoenix. He's in love with a painter, played by Johnny Sheffield ("Boy" from the 1930's Tarzan films). Their wacky and overbearing mother is played by Ruth Gordon. Marilyn's best friend is a showgirl, played by Lucille Ball. River's sidekick is wisecracking Eve Arden. The script is written by Francois Truffaut, Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll Jr. Nestor Almendros is the DP. It's in black-and-white, but there is one Technicolor dream sequence in which River Phoenix and Johnny Sheffield fly in the sky and speak French. The ending is sad yet uplifting. May I add that Pauline Kael comes back from the dead and gives it a rave review?"
The TV Guide channel aired this special in September 2010 (I just caught a repeat recently for the
first time), and even after almost 60 years, Lucille Ball's Lucy Ricardo topped the list of "The 25
Greatest TV Characters of All Time." That's no surprise to her legion of fans worldwide.
07.17.12 Unfortunately, more sad news. William Asher, who directed more episodes of I Love Lucy than anyone else, and also created and directed Bewitched, starring his then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery, died this past Monday in Palm Desert, Calif. Asher was involved as a director, writer or producer in dozens of other TV shows, and directed the ultimate teen beach party flick, 1965's Beach Blanket Bingo starring Frankie Avlaon and Annette Funicello, as well as four other 1960s beach romps.
I met Asher in Jamestown, N.Y., in May 2005, where we both were attennging the Memorial Day weekend Lucille Ball festival (Jamestown was her home town, and if you didn't know that, you shouldn't be reading this!). I snapped the photo of him waving to me, left, at the Festival's opening ceremonies. His lovely wife, Meredith, is hidden behind Bill's hand, and that's Dann Cahn, a close friend of Asher's and, of course, I Love Lucy's film editor, agt left in the pic. I shared a limo with Asher and Meredith from Buffalo to Jamestown, and got to know him better throughout the weekend. He was a sweet man, generous with information about Lucy and her TV classic.
Asher was also a no-nonsense kind of guy, and told the story that early on, when Lucy flipped out over some piece of business and wouldn't take his direction, she stormed off the set, crying. Asher followed her, and after some logical reasoning, Lucy accepted his direction on the set, then and forever after. Asher said he felt that Ball had been testing him, and once she knew he was strong enough to stand up to her, there were no problems.
At the time I met him, Bill and Meredith were going to fly to Salem, Mass., after the Lucy weekend, to help dedicate a TV Land statue of his ex, Montgomery, as Samantha Stevens, that was being unveiled there. He was very happy to be remembered for his work on both shows, and there's no doubt in my mind his legacy will live on not just in reruns, but in the influence he had on those directors, writers, and producers who came after.
06.28.12 Very sad news...Doris Singleton, the actress best known for creating one of I Love Lucy's most indeible characters, the somewhat catty but always hysterical Carolyn Appleby, has passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 92. Singleton's career encompassed ballet, radio, television, and film, but it's safe to say she'll best be remembered as her I Love Lucy alter-ego.
I was lucky enough to meet Ms. Singleton about seven years ago, in Jamestown, N.Y., Lucy's hometown. We were both there, of course, to honor the legendary Lucy, she as a co-star, me as the author of several books about Lucy. (The photograph at left of the two of us was actually taken by Lucy's personal secretary, the lovely Wanda Clark, who was also there.) We were being photographed for the Lucy-Desi Museum's annual catalog, I believe. I gave Doris a signed copy of Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia, and she was kind enough to tell me the next morning that she had stayed up later than normal reading it, and loved it (she is an entry in the book, of course.)
We saw each other at various events throughout the weekend, and talked a bit more, and at the end of the festival, on Sunday, it turned out that I was riding back to the Buffalo airport with her and her neice. That's an almost two-hour trip, and I sat in the back seat with Doris, enthralled as she regaled me with stories about life in Hollywood, working with Lucy, and her husband, Charles Isaacs, a writer and producer who died in 2002, and whom she still missed very much.
She was as charming and funny and real offscreen as you might hope. As we said our goodbyes at the airport, I asked her if I could contact her for a new book I was planning, Sitcom Queens: Divas of the Small Screen, and without hesitation she gave me her home phone number. A month or so later, I called her and ended up with an interview long enough to use as the introduction for that book. Among other things, Doris confirmed that she was indeed supposed to be a Here's Lucy regular, as the efficient secretary versus Lucy's scatterbrain, but those plans were scrapped when the format changed to include Lucy's real-life kids, Lucie and Desi Jr.
One other story she shared was going to an AMPAS screening for a big Hollywood premiere, and being recognized by an adoring fan, who screamed out, "Carolyn Appleby!" It struck her as funny that among all the showbiz bigwigs there, she was recognized for a role she played half a decade earlier.
“It really is unbelievable how popular I Love Lucy remains,” she told me. “I’m used to the show being wonderful and, of course, Lucy was the most fantastic comedienne, but I’m amazed that through the years it seems like the fan base just grows and grows; there’s no end. And I don’t think there ever will be, because as long as they preserve the episodes, it’ll go on forever until the end of time.” I said to her, “So what that means is in some small way, you’ve become immortal.” Doris laughed and said, “I wish I felt like I was up to it!”
Now she is truly immortal. So Doris, wherever you are, I hope you're laughing it up with Lucy, Vivian, Desi and Bill, and having a Ball...pun intended. You were a truly great lady as well as a fabulous actress and comedienne, and, believe me, the two don't often go together. Rest in peace, and know that you will be missed.
06.21.12 Seventy-three years ago, Mia Farrow’s father, John, directed a tidy little B-movie called Five Came Back, about a group of diverse people stranded in the jungle thanks to a plane crash, and their efforts to escape their jungle hell. This month, Warners has released Back From Eternity, Farrow’s 1956 remake of the film (guess the plot was so nice, he made it twice). Why am I telling you any of this? Some of you already know: The original movie starred Lucille Ball, somewhere in the middle of her string of RKO leads, before she was snatched up by MGM in 1942. Lucy played the, um, woman of ill repute of the tale (that’s as far as they could take it in 1939 after the Hays Code had kicked in). And she manages to infuse the part with sexiness, humor, and tenderness. The picture was low-budget even for a “B”; made for $225,000, it made back its entire cost and then some ($262,000, according to IMDbPro), pretty amazing considering all the classic movies that were released in 1939. Indeed, in 2009, the UCLA Film & Television Archive screened Five Came Back as part of its “memorable 1939 films from Hollywood’s Golden Year” series. More important for Lucy, the film was one of the first to garner her solid reviews, and played a definite role in advancing her career. Sultry Lucy at left is pictured with costars Chester Morris (left) and Kent Taylor (right). The lady pictured opposite Lucy is equally sultry fifties starlet Anita Ekberg, who took on Lucy’s role in the remake and was, um, encouraged to be more overtly sexual. Featured on the DVD cover with the tagline, “Ooh, that Ekberg!”, it tickles me to think that what films used to accomplish with such subtlety, not 20 years later was turned by studio marketing 180 degrees into selling sex, sex, and more sex, in the hope of putting people in the seats in movie theaters. Lucy and her hit show, I Love Lucy, was one of the main reasons more Americans were staying home and watching the small screen. By the way, one of the reasons the original was so great: the screenplay written by Dalton Trumbo and novelist Nathaniel West, among others. Trumbo was blacklisted and became one of the infamous Hollywood 10 for refusing to answer questions raised by the House Un-American Acitivities Committee (HUAC) in 1947. More trivia: Keith Andes co-starred in the remake; he would star with Lucy four years later (1960) on Broadway in Wildcat.
06.11.12 Most of Lucy's early films were literally bits or walk-on roles that put her on screen for a minute or less. By the mid-1930s, RKO was giving her slightly larger roles to showcase Lucy's talent and see whether audiences showed any interest in her. This pic (left) shows Lucy in one of the latter, 1936's Chatterbox, in which she played a hard-boiled actress fired from her leading role and replaced by a young, unproven ingenue (the "chatterbox" of the title) who ends up flopping. Here, we see producer Erik Rhodes trying to convince a blonde Lucy to take back the part.
06.04.12 If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Rarely a day goes by when I don't run across a reference to Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy, her classic sitcom co-stars, or something relating to Lucy's life in the media. This time it happened on TV a Sunday or two ago, on one of the season's last episodes of Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy. MacFarland has saluted Lucy on his animated shows before (see below, March 5), and in this particular show, Peter and Lois Griffin are having a fight about why she can't get any sleep with him in the same bed; without his knowing it, she arranges for twin beds. When Peter walks in and sees the new bed arrangement, he asks, "What's with the Ricky and Lucy beds?" This is reference to the fact that, due to the TV morals code, married couples on sitcoms (or any show) could not be show sleeping in the same bed. So Lucy and Ricky famously slept in twin beds, often pushed together...even though Lucy and real-life husband Desi Arnaz (Ricky) had been married for more than a decade, and went on to famously have a child on their sitcom! The first sitcom couple to sleep in the same bed was, believe it or not, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. Purists will note that the real first couple on TV to use the same bed were Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns in the 15-minute comedy Mary Kay & Johnny, which started its run in 1947. But this was an early TV show, and the term "sitcom" had not yet been coined, nor the genre situation comedy, which is usually credited to Lucy & Desi and their groundbreaking show.
05.24.12 Did you know that Lucille Ball was on the original cover of one of the best-selling albums of all time (more than six million units sold), The Rolling Stones' 1978 Some Girls? Art director Peter Corriston designed an elaborate cutout cover, theming it after a retro wig catalog page. But Lucy, Farrah Fawcett, Liza Minnelli (for her mother, Judy Garland), Raquel Welch, and the estate of Marilyn Monroe sued for unlawful use of the images, and they were quickly removed. Most subsequent printings of the cover had the text "Pardon Our Appearance Cover Under Reconstruction" over the edited (blank) pictures. Here's a rare look at the original (right), courtesy of lpcoverlover.com. (Lucy's second from the right in the top row.) I was lucky enough to find a copy of the original album and cover in a flea market bin some years ago.
05.10.12 At the second annual Comedy Awards on Comedy Central this past Sunday (May 6), Friends’ star Matthew Perry proved what a true mensch (literally, Yiddish for "a person," mensch has come to mean a "good, honorable person") he is by noting that even though many critics acted like women were “all-of-a-sudden-funny” after 2011’s Bridesmaids became a breakout hit, that is simply not the case. To quote Perry: “This year we saw many hilarious performances by women, as well as many idiotic articles from men about how women suddenly became funny. Yes, imagine how great The Mary Tyler Moore Show would've been had Mary, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, and Valerie Harper actually been funny. If only Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett (pictured together at left), Gilda Radner, or Julia Louis-Dreyfus had been able to get a laugh. I guess what I'm saying is this wasn't the year women became funny; this was the year men finally pulled their heads out of their asses.” Amen. And to those names, I would add: Vivian Vance, Ann Sothern, Bea Arthur, Gale Storm, Eve Arden, Jean Stapleton, Bea Benaderet, Imogene Coca, Joan Davis, Audrey Meadows, Isabel Sanford, Irene Ryan, and...well, those of you who know me know I could go on forever. For more, see my book Sitcom Queens: Divas of the Small Screen. And please, don't get me wrong; I loved Bridesmaids, and I have a special fondness for funny ladies. Let's just not change history by not giving credit where credit is due. (At least one of the Bridesmaids cast agrees with me; Entertainment Weekly asked Wendi McLendon-Covey who her favorite all-time comic was at the Comedy Awards, and she responded: "Lucille Ball. She could take you to the stupid places, and you would go. She would dress up like an alien and show up at the top of the Empire State Building, and you'd think, 'I bet that could really happen....'")
04.05.12 At this point, I supposed it should come as no surprise to anyone that Lucille Ball has topped yet another entertainment-related poll…this one asking voters to choose whose life they would most like to see dramatized on Broadway. The website Broadway.com conducted its poll over April Fools’ weekend, and no fooling, our favorite redhead came out on top, with 27% of voters choosing her as the entertainer they most want to see illuminated on stage.
As the site noted, “The life of legendary showbiz icon Judy Garland is getting the Broadway treatment in the new play End of the Rainbow, as is Marilyn Monroe on the NBC series Smash. [Garland was already played by the highly acclaimed Isabel Keating in the 2003 Peter Allen musical bio, The Boy from Oz.] With so much focus on these late stage and screen luminaries, Broadway.com asked readers which other classic icon’s life story should become a Broadway show. The results are in, and three leading ladies from yesteryear were among readers’ picks.
Of Lucille Ball, Broadway.com noted, “A groundbreaking talent, Ball’s eclectic resume includes starring in the classic TV show I Love Lucy, appearing on Broadway in Wildcat (see pic, left, of Ball with co-star Paula Stewart), leading the film adaptation of Mame and becoming the first woman to run a major television studio—not to mention her personal trials with a troubled marriage and communist affiliation. Sounds like a good night at the theater!”
The next highest vote-getters were Audrey Hepburn (24% of the vote) and Elizabeth Taylor (9%). Broadway.com reported, “Hepburn is remembered for her grace and beauty in films like Roman Holiday and Sabrina, though she became a true icon in her black dress, pearls and oversized sunglasses as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s [and is] one of the few entertainers to have won Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards). Taylor was “A three-time Broadway veteran [and] screen siren as well-known for her offscreen affairs as her Oscar-winning film performances. Her lavish lifestyle, eight marriages and piercing violet eyes cemented Taylor as one of the biggest celebrities of the last century.”
Taylor also guest-starred on one of the more memorable episodes of Here’s Lucy, with then-husband Richard Burton — so if Lucy’s life is indeed taken to Broadway, perhaps Liz will have a cameo! But Broadway creative folk, beware: the life of a woman and entertainment icon like Ball does not easily translate to two hours (minus commercials) of filmed biography, at least; two TV-movies tried to do it, and failed miserably. Two hours with music might fare better (I mean, her pairing with Desi Arnaz naturally lends itself to a Cuban beat) — but I fear the dramatic hurdles might be insurmountable. Hey — here’s an idea, and you read it here first: How about a jukebox musical, based on a few dozen of the numbers performed by Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred throughout the run of the show? Now that’s something I’d love to see!
04.04.12 The Mertzes in Color
We're used to seeing them in black and white, so I got excited when I found these color pics of Vivian Vance and William Frawley, recent inductees into the ATAS Television Hall of Fame. (For news pics from the event, scroll down to 3/7/12.) From left below, Viv and Bill at an industry function (I have to assume it's an Emmy dinner, since Frawley rarely socialized with the cast) and the Mertzes in what is an undoubtedly colorized pic from I Love Lucy; for a shot of the pair in color as "the terrible two-headed dragon" from the colorized version of "Lucy Goes to Scotland" (part of the complete I Love Lucy DVD set) see 4/11, above.
03.14.12 Lucy A to Z Cover Original On Display at National Portrait Gallery The 1944 photo by Harry Warnecke that graces the cover of my book, Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia, is part of the permanent collection at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. (See pic for comparison of the original and my book cover.) It’s also on display through September in an exhibition entitled “In Vibrant Color: Vintage Celebrity Portraits From the Harry Warnecke Studio.” Warnecke died in 1984, and was a photographer for New York’s Daily News. Among other things, he was responsible for the color celebrity portraits that graced the cover of the newspaper’s Sunday rotogravure magazine.
The Washington Post’s Katherine Boyle reports, “Beginning in the 1930s, Warnecke led the Daily News color photography studio, quietly and methodically producing portraits of famous faces for Sunday readers to absorb in color. For more than 30 years, he produced celebrity portraits for an archive that was never kept, many of the prints collecting dust in his home.
“A true newsman, who credited his assistants on all of his works, he convinced the Daily News to invest in expensive technology that introduced color photography to a broad audience. At the time, the tricolor carbro process was so rare that Warnecke built his own ‘one-shot’ camera, which used filters to separate images into red, blue, and green pigments, creating bold, enduring color.”
To me, the images Warnecke created were analogous to gorgeous print versions of Technicolor, the three-strip film process. This made so much sense to me, since Lucy was crowned “”Technicolor Tessie” by Hollywood crews in the 1940s, due to the magnificent way she photographed on color film. So when my sister sent me a copy of Smithsonian magazine with Warnecke’s picture of Lucy in it, I scanned it and put it up on my website (i.e., here!), because I knew very few had seen this spectacular photo.
What happened next made me a believer in serendipity. The Warnecke picture had been up on my site (on the “Lucy Photo Album” page) for a year or so, when I received an e-mail from Warnecke’s former assistant. Warnecke’s wife had given him a batch of the original photos after Warnecke’s death, because the assistant had not been paid much (or at all) when he worked for the photographer.
He in turn offered me the rights to the photo of Lucy as a one-time use just as I was in the midst of searching for the right Lucy A to Z cover image, one that would set my book apart from the pack (and regarding books about Lucille Ball, it is indeed a pack!). Needless to say, I accepted. Gratefully.
Somehow, after his death, Warnecke “…sort of fell off the radar,” says Ann Shumard, curator of photographs for the National Portrait Gallery. “It’s the difference between a fine art photographer and the photographers who worked for major newspapers. The photographers at LIFE and LOOK certainly were more well-known, because they had national circulation.”
But his mastery of the process left lasting photographs, and glimpses into popular culture of the 1930s and ’40s,” notes Boyle. “His methods and portraits were grounded in simplicity and realism, unlike the celebrity portraits of today. Because color took priority over dramatic shadows, he produced the sorts of jovial, kitschy images that have become the hallmark of American nostalgia.”
“You can tell he was never intimidated by his subjects,” adds Shumard. “He had fun doing these pictures. They really are visual documents from a time gone by, to move us and intrigue us. They’re just . . . delightful.”
If you have the chance, visit the Portrait Gallery and see for yourself. It’s always been one of my favorite Smithsonian excursions.
03.05.12 Seth MacFarlane holds nothing sacred, one of the things I love most about him. You can tell whether or not he really likes someone, or is behind a trend, or what his belief on any given subject is, because he puts his opinions out there every week in his shows American Dad, Family Guy, and The Cleveland Show. Which is why I was so pleased to discover a tribute to Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance’s most famous comedy bit: the chocolate factory conveyor belt, on the March 4th Family Guy episode. Granted, MacFarlane’s version of it was more adult and off-color, but a tribute’s a tribute, and any astute viewer could tell where it was coming from. In the episode, "Family Guy" Peter Griffin and his buddy Glen Quagmire are trying to help their friend, Mort, increase profits at his drugstore, so Mort puts them on a conveyor belt bottling pills for his customers’ prescriptions (top left). When they’re too slow, he speeds it up, and the two end up gobbling pills of all kinds...much like Lucy and Ethel gobble up the chocolates when their conveyor belt starts speeding up so they won’t get in trouble with the supervisor. Peter ends up bleeding from the nose and, um, sexually aroused, and Quagmire vomits. Yeah, the Family Guy humor is less subtle, but the props given to Lucy are most appreciated by this fan. (As you see from the picture at top right, the conveyor-belt scene was already referenced in a Family Guy episode in which perv neighbor Herbert fantasizes -- in drag -- about a life as Chris Griffin’s wife, to the tune of Little Shop of Horror’s “Somewhere That’s Green,” which includes the lyric, “Between our frozen dinner and our bedtime nine fifteen, we snuggle watching Lucy on our enormous 12-inch screen.” I Love Lucy was, by the way, broadcast Mondays at 9 p.m. during its first season.) I've also included another shot of Lucy, right (as an example of the kind of woman who'll make it to heaven in an episode from MacFarlane's American Dad). Enjoy more screen caps from the March 4 episode below!
03.02.12 Just when it appeared that Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy had conquered every medium imaginable comes word that Ball and co-stars Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley will “appear” in a new videogame in early March. According to a Reuters article by John Gaudiosi, “I Love Lucy, from Entertainment Games, will enter the video game space in early March as an episodic series available on Facebook and RetroWorld.com, with mobile and tablet versions to follow.
“The black-and-white game will blend footage from one of the most popular TV comedies of all time with new character interaction, exploration, puzzles and mini-games.
“The first installment expands on the “Job Switching” episode, in which Lucy Ricardo (Ball) and Ethel Mertz (Vance) go to work while husbands Ricky (Ricardo) and Fred (Frawley) stay home and take care of the house. In the game, players control Lucy and Ricky.”
“The experience is uniquely designed to feel like you’re playing in an actual I Love Lucy episode,” says Gene Mauro, president of Entertainment Games. “In some scenes, players will control Lucy as she struggles comically to stay employed alongside Ethel in the chocolate factory; in other scenes, players become Ricky as he coaches Fred and labors to learn the ropes of basic housekeeping.”
Gaudiosi writes that the company consulted with both producers Desilu, Too LLC (Lucie Arnaz’s and Desi Arnaz Jr.’s company, and CBS Consumer Products — which control rights to products from the classic TV show that originally aired from 1951 to ’57 — to turn the program’s comedy into casual games designed to appeal to the baby boomer generation.
Bruce Bronn, owner of Unforgettable Enterprises, which represents Desilu/CBS, points out that I Love Lucy remains popular, with almost 1 million Facebook fans.
“Recent research data obtained by CBS shows Lucy still enjoys an 88 percent awareness factor with 96 percent favorable appeal among the key female 18 to 54 age group and a 92 percent awareness with 95 percent favorable appeal for females 25 to 54,” Bronn notes. Mauro adds that Retro World games are attracting mostly women, with more than 50 percent in the 40-plus age group.
New I Love Lucy game episodes will be released every few months, Gaudioso reports: “Once they finish the first episode, players gain access to a Lucille Ball avatar that can be used to explore the rest of the game world.”
03-01-12 Vivian Vance and William Frawley Join Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and I Love Lucy … in the TV Academy Hall of Fame...today, March 1st! Vance and Frawley's induction will make it a first that the entire main cast of a show – any show: sitcom, drama, western, et al – plus the show itself have been so honored. And just in time, Heritage Auctions has previewed a listing on which bidding will begin March 11 (the actual auction takes place on March 31): “A Vivian Vance Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Nomination Plaque for I Love Lucy, 1954.” This was presented to Vance (indeed, to all the nominated artists), "In Recognition of Nomination for the Best Supporting Actress in a Regular Series for the Year 1954," and, as Heritage notes, is “mounted to a PermaPlaque and shellacked.” It’s all the more meaningful because Vance did win the Emmy that year, which was the first time the TV Academy honored Supporting Actor and Actress in a Series. As neither Vance nor Frawley had any children, Lucie Arnaz taped a brief tribute to them for the ceremony, as she told TV Guide in December: “I recorded a little video for them … where I said, ‘On behalf of my mother and father and the I Love Lucy show, I want to congratulate Vivian Vance and William Frawley for finally being inducted into the Hall of Fame like everyone else. Friends and neighbors should be together.’ It's about time." I’ll be celebrating the induction of TV’s most beloved friends and neighbors at dinner, as the event happens to fall on a very important day in my life: my birthday! So here’s a toast to Vance and Frawley, and their eternal alter egos, Ethel and Fred Mertz. They have made generations laugh, and that’s just about the best legacy anyone can claim.
01.30.12 ”Oh, Lucy…I’m not home… And here’s why.” We’ve all read the many stories of Desi Arnaz’s very public philandering during his 20–year marriage to Lucille Ball. Much has been documented and written about his penchant for women other than his darlin’ red-haired wife, co-star, and co-owner of Desilu, including stuff by yours truly in my Lucy books (Kaye Ballard once told me that Desi would’ve “had” every woman on Earth, if he could have). You should also know that despite all of their problems, Lucy and Desi remained, by all accounts, very much in love with each other throughout their lives, despite each of them making very successful second marriages. (Gary Morton, Lucy’s long-term No. 2, referred jokingly to Arnaz as his “husband-in-law.”) Now comes another tiny wrinkle added to the tales of Desi’s devilish behavior, courtesy of the new memoir by Scotty Bowers, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. Although the more salacious parts of Bowers’ book recount procuring male partners for such Hollywood stalwarts as Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, and Tyrone Powers (and conversely, “more than 150 women” over the years for Kate Hepburn), Bowers was more than just a gay procurer. A recent New York Times article about Bowers and his tell-all notes, “Mr. Bowers quit pumping gas in 1950 [he reportedly ran a male prostitution ring out of his Hollywood gas station in the 1940s after his return from the service in WWII] and says he supported himself for the next two decades through prostitution, bartending and working as a handyman. Mr. Bowers writes that, in addition to his gay clients, he also gained a following among heterosexual actors like Desi Arnaz, who used him as a type of matchmaking service. Mr. Bowers says he never took payment for connecting people like Arnaz with bedroom partners. ‘I wasn’t a pimp,’ he said. (Mr. Arnaz’s wife at the time, Lucille Ball, apparently felt otherwise, according to Full Service.)” In fact, one source reports that Lucy gave Bowers a public face-slapping for helping out Arnaz in extramarital matters of the, er, heart. You should probably take it all with both a grain of salt…and a side of [at least partial] truth.
Lucille Ball caricaturist Ronald Searle, described by the New York Times as a “slyly caustic cartoonist,” died recently at age 91. He was a British cartoonist and caricaturist known for his outlandishly exaggerated illustrations for books, magazine covers, newspaper editorial pages and advertisements. Searle began by satirizing the English class system, clerics, politicians and even other artists. He is perhaps best known in American for the covers he did for The New Yorker and TV Guide, beginning in the 1960s and running through the 1980s. Although he was spot-on when recreating a public figure, Searle knew just how far to take the whimsy and humor without being insulting (unless he meant to be!). As the Times noted, “With just a few well-placed lines, he pierced the facades of his targets without resorting to ridicule or rancor.” Searle’s signature method, called “a curious mix of minimalist detailing and rococo flourishes using a vibrant watercolor palette, exuded a modern air — sometimes realistic, other times abstract, occasionally phantasmagoric.” All of these properties are on view in the pieces he did of Lucille Ball that ran in TV Guide’s April 30, 1966 issue. I hold a great love for caricature, and especially those of Lucy, as any steady reader knows. Mr. Searle’s drawings of her (see picture) remain among my favorites to this day.
11.29.11 Extra! Vivian Vance and William Frawley to be Inducted into the TV Hall of Fame!
Vivian Vance and William Frawley, aka Ethel and Fred Mertz, will join Lucille Ball (among the first six Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame inductees, in 1984) and Desi Arnaz, among the seventh group of inductees, along with his and Lucy’s beloved creation, I Love Lucy. I Love Lucy remains the only television series to be inducted into the ATAS Hall of Fame, and with the induction of Vance and Frawley, it becomes the only series plus all its major cast members to have been thus honored. It’s a distinction that will likely last for a long time. Anyone who’s reading this already appreciates the contribution Vance and Frawley made to perhaps the most popular TV series ever, but their induction is recognition by their industry peers that they are among the greatest TV performers ever. This brings the number of ATAS HoF members to a bit more than 120, a select group indeed. An extra bonus (for me): the induction ceremony honoring Lucy’s beloved friends, neighbors, landlords and fellow schemers will take place on March 1, 2012…my birthday! Their fellow inductees will include producers Mary-Ellis Bunim & Jonathan Murray; network executive Michael Eisner; game show host Don Francisco; actor Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons); lighting designer Bill Klages; and producer Chuck Lorre. What follows are short biographies of each taken directly from the ATAS site. For more on both, of course, visit just about any page on this website, or check out my books on Amazon, especially Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia.
Vivian Vance (1909-1979) — Born Vivian Roberta Jones, Vance is probably the single most recognizable female sidekick in the history of television. Although her first love was the stage, her role as Ethel Mertz would forever endear her to television fans around the world. Vance’s talent took her from her hometown of Independence, Kansas, to a small theatre company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and on to New York and Broadway in the early 1930s. She became a regular on Broadway after being cast in the hit musical Anything Goes as a chorus member and understudy to the show’s star, Ethel Merman. Several years later she won her first major Broadway role opposite comedian Ed Wynn, in the production of Hooray for What! One of her most successful stage roles was in the musical Let’s Face It! , in which she starred alongside Danny Kaye and Eve Arden for over 500 performances. In 1951, TV director Marc Daniels took Desi Arnaz and writer Jess Oppenheimer to see Vance star in the play Voice of the Turtle at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. By the end of the first act, Arnaz and Oppenheimer both agreed that they had found their “Ethel” for their new television sitcom, I Love Lucy. Vance remained with the beloved CBS series until it ended its run in 1957, playing best friend, neighbor, and partner-in-crime to Lucille Ball’s “Lucy Ricardo.” She was the first actress to win an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Supporting Actress” in 1954, and was nominated an additional three times for her role as Ethel Mertz. Vance returned to television a few years later to play Lucille Ball’s sidekick once again on The Lucy Show.
William “Bill” Frawley (1887-1966) — An American stage, screen, and television entertainer, Frawley is best known for his role as Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, but appeared in more than 110 films and over a dozen major plays in his lifetime. Frawley’s career started on the road in vaudeville with his brother, and later with his then wife, fellow vaudevillian Edna Louise Broedt. Playing the prestigious Orpheum circuit, Frawley honed his craft and developed the comedic talent and timing that would be his trademark. His first major hit was in the musical comedy Merry, Merry in 1925, and he continued to act on and off Broadway until 1933. Frawley’s movie career lasted over 50 years, starting with the silent film Lord Loveland in 1916. Although he played mostly supporting roles, he appeared in major films such as Ziegfeld Follies, Miracle on 34th Street and The Lemon Drop Kid. In 1951, Frawley was cast as “Fred Mertz” in I Love Lucy opposite Vivian Vance. During the run of the series, he was often called upon to display his musical and dancing talents. His other true love, sports, was often incorporated into the show’s scripts. Frawley was nominated for five Emmy Awards for his supporting role as the penny-pinching best friend and landlord of the Ricardos. After I Love Lucy went off the air, Frawley debuted as live-in grandfather/housekeeper “Bub O’Casey” in My Three Sons and remained on the show from 1960 until 1965, until poor health forced him into retirement. Frawley passed away in 1966.
11.28.11 I love it when my various obsessions collide. You can click here for the story of how two of my favorite gals, one real and one fictional, Lucy and Lois Lane (Superman’s gal pal), intersect in a way that made me better understand why I loved both of them. And now, reading favorite author Stephen King’s newest book, 11-22-63, I find several mentions of my favorite comedienne. It’s a time-traveling plot, and in order not to spoil anything for those of you who might read the novel (it’s a daunting task, at over 800 pages, but trust me, it goes quickly, especially if you’re a King fan), I’ll just say that the Lucy references are related to an event from the past.
07.22.11 I know I'm a little late on this (!!), but it deserves mention and I forgot to put it up in March... Hugh Martin, the arranger and composer of many hits, including, "The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from the Judy Garland movie Meet Me in St. Louis, the latter of which became an evergreen, recorded by many and played consistently during each holiday season, died March 11 in California at the age of 96. He had several connections to the Lucyverse: he was a performer in, and arranged the music for, Hooray for What!, a 1937-'38 musical that gave Vivian Vance her first major supporting role on Broadway; he was the vocal director on the 1940 film Too Many Girls, the RKO musical often cited as where Lucille Ball met co-star Desi Arnaz, on-set; he did the choral arrangements for the Broadway musical DuBarry Was a Lady, which became a movie starring Lucille Ball (see pic, left); and he wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway show Best Foot Forward (featuring the rousing fight song "Buckle Down, Winsocki"), which also became an MGM musical starring Ball. In fact, the latter two films were among Lucy's most successful efforts at MGM. A torchy ballad that Martin arranged called "Down With Love" was introduced by Vance in Hooray for What!, and over the past decade has become a popular cabaret standard.
07.15.11 The recent death of former First Lady Betty Ford hit home for several reasons. Ford was a real person, a mensch as we say in Yiddish, someone who wasn't afraid to stand up and say what she felt. That included talking about her own problems, including addictions to alcohol and pills. She not only got herself clean, she established one of the pre-eminent detox centers in the country, now best known as the go-to celebrity rehab facility. She was fearless about speaking out on any and every hot-button issue, including abortion, feminism, sex, drugs and gun control. Many of her opinions were not popular among fellow Republicans, but she didn't care. In her heart, Ford was bipartisan. In fact, many historians believe her impact on the popular culture of America was and will be far greater than her husband, who served only 896 days in office and spent most of that time trying to undo the damage created by Richard Nixon. Yes, Betty Ford was all that and more: she was Lucille Ball's friend. Gerald and Betty Ford lived in the same Thunderbird Heights neighborhood of Rancho Mirage, Calif., as did Lucy and Desi Arnaz (though not at the same time). But aside from both loving the Palm Springs area, Lucy and Betty were pals, as evidenced by a Jan. 13, 1980 article in Parade magazine that I discovered and wrote about in Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia. Called "The I Love Lucy and Betty Show," the article documented a phone call between the former first lady and the first lady of comedy, one that was likely highly edited and just as likely padded by their PR people. Still, the two do reveal an innate affection for each other, and it's an interesting marker of a certain period in time. RIP, Mrs. Ford.
06.07.11 The comedy Bridesmaids is a big hit, and that's a good thing. Funny females are my favorite type of entertainers, as any steady reader of this site knows. What's even better is that critics are comparing the physical comedy in the movie (which stars Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy, among others, as the funny ladies dealing with a friend's wedding) is being compared to the gold standard of female comedy duos: Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance. Not only are critics "going out of their way to assure their male readers that, despite the title, Bridesmaids is not just a chick flick," according to website Studio Briefing, some of them are astute enough to recognize and name the two women who basically started it all. Roger Ebert, perhaps our most astute living film critic, noted in the Chicago Sun-Times, after praising Wiig, that Wiig's "physical-comedy bit in an airplane would win the respect of Lucille Ball. Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe also points out a connection with the classic comedy of Ball and Vance. For much of Bridesmaids, he wrote, thoughts of "This is so ridiculous" are tempered by thoughts of "This is so Lucy and Ethel." Brava,Bridesmaids! Now that the film has made well over $100 million, maybe Hollywood will greenlight more of the same. (The picture of Lucy and Viv accompanying this comes from one of my favorite episodes of The Lucy Show: "Lucy and Viv Put In a Shower.")
04.29.11 Lucy, Desi Cameo in film Soul Surfer
As I've often said, rarely a day goes by without some mention or view of Lucy in the media. This week was no different. Mid-week on Jeopardy, one of the categories was Lucille Ball's 100th Birthday. The five questions were too easy for me, but it was still a kick to see Lucy's centennial honored that way. And in a trailer for the new movie Soul Surfer, about a teen who loses her arm in a shark attack and goes back to surfing, one of the characters wears a zippered hoodie with two familiar icons on the front (see pic, left). Finally, in People's April 25 issue, Billy Gardell of Mike & Molly listed five memorable TV duos that influenced him; Lucy and Desi Arnaz (a.k.a. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo) top the list. Along with a picture of the classic couple, Gardell commented, "She was first strong woman on TV. When I watched reruns as a kid, it was like, 'Wow, this woman is going to do whatever she wants.' It was neat to see a progessive relationship; they were groundbreaking."
04.22.11 Madelyn Pugh, Who Loved Writing for Lucy, Dies One of the first, and most successful, female comedy writers in television, Madelyn Pugh, died April 20 at the age of 90. She was hired for Lucille Ball's radio show My Favorite Husband, along with partner Bob Carroll Jr. She wrote for Ball throughout that series and I Love Lucy, the first few seasons of The Lucy Show, and on and off until Ball's death in 1989, including Ball's final TV special and series. She will be missed, but remembered as a pioneer. As the Paley Center for Media (which honored Pugh in 2006) noted, "During the formative years of television, when few women were working behind the screen, Madelyn Pugh Davis wrote one of the most popular shows of all time." Following are excerpts from the Pugh and Carroll entries in Lucy A to Z.
Pugh was a native of Indianapolis. She edited her high school newspaper and majored in journalism at Indiana University, Bloomington. When she couldn't get a job as a foreign correspondent after her graduation in 1942, she landed at a local radio station, writing commercials and copy. It was WWII, and the shortage of men for jobs at home gave Pugh the opportunity she needed, as many jobs opened up in the male-dominated world of broadcasting and media. Her family moved to Los Angeles, where Davis became a staff writer for NBC's radio network before moving to CBS radio. That was where the Girl Writer (as she and other females in the business were called then) was teamed with Carroll.
Their partnership lasted more than 50 years, and included approximately 400 TV shows and 500 radio shows. Carroll and Pugh submitted a script and ended up writing for Husband for the entire three-season run, along with head writer and producer Jess Oppenheimer. The three then created the format for Ball's long-running sitcom (after helping to create the vaudeville act for Ball and Desi Arnaz that they took on the road to prove audiences would accept them acting together, and which became the basis for the I Love Lucy pilot).
Ball often marveled at how Carroll and Pugh could nail the antics of two married couples (the Ricardos and the Mertzes ) while they remained single. The writers used their instincts about relationships to help formulate scripts, and routinely acted out bits of business that Ball and company would be doing, to make sure they could be done.
Carroll and Pugh wrote (with Oppenheimer) 39 episodes per season for the run of the series, aided in the final years by "the two Bobs," Schiller and Weiskopf. They were nominated for three Emmys, but never won. In helping to create the "Lucy"character , which Ball played in one form or another for almost 40 years, Pugh's legacy can be seen and felt to this day on TV.
The pair insisted that Ball was the easiest person to write for because she never refused to do any bit that the two could create. "And this does not only refer to her great comedic talents," Pugh told a reporter in 1962. "There is almost nothing she won't attempt, and as a result, we can let ourselves go, in the knowledge that at least Lucy will give it a try. Ball returned the compliment by publicly crediting her writers for her TV success many times. According to one source, the writers sometimes thumbed through the phone book looking for ideas, landing one day on candy making. They went down to visit a local shop and from there, created one of the show's most famous episodes. A still from the episode autographed by Vivian Vance and Ball hangs behind Pugh in the picture that the L.A. Times used to accompany Pugh's obituary (above left).
Carroll died on Jan. 27, 2007, after a brief illness. He was 88. One of his last writing jobs was as co-author of Pugh's 2005 autobiography, Laughing with Lucy.
04.11.11 In my real-world capacity as editor of Soap Opera Weekly, I recently had the chance to interview one of my faves, Susan Lucci (who plays Erica Kane on All My Children, in case you've been living under a rock for the past 40 years) on the eve of the publication of her autobiography, All My Life. You can see excerpts from the interview online at our newly redesigned Web site, www.soapoperweekly.com. But being the Lucy fan that I am, I couldn't resist taking the opportunity to ask Ms. Lucci about my favorite redhead, since, in her book, she compared her high school drama teacher to Lucy because she had similarly red hair. I asked Lucci if Lucy was a favorite of hers, and here's her response: "Absolutely! I don't know if I go into this too much into the book, but I did not like to sleep as a little girl, and I would be the first one up in the morning with my grandmother, actually. But I spent some time by myself. First thing I would do was turn the TV on, and when I was very little I Love Lucy was still on at night, and then early morning there were reruns. I would watch her whenever I could, and I think to this day, I Love Lucy holds up; her work holds up no matter what year it was made; her work is fantastic!" Obviously, I agree with her. I've had the pleasure of interviewing and meeting Lucci more than once over the past 20 years, and I must say, the woman is a class act all the way. Lovely and gracious. I'm not surprised she loves Lucy.
04/07/11 Lucy's Dress in Debbie's Auction! A suit and blouse worn by Lucille Ball (pictured, left) in her hit comedy The Long, Long Trailer (1954) is one of many items that will be auctioned off by Profiles in History on June 18, 2011, as part of Debbie Reynolds' Hollywood Memorabilia auction. Reynolds said, "My lifetime dream has been to assemble and preserve the history of the Hollywood film industry. Hollywood has been an enormous part of my life, as I know it has been for countless fans all over the world. This collection represents a lifetime of collecting Hollywood artifacts, and this is a rare opportunity to own a piece of Hollywood history for those who love the movies as much as I do. For the first time in nearly five decades, these iconic pieces will be made available to the public through a series of auctions presented by Profiles in History." The auction house adds, "This is a rare opportunity. Debbie Reynolds' collection represents the largest private compilation of Hollywood Memorabilia in the world." For more information, go to www.profilesinhistory.com. The catalog is already on sale, for $39.95; that alone should be a treasure, as Reynolds' collection is legendary.
Reynolds was apparently one of the few celebrities (hell, the few people, period) who gave a damn when, for example, MGM threw its entire lot on sale in May 1970. More damage was done in 1987, when MGM was sold to Ted Turner, who kept the film library and sold the studio lots to Lorimar. During the transitions, items as varied as correspondence from Louis B. Mayer, irreplaceable film stock, and set blueprints were lost or mistakenly thrown away. Other studios like Warner Bros. only found out invaluable costumes had been stolen when the items were spotted in a 1984 Sotheby's auction catalog! Reynolds had previously tried to set up her collection as a museum in Las Vegas, but that venture didn't pan out.
03.23.11 Liz Taylor Dead at 79 Hollywood icon, movie star bar none, and one of the most beautiful woman ever to appear on the silver screen, Elizabeth Taylor, has died after begin hospitalized for more than a month with congestive heart failure. Liz, as she was fondly called by the press and her fans, will be remembered for her cinema roles, her turbulent love life, her many surgeries and health problems, and her humanitarian nature and compassion for others, as evidenced by her commitment to AIDs fundraising. Lucy fans will remember her for an appearance in the premiere of Here's Lucy, Sept. 14, 1970, which featured Taylor and then-husband Richard Burton in a typical wacky plot: Lucy accidentally gets Liz's 69-plus carat pear-shaped diamond ring stuck on her finger. The high ratings for this episode helped make Here's Lucy the #3 show for that season. Ball bought in veteran I Love Lucy writers Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh to write the script, and they reused an old bit from I Love Lucy: when Lucy was handcuffed to Ricky (Desi Arnaz) and she had to perform, she stuck her hand through a curtain behind him which gestured independently of Ricky's (and hysterically so, to his chagrin). In the Here's Lucy episode, after Lucy Carter can't remove the ring, she ducks behind a curtain as the Burtons meet the press to show off the expensive bauble. Ball's "handiwork" with Liz is the best part of the episode. Taylor is charming as ever, and Burton basically plays it straight in what's now regarded as a classic episode. The picture at left shows Lucy and Desi chatting with a young Liz on the set of 1954's The Long Long Trailer; the TV Guide cover which spotlighted the 1970 episode; and a candid shot from the set. Elizabeth Taylor has been called "the last Hollywood star," and she will be missed.
03.02.11 As Seen on Desi Arnaz I love The New York Times' headline (at left) on its piece in the antiques section announcing that one of Desi Arnaz's straw hats used in his act will be on display in New York City this spring. The Times noted, "During performances, [Arnaz] sometimes tossed around a honey-colored boater from the venerable menswear store F.R. Tripler, which stood for decades on Madison Avenue. This year, with a $3,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Raices Museum of Latin Music on East 104th Street has restored his hat for an exhibition opening in spring 2011."
The paper reported Raices received the hat from Joe Conzo Sr., a colleague of Tito Puente's, and that Arnaz gave Conzo the hat in 1970s "after it was shown in a Latin music exhibition at the Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center." Handmade paper strip and wheat paste were used to fix a foot-long rip in the crown of the hat, and the hat was also cleaned of dirt. The museum noted it had restored the hat to display it in order "to attract non-Latinos to the little-known gallery," which shows only a fraction of its 15,000-piece collection. Along with Arnaz's Tripler classic, the exhibition will include photos and videos of Desi and his wife (you know her as Lucy) wearing boaters and performing "The Straw Hat Song." For more information, go here, or call (212) 427-2244, x578.
02.25.11 The Origin of "For Corn's Sake!" Revealed In my new book, The Lucy Book of Lists, in the Q&A chapter, which features questions from fans on various Lucy collectibles or on I Love Lucy or other topics related to the Lucyverse, I speculated that the expression "For corn's sake, which Fred Mertz used frequently on the show, came from a character on the radio hit The Great Gildersleeve. It was frequently used by the child actor who played Leroy, Gildersleeve's nephew and even became the title of the actor's biography. It made sense to me, because all of Lucy's writers started out in radio and had to have been familiar with the show. I also noted that corn was likely a sanitization of Christ, which would not have been allowed on TV in the fifties, and indeed, is rarely used even these days. Now comes word from a fellow fan whom I met in Jamestown, Neil Wilburn, that the origin of the quirky but funny expression was actually writer Bob Carroll, Jr. Neil wrote, "I used to visit Bob Carroll in L.A. when I'd go down. He would sometimes get exasperated by my questions, but every once in a while he'd give me a nugget. He told me 'For corn's sake!' and other Fred expressions came from a funny uncle who spent a lot of time at their house when he was a kid, which would have predated Gildersleeve, but I think you're theory about 'corn' being a Christ substitute is probably correct." Mystery solved! Neil astutely adds, "What was great about Bob and Madelyn [Pugh]'s writing is their choice of words: using something unique, when something ordinary would have worked. And that these words live on in Lucy fans' vocabularies... certainly mine." Neil, thanks for writing and clearing that up, though I still wonder whether Bob's uncle got the expression from someone else, or coined it himself (I can't help it - I'm obsessed with arcane Lucy trivia... lol.)
02.18.11 Almost 37 years ago, Lucille Ball announced she was leaving weekly television, and unlike previous years, there seemed to be a similar report after every season of her sitcoms The Lucy Show, and Here's Lucy, this time, she meant it. The Montreal Gazette reported on Feb. 28, 1974 that, "Lucille Ball will end her weekly series with this season's shows after 23 consecutive years as television's queen of comedy." (Although there was technically one calendar year (1961) in which Lucy did not perform in a regularly scheduled TV series, I'm willing to give the redhead a pass.) Lucy said she would continue to perform in a series of specials for CBS, which she did, through 1977's Lucy Calls the President, which was also her final appearance with longtime co-star Vivian Vance. The Gazette reported that Robert Wood, then president of the CBS television network, noted, "I join 50 million fans when I express my disappointment over her decision." Happily enough, with reruns of all three of Lucy's weekly series over the 37 years hence, it really doesn't seem as though Lucy has ever left television. The picture at left is from the Gazette and accompanied the article. I realize it is half blurry and half pixelated, but that kinda adds to its charm, for me. The picture at right is Robert Amsel's famous TV Guide cover in which the weekly magazine celebrated Lucy's record-breaking run.
02.11.11 Character Actress Peggy Rea Dies at 89 Rea, one of those TV/movie faces you saw and were like, "I know her," played a lot of down-home supporting characters on TV, but was surely best known for playing Boss Hogg's wife on The Dukes of Hazzard; she also played pivotal characters on the drama series The Waltons and the sitcom Grace Under Fire.
Rea was born and raised in California, and according to the New York Daily News, Rea started in show business as a secretary at CBS radio. She got to know the writers for Lucille Ball's show [My Favorite Husband] and quit to try theatrical acting. She played in the Cole Porter musical Out of This World on Broadway before joining the Streetcar tour.
She returned to Hollywood in 1953 and played four different characters on I Love Lucy that year, no doubt through her Husband connection. The News added, "Her early TV work also included roles on Phil Silvers' Sergeant Bilko, and the rest of her resume reads like a history of the first 50 years of television, from Gidget through The Golden Girls. She was a member of Red Skelton's troupe in the 1960s." She appeared in at least 72 series, and more than 100 episodes of series TV. I Love Lucy, however, was her TV debut. In the pic above left, Rea is shown in her later years, and the I Love Lucy years.
01.28.11 Lucy's Stand-In Dies According to several midwestern online newspaper reports, St. Louis resident of many years Alice Broderick died at the age of 94 on Jan. 26. You might never have heard of her, but Broderick was an actress and stuntwoman in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. The St. Louis Examiner reported, "Born in Colorado, Broderick moved to Los Angeles after high school, where she began getting jobs working in B movies. She ended up being trained as a stunt double by Clif Lyons and Yakima Canutt, who went on to choreograph some very famous stunt-heavy scenes, such as the chariot race in Ben-Hur. Her biggest break came when she was assigned to be the stand-in for Lucille Ball. Together they made 40 movies [Broderick used the stage name Alice Eldridge and got small parts with Lucy in Top Hat and Follow the Fleet, That Girl from Paris and 37 others]. Ball and Broderick remained lifelong friends." Many of Broderick's other films were Westerns, in which she performed with the likes of Hopalong Cassidy, and learned to do stunts such as falling off a horse. She met and married businessman Johnyy Broderick, and left Hollywood to go with him in 1943 to St. Louis, because his business had received a Navy contract to make wire rope. The Examiner adds that, "Broderick was ready for the change. She had three children and became a travel agent, and while she didn't make any more movies, she conducted radio shows in St. Louis with some of her fellow Hollywood actors." That's Lucy with Broderick at left.
12.29.10 On an ABC Nightly News (with Diane Sawyer) report tonight, they did a segment on how hospitals are clamping down on parents photographing their newborns too close to birth. The one they mentioned specifically had just limited photography to no earlier than five minutes after the birth of a child. Imagine my delight when the scene shifted to Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) in the waiting room of the hospital with Charles Lane (playing Mr. Stanley, the father of six girls), nervously pacing and waiting for Lucy to give birth from episode 56 of I Love Lucy, "Lucy Goes to the Hospital." The point was to illustrate how much things had changed, and that back when this episode aired (and eclipsed not only Dwight Eisenhower's inauguration the next day - by more than 15 million viewers - but also the coronation of England's Queen Elizabeth in June 1953, the first such event ever televised), men weren't allowed anywhere near the birth room. Just one more example of how amyone's normal routine during any given day can include a clip or reference from the Lucyverse... that's how deeply entrenched I Love Lucy and its cast are in our culture. For more on this iconic episode of the classic TV show, see my new book, out soon, called The Lucy Book of Lists. Stay tuned to this space (and the home page) for specific information about its release.
12.02.10 Here's a fascinating piece of Hollywood history: the Formosa Cafe, a famous (and infamous) meeting, drinking and dining spot for the stars, was featured in a short on Turner Classic Movies that I caught the other day; you know, one of those shorts that fills up the two-hour slot of a film.
This one happened to be shot partially inside the Cafe, and among the many pics on the wall (see text below), was this one at left, showing autographed pics of Glenn Ford, Liza Minnelli, Paul Newman, Lucille Ball, and Humphrey Bogart. Since my phone was handy, I snapped a shot; sorry for the blurriness, but at least you get an idea of the atmosphere just above the bar (I think!). For a bit of history about the Formosa's place in Hollywood and the pictures on its wall, keep reading.
> According to the Web site seeing-stars.com, "The Formosa Cafe doesn't look like much from the outside. An unimpressive, brick-red building with white-and-black striped awnings, it sits in a particularly faded section of Hollywood, near the corner of Santa Monica & La Brea Boulevards - a corner where hookers have been known to peddle their services even in broad daylight.
"But the key to the Cafe's good fortune can be seen just to the west of the place, right across Formosa Avenue (from which the Cafe takes its name): that walled, beige complex next door is none other than Warner Hollywood Studio.
"Since the Formosa Cafe is the nearest bar (and restaurant) to that historic movie studio, the little cafe (which used to be a trolley car) was frequented by just about every movie star in Hollywood. In fact, Formosa still bills itself as the place "where the stars dine"...
"The walls of the Cafe are lined with over 250 black & white photos of the stars who dined here in the past, a virtual "Who's Who" of Hollywood: James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Humphrey Bogart, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Jack Benny, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Webb, Martin & Lewis, Grace Kelly...and these aren't store-bought photos - these pics were autographed and hand-delivered by the celebrities themselves.
"The place has been open since 1925, when the studio next door was named United Artists. But don't expect glitz; it's a down-to-earth, some might say gritty, slice of L.A. history, with an ambiance straight out of a Raymond Chandler paperback."
And indeed, the 1997 movie L.A. Confidential , a Los Angeles noir in the Chandler tradition, was shot at the Formosa, among many other films.
11.19.10 The San Bernadino (Calif.) Press Enterprise reported yesterday that, "Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball will be among the performers saluted in "Remembering the Ladies," Sunday afternoon (11-21) at the Sturges Center for the Fine Arts in San Bernardino. British singer, actress and voice artist Toni Morrell stars in a one-woman show paying tribute to legendary female performers." Morrell told Holly Le Pat that, "We want to remind the audience there was a time when that kind of magic existed. I don't impersonate them, but their style of performing. It tells stories about the other side of the legendary ladies -- what makes them tick, what goes on behind closed doors -- respectfully, of course." With regard to Lucy in particular, Morrell repeated a famous quote attributed to the redhead: "The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age." Tickets are $19-S45; for more information, go to www.tickemaster.com.
10.22.10 Lucie Arnaz talks about growing up with her famous mom (and if you need to ask who that is you shouldn't be here!), what she's doing in 2011, and why I Love Lucy remains so popular after nearly 60 years, among other things, at the CBS Watch website.
10.06.10 Lucie Arnaz and composer David Friedman are producing a weekend of performances by Marcus Monroe, Nov. 12 at 8:00 p.m., and Nov. 13 at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. at the 47th Street Theater in New York City. Arnaz raves, "Marcus Monroe is the most entertaining performer and honest-to-God talent I have seen in decades. I am inviting everyone I care about." Monroe is described as a 25 year-old juggler/alternative comedian/daredevil, whose combination of "juggling intertwined with humor has made him unique in the current generation of variety performers." Tickets ($20) are on sale www.ticketcentral.com.
09.27.10 Gloria Stuart, who died yesterday at the age of 100, was best known to modern filmgoers for her role as the older Rose in 1997's megahit Titanic. But Stuart had a fine movie career in the 1930s and 1940s, appearing in close to 50 movies through 1946 as one of the era's typically gorgeous, wisecracking, and/or smarter-than-she-looked blondes, making James Cagney or Dick Powell look good. She starred in at least two horror classics, The Invisible Man (1933) and The Old Dark House (1932). She also co-starred with Eddie Cantor in Lucille Ball's film debut, 1933's Roman Scandals. Though Stuart gave up the movies when she realized she'd never become a major star, she continued to dabble in films and TV through 2004. In addition, she did theater, became a writer, painter and sculptor, and was involved in good works like being a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild and helping to start the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, an early antifascist organization. Titanic put her on the map all over again. She was nominated for an Oscar, won the Screen Actor's Guild Award and various other supporting actress critic prizes for playing Rose, and in 2000 got her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not bad for a classy actress who generally denigrated her own career - and maybe gave Lucy tips at the beginning of hers!
09.03.10 Though a bit late reading the September issue of Vanity Fair, I finally got to it today, and noticed Lucy pictured twice in the “My Dream” feature. Designer Michael Kors revealed his dream home, holiday, gadget and dinner party, among other faves. The later included guests Lucille Ball, Barack Obama, Alfred Hitchcock, Bill Clinton, Julia Child, Mick Jagger, and Andy Warhol, all pictured. Kors himself was pictured at Sardi’s in response to his dream job: to produce Broadway musicals. Appropriately, he was shown in front of the restaurant’s famed wall of caricatures, including one of our favorite redhead (the caricature itself is shown at left).
09.01.10 From Movieline.com comes perhaps the most outrageous piece of "news" ever about an I Love Lucy star…and it ain’t Lucille Ball. Project Runway’s Tim Gunn says he may have met then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in drag…as Vivian Vance! Gunn’s father was Hoover’s ghostwriter (I’m assuming that means books and not executive FBI decisions!) in the 1950s. He told Movieline, “My sister and I used to take the FBI tour once a year. It was a big deal in D.C., and we never missed it. One year, 1961, when I was 8, I was on the tour and my father asked me if I’d like to meet Vivian Vance. According to Helen Gandy, Hoover’s secretary, Vance was visiting Hoover, and she said she’d be happy to meet us. 'Ethel Mertz is here?' I screamed. My father smiled and took my sister and me into Hoover's office, where I shook Vivian Vance’s hand and chatted with her. I was thrilled.” Talking to his sister years later, Gunn realized that Hoover—who was said to have a penchant for cross-dressing and may have been gay—was not present in his own office when Gunn met Vance. It is not thought that Vance ever met with Hoover. Gunn adds, “I’ve since looked at photos of both Hoover and Vivian Vance from that period of time, and the similarities are rather eerie…. I’m not saying at the age 8 I definitely met J. Edgar Hoover at his office in the FBI wearing a dress and makeup, only that I strongly suspect it. My mother says I’m crazy, but she wasn’t there.” Frankly, it's a hilarious tale...except that drag queens have a hard enough time aping someone like Marilyn Monroe or Cher or even Lucy, whose physical selves are more easily imitated. Vance? I don't think there's a chance Hoover could've fooled even an 8-year-old.
08.16.10 Desilu Awarded Philo T. Farnsworth Emmy Honor
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gave out the 62nd Primetime Emmy Engineering Awards on Saturday, August 14, at the Renaissance Hotel in Los Angeles. Desilu Studios was honored with the Philo T. Farnsworth Award — which, according to emmy.com, recognizes an agency, company or institution whose contributions over a long period of time have significantly affected the state of television technology and engineering — for [its] innovation of using a multi-camera film setup before a live studio audience. Desilu also used conventional film studio materials, production and processing techniques which made I Love Lucy immediately available for production and distribution of prints when the series went into syndication at local stations around the country.” The honor was also bestowed to recognize the 60th anniversary of I Love Lucy, in 2011.
08/09/10 Patricia Neal Dies at 83 Why a mention of Patricia Neal on a Lucille Ball news page? File this under “Six Degreees of Separation…from Lucy.” Neal was an Oscar-winning film (for 1964’s Hud) and Tony-winning stage actress (for her 1946 Broadway debut in Another Part of the Forest). Just prior to that, while Neal was making her name, Broadway star Vivian Vance was touring in one of her most famous roles, the sarcastic Olive Lashbrook in Voice of the Turtle (see pic). In 1945, Vance had a nervous breakdown on stage, which she described in 1955 to McCall’s magazine: “[I] flipped. One day I was up and around…. The next I was lying in bed in my hotel room, my hands shaking helplessly, in violent nausea, weeping hysterically from causes I did not know….” Patricia Neal replaced Vance in the touring production of Turtle. P.S. Vance went into therapy and returned to acting several years later; coincidentally, it was in friend Mel Ferrer’s production of Turtle at the La Jolla (Calif.) Playhouse where Desi Arnaz saw her (at the suggestion of Vance’s friend, director Marc Daniels) and decided he’d found his Ethel Mertz.
08.02.10 From October 5–31, you can catch Lucy memoirist Lee Tannen's one-man show, I Loved Lucy, at The Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Beach, Calif. Based on his book of the same name, here's the Playhouse description of the show: "Get a front and center look at Lucy, the personal side of her very public persona from someone who spent her last years beside her, out of the spotlight and around a backgammon table. See what it was like to be her friend, and understand how she was so like, and unlike, her TV alter ego. Discover a Lucy like you’ve never known her before. It’s a funny, irreverent, and bittersweet portrait of a great legend."
07.17.10 Some Auction Items returned to Lucy's Daughter
Heritage Auction Galleries held an auction on July 17 that made news in the Lucyverse and beyond: former golf pro Susie McAllister, the widow of Lucy’s second husband, Gary Morton, auctioned off belongings that Morton had left with her — including love letters to Morton from Lucy, and awards bestowed on Ball — that were reportedly left to Lucy’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, in Ball’s will. Arnaz objected to them being sold, according to an Associated Press item published July 16.
The article, datelined Los Angeles, noted, “A judge ruled to block the sale, but imposed … a $250,000 bond that Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill would have to pay to get a restraining order issued.” Her attorney, Ronald Palmieri, said the amount was too high and couldn’t be met. “‘We won on a legal basis, and the judge took it away from us on an economic basis,’ Palmieri said. ‘That is very sad,’” the AP reported.
On the day of the auction, Heritage reached a deal with Arnaz, noted an article published online July 19 by WENN, a celebrity site: “A California auction house selling Lucille Ball memorabilia has reached a deal to return the late acting legend’s lifetime achievement awards to her daughter. Auction bosses stepped in, and agreed on Saturday [July 17] to return the awards to Luckinbill, but the other items remained in the sale.” Those other items included Lucy's 1984 Rolls Royce and her personal address book.
07.11.10 Lucie Arnaz celebrated the music of her late father, Desi Arnaz, in Babalu, which played a limited engagement at The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County July 8-11. In addition to Arnaz, the cast also featured Broadway's Raul Esparza and Valarie Pettiford, dancers Jeanette Delgado and Richard Amaro, and “special guest” Desi Arnaz, Jr. Arnaz directed the production, which featured musical direction by Ron Abel and choreography by Ramon del Barrio. Arnaz told the Miami Herald she hoped Babalu would have a life on the road and/or in New York.
This week's TV Guide magazine had a special feature headlined "Best. Covers. Ever!" (their punctuation, not mine), based on a TV Guide/People's Choice poll. Since Lucy has graced the cover of the magazine more times than any other person, it makes sense that she figured in this "best of" roundup. The first national edition of TV Guide, with Lucy and baby Desi Jr. on the cover (left in pic) was voted Favorite 1950s Cover, and there was a special category called Favorite Lucille Ball cover, for which voters picked the 1957 issue that celebrated TV's first 10 years (right in pic) — coincidentally, one of my favorite covers (and pictures) of Lucy. I have a (very) slight bone to pick with the editors of TV Guide, however. They wrote that Lucy was on 26 covers, but according to my count — which admittedly, includes a handful of the pre-national TV Guides, and counts Lucy's eight appearances in one week in 2001 (to celebrate I Love Lucy's 50th Anniversary) as eight, not one, as TV Guide does — the number of Lucy TV Guide covers is in the low 50s.
05.28.10 Gary Coleman Dies; Helped Lucy “Move to NBC”
Child star Gary Coleman died today at the age of 42. Though he’ll always be remembered for the sitcom Different Strokes, Lucy fans will recall Coleman guest-starred in what I’ve always felt was an ill-conceived move on Lucy’s part: the 90-minute 1980 special Lucy Moves to NBC (see pic at left). Perhaps Ball was bored and thought switching networks, after more than 30 years on CBS radio and television, might reinvigorate her career. She was wrong. The special, though it had a ton of guest stars including Coleman, was forced, and she ended up returning to CBS for her final TV performance of any note: The Stone Pillow, in which she got decent ratings and reviews for the last time in her career. Coleman played an NBC network programming VP in the special, and aside from filmed congratulations from such NBC stalwarts as Bob Hope and Johnny Carson, the “plot” revolved around Lucy and “assistant” Gale Gordon producing a variety show pilot starring Donald O’Connor (a pal of Lucy’s) and Gloria DeHaven. Neither the pilot nor Lucy’s “career” on NBC took off. Within a year, she was on ABC performing in her final series, Life with Lucy, about which the less said, the better. In any case, Coleman was cute during his cameo, which came during the height of his popularity on Strokes (the show lasted six more years, through 1986).
05.21.10 The website TV Series Finale (“Devoted to TV show endings, reunions and revivals) has been asking Web surfers to vote for “The Best Sitcom in TV History.” From a selection of 200 shows, the site paired the list to 58, and then had five rounds of eliminations. As TSF reported, “In round three, things got really tough, as we pitted legendary shows against one another — I Love Lucy vs. The Honeymooners; The Dick Van Dyke Show vs. The Andy Griffith Show; M*A*S*H vs. All in the Family; The Cosby Show vs. Cheers; Seinfeld vs. Friends; and Everybody Loves Raymond vs. The Big Bang Theory. Any of them could easily have come out as the big winner…. In the end, I Love Lucy won over The Andy Griffith Show, and Seinfeld beat Everybody Loves Raymond. Cheers and M*A*S*H were so close that we moved them both to the final round…. And then, in the final round, it came down to just five challengers — Cheers, Friends, I Love Lucy, M*A*S*H, and Seinfeld. After more than 27,000 tournament votes, we have our winners.” They are: Friends (29% of the vote), I Love Lucy (25%), Seinfeld (24%) M*A*S*H (16%), and Cheers (6%). Considering that I Love Lucy is almost 60 years old), its second-place showing is mighty impressive.
04.29.10 Dorothy Provine Dies One of my favorite starlets of the late 1950s-1960s has died. Dorothy Provine, perhaps best known for her performance in the classic comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, in which she played Milton Berle's wife and Ethel Merman's daughter (she's pictured with them at right), passed away at the age of 75. I loved her in the fabulous (and unclassifiable!) series called The Roaring 20's, an Untouchables-inspired show that ran from 1960-'62; she played flapper Pinky Pinkham. But I also remember well her cameo as a saloon singer in The Great Race, which co-starred Vivian Vance in one of her rare big-screen appearances. Provine's rendering of the comic gem "He Shouldn't-A, Hadn't-A, Oughtn't-A Swang on Me!", penned by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, was priceless. Though she and Vance had no scenes together, they added much of the atmosphere and spirit that made Race so enjoyable and funny. DP also did a ton of TV guest shots (her last was on Police Woman in 1976) and such other movie gems as Good Neighbor Sam, with Jack Lemmon, and That Darn Cat, with Hayley Mills and Dean Jones. Provine retired in the seventies after marrying director Robert Day. I will miss her.
04.21.10 SPOTLIGHT: LUCY & CAROL
This pic (right), from Carol Burnett's new memoir This Time Together, shows Burnett and Lucy doing one of their most famous duets, "Chutzpah," from the January 1967 special Carol + 2 (Zero Mostel also guest-starred). In one chapter, she mentions Lucy's reputation for being tough on-set. "There were times," Burnett writes, "when she'd say things to someone on the crew or one of the writers that could've been considered blunt, to say the least, but she was always right.... She called it the way she saw it. If she didn't like something, she let you know. And if she did like something, she was as complimentary as could be. That's why the crew and staff loved her. She was honest, and none of the criticism was ever personal." Don't expect any nasty gossip from Burnett...just the same warm, cozy, funny, matter-of-fact personality that we've loved ever since her variety show began in 1967. The book, available now, is a treasure.
04.07.10 THE I LOVE LUCY MOVIE
I've seen reports that The I Love Lucy movie will be released on DVD April 27 (see photo of box cover, left). It was originally released in 2007 as part of the I Love Lucy Complete Series boxed set, but for those who owned the individual seasons of the series, or for whom the price of the set was prohibitive, this is great news. The boxed set's "extras" disc, which featured the movie, a colorized version of the "Lucy Goes to Scotland" episode, and other gems will be released on its own, as "I Love Lucy: The Movie....And Other Great Rarities." As anyone who's read my book Lucy A to Z already knows, the movie was made in the mid-1950s to capitalize on the success of I Love Lucy, but after one screening (in a Bakersfield, Calif., theater) MGM execs Dore Schary and Pandro Berman asked the Arnazes to shelve the pic in favor of a Technicolor movie Lucy and Desi had just finished: The Long, Long Trailer (1954). The Arnazes very nicely complied, and their little movie, actually three series episodes tied together with new footage, was promptly forgotten. Until I Love Lucy's film editor, the estimable Dann Cahn, spent five years searching for it and eventually came up with gold. He reintroduced it to the public at a Lucy Festival held by the Lucy-Desi Museum in Jamestown, N.Y. (Lucy's home town), in 2005. As I wrote in my book after an interview with Cahn, "even insiders like original I Love Lucy writers Bob Carroll and Madelyn Pugh thought [the movie] might not exist. [Cahn] finally found the print in a Paramount Studios vault, listed as a Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse production. (Ball sold Desilu to Paramount in 1967.)" Now everyone can enjoy an interesting experiment. When I saw the movie, I was most struck by the fact that the Lucy episodes held up well on the big screen. Sure, it's interesting to see footage of Arnaz introducing the cast, which he traditionally did, and the new footage shot for it has historical significance, but I don't think any would ever call it a "great" movie. Still, for Lucy fans, it's a must-have. I've always wondered how well the movie might have done if released in theaters at the time. We'll never know, but maybe the DVD sales can give us a hint.
03.22.10 FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE LUCY?! Back in 1978 when almost anything still seemed possible, Muhammad Ali had not yet retired; the heavyweight champ and the film Rocky (1976) had made the sport of boxing more popular than ever. But what would happen if the strongest earthling (Ali) met the strongest alien who lived on our planet, Superman? DC Comics took the idea and ran with it in a unique oversize (they called it treasury-sized) special issue: Superman vs. Muhammad Ali: The Fight to Save Earth from Star-Warriors. It sold for $2.50 and was 72 pages, depicting the man from Krypton teaming up with Ali to battle an alien invasion of Earth. Dennis O'Neil wrote the original story, and it was adapted by Neal Adams, who also did the pencils for the special cover (which spread across the back cover and the cover itself; see picture). Dick Giordano (figures) and Terry Austin (backgrounds) did the inking. Yours truly, a Superman comic collector since the early 1960s, bought a copy when it was released. But this was also one of those rare occasions when two of my favorite interests collided: the cover featured drawings of all the top celebrities (political and otherwise, fictional and fact) of the day watching a bout between Ali and Supes, including a certain redhead we all love. There's Lucy, right beside Batman's right ear at bottom center of the front cover (I've enlarged Lucy at the center of the pic so you can get a better look). Though I kept the cover to pin up in various apartments, I got rid of the rest of the book. But it appears we'll all have a chance to pick it up again. According to comicbookresources.com, DC will reprint the classic cover this fall in two versions: one that presents the original comic as it was first published, except in hardcover this time, plus a new hardcover edition featuring a new Adams cover and additional sketch material dating back to the original book's publication. Though there's no word on whether Lucy and the other 1978 celebs will appear on the new cover, I'll keep you posted once I purchase it. (And this time, I'll keep the whole book!)
02.14.10 KISS, KISS
Today is of my favorite made-up holidays ... Valentine's Day, of course. It's a day when couples feel obligated to give cards (thanks, Hallmark!), feed their loved one chocolate(s) of some kind or give them flowers, and in general act more romantic than they do the rest of the year. In an effort to save you-all some calories, I'm offering a virtual Hollywood air-kiss, courtesy of my favorite fictional couple: Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (a.k.a. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz). This billboard lit up Times Square in New York circa 1997 as part of Apple Computer's "Think Different" campaign. This is part of the ad copy for one of the print ads: "Here's to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." Lucy and Desi did think different. They thought the public was ready for a switch from baggy-pants vaudeville comedy on TV to situation-related comedy. They filmed their show live in front of an audience, thus creating the rerun. Desi and Oscar-winning cinematographer Karl Freund came up with a unique three-camera shooting technique, to get all the good angles while shooting, and rigged a special editing console (dubbed "the three-headed monster") to go with it, both of which revolutionized the sitcom and is still used today. While Lucy and Desi themselves thought very differently about certain things, they came together on loving each other, working together, and creating a masterpiece that is still analyzed, and most important, enjoyed, today, almost 60 years later: I love Lucy. My niece Jennifer shot this picture for me because she knew I'd get a kick out of it. And I did. So this year, on VD, as I like to call it, give your loved ones a kiss, and show them some tenderness, but don't feel bad if you forgot the chocolates. It's better for their waistlines, anyway (unless we're talking 70%-plus cacao).
02.01.10 SPOTLIGHT: TOP COMEDIENNES
TV Squad recently picked the best comedic actresses (on TV, of course) of the past decade. The article started off with this: Since Lucille Ball, television has been a bastion of funny ladies, and the '00s were no exception. Like Lucy, many of the women on this list played second fiddle to no one. And those that weren't the stars of their own shows managed to steal the scene anyway the moment they got in front of the camera. So far, so good. Any list of TV's comedic actresses has to start (and maybe end) with Lucy. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was #1 on the list, and rightfully so. In The New Adventures of Old Christine, she gives, as TV Squad points out, one of the great comedic performances on TV in recent memory, and she's great at both sarcasm and slapstick.
The rest of the list basically left me cold, for a variety of reasons. Christine Chenowith made it for Pushing Daisies, and though I love her, I would call her more of a comedic actress than a comedienne. Ditto Mary Louise Parker of Weeds. Kristin Wiig, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, all Saturday Night Live vets, made the list. I know they're supposed to be cunningly funny, but they just don't do it for me. Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) and Jane Kaczmareck (Malcolm in the Middle) are more in line with Lucy's legacy, though Mullally was way more verbal in her humor. The very underappreciated Kaczmareck scored in both line delivery and slapstick on her show. Still, the only other current actress (besides Louis-Dreyfus) who could make a run for Lucy's crown, in my humble opinion, was left off the list: Debra Messing, also of Will & Grace. But that's why these lists are so great -- they provoke thought and conversation.
01.26.10 From the estate of Vivian Vance, which was left by her late husband, John Dodds, to Dodds' good friend Serge Matt, comes this photo of Viv (left) emoting onstage in one of her biggest Broadway hits, the musical Let's Face It, which also stared Eve Arden, Danny Kaye and Edith Meiser. Arden knew Lucy from the movies, where they often played similar roles, and Meiser was a stage actress who eventually guest-starred on I Love Lucy (one degree of separation from Viv might have helped her land the role). This photo is part of an archive, courtesy Matt, that was recently posted at sfgate.com featuring more than 100 rare photos and news clippings of Vance. There is also news of Vance's legendarily unpublished memoirs, an excerpt of which you also can find at sfgate.com, under the blog "The Collective Mind." According to the blog, Matt is trying to find a publisher for Vance's memoirs, the manuscript of which has been in his possession since Dodds' death in 1989. Here's hoping he finds one, I've been waiting to read them ever since I saw an excerpt in the National Enquirer in the 1980s.
01.04.10 The happiest of new year to all of you...and may 2010 be filled with laughter, joy, good health and peace. I try to share unusual and little-seen publicity photos of Lucille Ball when I get them, and I figured this one (right) was appropriate for a New Year's wish: Lucy as the New Year's baby, so to speak, in a ruffled, baby-doll dress and matching bonnet, clutching a teddy bear and a huge lollipop, the latter, of course, for a sweet year. This is what I call a "treading water" year for Lucy fans; next year marks the 100th anniversary of her birth, and also the 60th anniversary of the debut of her groundbreaking sitcom, I Love Lucy. So look for some special celebrating and treats all over this site as we get ready to honor 160 years of laughter!
12.09.09 SPOTLIGHT: It didn't get much more glamorous than the star-studded premiere of 1954's A Star Is Born, Judy Garland's comeback vehicle. I lucked out and caught a half-hour kinescope of the festivities at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles on Turner Classic Movies. Anyone who was anyone in Hollywood and show-biz at the time was there, including Dean Martin, Joan Crawford, Virginia Mayo, Peggy Lee, Ray Bolger (Judy's Wizard of Oz co-star), Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, Shelley Winters, Elizabeth Taylor (with then-hubby Mike Todd), Jack Carson, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Dorothy Lamour, William Bendix, and on and on and on...oh, yes...and, of course, TV's top couple at the time, Lucy and Desi (left). I shot these pics directly from the TV screen with my iPhone, one of the reasons I adore having it. You probably haven't seen these before...so enjoy!
11.16.09 SPOTLIGHT: "Serious" is not something we usually think of when we think of our wacky redhead, but it took a lot of effort to come up with the weekly clowning that resulted in Lucy's classic television series, and we know that Ball took her work very seriously, especially later in life. In one of her last TV appearances, on a special honoring her friend Bob Hope's birthday, she sang and danced in a production number that proclaimed, "Comedy is a serious business." True to that credo, Lucy rehearsed like a maniac, and this photo (right) is a rare picture of her between takes, taking a breather while smoking (an ironic turn of phrase if there ever was one). There's little doubt, though, that right after this photo was taken, it was "back to work," and Ball was clowning for the cameras, doing what she did best: making us laugh.
10.24.09 Someone as famous as Lucille Ball has had so much published about her and her career, the canon may never be fully complete. For my own book, Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia, I knew many of the entries would not, indeed, could not, be complete, because there reaches a point where one must stop the research and begin the writing. Since many photos of Lucy were taken as publicity for the movies and TV shows she did, it’s occasionally hard to pinpoint their origin. The Internet can often help us fill in the blanks. Case in point: photographer Ruth Orkin, an award-winning photojournalist and filmmaker. I recently discovered this picture (right) she took of Lucy (and hubby Desi Arnaz, blurry in the background) being made up for a performance of their new hit show I Love Lucy in 1952. The look on Lucy’s face perfectly captures the pre-performance butterflies of an actress getting ready to hit the stage. It’s a rare look behind the scenes as Lucy and Desi prepared to revolutionize TV. You can find many more of Orkin’s unique and remarkable photos at www.orkinphoto.com.
10.02.09 You can find Lucy in the most unexpected places. I was watching the PBS American Masters documentary on the life of maverick writer Dalton Trumbo, one of the infamous Hollywood 10 who suffered during one of our country's least-shining moments: the blacklist engendered by the Red Scare of the late 1940s/early 1950s. Trumbo was blacklisted for more than a decade, and went to prison for a year — not to mention having to eke out a living as best he could, and suffering myriad indignities, along with his family and friends, for simply refusing to name names. Eventually, Kirk Douglas openly hired him to write 1960's Spartacus, giving Trumbo something of his old life back.
Lucy was also asked to testify for HUAC (the House un-American Activities Committee), but was found not guilty of any wrongdoing, since she had only become a Communist party member (like the rest of her family) to appease her Socialist grandfather.
But there's also a movie-related Ball and Trumbo connection: he wrote the original story for her 1939 classic Five Came Back (before speaking your mind and making your own free choices briefly became a felony in the United States). Lucy played a "woman of dubious reputation" (1930s-speak for prostitute) who was stranded with a group of others in a South American jungle after their plane crashed. The portrait above is from an L.A. Times article published when the movie was released. Lucy got her best reviews to that date, and it resulted in her getting better and bigger parts, and more attention in Hollywood. Trumbo went on to write such classics as Exodus, The Sandpiper, Hawaii and Johnny Got His Gun before his death in 1976. The latter, an antiwar movie based on Trumbo's book, was remade in 2008. In March 2009 it was reported that a remake of Five Came Back was in the works, from Twisted Pictures.
09.10.09 If you know anything about Lucille Ball collectibles, you'll know what's rare about this 1940s black-and-white publicity photo (left). Give up? Look closely just below Lucy's frilly collar and you'll see her signature: "Lucille Ball." Still haven't got a clue? Okay, what makes this signed photo more worthy than many others is the full signature. After a certain point in her career, Lucy stopped using her full name when she signed photos, and just wrote "Love, Lucy." The abbreviated sig will sell for anywhere from $25 on up, depending on the medium (what the signature is on, i.e., a publicity photo, or a canceled check; the latter, of course, will have a full signature and tend to sell for $200 or more). Older sigs also cost more money, even if they are simply signed "Love, Lucy" — as long as they're on a rare piece of paper or memorabilia, like a limited edition vintage poster, movie, or lobby card. One warning: when shopping (online especially, as on eBay), be careful when purchasing very cheap Lucy autographs, say, for $5. These are often facsimiles, or color copies, of the originals owned by the seller. Nothing wrong with owning one of these, if all you want is a copy; just beware when souvenir hunting, and make sure to read all the fine print. Any real signature will be guaranteed by a certificate of authenticity (COA).
09.02.09 In 1984, Lucille Ball was honored by The Center for the Partially Sighted in Los Angeles, which presented its Vision Award to the comedian and television pioneer in recognition of her creativity and lifetime contributions to the entertainment field. The award also honored Ball’s inner vision and moxie, which spurred the comedienne on to mammoth success, even though she was told, at first, that she had no talent. (If ever a life could serve as the textbook example of “Don’t give up no matter the circumstances and despite anything negative anyone tells you,” it’s Lucy’s life.) As with the tradition at many of these festivities, a large-format paperback booklet was created for the gala event, with the cover featuring a white-on-red version of the famous caricature of Lucy used for the closing credits of The Lucy Show (near right). There was a similar, black-on-white caricature that adorned ABC Motion Pictures’ tribute page inside the booklet (far right). The booklet itself took ads in the form of congratulatory pages, from celebrities and L.A. businesspeople, to make money for the Center. Some, like Bob Hope, used pictures of Ball and themselves (Hope’s page said, natch, “Thanks for the Memory” underneath the picture), and others were more creative using simple text messages, like Ray Charles and his wife, and Michelle Lee (left). The Center remains in L.A., its mission “to promote independent living for people of all ages with impaired sight.”
08.20.09 Lucy at right is pictured in January 1989, several months before she died, at an industry event honoring her pal Frank Sinatra. Ball left series television for good after her final sitcom, Life With Lucy, bombed in the fall of 1986. Indeed, every one of Lucy's TV appearances after her last sitcom was as "herself," usually in a tribute to another star or personage of the same magnitude, or interviewed in a documentary. Some of these included: The American Film Institute Salute to Billy Wilder, The 38th Annual Primetime Emmys, an All-Star Party for Clint Eastwood, Bob Hope's High-Flying Birthday, and The Kennedy Center Honors (all in the latter half of 1986; Lucy was one of the Kennedy Center honorees that year); Happy 100th Birthday, Hollywood, Hollywood, the Golden Years: The RKO Story (Lucy appeared in two episodes of this documentary — she and first husband Desi Arnaz had appeared in films at RKO in the 1940s, and then, of course, bought the studio in the late 1950s as their company, Desilu, expanded), A Beverly Hills Christmas, and a Kennedy Center documentary, all in 1987; America's Tribute to Bob Hope and an episode of Super Password in 1988; and her final public appearance, with longtime pal Hope, at the 61st Annual Academy Awards one month before she died. Lucy also spent some of this time making public appearances and doing seminars on her career and acting.
08.09.09 Irma Kusely, Lucille Ball’s longtime hairstylist, has died at the age of 95, according to artist (and Kusely’s friend) Rick Carl. Kusely took care of Lucy’s locks from the time they first met on a movie set in 1942 until Ball’s death in 1989. Though Kusely worked with other stars, it is her association with Ball that stands out: she worked on all of Ball’s series, and many of her specials, plus four of Ball’s later movies: 1956’s Forever Darling, 1960’s The Facts of Life, 1962’s Critic’s Choice, and 1968’s Yours, Mine and Ours. Kusely’s treatment of Lucy’s unique hair color — which she called apricot; Kusely noted in 2001, “A lot of people think it is red. It’s not red at all.” — and her managing of Ball’s stable of wigs from the 1960s on, was “cultural history,” according to The New York Times review of the book Hair Heroes, by Michael Gordon. As Gordon noted, “First the hair was bought from nuns in Europe, then it was pieced together and the curls were boiled in; finally, the wig was dyed with Tintex fabric dye. Ball had a wardrobe of wigs, at $1,500 each, for her television show, to save time redoing that enormous red artichoke of hair.” Kusely is also credited with perfecting what became known as the “non-surgical face-lift,” a procedure Lucy (and other stars of “a certain age”) used for the better part of four decades.
08.08.09 Almost 63 years ago, in September 1946, Photoplay writer Frank Nugent was at the Westwood, Calif. (Los Angeles) preview of one of Lucy’s best films, Easy to Wed (at left is Lucy as chorus girl Gladys Benton doing the "Continental Polka"). Nugent noted that, “Excitement crackled in the air like lightning in a Mississippi Valley storm. Police reserves were on hand early to control the crowd.” After describing Ball’s costars Van Johnson and Esther Williams’ arrivals, he noted, “Lucille Ball's reception was all right, too. After all, no one knew that she was going to be [playing] The Other Woman…. Now, playing The Other Woman in a Johnson-Williams picture is a composite of Daniel walking into the lion's den and a girl with a sprained ankle bucking a department store sale of nylons. If she's lucky, the venturesome actress will be hissed on the screen and mobbed off it. And well aware of it on that night [were] Lucille [and] husband Desi Arnaz. Mechanically they noted the nearest exit and mapped a line of retreat as the house lights dimmed and the picture began…. And then a giggle ran through the theater, chased by a chuckle and followed by a guffaw. Gladys was doing fine.” Lucy remained nervous throughout, constantly biting her lips and brushing back her hair. But she needn’t have worried, according to Nugent: "The kids were grinning, and a bit respectful. Lucille had been the other woman, but she was a good sport and a good loser — and funny as the dickens. They asked for autographs and grinned at her hairdo.” Ball pleaded not guilty; it was her “darned hairdresser,” she said (not Irma Kusely, who didn’t start working steadily with Lucy until 1956…): "I had no idea when we were making the picture that my bangs were so low. So all through the preview, I kept pushing my bangs back.” By the time she reached the lobby, her bangs “were so far back it looked like an off-the-face hat!”
08.06.09 Today would have been Lucille Ball’s 98th birthday, so the news from her hometown is appropriate. According to an article in today’s Jamestown (N.Y.) Post-Journal, “After months of uncertainty, the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center [that’s the first Lucy-Desi Museum at right in its storefront as it appeared in 2004.] is ready to move toward a future that, by all accounts, looks bright. The center's future began Monday [August 3], when Falconer [N.Y., a hop, skip and a jump from Jamestown] native Corie Curtis took the helm at the center as its new executive director. Curtis, who has more than a decade's worth of experience in marketing, strategic planning, event execution, brand identity management and budget development, said the ‘timing was absolutely perfect.’
“Mike LaTone, president of the center's board of directors and its former acting executive director, said he was ‘very pleased’ that Ms. Curtis had joined the center. LaTone said hundreds of people from across the country had applied for the position, but that Ms. Curtis was ‘the definite standout. … We chose Corie because she is a big part of what's going to put us at the level we want to be,’ LaTone added. ‘There are new things we need to do. In the long[-term] future, I see her traveling the country to tell people about [the] Center and not only bring them here but bring our mission — the healing powers of love and laughter — to the world. Everything is in place and we're ready to move forward. She has all our support and I hope the community will embrace her, work with her, get behind her and help us make this bigger than it ever has been. The future starts now.’”
And just in time, too. This weekend is the Center’s annual Lucille Ball Birthday celebration, running from August 7-9.
08.04.09 Babalu Aye is a Santerian orisha, or god, of percussion, according to the book Havana Nocturne, which recounts the saga of organized crime in Cuba. “Babalu” was also, of course, the signature song of bandleader Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy. In the song’s lyrics, written by Margarita Lecuona, according to Wikipedia, “the singer wonders aloud what to do with a statue of Babalú Ayé, now that a Santería rite had been invoked by others.… He requests good luck, love from his beloved woman, and safety and protection to both.” By the time Arnaz sang “Babalu,” it was a Latin standard; he made it a pop-culture icon in America. Wikipedia adds that, “Whenever Arnaz and his band played the song live, he would finish it with an extended conga solo and chorus-refrain section, mimicking Cuban comparsas (a popular genre usually associated with the city of Santiago de Cuba [Arnaz’s home town]).” The Urban Dictionary offers two words based on the title of “the song made famous by Desi Arnaz": babalistic, meaning “wonderful, fine or pleasant,” and babalicious, “delicious or tasty.”
08.01.09 Does this woman (left) look like "one of the most important business figures in Hollywood"? Well, she wasn't in 1940, when this picture was taken, but 47 years ago (on Nov. 15), Lucille Ball bought out ex-husband Desi Arnaz's shares of Desilu, the TV empire they created together in the 1950s. According to newspaper reports, Ball purchased 300,350 shares "considerably in excess" of the stock's then-market price per share: $7.63 at the close of the day, Nov. 15, 1962. With 600,850 shares total, or 52 percent of the company, Ball became the first acting female head of a major studio in Hollywood. So Lucy did indeed become one of Hollywood's most important (and visible) businesspersons that day (her own Lucy Show was No. 2 in the ratings at the time; see below). And if you think her influence ended with the sale of Desilu to Paramount in 1967, think again: one of the final shows greenlit by Ball was Star Trek, recently reinvented in a huge way (i.e., a big moneymaker) for the movies after 43 years. Thanks, Madame President. We owe you.
07.22.09 Dave Woodman, the artist and animator who created the colorized Lucy Show picture above, is obviously a big Lucy fan. He recently created a special piece he's selling in the IncredibleArtist.Com online store (there's also a brick-and-mortar gallery, in Cathedral City, Calif.). Dave's picture is called Space Lucy (left), and is described as a "Small Fine Art Canvas Giclée, 10"x20", in a Limited Edition of 395." Click on the website name to get there. Dave contributed two of his many fabulous renderings of Lucy to the fourth edition of Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia. You can see his amazing art at davewoodmanart.com, but if you're only interested in his Lucy stuff, go here, and prepare to spend a lot of time. Dave brings joy into the world through his art, and I can't think of anything (except maybe laughter) that our world needs more.
07.15.09 Sen. Coburn, I believe you have some ‘splainin’ to do… Remarks by Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, caught my interest during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (not too hard, since the sleep-inducing hearings were a combination of self-serving remarks by the questioners and idiotic questions by the same). Coburn noted that Sotomayor would have "lots of 'splainin'" to do should she obtain a gun and shoot him — words, as the AP noted, “that evoked memories of the 1950s TV show I Love Lucy featuring a Cuban-American bandleader and his madcap wife.” The Puerto Rican Sotomayor “had just spoken humorously and hypothetically about doing just that, part of a response to a question about the constitutional right to self-defense.” Although I always enjoy hearing a public reference to my favorite show, one wonders how Coburn and his Senate colleagues would fare if they had to stick to questions that actually had some substance relating to the nominee, instead of, for example, relying on a classic sitcom to garner publicity.
07.13.09 There are those completists who must have everything they can collect of their favorite stars. For me, one of the Lucille Ball items I enjoy finding most is a caricature of Lucy that I've never seen before. For others, it might be something like The TV Schedule Book, a straightforward tome published in 1984 by Harry Castleman and now out of print. When I found it at a flea market for less than a buck, I was thrilled, not because I wanted to memorize four decades of schedules, but because the cover featured caricatures of all the great TV personalities; I'm not positive, but it looks like the work of the great cartoonist/illustrator Jack Davis, perhaps best known for his work on Mad magazine. Lucy was, of course, one of the many heads cutely positioned inside the abbreviation "TV." In the pic at right, Lucy's caricature is on the left, toward the bottom of the "T"; I also copied it, slightly larger, in the center. Though I've seen other Lucy caricatures by Davis (mostly from Mad), this was a first for me. Enjoy!
06.29.09 Gale Storm has died at the age of 87. Storm was a Texas beauty who won a national talent contest and was brought to Hollywood to star in movies, but is probably best known for her two successful 1950s sitcoms, My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show (a.k.a. Oh! Susannah). I had the pleasure of talking to Ms. Storm after she contacted me herself by phone — I’d sent her a letter wondering if she might be interested in writing a Foreword for my book, Sitcom Queens: Divas of the Small Screen.
Storm starred in more than 30 movies, a few small gems, mostly B pictures or the bottom halves of double bills, but by the time her film career waned in the early 1950s, TV was there to make her a star. Margie was derided by most critics but the public couldn’t get enough of Storm’s perky, mischievous title character. Indeed, according to her Los Angeles Times obituary, “A 1953 poll of the most popular TV stars listed Storm at No. 2, behind TV comedy queen Lucille Ball.”
The year after Margie, finished, Storm starred in another hit show, in which she played the social director of a cruise ship. ZaSu Pitts was her Ethel Mertz. The show featured lots of music, capitalizing on Storm’s successful singing career; she hit No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart in 1955 with her version of “I Hear You Knockin’,” and had five other Top 20 hits in that decade. Storm has an impressive three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in L.A., celebrating her successes in TV, radio and music.
When Storm’s TV career waned in the 1960s, she polished her craft on stage in touring productions of shows like The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She also wrote a bio later in her life in which she admitted to having been a secret alcoholic, but had been abstinent since rehab in 1979.
When I spoke to Storm on June 26, 2006, she was bright, funny, humble, and had much to say on her own sitcoms and the other Funny Ladies I had chosen for my Top 10 (she was one of them, of course). Among other things, Storm elaborated on her connections to Lucille Ball:
“The first season, Margie was a summer replacement for I Love Lucy that was extended for several years because the ratings held up. And the final season of Oh! Susanna [a.k.a. The Gale Storm Show] was shot as Desilu Studios because Hal Roach had gotten himself into (financial) trouble with the wrong group of people. They were going to lock down the studio, and we had to get our sets off the lot before they did, so we moved to Desilu, which actually was kind of funny, since that’s where I’d started – the Desilu lot was the former RKO lot.” [She told me Lucy and Desi sent her a huge bouquet of roses to welcome her aboard the Desilu family.]
“I didn’t get to know Lucy and Desi. I don’t think I ever met Desi, but I met Lucy and would see her occasionally — never enough to say we were friends or even acquaintances. I wish that had been true. I always liked her, of course, I mean as a person as well as her work, but we never really got acquainted.
“Much later I was told by more than one person that I’d been considered for a part on one of Lucy’s shows…not sure if it was Vivian Vance’s part, or what. Obviously, it didn’t work out.” [For much more, see Sitcom Queens, here.]
What I most remember about Ms. Storm was her amazment at her own success in so many different mediums, and how appreciative she was that so many people still remembered her. As she told me, “I feel so blessed. I cannot possibly tell you how grateful I am, and how I thank God constantly for the opportunity not only to have enjoyed doing that, but that people still appreciate what I did.” I will miss her.
06.24.09 Emmy winner Jennifer Aniston took home Women in Film’s Lucy Award (named for our fave redhead, of course) on June 12 at a reception in Los Angeles. Suggestion: Since her movie career’s never been as momentous as her stint on Friends, perhaps Aniston should consider another half-hour TV comedy? After all, that’s the medium in which Lucy became a legend…. On a sadder note, Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show sidekick for years, died yesterday at the age of 86. McMahon appeared with Lucy several times during his long career, most noticeably on two episodes of Here’s Lucy (one with Carson in 1969, another solo in 1973) and as Lucy’s husband in her final TV special, Lucy Calls the President, in 1977.
06.24.09 Edith Head, one of Hollywood's best-known and most prolific costume designers, worked with Lucille Ball on more than one occasion. Head and designer Edward Stevenson won Oscars for the black-and-white costume design in Lucy and Bob Hope's 1960 film, The Facts of Life. Stevenson was with Lucy from I Love Lucy on as her costume designer, but apparently Head also did some designs, especially one number Lucy favored and wore on both The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. A sketch of this blue number, part of which you can see at left, was recently bought at auction by artist Dave Woodman, who kindly shared it with me, to share with you. A source close to the piece notes that this dress was, "the single most worn outfit on The Lucy Show, and the skirt was even shortened for Here's Lucy (when the outfit's familiar big bow tie around the neck was also added)." Enjoy this sketch of the original!
06.23.09 Almost 60 years ago (1952), Lucille Ball's sitcom I Love Lucy was already revolutionizing TV. In that first season (1951-'52), it changed the landscape of television comedy by hoisting it up from its vaudeville roots and planting it firmly in situation-based plots. And in that first season, the 30th episode, "Lucy Does a TV Commercial," forever branded Lucy as the premier comedian of her time, the master of her domain, if you will, to borrow a phrase from Seinfeld. So it's fitting that when TV Guide recently published its list of the Top 100 TV Episodes of all time, "Lucy Does A TV Commercial" was No. 4. (The No. 1 episode: Seinfeld's "The Contest," which popularized the phrase..."master of my domain," although the characters were speaking of a subject I Love Lucy could never touch. Remember, Desi Arnaz had to fight to get CBS to allow use of the word "expectant" instead of pregnant, which was verboten in 1953). Lucy's tour-de-force performance as she gets progressively more drunk while filming a commercial has become a textbook example of comic timing. The morals of the 1950s would not allow Lucy Ricardo to get drunk on purpose, but when she accidentally got sauced drinking a "health tonic" that was 23 percent alcohol, the results, courtesy of Ball's performance, were pure genius.
06.08.09 Almost 50 years ago (1960), Lucille Ball divorced Desi Armaz, packed up her kids and belongings, and moved to New York to appear on Broadway in Wildcat. Although critics were harsh to the show itself, they liked the music (by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh), and, as usual, loved Lucy in the role of tomboy-ish Wildcat "Wildy" Jackson (drawn by Al Hirschfeld at left). She played a wildcatter (what else with that name?) out to strike it rich. The play was an immediate hit thanks to Lucy's presence in it, and featured a chorus girl named Valerie Harper in an early role, plus Paula Stewart as Wildy's sister. Unfortunately, Ball hadn't reckoned on the strength it took to power a Broadway hit eight times a week, and she fell ill, physically and emotionally exhausted from the demands of the show and her divorce. On May 24, 1961, following a two-week Florida vacation that didn't take, Ball gave her final performance and the show closed soon after. Fortunately, there's the original cast recording to enjoy, and Web surfers can find Ball and Stewart performing the show's hit song, "Hey, Look me Over" in a fabulous clip from The Ed Sullivan Show on Google video. Ball and Stewart became friends; she introduced Lucy to her second husband, Gary Morton, and, after leaving show-biz and becoming an interior designer, created Lucy's New York apartment in the 1980s (Lucy wanted to have a place to stay when she visited her grandchildren on the East Coast).
06.02.09 Last night on The Daily Show, John Stewart was making mincemeat (as usual) of those (mostly) Republicans and right-wingers who were raising questions about Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, the first Latino (of Puerto Pican heritage) and only third woman who would be a judge in our country’s highest court. After tackling the usual suspects, i.e., Fox News, Stewart brought on Daily Showregular Asif Mandvi, who said playfully, in deference to all the questions being raised by the media, “Judge Sotomayor, you got some ’splainin’ to do!” Stewart pointed out that that was a quote from Desi Arnaz, who, by the way, was Cuban, not Puerto Rican. Mandvi got progressively sillier, and the segment ended, but I was smiling, once again reminded of how deeply my favorite show and its stars are entrenched in our national psyche, 60 years on.
05.25.09 It's that time of year again — and by that, I mean time for the Lucy-Desi Days festival at The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, N.Y. This year's headliner is none other than Lucy's daughter, Lucie Arnaz — performing "A Daughter's Tribute to America's First Couple of Comedy" on May 23 — and other guests include Keith "Little Ricky" Thibodeaux, I Love Lucy's film editor Dann Cahn, Lucy impersonator Diane Vincent, and much more. I won't be there, but I've been many times (at left is a picture of me signing books in 2004, with a great Lucy fan, and a great friend, Mary Rapaport) and it's never disappointing.
05.12.09 It’s always nice when two of your favorites come together — as in, Lucille Ball and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Dreyfus recently won the Lucille Ball Legacy of Laughter Award at the Ninth Annual TV Land Awards (April 26). On the red carpet, Dreyfus noted, “It is exciting, it's kind of nerve wracking. I don't really feel worthy of this, to be honest, and I think they might have made a mistake. I'm kind of blown away by it." Well, I don’t think it’s a mistake at all. In fact, I added an entry on Dreyfus to the latest edition of Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia for just that reason: I believe the actress who created the neurotic but lovable Elaine Benes in Seinfeld (and later starred in The New Adventures of Old Christine — and won Emmys for both roles — might just be the current contender for Lucille Ball’s comedy crown. Dreyfus’ combination of physical and verbal humor are near perfection; indeed, she has a mastery of her craft that not many comedians, period, ever achieve. Julia, "Long may you pratfall!”
05.07.09 A Here's Lucy Website Exclusive! In honor of the upcoming Jamestown Lucy-Desi Days Festival, held over Memorial Day Weekend, I thought I'd post an exclusive photo that hasn't been seen in over 20 years. In 1988, my friend Craig Hamrick was attending college in Kansas, and Desi Arnaz Jr. was a spokesperson for a group called Success Without Stress. He visited Craig's college, and Craig, a reporter for the campus paper, did an interview with him, and took this shot. The most memorable thing about the interview, Craig later told me, was how upset Arnaz got when a young female reporter asked him how it felt "to be Little Ricky" on I Love Lucy. Of course, Arnaz was not Little Ricky (that part was played by Keith Thibodeaux, who is a guest at this year's Lucy-Desi Days; see how it all ties in?) and was a bit, shall we say, miffed at constantly being asked that question. The full story is in my book, Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia. Craig, who was my best friend, died of cancer in 2006, but in addition being a great writer and author, he was a fab photographer, as you can see. So enjoy this rare picture of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's real son, not Little Ricky. Nor did he ever play Little Ricky. I hope we're clear on that. ;-)
05.05.09 One of my favorite Lucille Ball movies, as any faithful visitor to this site knows, is the 1943 MGM Technicolor extravaganza, DuBarry Was a Lady. In it, Lucy is a nightclub chanteuse with two men vying for her affections: hat-check boy (soon lottery winner) Red Skelton, and penniless but handsome Gene Kelly. What's a girl to do? Marry for money, of course, until love gets the better of her. It's all frothy fun, designed to take moviegoers' minds away from WWII and put them into a lighter mood. When Red gets his lottery winnings, he fantasizes about what it would be like to have an Esquire pinup for real in a song called "I Love an Esquire Girl." And, ironically enough, Lucy herself was kinda/sorta an Esquire Girl: Her pinup wasn't that risqué, but illustrator Howard Baer, known for his Esquire work, did a version of Lucy from DuBarry that I never knew existed until my pal, artist Dave Woodman, sent me a digital copy. Click here to see the full-size version, plus a comparison with Lucy in the costume from the movie's opening number that Baer used as inspiration (though he changed the coloring to a saucy red, perhaps in a tribute to Lucy's flaming hair).
04.25.09 Television and the theater world lost one of its greats today; Bea Arthur passed away at the age of 86. Arthur began her more than 50-year career on stage, found fame there (and a Tony award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Mame in 1966; she was also the original Yente the Matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof), but grew larger-than-life on the small screen. First Arthur was the indomitable, wisecracking Maude (1972-'78, Emmy Award as Best Actress in a Comedy), then she portrayed indomitable, wisecracking Dorothy on The Golden Girls (1985-1992, another Emmy as Best Actress in a Comedy). Though some might argue she played a variation of her Tony-winning role, Vera Charles, forever after — and she repeated the role in Lucille Ball's film of Mame in 1974 — it was simpler than that: she was a smart, intelligent comic and dramatic actress, who had her audience in the palm of her hand, and also possessed razor-sharp timing that rivaled Jack Benny's. Arthur last appeared on Broadway in 2002, when she took her popular one-woman show to the Great White Way for several months. (The pic at left is Arthur with Ball in Mame, and the inset is from her one-woman show). She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame late last year, and in 1986 was one of those who saluted Lucy on stage when Ball received the Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, D.C. Of Lucy and the much-maligned Mame, Arthur noted in 2002 that, “Lucy was a brilliant, brilliant clown, but she was terribly miscast. But we would never have gotten the money for the production if she hadn’t wanted to do it. Lucy was lovely [to work with]. She was really the reason I did it; she insisted I do it." Her fellow Golden Girl Betty White was quoted, after Arthur's death, as saying, "Bea was such an important part of a very happy time in my life and I have dearly loved her for a very long time. How lucky I was to know her." How lucky we all were to have been blessed with the much-needed laughter Arthur gave us.
04.18.09 Everybody's gotta start somewhere, and for Lucille Ball it was a tiny part, little more than window dressing, as one of many blonde-wigged Roman slave girls in the fantasy segments of a 1933 Eddie Cantor musical, Roman Scandals. Lucy identified herself as the girl at left during a Dick Cavett Show interview in 1973, while she was promoting her upcoming musical, Mame, released the following year. And speaking of Mame, Lucy watched clips of herself for the first time from the movie on The Merv Griffin Show, also in 1973, and also while she was promoting the film. You can go to YouTube and catch the entire Griffin interview, in 11 parts, also featuring her second husband Gary Morton; her friend Bob Hope; and her kids, Lucie and Desi Jr.
04.07.09 As I mentioned recently, 2009 and the next few years mark a number of important anniversaries in the Lucyverse. One that's bittersweet is this year's 20th anniversary of Lucille Ball's death. Lucy died April 26, 1989, and the entire world mourned. Viacom, longtime syndicator of I Love Lucy, paid tribute to Lucy's passing with a full-page ad in Variety on May 3, 1989, featuring a Hirschfeld drawing of the famous clown (left). The good news is, Lucy is still very much with us, in our hearts, in reruns, on DVD, on Turner Classic Movies, at The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in her hometown of Jamestown, N.Y., and in daily mentions in all media. For example, the end of March saw the return of one of my favorite sitcoms, Samantha Who?, starring Christina Applegate. Her character, Sam, was discussing how to help her best friend get an actual date with the famous athlete she'd been texting for a long time. Finally, Sam suggested a double date: "It'll be just like the Ricardos and Mertzes," she chirped. And this viewer smiled. The point is, Lucy & Co. have been around so long, and ingrained in our minds for so many years, they are part of our permanent memories. When someone references the Ricardos and the Mertzes, there's no need to explain who they are. Most of us just know. That's probably why the U.S.P.S. is offering a third Lucy stamp, due out this August (Ball shares the stamp with longtime co-star and pal Vivian Vance — see below — and the stamp itself is part of a 20-stamp tribute to early TV. It's comforting to know that Lucy (and Desi Arnaz, Vance, and William Frawley) and their comedy legacy are always close by.
04.02.09 As I've mentioned so often that my non-Lucy-loving friends must be sick of it, hardly a day goes by when I don't see or hear a mention of Lucille Ball or her I Love Lucy co-stars in one medium or another. This week, it was the April 6 issue of People magazine, which listed "TV's 10 Greatest Romances" on page 46. Coming in at a fabulous No. 7 were Ricky and Lucy Ricardo. People noted: "Stars Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball divorced in 1960, but has any other sitcom couple remained so iconic — and enduringly believable?" I guess you know my answer to that question. But I wrote "fabulous" above because of this fact: of the nine other couples on the list, only two were from sitcoms whose age even remotely approached I Love Lucy: Cliff & Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show, and Sam and Diane from Cheers. Both of those shows hit their strides in the 1980s, more than 30 years after the debut of Ricky and Lucy. Which, to me, means, as a top TV couple, Lucy and Ricky (or Lucy and Desi, take your pick) are untouchable.
03.31.09 The Queen of Comedy was the first to tell people that she was not very funny in person. She could perform comedy brilliantly, and it was all the better if her stage directions were as explicit as possible. But in person she was not known as a joke-teller and she did not break out her slapstick routines at parties. Lucille Ball was also a heavy smoker throughout much of her adult life, and that — plus her constant and loud vocalizing on TV — accounted for her voice register lowering from the high pitch of Lucy Ricardo to the lower registers she "sang" in for her 1974 film, Mame. So, here's a shot that shows both: the reflective side of a comedy legend who took her comedy very seriously, rehearsing bits over and over in order to make them just right, taking a set break and a drag on a cigarette, from the LIFE magazine archives.
03.23.09 In August 1999, to celebrate the then-imminent new millennium, Lucille Ball and Madonna (left) were just 2 of 29 celebrities chosen to be turned into larger-than-life 3-D sculptures (with moving parts, yet!) for a carousel. The working carousel (you'd ride in Madonna's baby carriage, for example, instead of the typical carousel horse, although no riders were allowed during the exhibiton) represented celebrities and events of the past (20th) century and was designed by students and alumni of the School of Visual Arts. SVA curator Kevin O'Callaghan and students refinished a 90-year-old Victorian-style carousel and replaced the horses with the more famous objects/people. It was displayed for the public at Grand Central Station terminal starting August 6, for a month. August 6, as any proper Lucy fan knows, was the redhead's birthday. The carousel also toured the Union Stations in Washington,. D.C. and Chicago.
03.04.09 Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett (right) had one of show-biz's most enduring mutual admiration societies. Lucy caught Burnett in her star-making performance in the musical Once Upon a Mattress, and went bck stage to let Burnett know how much Ball her. Lucy called Carol "kid," and told Burnett "Call on me if you ever need me." Which Burnett proceeded to do for her first CBS special, Carol + 2 (also with Zero Mostel) and many times more through the '60s, '70s and '80s. Likewise, Ball had Burnett guest-star on The Lucy Show four times and twice on Here's Lucy. Burnett was there to induct Lucy into the TV Hall of Fame, and Lucy sent flowers to Burnett every year on her birthday. In the 2008 PBS series, Pioneers of Television: Variety, Jim Nabors, a friend of both women, told this anecdote: "I was sitting with Lucy one night, and we were watching Carol do a sketch.... Lucy was very much an analyst, and she said, 'The kid's the best there is.' [laughs] And I said, 'Well, you did pretty good yourself!' And Lucy says, 'No, I'm different, I'm different.' And she was talking about her comedy. But she did say she thought Carol was the best sketch artist that had ever come down the pike — or ever would."
02.23.09 There are lots of Lucille Ball-related anniversaries coming up. This year, for instance, marks the 35th year that Lucy left weekly television after a record-breaking 23-year run (1951-1974). Lucy’s legend was so big even then that TV Guide gave her “retirement” from the weekly series grind a cover story on its July 6, 1974 issue (see left). The cover was drawn by one of the best show-biz artists ever, Richard Amsel. According to the Adam McDaniel, Webmaster of a wonderful Amsel tribute site, www.adammcdaniel.com/RichardAmsel1.htm, Amsel noted that, “I did not want the portrait to be of Lucy Ricardo, but I didn't want a modern-day Lucy Carter either. I wanted it to have the same timeless sense of glamour that Lucy herself has. She is, after all, a former Goldwyn Girl. I hoped to capture the essence of all this.” McDaniel further notes, “Amsel's work so impressed Ms. Ball that the artwork was later prominently featured in the opening credits of a two-hour television tribute, CBS Salutes Lucy: The First 25 Years.” Amsel, born in 1947, started his illustrating career at the young age of 22 (with the poster for the movie Hello, Dolly), and went on to illustrate many famous movies (The Sting, Chinatown, Raiders of the Lost Ark), and album covers (Bette Midler’s first). His style is instantly recognizable, and all his own. Amsel’s 13-year association with TV Guide resulted in 40 covers. He died in 1985, weeks after completing his last cover, of complications from AIDS.
02.18.09 One of my other favorite redheads — actress, photographer and all-around great dame Marie Wallace (Dark Shadows, Somerset, Gypsy and Nobody Loves an Albatross are just a few of her showbiz credits), is starring in a play coming up soon, off-Broadway, called The Chiselers (that's Marie at center in the photo at left, looking like the cat that ate the canary). The new comedy/mystery runs Feb. 26-March 7, 2009, on Thurs., Fri., and Sat. at 9:30 p.m., at the TADA! Theatre, 15 West 28th St, 2nd Floor, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Tickets are $18 (seniors, $10) and reservations are recommended; call 866-811-4111 or www.eatheatre.org for more info. Break a leg, sweetie!
02.12.09 1993’s Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie was released on DVD a few days ago, and that’s a treat for any fan of Lucy and Desi, major or minor. It’s a fascinating peek into the lives of one of the 20th century’s most famous, most documented couples, as seen through the eyes of their friends, son, daughter, co-stars and, most importantly, color home movies, lots of them, discovered by their daughter Lucie after Ball’s death in 1989. Arnaz lovingly put them together, along with the above mentioned interviews, to form this Emmy-winning documentary, a sort of response to the cheesy TV movie produced in 1991, Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter. I reviewed the movie in my 2008 4th Edition of Lucy A to Z; what I’ve never seen are the DVD extras, which include an extended, half-hour interview with Lucie and Desi Jr.; 29 minutes of outtakes from the doc; several Westinghouse commercials featuring Lucille, Desi, and Betty Furness for the The Lucille Ball - Desi Arnaz Show and The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (they run 12:43); a Here's Lucy promo by MPI, promoting the release of the show on DVD; a 9-minute excerpt from a vintage What's My Line? episode in which Lucy and Desi are the mystery guests; a 24-minute episode of I've Got a Secret with Lucy and Desi; and a photo gallery.
02.10.09 Lucy-Desi Center Cuts Staff in Half Sad news from Jamestown, N.Y., hometown to our favorite redhead and site of the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center. (That's Lucy and Desi revisiting the house she grew up in, in Jamestown, at right.) The Jamestown Post-Journal reports that, "After a round of layoffs announced to employees on Monday morning, the ... Center is now operating with 'a skeleton crew.' Mike Latone, the president of the center's board of directors, said the center "has basically laid off half the staff.... The worst economic downtrend in decades finally caught up with the center and we had to respond. To be honest, the economic trends caught us behind the 8-ball." Latone added that the board has "absolutely no plans whatsoever" to close any of the center's facilities.
"The decision to reduce the center's staff comes early in Latone's tenure as board president," the newspaper noted. "Latone was appointed to the center's board of directors in late October ... after C. Edward Fagan, a local attorney, resigned from that post in mid-December." Further, Latone described the center's financial state as "a little fragile. ... It's so hard when you have to come in and lay someone off,' Latone said. 'But it had to be done. To be honest, this probably should have been done in November.'
"'You have to look at the economics of the situation,' Latone added. 'Any business has to be able to pay its bills and its employees. That's just a basic business model. When the economy goes south, people are faced with a choice of paying their mortgage and buying groceries or spending money on museum visits and memorabilia. Traveling to see a museum really isn't at the top of anybody's list right now. We've got to be responsible and respond to that.'" Latone said sales at the Center's gift shop are down. Sales through the Center's mail-order gift shop, he said, are "a third of what they have been."
In January, it cost the Center five times more than it generated in revenue to keep the museums open. Noted Latone, "We just couldn't keep the hours and the level of staffing we had when sales had plummeted. It just doesn't make sense. Read the news - the story is the same everywhere." In an effort to save money, according to the Post-Journal, "the operating hours for the Center's museums and gift shop have been restructured. The gift shop and mail-order business will operate Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Through April 1, the Lucy-Desi Museum and the Desilu Playhouse will be open only on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., though Latone said the hours would be adjusted should any large tour groups wish to visit.
"'At the end of March, we'll take a hard look at where we are and go from there," Latone said. "Should things pick up, we fully plan on asking those who were laid off to come back. But our goal is as it must be — to continue operations in the face of hard economic times. We will remain open, but we've got to be responsible.'"
There is currently no executive director in place at the Center. The Board has hired a human resources specialist to help the Center search for a permanent executive director. "We've gotten probably 100 applicants, and I have to say I'm pleased with the caliber of the applicants,'' Latone told the paper. "They're coming from all over the United States. We really have some promising leads. I think things will look up for us in the future."
There's been no word on what will happen to the two annual festivals the Center has held: Lucy-Desi Days over Memorial Day Weekend, and Lucy's birthday celebration in August. Perhaps the Board should consider asking some of the volunteers who've left over the past few years — during the Center's difficult transition after losing its entire Board and getting rid of its longtime executive director some 14 months ago — to help out. Many of these volunteers considered their work a labor of love, and would no doubt to be happy to lend a hand during these difficult times. It would cost the Center nothing and bring in a world of good PR — not to mention business. We'll keep you posted on the situation.
01.26.09 File in the "You Never Know Where Lucy Will Pop Up" category.... The other night, across the street from my apt., was a group of trailers from a movie being shot in the city (we see them all the time in New York). As I walked past the first one, there were two doors on it facing the sidewalk. On one was a sign that read “LUCY,” and on the other door a sign that read “DESI.” I smiled, thinking, “What’s up with this? Is there actually a movie being shot about them that I hadn’t heard of?” (Didn’t think so.) “Perhaps that’s a film set tradition, or a recent one, so that people won’t know who the real stars are?” (A bit more plausible.) Or maybe just this particular filmmaker’s idea of something cute. Or perhaps a way to disguise where the [fill in the blank] is kept during the shoot. (No idea.) Of course, Lucy and Desi did make the film The Long, Long Trailer, so in that sense it’s ironic/cute/funny that someone put their names on...a trailer. I’m beginning to think it was just a private joke on that particular movie set — but it’s a great reminder of how Lucy and Desi can pop up virtually anywhere. The real point is, as I passed it, it made me smile — and that’s what Lucy and Desi have been doing for almost 60 years.
01.16.09 Review: Behind the Laughter
What makes us laugh, and why is it so good for us? Lucille Ball, of course, was one of the main sources of laughter during the last century. If timing is everything, Ball had it in spades. That said, Lucy had lots of help along the way to becoming our greatest comedian. She had 20 years to perfect her timing in the movies, some it spent learning from legends Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton; she had fabulous writers and behind-the-scenes experts who knew what she could and couldn’t do best, and could direct, film, light, costume and edit her to a fault; and she had actors and fellow laugh-makers like her husband, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley, Gale Gordon, Bea Benaderet, Mary Jane Croft, Mary Wickes, Doris Singleton, and so many more whom she kept at her side, performing with her. PBS is making a grand stab at explaining why the top comedians were and are so funny in its six-part hour-long series Make ’Em Laugh, airing January 14, 21, and 28; Lucy & Co. are represented in at least two episodes: episode two, which aired January 14 at 9 p.m.: “Honey, I’m Home! — Breadwinners and Homemakers,” about the genesis and growth of the sitcom; and episode three, airing January 21 at 8 p.m.: “Slip on a Banana Peel: The Knockabouts,” about slapstick comedy, of course.
“Honey, I’m Home!" was an okay hour focusing really on just five or six sitcoms. It started with a neat digital tribute to I Love Lucy: host Billy Crystal "walked into" the Ricardo's living room, "standing" between the Mertzes and the Ricardos, noting the popularity of I Love Lucy and how Desi Arnaz created the modern sitcom we know today. It was followed by 52 minutes of so-called "experts" expounding on the best of the bunch, including six-minute segments on The Goldbergs; I Love Lucy; The Simpsons (did you know cartoonist Matt Groening created Bart as a "What if Leave It To Beaver's snarky Eddie Haskell had a son"?); Norman Lear's groundbreaking All in the Family (followed by a clip of a rather snitty Bill Cosby explaining why he didn't like it, leading into, naturally, a segment on The Cosby Show); and Seinfeld. Though the show was good as far as it went, there were two glaring errors:
— An unforgiveable factual error had narrator Amy Sedaris stating that I Love Lucy ran for five years, when, in fact, it ran for six. For four of those six years it was the No. 1 show, a feat surpassed only by All in the Family; and
— Many of the most popular sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s were dismissed with a mere mention or photos during the intro. Which is the problem with these types of retrospectives: there's never enough time to include everyone that needs to be included. That makes us Lucy lovers lucky she's so important to TV history — there's never a doubt Ball and her classic co-stars will be included in such roundups.
01.09.09 A happy, healthy New Year to all of you. Sorry I'm a bit late with this, but here's a shot from the Dec. 13-14, 2008 auction catalog of memorabilia from the Collector's Bookstore (formerly of Hollywood), courtesy of Profiles in History, one of my favorite auction sites. (And if you've never received one of its gorgeous catalogs, go to its web site right now ...www.profilesinhistory.com... and order one! They are thick, lush and beautiful presentation books of all kinds of show business items — movie and TV and more — valued by collectors; the catalogs are, in reality, collectibles themselves.) The picture shows literally hundreds of pieces of Lucille Ball memorabilia, and the only reason I'm not upset that I couldn't bid on it is that there's barely enough room in my New York apartment for my partner, myself, our furniture, clothing and the Lucy stuff I already have! The lot included framed art, movie posters, stills, and lobby cards; the script from Lucy's final TV special, "Lucy Calls the President"; and a special set of photos circa 1940 from the Metropolitan Photo Service of New York, showing Lucy and Desi Arnaz around the time of their wedding. The lot was estimated to sell for between $200-$300, but I'm sure that was a very lowball estimate. Congrats to whoever picked up this Lucy bonanza.
12.29.08 Lucy Honored With Third USPS Stamp Are you ready for the third Lucille Ball stamp? According to an AP story released today, the U.S. Postal Service plans to release a set of 20 stamps on August 11, 2009 (five days after Lucy's birthday), currently called The Early TV Memories set. Lucy and Ethel (Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, see stamp set, left, and note the pic is low res because that's all I could find at the moment; I have a request in to the USPS for a high-res version) will be depicted losing their struggle wrapping chocolates for an assembly line in one of the most famous I Love Lucy episodes of all, “Job Switching.” This makes Ball one of the rare (if not only) entertainers to be honored with three postage stamps. The first one featured her and Desi Arnaz representing I Love Lucy in the 1950s group of stamps that was part of the “Celebrate the (20th) Century” series. The second stamp depicted Ball herself, drawn by Drew Struzan, as part of the Hollywood Legends series. Other stamps in the TV series will honor Groucho Marx and his quiz show, You Bet Your Life; Dragnet; Dinah Shore; The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet; Alfred Hitchcock Presents; The Ed Sullivan Show; The Burns & Allen Show; The Honeymooners; Howdy Doody; Kukla, Fran and Ollie; Lassie; The Lone Ranger; Perry Mason; The Phil Silvers Show; Red Skelton; The Texaco Star Theater (which featured Milton Berle); The Tonight Show; and The Twilight Zone. Note that on the collectible sheet set of 20 stamps at the top, all four I Love Lucy stars are pictured. Stay tuned to this site for more details as they become available.
12.12.08 Broadway chorus boy, Hollywood leading man, and Lucille Ball's friend and co-star, Van Johnson, died today at the age of 92. Johnson's Broadway career got a boost when he was hired by George Abbott to play one of the students in the 1939 college musical Too Many Girls. This was also the musical that launched the career of a young Cuban bongo player named Desi Arnaz. Johnson became Gene Kelly's understudy in another hit the following year, Pal Joey.
A screen test led to one picture at Warner Bros., which let his contract expire. He moved to MGM, where it is said he got steady support from Ball (also at MGM) after being signed. A metal plate in his head from a car accident prevented Johnson from serving in WWII, and as a result he got many roles his absent co-stars might have taken; he became the country's war film hero instead, in classics like A Guy Named Joe (1943) and Weekend at the Waldorf (1945). By the mid 1940s, his box office star was second only to Bing Crosby. He was called "The Voiceless Sinatra" because of his equal appeal to bobbysoxers. In 1946 he co-starred with Ball in the splashy Technicolor comedy Easy to Wed (left), one of Lucy's best film roles.
In the 1950s, he guest-starred in one of the best-remembered I Love Lucy Hollywood episodes, in which he danced a sophisticated duet with Lucy. And Ball picked him to co-star in her final big-screen hit, Yours Mine and Ours (1968), in which Johnson proved he'd lost none of his easygoing charm. That same year he guest-starred in an episode of Ball's sitcom, Here's Lucy. He was interviewed for the Ball documentaries Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie (1993) and Finding Lucy (2000).
A strawberry blond, Johnson surprised critics with his cagey dramatic performances in films like The Caine Mutiny (1955). One of his best later performances came in Woody Allen's nutty 1985 film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, as a black-and-white film actor who can't improvise when one his co-stars steps off the screen and into real life. His final film appearance (of more than 80) was in 1992's Clowning Around, an Australian production which also featured the debut of Heath Ledger. Johnson loved his career and often commented on his good fortune in life, as in this 1997 quote: "I'm the luckiest guy in the world. All my dreams came true. I was in a wonderful business, and I met great people all over the world."
12.03.08 TV legend Bea Arthur (left) was inducted in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ TV Hall of Fame (Lucille Ball was one of the initial inductees in 1984) today for her work on the classic series Maude and The Golden Girls. Arthur was Ball’s co-star in the big-screen adaptation of Mame, 1974, recreating her stage role of Mame’s best friend, actress Vera Charles. Arthur was also one of the performers who saluted Lucy when she was honored at the Washington, D.C., Kennedy Center in 1986.
12.01.2008 Several writers associated with Lucille Ball’s career have died recently. Irving Brecher, an uncredited writer on The Wizard of Oz who was Oscar nominated for writing 1944’s Meet me In St. Louis, died November 19. He was known for his comedy writing, and responsible for the screenplays for two of Lucy’s best Technicolor MGM musicals, 1943’s Best Foot Forward and DuBarry Was a Lady (see pic). Brecher also wrote the screenplay for MGM’s star-studded extravaganza Ziegfeld Follies (1946), in which Lucy did not have any lines, but was featured “whipping” a group of sleek chorus cuties dressed as panthers in the opening number. He was 94. … John Michael Hayes, an award-winning writer associated with comedic and dramatic projects, his best known probably being Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) and the big 1957 hit Peyton Place, died November 25 at the age of 89. He began his career writing for newspapers and radio, and one of his first high-profile Hollywood jobs was as a writer on Lucy’s radio hit, My Favorite Husband.
11.25.08 As the holiday season rolls in once again (and way too fast for my tastes — where did 2008 go?! — what better way to share your love of Lucy with your family at dinner than by using this special recipe to stuff your turkey? In this newspaper clip, thoughtfully provided by my pal and artist Dave Woodman, Lucy admits that the recipe she shares was not one "handed down from generation to generation," rather one she just put together over the years. That doesn't mean you can't start your own tradition. (Just try not to destroy the oven, something Lucys Ricardo, Carmichael and Carter might well have done — can't you just see Viv, Mr. Mooney or Uncle Harry covered in wet stuffing from head to toe?) In any case, the recipe does sound delicious; but whether you use it or not, enjoy a safe, happy, joyous holiday season!
11.04.08 It doesn't amaze me anymore to regularly see references to Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy, her co-stars and/or the characters they played, in pop culture, almost every day. I can't report each one because I wouldn't have time for anything else. But this one tickled me, so I thought I'd share in case you missed it: The 10-31-08 issue of Entertainment Weekly had a sidebar on catfights (headlined "Girl-on-Girl Action") its TV section. Most of us love a good catfight, and they rated three current ones on a sliding scale that began, on the left end, with Lucy and Ethel (Ball and Vivian Vance; their fights were described as "frumpy" and "slapsticky") to Dynasty's Alexis and Krytsal (Joan Collins and Linda Evans) on the right, whose fights were described as "the gold standard of scratching and clawing." There were small pictures of Lucy and Ethel, and Alexis and Krystal, accompanying the article. [Granted, there was never any real physical harm inflicted during Lucy and Ethel's fights, but theirs will always be my personal gold standard of funny.]
10.29.08 By now you've noticed the new look of this Web site. In the past few months, I've been going through many of the pages here, updating them, adding pictures and more information, and generally trying to make the site easier for you to navigate. I've been experimenting with the front page, and found visitors prefer some text along with the pictures, so that's what I settled on, in a very simple table format.
You can access all the features that have always been here — just go to the pull-down navigation bar at the top of the opening page. Note that I've also redone the TV Tidbits pages, which are the online companion to the book series I've written with my late friend, Craig Hamrick (I've kept the site up as a tribute to Craig, who was the initial site adminitsrator). Instead of a separate site, you can access everything through the TV Tidbits link on the navigation bar (or just click here). You'll find nuggets of fun information on many of your favorite classic shows — including Lucy tidbits that aren't on the main site — plus lists like "TV's most Embarrassing Moments," and much more. I'll be adding to them as time permits.
10.20.08 Edie Adams, a talented actress, comedienne and singer who guest-starred on the final TV program featuring the classic characters from I Love Lucy, died on Oct. 16. She was 81. Adams had been the toast of many media, including Broadway (in L'il Abner, for which she won a Tony Award as Daisy Mae); on TV, co-starring with her husband, groundbreaking comedian Ernie Kovacs; in films, such as 1963's It's a Mad, Mad Mad Mad World; and as the spokesperson for Muriel Cigars for almost two decades (her famous commercial ended with the suggestive line, "Why don'tcha come on up and smoke me, sometime?"). Adams' New York Times obituary noted that on the final episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour — which aired in April 1960 — with Vivian Vance at the piano, Adams performed a rendition of the Alan Brandt-Bob Haymes standard "That's All," which ended with the words, "Say it's me that you adore, for now and evermore, that's all, that's all." Her performance, the Times said, "reduced the entire crew to tears." What the obit didn't mention is that everyone on set was already either crying or almost there, due to the extra tension between Lucy and Desi, each knowing it was their last time to share a screen (and kiss) together, and the sadness surrounding the dissolution of their marriage, which became official a month after the Comedy Hour aired. Adams also appeared in a 1968 episode of The Lucy Show, and in the fabulous 2000 American Masters documentary Finding Lucy, in which she touchingly spoke about her Comedy Hour performance (see pic, above).
10.06.08 The Emmys in September were perhaps one of the most boring awards shows ever presented on network television, which, as Entourage star (and three-time Emmy winner) Jeremey Piven noted, was due in large part to the lack of charisma of the five reality-show hosts chosen (for some inexplicable reason) to host the show. Regarding the opening sketch, which seemed to go on FOREVER and was — ironically — about the fact that the hosts were given "nothing to do," Piven said afterward, ""I thought we were being punk'd. I was confused. [In the Nokia Theater auditorium] it was like in The Producers when they do 'Springtime for Hitler.' From Lucille Ball on, television has been so entertaining. And this was a celebration of nothingness." Speaking of Lucy, she was present at the Emmy telecast in a Macy's 150th anniversary commercial (which used clips from classic TV stars mentioning the store name), and in a review of Emmy "Thank-you" acceptance speeches. Lucy won four performance Emmys throughout her career, and co-star Vivian Vance won the first-ever Emmy for best supporting actress; the picture at left shows them at the 1954 ceremony congratulating Desi Arnaz with a double kiss. Arnaz himself, shamefully, was never even nominated for an Emmy throughout his own legendary career.
09.18.08 SHAKEUP AT LUCY-DESI CENTERIn a September 13 article in the Jamestown (N.Y.) Post, Patrick Fanelli reported: "Carrying a large box filled with his belongings, Ric Wyman — who until now was at the heart of the Lucille Ball community in Jamestown — left his office Friday afternoon and stepped out into the rain. Only a few minutes before, a police officer was stationed in the corridor outside Wyman's office as the former Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center executive director gathered up his things. He loaded them into the trunk of his car and drove off without comment. Wyman was fired Friday, as well as ... his assistant, Pat Brininger.
"'I'm as confident as ever in believing that the legacy of Lucille Ball is the catalyst for economic development for this community,' Wyman said. 'I've been privileged to be the executive director of an organization that brings so many good feelings to visitors from all over the world.'
"According to Chuck Ludwig, another board member and owner of Ludwig Auction and Realty, the terminations were carried out by Ed Fagan, a local attorney and the center's board chairman. Ludwig also said Fagan assumed the title of acting executive director several months ago at the behest of the late Lucille Ball's family. Family members reportedly did not have a good relationship with Wyman."
One year ago, Center board members Lucie Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr.. Wanda Clark (Lucille Ball's personal secretary), and Mary Rapaport (a huge supporter and donator to the Center with her husband, Bill) resigned. Soap star Melody Thomas Scott resigned the board in July. So far, there's nothing about the changes on the Center's website. I'll keep you posted.
09.16.08 The Ruby Award Winner In 1974, Lucille Ball was getting ready to end her legendary quarter-century run on television. It would be the last season of Here's Lucy. She also was preparing for the release of her first theatrical movie since 1968's hit, Yours, Mine and Ours: Mame. Mame became equally legendary in show-biz circles, but for the wrong reasons: it was pegged a bomb, and Lucy got some of the worst reviews of her career. The reviews were unnecessarily savage, focusing on the extensive use of filters to disguise Ball's age (as if no movie star had ever done that before); her croaky singing voice (lowered from years of screeching and smoking); her non-dancing (she was recovering from a broken leg when she filmed the picture); and the belief that she just wasn't right for the character of Mame. While some of the criticism was valid, I believe the "why-is-she-trying-to-play-someone-besides-Lucy" factor weighed heavily in the thrashing of Mame. We like our stars to stay in our favorite boxes — whatever it is we loved about them right from the get-go, we don't ever want them to change. That said, there's still much for the Lucy fan to enjoy in Mame. After Dark magazine even gave her its Ruby Award (named for Ruby Keeler) and a cover for Mame. At left, she's pictured attending the award ceremony. Now that Mame's on DVD, give it another look. Check out the costumes; the song "Bosom Buddies." Lucy on skates. Jane Connell as Gooch and Bea Arthur as Vera. The delightful opening and closing scenes. Lucy creating a character that is miles away from "Lucy." And much more. You won't be sorry.
09.03.08THE EMMYS STILL LOVE LUCY & CO.
With the prime time Emmy Awards telecast coming up on September 21, I thought it appropriate to run this invite, which came to one of my friends, an Academy member in the Animation division. The invitation, as you can see, features about 30 pictures on the top half, of previous Emmy winners, everyone from Tony Randall and Valerie Harper to the actress who's won the most prime-time Emmys, Cloris Leachman. But guess whose picture is the biggest, and placed slightly left of center? That's right, it's also one of the few in black and white: Jess Oppenheimer, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and Vivian Vance. Since Vance is holding her Best Series Supporting Actress Emmy (the first awarded in that category), this has to be a picture from the February 11, 1954 ceremony, honoring the 1952-1953 season. I Love Lucy won Best Situation Comedy that year, too. Lucy herself won four Emmys over the years (two for The Lucy Show); though the show was nominated in nearly every category for the next few years, Desi Arnaz never got a single nomination, much less a win, and William Frawley, though nominated many times, never won the award (which, since Vance had won, stuck in his craw and made him comment that the award was meaningless, anyway). The writers — Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Pugh Davis, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf — were also nominated, but never won. The Academy's major oversight in ignoring Arnaz's contribution to television history was somewhat rectified when Arnaz was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1990.
09.02.08 Did Lucy and Desi father a child in 1947 and put her up for adoption? This is a report that is now making its way around the Internet. Even some “newspapers” — like The New York Post — have picked up on it. If the story is true, it would mean there’s a previously unknown grandchild and heir of Ball and Arnaz. I note this because fans will certainly be interested, but if asked to comment, I'd point out that family was among the most important things to Ball (having lost her father at an early age and spending much of her childhood in poverty and/or living without her mother — who traveled where the work was, to support her family). It is unimaginable that Ball would have put a child up for adoption, and I can only quote what Lucie Arnaz reportedly wrote in 2004 to the person claiming to be said grandchild: "I must inform you we're almost certainly not related. In 1947, my parents were married and wanted nothing more than to have a baby together. They struggled for 10 years with infertility and miscarriage until I came along in 1951. My mother would never have given up a child of hers nor would my father have let her."
08.19.08 LUCY AND THE ALMOST GUEST-STAR
For the second episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, in 1957, Bette Davis (bottom left) was the original choice to play the title character, “The Celebrity Next Door.” Basic plot: Lucy Ricardo, in Connecticut, finds out she’s living next to a famous star, and tries to draft said star to play the lead in a community theater production. Wackiness ensues. Davis, who had indeed gone to the John Murray Anderson School for drama training and was the star pupil there when Lucy arrived some 30 years before, said yes…but demanded a huge salary (reportedly $20,000), a paid trip back to her New England home, and equal billing in the show with Lucy and Desi.
Lucy was so eager to act with her former classmate she agreed to all the demands, which became a moot point when Davis injured herself during a riding accident and was unable to perform in the show. She was replaced by Tallulah Bankhead (top left), ironic since many believed Davis classic performance as Margo Channing in 1950’s All About Eve was based at least partly on the real-life Bankhead. Bankhead was a terror during the rehearsals, but pulled it together for the show, and the episode is usually cited as one of the best of the 13 Comedy Hours. But for some reason, later in life Davis professed to her friend and biographer Roy Moseley that she wasn’t a big fan of Lucy’s. Excerpts from Mosely’s 2003 book, Bette Davis: An Intimate Memoir, follow:
Bette Davis: An Intimate Memoir
By Roy Moseley
Published by University Press of Kentucky, 2003
“She once told me that she had done 13 pilots for [TV] series, not one of which was taken up. I think this was a slight exaggeration, but she certainly did make a great many. She ran one for me in which she acted with the actress Mary Wickes, who had played the nurse in both The Man Who Came to Dinner and Now, Voyager years before. Miss Wickes was a close friend of Lucille Ball’s. Bette decided not to like her. After working together as much as they had done, Bette’s dislike of Mary is a slight mystery. I believe that she heard of the friendship that Mary had developed with Lucille Ball, whom Bette did not like.” ...
“When I met Lucille Ball, she told me that she had been at the same acting school as Bette. Lucy had been a ‘new girl’ just as Bette was leaving, and she remembered seeing Bette on stage and thinking, ‘That girl is going to be a star.’
“When I next saw Bette, I told her I believed she had been to school with Lucy.
“‘No.’ Bette shook her head.
“You must have been, Bette,” I insisted. “She said so.”
“I don’t remember her!” Bette flared. “
Soon afterward, Bette was appearing in her one-woman show in Long Beach, California, and one of the first questions from a member of the audience was, ‘Is that Lucille Ball in the third row?’
“Bette shielded her eyes from the lights and called out into the audience: ‘Is that you, Lucy? Are you there?’
“‘Yes, Bette,’ Lucy called back.
“‘We go back a long way, don’t we, Lucy? We went to acting school together, didn’t we?’
“‘Yes, we did!’ shouted the delighted Lucy.
“Bette had decided to hedge her bets and trust that my information was correct.
“After the show, I went backstage, and Lucy was also there with Mary Wickes. Bette was visibly unhappy.
“Better later told me she didn’t much like Lucy; perhaps she was too much competition [for Miss Davis].”
Or perhaps Davis held a (wrongheaded, IMHO) grudge against Bankhead and Lucy for not being able to appear in the show.
08.12.08 It was a different kind of TV we looked forward to in September 1962. There were only the three major networks — CBS, NBC, and ABC — and some hard-to-see-UHF channels further up the dial, if you lived near a big city. Otherwise, you were out of luck. There was no such thing as cable television (for the masses, anyway), syndicated shows were run on network channels, often at odd hours, and in order to change channels, you actually had to get up off the couch, walk to the TV, and turn the dial. I remember our first remote-controlled TV; it was like manna from heaven. The stars were different, too. They were from the old school. Lucille Ball. Danny Thomas. Andy Griffith. Jack Benny. Garry Moore. Phil Silvers. Only Griffith is still alive. But these six were major stars at the time. And all of them had (or, in Silvers' case, had had, and would have another shot the following season) shows on CBS, then known as The Tiffany Network, for its plethora of solid, hit shows since the 1950s, and its stable of big stars.
[We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a moment: Many of you probably don't remember Moore, but he was an affable sketch performer, a top variety-show star and game-show host, and had an eye for talent. He was the first to put Carol Burnett in a weekly series spot (his own hit variety show). He nourished her talent, and it grew. Burnett says she always remembered that Moore would never steal another actor's laugh line or try to upstage anyone; he was happy to let others get the laughs, and the credit. She followed the same formula throughout her classic variety show, and it made her and her co-stars legends. ... And now, back to our regular programming...]
Yes, 1962 was a different time, a time when a network like CBS could ask its top stars to get together for a show spotlighting the upcoming season. And they would do whatever the network asked, without question. They all knew each other, they all had hit shows, and they all knew it was good for business. The result was the September 24, 1962 special, "Opening Night." As we approach the beginning of a new TV season, our first one post-strike, it's appropriate to look back — 46 years! — to 1962, when CBS produced this special. The stars of TV's Golden Age were still shining, some more brightly than others, and the Jefferson City, Mo. Post-Tribune celebrated the network's 1962-'63 lineup with a full-page article spotlighting the special. The show was designed to give TV audiences a taste of what they might expect on a nightly and weekly basis that season. The Post-Tribune ran the drawing above (by an unknown artist) featuring Lucy, Benny, Griffith, Moore, and Thomas. TV Guide and other newspapers used one of their favorite artists (and mine), Al Hirschfeld, in an ad touting the special (right). For some reason, Phil Silvers was left out of the Post-Tribune caricatures; perhaps he was considered too "New York," or maybe he was left out since he was the only one of the six without a regular series that season. But he's at the top of Hisrchfeld's drawing. This was, by the way, the debut season of The Lucy Show. Thomas was starring in his long-running sitcom, Make Room for Dadddy; Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show; Benny on The Jack Benny Show; and Moore was then host of I've Got a Secret.
08.06.08 I'm not a huge fan of reality TV programming — okay, one exception: the hilarious Kathy Griffin and her fab show My Life on the D List — but I am a Lucille Ball completist, so I feel compelled to mention that Tori Spelling and spouse Dean will portray a number of famous couples on the season finale of Oxygen’s Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood, which airs at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 12. They dress up as Sonny and Cher, June Carter and Johnny Cash, and, of course, the only reason I mention it, Lucy and Desi (see pic, left). Don't know if they'll be performing as the couples or just shown in costume, and don't much care. But you might. (I was stunned to find out the show is ending its third season. I have nothing against Ms. Spelling, especially since she's paying tribute to Ms. Ball...but come on, who is the audience for these cable network reality "shows"?) By the way, did you know Kathy won an Emmy for her show last year? ;-)
08.05.08 TV's FAVORITE COMEDY TEAM: LUCILLE BALL & VIVIAN VANCE
Did you know that when Vivian Vance wrote her autobiography (never published), she noted that there were rumors in Hollywood that she and pal Lucy were lesbian lovers? It's true! (At least, as published in the National Enquirer some years ago, which ran excerpts from Vance's book it got from an antiques dealer in San Francisco, to whom Vance's husband had left his estate.) Apparently, it stemmed from all the hugging and kissing and crying and making up the two did together on TV; they were so good at convincing everyone they were best friends...I guess they were too good! Or people just couldn't get their minds out of the gutter; shades of the celebrity press today. In any case, Vance and Ball really were friends, and loved working together — that's not say there weren't times they didn't get along. Anyone working in close quarters for such concentrated periods of time has felt the same way. They just didn't spend all their free time together. For one thing, they often lived in different cities, occasionally across the continent. For another, they were together so many hours when they did work, socializing afterward would've been a moot point.
08.02.08 The Lucy-Desi Center in Jamestown, N.Y., reported, “On Saturday, August 2, in conjunction with Lucy’s Birthday Celebration —August 1-3 — all Lucy artwork donated to the Center for its Visions of Lucy exhibit [including Rick Carl's piece, below left, and Dave Woodman's, below right, plus much more] was incorporated into the Lucy-Desi Memorabilia Auction. “In addition to the artwork, the auction offered over 100 vintage Lucy-Desi memorabilia items, plus special one-of-a-kind collectibles, including memorabilia from the estate of Vivian Vance. The auction was sponsored and conducted by Ludwig Auction & Realty Co. and was held at the Reg Lenna Civic Center, 116 E. Third Street in downtown Jamestown." As soon as I have information about the auction results, I'll post it here. [For some special Dave Woodman art that wasn't at Jamestown, keep reading.]
Of course, there were dozens more events happening at the Lucy-Desi Center throughout Lucy’s Birthday Weekend. These included a special sneak preview of the new Lucy-Desi Museum building, for Museum members only; 2-hour Lucytown Bus Tours, each featuring a special VIP guest; a tribute to Lucy’s costumer designer, Elois Jenssen; a talk with Lucy’s chauffeur, Frank Gorey, a great guy and a helluva raconteur; the always delightful Wanda Clark, Lucy’s personal secretary, at the annual fan reunion and picnic; screenings of films and TV shows featuring our favorite redhead, including the final, unaired episode of her last series, Life with Lucy; Lucy and Ethel impersonators extraordinaire Diane Vincent and Rhonda Medina, who entertained fans throughout the weekend; an improv class taught by Vivian Vance’s sister, actress Lou Ann Graham; and an evening with Lucy’s friend and co-star, Ruta Lee, “I Remember Lucy." Reports indicate that Lee was charming and her show was a delight. For more information about the Lucy-Desi Center, call (toll-free) 1-877-LUCY-FAN or visit www.lucy-desi.com.
Dave Woodman was kind enough to share with me, so I could share with you, some special, personal art he did some years ago never meant for publication...he drew these (above) on Post-Its, and they adorned his drawing table for years. You can see much more of his art at Dave's official website, www.davewoodmanart.com. To go right to his amazing art depicting all things Lucille Ball, a.k.a. Lucyland, go here. Enjoy!
06.27.08 My dear friend, actress Marie Wallace, just notified me of several appearances she'll be making in the near future, and I wanted to share. (That's Marie at left, with her hair looking quite Lucy circa the mid sixties, eh?) Marie, a Broadway, TV and film actress who's probably best known for several of her roles on the cult soap favorite, Dark Shadows, has at least one Lucy connection: she was in the 1963 Broadway show Nobody Loves an Albatross, starring Robert Preston, which was written by a former Desilu employee and featured a character based on Lucy, played by Constance Ford. [You can read all about it only in the new 4th edition of Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia.] Marie will be appearing, along with her friend, Larry Storch —who contributed a wonderful anecdote to my book, Sitcom Queens: Divas of the Small Screen, about a career boost Lucy gave him after WWII — Soupy Sales, and many other classic TV personalities at the upcoming Super Megashow and Comic Fest, July 12-13, in Wayne , N.J. Visit SuperMegashow.com for details. The fabulous Ms. Wallace will also be one of the stars at the Dark Shadows Fest, July 18-20 at the Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel, Burbank, Calif. She notes, "Besides the usual 'suspects' appearing there — [DS actors] Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Robert Rodan, John Karlen, Jerry Lacy, and yours truly — Jonathan Frid will do a rare dramatic performance and the actors will perform a Dark Shadows 'lost 1968 script.' ... Somehow they find a 'lost' script every year," she adds, wryly. If you see her at either convention, tell her I sent you! And pick up a copy of her book, On Stage & In Shadows, which I co-edited with our mutual dear friend, Craig Hamrick. It's a fascinating read for any show-biz fan.
06.24.08 Dody Goodman died today at the age of 93. The comedienne with the twitchy southern-tinged voice and ditzy personality was best-known as the mother on the seventies soap satire, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, but had started out as a dancer on Broadway in the 1940s, and appeared with Vivian Vance on Broadway in the comedy My Daughter, Your Son, which ran from May 14 -June 21, 1969. Though not a hit, the two actresses became good friends during the run. It was a success in various stock productions; Vance and Goodman often toured with the show whenever either of them wanted a little extra cash.
At right, from 1944, the line king himself, Al Hirschfeld, created a "map" of the USA filled with then-current MGM stars, including Lucy, for the studio's publicity machine. Lucy is just below left of center, with William Powell to her left, Mickey Rooney to her right, Myrna Loy at top left and Katharine Hepburn at top right. I believe that's Hedy Lamarr at top center, but don't know who's depicted between her and Loy —though it sure looks like Sean William Scott! Can anyone help with the rest? Hirschfeld of course, drew Lucy many times throughout her career. This is from the book Hirschfeld's Hollywood. Thanks to Dave Woodman for the scan.
06.11.08 Several high-profile actors and others with Lucy connections have died in the past few weeks. I can’t do all of them justice with the full bios they deserve, but here’s a quick look at those who recently left us: Actor, director and producer Mel Ferrer died at the age of 90 on June 2. Of Cuban heritage, Ferrer was one of the founders of the La Jolla Playhouse, near San Diego, California, and lured pal Vivian Vance out of retirement (she’d had a nervous breakdown) to appear in The Voice of the Turtle there in July 1951. I Love Lucy director Marc Daniels took Desi Arnaz and Jess Oppenheimer to see Vance perform, and afterword Arnaz reportedly exclaimed, “We’ve found our Ethel Mertz!” ... Harvey Korman, best known as Carol Burnett’s variety show co-star, who, along with Burnett, Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence, created some of television’s finest and funniest moments, died on May 29 at the age of 81. He won four Emmys for his TV work, and was inducted into the ATAS Television Hall of Fame (along with co-star Conway) several yers ago. Korman performed in three episodes of The Lucy Show that aired in 1964 and 1965. Burnett said through a spokesperson that she was “devastated” and “loved Harvey very much.” Korman was also known for his hilarious turn as comically corrupt politician Hedley Lamarr in Mel Brooks’ classic Blazing Saddles. … Finally, two people associated with Star Trek, a Desilu series that was one of the last greenlighted by Chairman Lucille Ball before she sold her studio to Paramount, recently passed away: Alexander Courage died May 15 at age 88; he composed the Star Trek theme song, one of the most famous and oft-played pieces of music ever written. Courage also orchestrated such musical films as Gigi, Bells Are Ringing, Hello Dolly, and Fiddler on the Roof. Joseph Pevney, who died May 18 at the age of 96, directed 14 episodes of Star Trek, including some of the show's most popular and best-remembered episodes, like “The Trouble with Tribbles,” “Amok Time,” and “The City on the Edge of Forever.” He also directed Lucie Arnaz in her 1975 TV movie, Who Is the Black Dahlia?
05.27.08 Dick Martin Dies at 86 Martin, the nightclub entertainer, comedian, actor, and television director, passed away over the weekend from respiratory failure. Martin, with his older brother Bob, had headed to Hollywood in 1942 at the age of 20 to try and break into show business. After working sporadically as an actor, writer and comic for radio, Martin found himself bartending in 1952 when he met and partnered with Dan Rowan. With Rowan as the handsome, sophisticated straight man, and Martin as the goofy zany, the pair became ever more popular on the nightclub circuit. In 2007, Martin remarked that although he thought they never really made it big in clubs, the pair became well known and respected in the business, and were never out of work. He also said it was his favorite era in his career.
Martin and Rowan also worked separately when possible, and that’s where the comedian’s Lucy connection comes in: he was a semi-regular on the first (black-and-white) season (1962-’63) of The Lucy Show, playing Lucy Carmichael (Lucille Ball) and Vivian Bagley’s (Vivian Vance) bachelor pilot neighbor. He was a good foil for both women, and a potential boyfriend for Lucy’s character, but the show went in a different direction and he left after the first season. A few years later, after a successful summer stint subbing for Dean Martin, Rowan and Martin were offered their own variety show, and the groundbreaking Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In debuted in 1968 (and ran through 1973). A totally irreverent, satirical commentary on the then-thorny era of the late 1960s/early 1970s, the show was an immediate hit and brought him lasting fame (and eternal association with the various catchphrases the show spawned, like “You bet your sweet bippy”). It aired opposite The Lucy Show and then Here’s Lucy, and comedian Arte Johnson (one of a repertory company that included future stars Ruth Buzzi, Goldie Hawn, Jo Anne Worley, Lily Tomlin, and Judy Carne), often ended the hour-long show saying “Good night, Lucy, I love you,” or some variation thereof.
Rowan and Martin continued their nightclub act until 1977, when they separated amicably. Rowan died in 1987, but Martin continued as an actor and well-regarded television director, beginning on his friend Bob Newhart’s classic series, The Bob Newhart Show. Martin also appeared as an interviewee in the insightful PBS documentary Finding Lucy (2000).
05.12.08 On May 9, The Paley Center for Media Broadcast a special honoring TV’s All-Time Funniest in a variety of categories, including Dads, Moms, Kids, Neighbors, Friends, Relatives, and Coworkers. There were none of the typical categories like Best Sitcom or Best Comedic Actress, which explains why Carol Burnett, Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Elizabeth Montgomery and many other television legends were not acknowledged. According to the Paley Center, “TV fans across the country were asked to choose their funniest characters in … eight categories,” with the results tabulated by Nielsen Media Research (the weekly TV ratings people). Lucille Ball, I guess, had to be mentioned one way or another, and Lucy was crowned TV’s No. 1 all-time funniest mom, though that’s not the first attribute we usually apply to Lucy Ricardo. But she was, indeed, a mother, and one wonders why, in that case, the Paley Center chose to illustrate her “Funniest Mother” honor with a clip of Vitameatavegamin, instead of one from “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” i.e., the birth of Little Ricky (one of TV’s most-watched sitcom episodes, ever). Other good news: Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance, above with Lucy and Desi Arnaz as the Ricardos) were chosen as the No. 2 All-Time Funniest Neighbors — behind Seinfeld's Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), No. 1.
By the way, in 2005, the Paley Center (formerly The Museum of Television and Radio) created the "She Made It" honor, recognizing female achievements in all areas of media. Among the first group of honorees was, of course, Lucille Ball, described as leaving her “indelible mark” on the media as a television producer, executive, director and actress.
05.06.08 Oh, for corn’s sake! Here’s a typical question about this subject: “Fred Mertz [William Frawley, left] on I Love Lucy always used to say “Oh, for corn’s sake!” whenever he was annoyed or exasperated at one of Lucy and Ethel’s crazy schemes. But I don’t remember ever hearing that phrase anywhere else, in the movies, theater, radio, or TV. Can you tell me what the origin of the phrase is and whether it was a popular expression of that era (the 1950s)?”
Well, I can tell you a little about where it came from, but not exactly when or where it was first used. The phrase itself does not come up when you search for it on any of the dozens of regular dictionaries and word usage sites, or even slang dictionaries. It’s as if it doesn’t exist. However, a general Google search will yield results, most of which lead to a book called Walter Tetley: For Corn’s Sake, about the character and voice actor who became best-known as Leroy, the nephew of The Great Gildersleeve on the popular radio show (1941-1954) of the same name. (Gildersleeve was actually one of the first spin-offs, focusing on a popular character from the hit radio series Fibber McGee and Molly.)
Anyway, one of Leroy’s favorite phrases was…you guessed it, “For corn’s sake!” That’s as far back as I can go. Several further points: Lucille Ball’s writers — head writer Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh — all had lengthy careers writing for radio before joining up on Ball’s radio show, My Favorite Husband (which, of course, served as the template for I Love Lucy). So they had all heard the phrase “For corn’s sake,” perhaps many times, and it’s likely they appropriated it as an expression to help define the Fred Mertz character.
It must also be noted that show business in the electronic age has a long tradition of substituting “normal” or like-sounding words for profane words that would not make it past the censors. “For corn’s sake” might have originally been a substitute for “For Christ’s sake.” On TV currently (2008), you can catch another bowdlerized word on Battlestar Galactica, first popularized on the original 1978-‘79 version: “frack(ing)” or “frak(king),” used as an acceptable (for TV) expletive instead of “f—k(ing).” The new version has expanded the use of the word to such expressions/words as “What the frak?”, “Are you frakking her?” and “motherfrakking.” (Another cult sci-fi series, Farscape — 1999-2003 — created its own substitute words: frell for f—k, and dren for s—t.)
That’s all I can come up with for the origins of “For corn’s sake”: a made-up expression by the Gildersleeve writers, taken on by the Lucy writers, as a saltier or funnier (i.e., instead of “For goodness’ sake”) and less profane way of making a point, or defining a character. (And for frak’s sake, I think it’s enough!)
But since I’d been led to investigate Gildersleeve, I couldn’t help notice the unusual amount of connections between that show and I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and on and on. As fellow fans, I thought you might be interested. The following all had radio roles on Gildersleeve, followed by their Lucy connection (in parentheses): Richard Crenna (first TV appearance was as a guest star on the first-season episode of I Love Lucy, “The Young Fans”; regular on the Desilu series Our Miss Brooks; hit series The Real McCoys filmed at Desilu; talking head on The I Love Lucy 50th Anniversary special, 2001); Barbara Whiting (starred with her sister Margaret on a short-lived Desilu show called Those Whiting Girls, created and written by Bob Carroll and Madelyn Pugh; appeared on a TV Guide cover with Lucy and Desi Arnaz as a result); Shirley Mitchell (played Marion Strong, Lucy Ricardo’s friend with the unusual laugh on I Love Lucy; guest-starred on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse; semi-regular on the Desilu spin-off Pete & Gladys; guest-starred on Arnaz’s sitcom The Mothers-in-Law, Oppenheimer’s sitcom The Debbie Reynolds Show, and Carroll and Pugh’s hit Alice; Bea Benaderet (co-star on My Favorite Husband as Lucille Ball’s character’s scheming friend; Ball’s first choice to play Ethel Mertz, but she was already co-starring on Burns & Allen and couldn’t take the part; and guest-starred on I Love Lucy in its first season); Gale Gordon (co-starred as Benaderet’s husband on My Favorite Husband; Ball’s first choice to play Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy but was already playing the principal on Our Miss Brooks; guest-starred several times on I Love Lucy as Ricky Ricardo’s Tropicana nightclub boss; guest-starred on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour; co-starred with Ball in all of her subsequent series: The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, and Life With Lucy, as well as the specials Lucy Calls the President, Lucy Moves to NBC, and Bungle Alley, a pilot that Ball directed). We now return you to your regular programming. (Whew!)
05.01.08The original newspaper caption to the picture at left reads, "The pretty brunette, Cleopatra, who gets kissed by John Hodiak during the Mardi Gras sequences in Time for Two is Cleo Morgan, sister of Lucille Ball, who gets Hodiak in the picture." If you know Lucy's film career, you're aware of the fact that she never starred in a movie called Time for Two. She did, however, co-star with Hodiak in 1946's noirish Two Smart People, along with Lloyd Nolan. Can we say title change? The two played con artists on the run shadowed by sympathetic cop Nolan. It's a neat little B pic, and Morgan is not even credited. She was actually Lucy's first cousin, who lived with the Ball family for a while in Jamestown, N.Y. during Lucy's childhood. Lucy felt so close to Cleo she often referred to her as "my sister." Morgan did a few other film bits and ended up as a producer on Here's Lucy; she also produced Lucy's 1966 special Lucy in London. Hodiak was a handsome leading man who appeared in more than 30 films and a smattering of TV, then died young, at 41 in 1955, of a heart attack in 1955. Miss Ball, of course, went on to become a legend.
04.25.08 Once I Love Lucy became a smash hit, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were enlisted to sell everything from furniture to baby clothing to matching pajamas. Lucy herself was a sought after spokesperson for a variety of other products as well, during her movie and TV careers. Now, in 2008, "Lucy" and several other celebrity icons have been enlisted to make a pitch for Armstrong vinyl floors. According to Trendhunter magazine online, "In order to promote their realistic-looking laminate floors, Armstrong has come up with this witty 'It only looks like the real thing' campaign. The campaign utilizes great photography and art direction for a realistic portrayal of dead icons in new images. Four print ads feature James Dean, Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball and Dean Martin in authentic poses and outfits with the Armstrong laminate floors. It’s done in good taste and delivers a strong statement about the product itself. The campaign was created by BBDO New York with awesome art and creative direction by David DiRienz and photography by Norman Jean Roy." I say, there's nothing like having one of the best known (and most seen ever) celebrity faces endorsing your product. The ads are clever, and of course, use celebrity lookalikes, as evidenced by the note in tiny print at the bottom of the Lucy ad: "Likeness of Lucilel Ball used with the permission of Desilu too llc." The latter company is run by Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. Lucy's kids have been very careful about allowing the use of their mother's image, especially in advertising, but I think this is a cool choice.
04.23.08 Yours truly recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by pop culture critic and television historian Dave White as part of his Talking Television Internet radio series on KSAV.org. Dave, his cohosts Wes Britton and Ron Turner, and I talked about Lucille Ball, naturally, and my book, Lucy A to Z. It was the first of two parts (next week I'm on Tuesday, the 29th, 11 p.m. to midnight East Coast time, 8-9 p.m. in L.A. Feel free to e-mail questions or call in.). An hour plus commercials is not really time enough to even begin to cover Lucy and her career, but we gave it a good shot, and the show is already archived at the KSAV site. Click on the link, then click Archives on the left menu when you get to the home page, then click "Talking Television with Dave White," and finally click the date 04/22/08 (Lucille Ball Part 1) or 04/29/08 (Lucille Ball Part 2). Note that there's a half hour or so before the interview where Dave and his co-hosts discuss other subjects, most of them related to TV, of course. And during the interview itself, don't skip the commercial breaks — the commercials are all nostalgia-related, and in this case you'll hear Dino Desi & Billy plugging RC Cola, and Vivian Vance as Maxine, the Maxwell House Coffee spokesperson, among others. I want to thank Dave, Wes, and Ron for having me, and yes, I had a Ball!
04.11.08 Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz loved Palm Springs, California. They had a house there together for many years, and after they divorced, each settled there with their new spouses, Gary Morton and Edie Hirsch. Desi was known for his carousing, and often Lucy had to send a trusted friend to go get him after a night out of gambling, drinking and God knows what else. Ball was content to enjoy the atmosphere and play games like tennis or backgammon. The 50th Anniversary collector’s edition of Palm Springs Life (its April 2008 issue, on newsstands now) features several pictures of Lucy (one with Arnaz, at left, from the 1950s, and one (below right) with Morton, Magda Gabor (Zsa Zsa and Eva’s mom), and George Sanders (who was married to Zsa Zsa for five years (1949-’54) and married to Magda (!) for one year—1970-’71, probably the period when this picture was taken—and co-starred with Lucy in the 1947 movie Lured). You can read much more about Lucy, Desi, and Palm Springs in the 4th edition of my book, Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia under the entry “Palm Springs.”
The April issue of Palm Springs Life is a must-have for any Lucy fan, or fan of Golden Age Hollywood in general. There are articles and pictures about every major star who ever vacationed, visited or lived in the desert playground. And if you visit the magazine’s website and do a search for “Lucille Ball” you’ll come up with more than a dozen articles, including one on I Love Lucy director William Asher and his wife, Meredith (Asher notes, “Lucy was a great talent and a great lady. And she worked for perfection in all she did.”) and one on Bob Hope’s film career in which he discusses his 1960 movie with Lucy, The Facts of Life. Writer Jill Borak reported in January 2000, "The Facts of Life was a daring picture for Bob. ‘It was the story of two handicapped people who fall in love. Their handicaps were his wife and her husband,’ Hope told her. “Hope writers Norman Panama and Mel Frank wrote the script. 'But not for Lucille Ball and me, the fools,’ Hope said. ‘Norman and Mel wanted to explore the adultery theme of Brief Encounter with an American story starring William Holden and Olivia de Havilland. The comedy in the last third of the film would have to go, unless … the writers brainstormed. Yes! We can save it by making it with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball!’ The deal was made. Recalls Bob: ‘Half of the profits went to a very worthy cause. And Lucille got the other half. It was a lot different from when Lucy and I made Sorrowful Jones and Fancy Pants together. Now she was the biggest star in television and owned her own studio. It was the first time I ever kissed a studio head.’ Pause. ‘Face-to-face.’" [I'm pretty sure Hope was joking about the money. In any case, he was perhaps one of the few in Hollywood wealthier than Lucy and the two were close friends.]
Finally, there’s another article you can find on the magazine’s site titled “In the Swing,” by Howard Johns from 1999, about the popular Palm Springs celebrity hangout, Chi Chi. Johns notes that, “The media described this giant supper club as ‘The second biggest nightclub west of the Mississippi,' where some of the brightest names in showbiz gathered for more than 25 years. Bigger than Ciro’s, better than the Trocadero, and more fun than the Mocambo that jammed L.A.’s Sunset Strip, the Chi Chi was a veritable shrine to live entertainment. Located on Palm Canyon Drive, it was the scene of many outstanding debuts, several exciting comebacks, and a few tearful farewells.”
Johns recalls one night in particular, October 10, 1950, after some refurbishing, when “The Chi Chi’s houselights were dimmed, and an amber spotlight illuminated the center stage of the newly completed Starlite Room, where 500 VIPs and celebrities sat shoulder-to-shoulder, white-linen-covered tables packed with bottles of Champagne, highballs, and Cuban cigars. A timpani drum roll hushed the excited audience as the curtain rose to reveal bouquets of tropical orchids, birds of paradise, stuffed green macaws, and the evening’s star attraction: Desi Arnaz, wearing a straw hat and twirling a cane, accompanied by his 17-piece orchestra.
“Arnaz welcomed the distinguished guests, many of whom had traveled by plane, train, and automobile for the special occasion. He then grabbed a conga drum, flashed a wicked grin, and launched into a pulsating rendition of his chart-topping song ‘Babalu.’
“The audience stomped and hollered their approval. ‘Busby Berkeley,’ Arnaz yelled over the microphone, referring to the movie director and choreographer of kaleidoscopic Hollywood musicals, ‘Eat your heart out!’
“Sitting in the front row on that unforgettable opening night was Arnaz’s wife, Lucille Ball, wearing a pink chiffon evening gown. Arnaz dedicated a medley of songs to his beloved redhead and blew her a kiss.”
04.01.08 Vivian Vance, as some of you certainly know, had a long and successful Broadway and touring stage career before she landed on I Love Lucy. Her stage productions are covered extensively in the new Fourth Edition of Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia, which also includes pictures for the first time, many of them rare and not seen for decades. This picture (at left) is one of those, when Vance was just beginning to make noise on Broadway; it's an artist's rendering of her, circa 1939, that ran in one of the New York papers. Around that time she was co-starring in her first non-musical hit, supporting star Gertrude Lawrence in Skylark.
03.01.08Why are Lucy and Desi brandishing a heart in the middle of a parade in New York City, circa the late 1950s? The Arnazes were very charitable people, and the Heart Fund was honoring them for the money they raised. This photo was one of literally thousands I went through for the fourth edition of Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia at a wonderful archive in New York called Photofest (thanks, Ron and Howard!). I ultimately picked 50 for the new 4th Edition of the book, but it was a tough process, taking hours of sifting and deciding just which ones would be right. I had to limit the photo count in the book to 50, and this is one of the photos that didn't make it.
02.06.08 The New York Friars Club honored our favorite funny lady, Lucille Ball, renaming its second floor Celebrity Room after her. Lucy's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, was a special guest of honor at an invitation-only reception in the new Lucille Ball Room that marked the occasion. Comedienne Joy Behar (The View) joined Arnaz to pay tribute to Ball, who was feted by the Friars while alive on more than one occasion, including an infamous 1958 roast of Lucy and Desi Arnaz, during which comedian Parkyakarkus (Albert Brooks' father) died of a heart attack immiedately after delivering his routine. Lucy is the first woman so honored (with her own room) by the Friars.
02.01.08 Lucy was at the end of her MGM contract when the studio put her in its lavish, Technicolor spectacular, Ziegfeld Follies, in 1946. But instead of using her in one of the comedy sketches, such as the one future I Love Lucy co-star William Frawley did with Fanny Brice about a winning lottery ticket, our redhead was wasted in an opulent, but pointless, opening number, "Bring on the Beautiful Girls." In dazzling Technicolor, Lucy rode herd over a bevy of gorgeous chorus girls, some dressed as panthers, and wielded a whip to make them "dance." Although campy beyond belief when viewed today (and Lucy has rarely looked more beautiful), the role was a five-minute cameo, and a perfect example of how MGM, among many of the other big studios like RKO and Columbia, just did not know what to do with Lucy onscreen, a beautiful star who could also clown around with the best of them. But that's okay — Lucy found her medium several years later, a new-fangled thing called TV, for which she and husband Desi Arnaz (also woefully misused at RKO and MGM) created the sitcom as we know it today with I Love Lucy. Eventually, their studio, Desilu, bought their old studio, RKO. Yes, revenge can be sweet.
01.02.08 Lucille Ball’s 1940 movie classic, Dance, Girl, Dance, one of her finest films and best performances, was added to the U.S. National Film Registry in the Library of Congress in late 2007, along with several dozen other films. According to the LOC, “Although there were numerous women filmmakers in the early decades of silent cinema, by the 1930s directing in Hollywood had become a male bastion, with one exception. Dorothy Arzner graduated from editing to directing in the late 1920s, often exploring the conflicted roles of women in contemporary society. In Dance, Girl, Dance, her most intriguing film, two women (Lucille Ball and Maureen O’Hara) pursue life in show business from opposite ends of the spectrum: burlesque and ballet. The film is a meditation on the disparity between art and commerce. The dancers strive to preserve their own feminist integrity, while fighting for their place in the spotlight and for the love of male lead Louis Hayward.” Brava, Lucille.
For information on events year-round, contact the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, N.Y., at 1-877-582-9326, or go online to www.lucy-desi.com.
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