She's New York State's best-known export: Lucille Ball, generally acknowledged as the greatest female slapstick comedienne of our time. If you can't get enough news about the wacky redhead, her co-stars, and her life, here's where you'll find it. Dig in and enjoy! [Note: For all older Lucy news, see The Lucy Archives, here!
04.18.13 Lucy & Desi Chosen TV's No. 4 Top Couple! It’s crazy, I know. A television series that premiered almost 62 years ago was, in the past year, voted (by online voters in an ABC news poll) the most popular comedy series, and the most popular series, period, of all time. That series, of course, is I Love Lucy.
One of its episodes, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital”—in which Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky, the same day actress Lucille Ball gave birth to her son, Desi Arnaz Jr. —took in more viewers (44 million, or 72 percent of the viewing audience at the time) than President Eisenhower’s inauguration, and is widely considered to be the single most-watched episode of series television.
Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, plus the show itself, have each been separately inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) Hall of Fame, the only series to have every one of its key players honored in this way. I Love Lucy remains the only series ever inducted.
A few years Ago, TV Guide named Lucy and Ricky Ricardo one of “The Best TV Couples of All Time” and recently, Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch website asked its audience to pick “The Greatest TV Couple of All Time.” Lucy and Ricky beat out every Golden Age TV couple on the list, and were in the end defeated by Dr. Who’s The Doctor and Rose.
But the fact that Lucy and Ricky were voted a Top 4 TV couple of all time (and they, EW noted on its website, were a “sentimental favorite” who made it to No. 4 “without a grassroots media presence”) is further proof of the apparently eternal popularity of I Love Lucy and its characters, not to mention a testament to Ball and Arnaz as actors and producers who created the template for the modern sitcom as we know it. I hate to crow (nah, not about Lucy, I don’t), but, I keep telling you so!
04.04.13 More Lucy Memorabilia Up for Auction Literally hundreds of Hollywood-themed items, from costumes to checkbooks to classic Golden Age photography, will be part of an online auction at RR Auction, based in New Hampshire. You can visit the online items up for bids by clicking here. According to RR, bidding for its "Hollywood & Horror Auction" opens April 18th, 2013 and ends April 25th, 2013.
The reason I mention this, of course, is because there are several Lucille Ball items up for grabs. The auction is not as comphrehensivce as some recent auctions have been (at Heritage Auctions and Profiles in History, for example) in terms of the amount of Lucy memorabilia being auctioned.
I only found three photographs of our favorite redhead in the mix. One was a familiar 1960s glamour shot; one of Lucy as fellow icon Charlie Chaplin's classic character The Tramp (from an early episode of her series The Lucy Show), and, to me the most interesting, a Golden Age shot of Ball looking extraordinarily beautiful (partially pictured, at left), signed and inscribed in fountain pen to hairdresser Wally Wallace: "To Wally, with best wishes, Lucille Ball." (The other photos are signed, too.)
Lucy's photos are included in the category of "Legends and Icons" (along with the likes of Judy Garland, as opposed to mere "Actors & Actresses" (which lot includes the likes of ZaSu Pitts, Barbara Stanwyck, and Loretta Young. Though the categorization seems a bit arbitrary, I ain't complaining. I tagged Ball as an icon many years ago, and even wrote a book about it: The Comic DNA of Lucille Ball: Interpreting the Icon.
By the way, I googled "Wally Wallace Hollywood hairdresser," but got no results except for the RR auction text. I also searched for him on the Internet Movie Database and got nothing. If anyone has a bio or any information on Wallace and his career in Tinseltown, send it to me via email (see the main page, bottom); I'm intrigued.
Lucy's pictures are each set at a starting bid of $200. I didn't have chance to browse through every category in the Hollywood items, but I also found these two items in other categories (all text is from the RR auction site):
1. "Collection of correspondence between Lucy and Kenny Westcott consisting of five TLS [typed signed letters], all signed 'Lucy,' dating from 1965–1971, and two ALSs [autographed signed letters], signed 'Lucy,' one oversize, written from Gstaad and Hawaii. One TLS from 1965 reads, in part: 'I just want you to know how much I appreciate you and your brother, Freddie, not only for the consistently fine job you do, but for your unfailing good nature.' One letter is accompanied by the original mailing envelope. In fine condition. Westcott served as the property master for all 144 episodes of Here’s Lucy. RR Auction COA. Minimum bid, $200.
2. "Three original unsigned pencil and watercolor costume sketches [ascribed to legendary costume designer Edith Head] of various actresses for The Lucy Show on individual off-white sheets, two 12 x 17.5 and one 11 x 15. Each sketch is full-length with one sketch having a 3 x 4 fabric swatch stapled to the top. In fine condition. RR Auction COA. Minimum bid, $200."
And it's possible there are other Lucy gems waiting to be discovered. You owe it to yourself to visit RR and take a gander at some of the gorgeous items the auction house has put up for bid. Whether you're a fan of old Hollywood or just the Lucyverse, you won't be disappointed.
03.28.13 Car Crash Damages Lucy-Desi Museum Awning According to online news station WIVB4.com, serving the Buffalo. N.Y., area, “A man is facing several charges after allegedly driving drunk, crashing his vehicle [into one of the buildings of the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy] and then leaving the scene of the accident. Jamestown Police say the 22-year-old was driving drunk around 1:50 a.m. Sunday (March 24), on W. 3rd Street and Mechanics Alley.
“Police say Kimbrough was driving recklessly, at a high rate of speed, when his vehicle went airborne and struck another vehicle, causing that vehicle to strike a parked car. A pole to an awning of the Lucy-Desi Museum was damaged in the incident. [Note: the photo at left is of the old store-front Museum circa 2004, not the building that was hit] Kimbrough allegedly exited the vehicle, and left the scene.
“Police say Kimbrough was located a short time later due to witnesses describing the suspect and the direction he traveled in. When in Jamestown City Jail, police say Kimbrough was uncooperative. Police say Kimbrough was charged with DWI, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, and criminal impersonation, in addition to vehicle and traffic offenses.”
Well, at least none of the buildings were damaged. You can show some love for The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy by visiting its site online, at www.lucy-desi.com, and shopping for Lucy merchandise (including my books, of course!) at its online store; all proceed go to the Center. You can also attend special events throughout the year, like its Valentine’s Day Event and the upcoming Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy, being held August 1-4, 2013. Contact the Center for more details.
You can also read my Jamestown diary, which relates my experiences during the 2004 Lucy-Desi Days festival by visiting www.sitcomboy.com/James4.html.
03.18.13 Lucy & Ethel: Real New York Dolls! Fans in the New York area or who might be visiting though April will surely want to stop in downtown Chelsea and see a new exhibit that captures the lives of celebrities and folklore characters via recreating them as dolls. Why? Because two of the featured dolls are Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz (aka Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance; see picture, left).The exhibit has been on display since March 5 at Silver Maples Retirement Community in Chelsea, and be open to the public through April 30.
The exhibit, titled "Maker Dolls: Archetypes, Celebrities, and Private Lives," was created by artist and doll-maker Jill Andrews. Andrews is described as "a longtime Chelsea resident," according to The Chelsea Patch, "who designs and constructs character dolls. Some are archetypes from folklore or history, some are famous personalities, and others are modeled after her friends or family."
Andrews believes that dolls "build on thousands of years of history. Archaeological evidence suggests that dolls are the oldest known toy, dating back as early as 2000 BCE. In most cultures, dolls were used as carriers of cultural heritage–icons passed down through multiple generations, who both preserved and communicated stories of the human condition."
Andrews herself views dolls as "present-day icons — unique messengers who remind us that our lives can be rich and multidimensional through making (or learning to make). Each is a caricature of a real person, and each tells a unique story."
Each of the doll's personas is carefully researched by Andrews before design and construction, the Patch reported: "Each face is hand-painted, and most have been needle-sculpted. The body is crafted using organic and/or recycled fabric, and dressed with custom clothing. Many feature recycled jewelry, vintage buttons, beads, and found objects." According to Andrews, the Lucy set is one of her favorites.
The exhibit is open to the public through April 30. For more information about Anderson, visit www.makerdolls.com.
03.01.13 46 Years Ago, Lucy Sold Desilu Studios to Paramount It was a job she never claimed to like. In fact, just the opposite: Lucy was never comfortable with all that responsibility and power that came withbeing president of Desilu Studios, which she gained in 1962 after ex-husband Desi Arnaz sold his shares in the studio in 1962 (Desilu was created in 1950). She especially hated firing anyone. And when she took control of Desilu, the company was losing in excess of $650,000 a year. But by July 1967, when this article (pic at left) appeared in TV Guide—headlined “The President Wore a Dress to the Stockholders Meeting” —the “wacky” redhead had turned around the studio’s finances, and it was showing a profit in excess of $830,000. Not bad for those who had pooh-poohed the idea of a woman, especially Lucy, running a major Hollywood studio.
Still, Ball fretted over the interest payments on the $3 million she borrowed to buy out Desi’s shares, and worried about her new nickname whispered in the corridors of Tinseltown: Lucille Balls, because she had to make the tough decisions any studio exec had to make. Reporter Dwight Whitney noted the company was “doing a gross annual business of $30 million.” Not to mention Ball was starring in the fifth season of her second hit sitcom, The Lucy Show. The article’s headline makes a point in itself, how rare it was for a woman to head a Hollywood studio (in fact, Lucy was the first, and only one, at that time, a true pioneer). Lucy was fraught with the responsibility of dealing with her attorney Micky Rudin’s ideology about running a studio: “A company in TV alone cannot survive today’s market. You have to make 20 pilots to get three [aired]. How do you amortize that? Diversify, Lucy, diversify.”
At the time this article was published, no one had a clue as to what Lucy would do, and financier Charles Bludhorn had followed Ball to Miami, where she was supposedly trying to interest Jackie Gleason in a movie deal, but in reality was probably trying to escape making a decision. The good news: the decision was made, and Ball sold her baby, Desilu, to Paramount for a reputed $17 million , shortly after this article was published, but not before green-lighting two of the most successful shows in TV history: Mission Impossible and Star Trek…thus proving to everyone that it wasn’t wise to underestimate Lucille Ball, whether as actress, comedian, or television executive.
02.13.13 Lucy and Desi: TV’s Most Romantic Couple! In honor of Valentine’s Day, we celebrate Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who, as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, may have had their fights, but one thing was never in doubt: the couple’s inherent, deep love for each other. That’s why, nearly 62 years after the debut of I Love Lucy, The Salt Lake (City) Tribune can put Lucy and Ricky at the top of their list of TV’s Most Romantic couples, ahead of Morticia and Gomez (Carolyn Jones and John Astin) of The Addams Family, Buffy and Angel (Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz) on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cheers’ Sam and Diane (Ted Danson and Shelley Long), Homer and Marge Simpson, Rob and Laura (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) on The Dick van Dyke Show, even the fabulous bromance of J.D. and Turk (Zach Braff and Donald Faison) on Scrubs.
Why do Lucy and Ricky still resonate so deeply? Many reasons. To start with, Ball moved to television from movies and radio to co-starring with her husband so that they could spend more time together. As a bandleader, he was often on tour during the 1940s while Lucy remained in Hollywood or out stumping for War Bonds. As she once noted, it was impossible to have kids long-distance! When TV execs were afraid the public wouldn’t accept the Cuban Arnaz as hubbie to Lucy, an all-American girl, Ball pointed out that he was, indeed, her husband, and agreed to take a stage act on the road to prove the public loved them. And love them the public did…then and ever after.
Once that hurdle was over, Ball and Arnaz, with the help of their extremely talented creative team and fellow actors, went about creating the sitcom as we know it today, fueled by the romance between lovable but wacky Lucy Ricardo and her more pragmatic husband, bandleader Ricky. It was the first national series to introduce a pregnancy into the storyline. Just try to watch the episode in which Lucy tells Ricky they’re going to have a baby without tearing up. The stars both did on the first take, and though director William Asher wanted to film it again, dry, he was persuaded by others to leave it as is, creating one of the most indelible episodes in TV history.
The public naturally assumed the TV show reflected the Arnaz’s real-life marriage. As we know now, nothing could have been further from the truth. Desi’s drinking and carrying on with other women put a huge strain on their union, and in 1960, after the series ended, they divorced. But Arnaz was there to help birth Lucy’s next hit sitcom, The Lucy Show, and even though he eventually sold his half of Desilu to Ball, he continued to advise her, and she continued to ask for his advice, throughout the rest of their lives. According to daughter Lucie and many of their mutual friends, the two never stopped loving each other, and were, in fact, the loves of each other’s lives. This is evident in a scene from the 1993 documentary Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie, which Lucie co-produced. In the final minutes, watch Lucy and Desi swimming with their grandson. It’s moving, and real, and you can see the love between them.
Desi was dying of cancer in 1986, so he couldn’t come to the Kennedy Center Honors to salute his wife that winter. In his place, he sent Robert Stack, star of the Desilu series The Untouchables, who read Desi’s tribute to his favorite redhead. It ended with the following: “P.S.: ‘I Love Lucy’ was never just a title.” Desi died just five days before the ceremony, and watching the program, you could see Ball struggling to keep her composure. Theirs was truly a great love, including the tragic elements evident in all great love stories.
Desi and Lucy created the rerun—they filmed the series so they could send better-quality copies to stations across the country to be aired, rather than the then-typical kinescoped versions of other shows. When I Love Lucy went into syndication, a new opening credit sequence was created using a heart to surround the names of the cast and crew. After more than 60 years of reruns, the heart itself has become an appropriate symbol for the show. So here’s to Valentine’s Day, to you and your loved ones, and the legendary love of two actors who made their dream come true, and in doing so became an eternal symbol for the love two people can share.
02.01.13 Vivian Vance Busted by ATAS…Part II! As I reported in an exclusive last October 15, a bronze bust of Vivian Vance as Ethel Mertz would 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). Vance and the actor who played her television hubby, William Frawley (aka Fred Mertz) were inducted into the ATAS HoF on March 1, 2012. That made I Love Lucy the only series in which every one of its major cast members has been inducted separately into the HoF. The series itself was also inducted into the HoF, and remains the only television show thus honored.
Now comes word from sculptor Richard Becker, the artist who sculpted Vance’s likeness for ATAS (at left is the final clay version, from which the bronze sculpture was cast) that the installation, after being postponed at least once, was scheduled for yesterday, January 31. Becker was kind enough to get in touch with me toward the end of his sculpting process, and actually asked for my input on the project. I was honored to do so.
Here’s part of what Richard originally wrote me on October 2, 2012: “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! ... 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 years 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!….”
Jan. 12, 2013, the 60th anniversary of the I Love Lucy sculptress episode, would have been the ideal date for the installation, but that has come and gone. I am awaiting confirmation and photos that the installation actually occurred, and once I have pics I will share them with you. (Becker’s website is richardbecker.com.)
01.22.13 Would You Believe…Lucille Balls ?! It’s been said that Lucille Ball was tough to work with as she got older, especially after her divorce from Desi Arnaz following the incredible run of I Love Lucy, when she found herself alone and basically took control of her next two successful series, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. But more often than not, you hear Lucy’s peers say that while she could be tough on set, she was inevitably right about what she wanted for her show. Joan Rivers, for example, worked with Ball on Here’s Lucyin 1973, and noted on a recent PBS documentary, Pioneers of Television: Funny Ladies, that at one point Lucy told the director that a camera was off two-and-a-half inches from getting the right shot. The director responded, “No, Lucy, it’s fine,” but Ball insisted it be moved. Rivers added, “Lucy was right.” Ball pal Carol Burnett tells one of my favorite (and apocryphal) Lucy stories: One day on set, Lucy had to chastise the script writers: "She told them in no uncertain terms how they had to fix the script, and that it better be done by tomorrow morning. 'Or you're outta here.' I mean, she was strong. [Burnett laughs.] Then she took a sip of her drink and said to me, 'And kid, that's when they put the "s" on the end of my name.'"
Garry Marshall, writing in his 2012 book, My Happy Days in Hollywood. said that he enjoyed writing for Lucy [he co-wrote 11 Lucy Show episodes from 1964-’66; one of them, "Lucy and the Monsters," is pictured at left], and recalled, “We [he and Jerry Belson, his co-writer] quickly learned the key to writing for Lucy: start with a funny situation and then build the whole script toward it. We wrote the episode in which Lucy ended up at a fancy banquet wearing a ball gown with roller skates. As the story went, her feet were swollen and she couldn’t get the roller skates off. The script called for her to go through a reception line with the roller skates on. During rehearsals she crashed into a row of writers. The sight of this threw Jerry and me into a complete panic. He said, “Do you think we’ve killed Lucy?” But she quickly got up and dusted herself off as we ran over to apologize. “No. No. I’m fine,” she said. “It was my fault. Keep writing this kind of script and I’ll keep going at it.” She was brave and strong, and she could tell what was funny and what would fail. She didn’t care so much about plot; she wanted that big comedy scene that fans would remember, so that’s what we gave her.” Writing about an Odd Couple episode from several years later, “The Odd Monks,” which eliminated most of the dialogue for the show when Felix and Oscar take a vow of silence, Marshall reaffirmed, “The entire script was based on physical and visual humor, which I had learned from the scripts I wrote for Lucille Ball.”
I guess the point is, take every story about Lucy being a terror on set with a grain of salt. If she respected your talent, she gave you all the leeway you needed (and if not, all the rope you needed to hang yourself). She had to be a strong, powerful woman in the face of running her own shows and being president of Desilu, one of the top money-making studios in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s. It was expected that a man of that era would be strong and do whatever he need to do for success in a similar position. But for a woman…well, it just wasn’t done back then. Women were supposed to know their place.
But Ball was a pioneer; she had to be strong to protect her assets and her career, and if the people—male or female—that she dealt didn’t like it, well, so be it. The show went on, and, per Ball, it was invariably a success thanks to her business and performing acumen. (For more on the subject, see my post at 11.27.12, below.)
01.03.13 And You Thought You Were Having a Bad Hair Day! More than 70 years ago—October 20, 1942, to be exact—The St. Petersburg Times (Fla.) reported that, “Today it was our pleasure to watch Miss Lucille Ball, with 12 pounds of false hair on her head, a stick of celery in her mouth, and a blue nightgown covering her curves, dance with Red Skelton in one of the most magnificent bedrooms ever concocted by Hollywood.”
The bedroom was part of Skelton’s character’s dream fantasy, in which he was Louis XIV pursuing the notorious Madame DuBarry (Lucy) in a lush bedroom at the king’s castle. In reality, Skelton was a hat-check boy and Ball a singer in the nightclub he worked for. But that’s what dreams are for, right? The movie, 1943’s DuBarry Was a Lady, was one of those MGM wartime spectaculars featuring everything (including the kitchen sink!) to get the public’s minds off of WWII, if only for a few hours.
The paper noted, “Miss Ball said she had a stiff neck because of all that extra hair, but she wasn’t complaining.” Calling DuBarry “one of the biggest Technicolor-ed musicals of the year,” the Times added that, “Soon as she finishes, Miss B. goes into Best Foot Forward. Lucille Ball is now a top-flight movie star.
A little history: “Five years ago, when we first met her, she was one of 30 stock girls at RKO. They all earned $75 a week, and they all got their names in the papers with items concerning their doings in the Hollywood hot spots. All but Miss Ball, that is. She thought that maybe an actress ought to know how to act.… So she organized an amateur theater among RKO’s stenographers, waitresses and mail-boys. She spent her evenings practicing play-acting.”
One by one, the paper explains, “the other stock girls lost their jobs until there wasn’t one left on the payroll, except Miss Ball. She played in almost every movie RKO made. She was in Westerns and musicals and detective pieces. She worked in a couple of comedies with Jack Oakie [her two-picture Annabel series].” Ball’s hard work after hours, the paper suggested, taught her how to act. Finally, her big break in 1942’s The Big Street was just the hook MGM needed to grab Lucy and bump her up into “A” pictures.
IndeedDuBarry and Best Foot Forward were the first films in which Lucy’s glorious fire-engine-red hair was showcased (given to her by MGM’s star stylist Sydney Guilaroff; see pic at right). It would result in her being voted the star that filmed best in Technicolor by Hollywood crews the following year; Ball was dubbed Technicolor Tessie in 1943.
But back to that white wig: “That bedroom [set] was a dilly,” the Times described, “with a ceiling two stories high and pink cupids on the canopy over the bed. Bedroom scenes are touchy things, so Al Block, the studio censor, stood by. He needn’t have worried…. Miss Ball and Skelton didn’t jump into bed; they jumped onto it. Instead of a mattress under the satin coverlet there was…a trampoline. They jumped and bounced about 15 minutes, in time to the music.”
The song was a hummable comic number—“Madame, I Like Your Crepe Suzettes”—in which Red, as Louis, tried to seduce Lucy, as DuBarry. But she’s more interested in his kingly jewels, like the improbably gigantic string of pearls he presents her. Knowing that Lucy was carrying that extra 12 pounds of weight on her head while running around the set and bouncing all over the trampoline bed is a further indication of our favorite redhead’s key to success: She’d do anything, no matter how small, large or ridiculous, if it was going to move her “Forward.” In this case, it literally did.
12.24.12 Twelve Days of an I Love Lucy Christmas At this very special time of year, and especially in the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut, we need to remember more than ever the things about life that we love and cherish, like family, good friends, and laughter. In that spirit, I wrote a Lucy-oriented version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." May this season and the New Year bring us the strength to carry on, and all good things. And may the spirits of those taken from us too soon find peace everlasting.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Ricky gave to me,
Twelve Cuban love songs,
Eleven henna rinses,
Ten appearances by Caroline Appleby,
Eight Ethels scheming,
Seven Freds a’ cheaping,
Six hens a’ laying,
Five dozen eggs,
Three show-biz tryouts,
Two Mertzes fighting….
And a true love forever on TV.
12.05.12 How Desilu Chief Lucille Ball Auditioned Barbara Bain for Mission: Impossible
Lucille Ball was president of Desilu Studios from November 1962, when ex-husband Desi Arnaz stepped down from the position and sold Lucy his Desilu holdings, until February 1967, when she sold the studio to Paramount. (Ball and Arnaz had divorced two years earlier, in 1960.)
When she assumed the presidency, Ball became the first female head of a Hollywood studio, and one of the most powerful/influential women in Hollywood. She professed to never liking the business end of the job, but she handled herself and the company extremely well. Among her other responsibilities, Lucy gave the go-ahead to produce two very popular series, Mission: Impossible and Star Trek, both of which became long-running franchises and money-makers.
Jennifer Cox of craveonline.com recently asked Mission: Impossible star (from 1966-1969) Barbara Bain what her favorite memories were from the time she worked on the series. Bain, who won three Emmys during her run in MI, one for each year, responded, “All of it was an absolute glorious time—it was just wonderful. I can tell you that we were all quite crazy about each other. [Executive producer and creator] Bruce Geller was a member of an acting class, and the roles were cast on that basis. He had written the role for me, but didn't tell me.
“I did go in and audition—the ultimate decider was Lucille Ball, who owned the property. [Technically, Lucy’s studio, Desilu, owned the property.] I went in and the last interview was with Lucille Ball, and I walked in shakily and all she did was look me up and down and say, "Looks alright to me," and that was it. It was kinda neat.
“The entire thing was glorious because I got to play that regular role, which was very glamorous and exciting, and within each script it was an actress's dream to play different parts each week. What could be better? I was royally awarded and it was a great launch of a career.”
Lucy’s green-lighting of Mission: Impossible and Star Trek were among her final acts as Desilu president, before selling the studio to Paramount. I imagine Lucy became rather chagrined over the years as she saw the profits made from the two long-running franchises, especially Star Trek. FYI, the company is currently known as CBS Television Studios. Lucille Ball Productions, which Lucy formed after the sale of Desilu so that she would get all the profits from Here’s Lucy, still exists, according to Wikipedia, but it’s primary task is to manage “residual sales of license rights for Here’s Lucy.”
11.27.12 File Under “Stuff We Already Knew”: Not Everyone Loved Working with Lucy Every once in a while the Lucy “haters” come out, as they do on a regular basis for any ultra-popular celebrity. The one thing that Lucy’s critics have in common is that they seem to love to deliciously report that many of her peers did not enjoy working with her on her various series. Any real fan knows this, and also knows that there are many reasons for it, and two sides to every story.
For every Joan Blondell, who ran off in a huff and never returned to The Lucy Show when Lucy intimated that her line readings were...well, let’s just say Lucy mimed flushing a toilet... And Richard Burton, who devoted four pages in his diaries to how little he liked working with (to him) a very unlovable Lucy... And let’s not forget Joan Crawford, who was given tough love by Ball after the redhead found Joan’s vodka flask on set. Lucy reportedly reduced the mighty Crawford to tears, and she famously commented afterward, “And they call me a bitch!” Well, for all of those, there are many others who had nothing but nice, respectful things to say about Ms. Ball.
Ball, of course, had many friends in show business, and even those closest to her knew she could be tough and demanding at work; they understood it was Lucy’s desire for perfection and extreme professionalism, and ultimately her desire to make the audience happy, that drove her. I’ve met many of those who worked with her, on screen and off, and to a person they had nothing but respect for Ball’s talent and work habits.
Even more telling, those who worked in a very close capacity with Ball, including Wanda Clark, her personal secretary, Bill Asher, the director of most episodes of I Love Lucy, and Dann Cahn, Desilu’s film editor, all had nothing but good things to say about the redhead, even when talking about how working with her could be no picnic. Asher believed that all Ball was looking for in a director, for example, was someone who wouldn’t take any crap from her, and once he proved himself, she was no problem to work with. After working with Ball for 25 years, Clark told me, wistfully, the only thing she really wished for was that she could've had another 25.
Vivian Vance went through a similar trial after she was hired to play Ethel Mertz sight unseen (by Ball; Desi Arnaz had hired Vance after seeing her perform onstage in The Voice of the Turtle). Ball and Vance had never met. Lucy was suspicious that Vance wasn't right, physically and talent-wise, for the part of Ethel. For one thing, Vance appeared too young. And nice-looking. Vance assured Lucy that she "photographed dumpy." But once Lucy saw the complete effort Vance put into rehearsing to get the best results, they became television’s top comedy team (see 11.16.12, below).
Here's what Lucy’s good pal Carol Burnett (top left) had to say about Lucy's reputation for being a ball buster in her 2011 book, This Time Together:
“After the special [1966’s Carol + 2, with Zero Mostel; right], Lucy and I were in touch often, and I was thrilled when she asked me to be a guest on Here’s Lucy and The Lucy Show. Lucille Ball had a reputation for being tough. There were times on the set when she’d say things to someone on the crew or to the writers that could’ve been considered blunt, to say the least, but she was always right. She never censored her opinion or couched them euphemistically. 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.
“In those days, though, it was unheard of for a woman to run a show, let alone to run it “like a man.” All of the greats—Caesar, Berle, Gleason, et cetera—could say whatever they very well pleased, and their reputations remained intact. They were tough, and that was to be expected. But a woman being tough? There was a name for that, and it wasn’t complimentary.”
Bottom line: after toiling for years in movies and reinventing TV with her husband, Arnaz, Lucy knew her stuff. She could tell you where a key light should be placed and how a line should be read to get a laugh. Her timing was second to none. And if she saw that a costar was giving as much as she did, there was never a problem.
11.22.12 I Love Lucy's Film Editor, Dann Cahn, Passes Away at Age 89 Very sad news, especially for those of us who knew this great man: Dann Cahn, best known for his film editing and supervisory work at Desilu on such classic, legendary television series as I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, Make Room for Daddy, and December Bride. Dann mastered the "three-headed monster," as he called it, the special camera and editing setup Desi Arnaz and Karl Freund put together to shoot I Love Lucy, so that they could get closeups, medium shots, and long shots all at the same time, and then edit together the best ones to make the final episodes of I Love Lucy.
I had the good fortune to become Dann's friend via the Lucille Ball festivals in Jamestown. No one told a better story than he, and I could sit listening to his tales of Hollywood (and television's most innovative and popular show, I Love Lucy) forever. This is how nice he was: Even though he was putting his own memories on paper at the time, in 2005 he wrote the preface to my book The Comic DNA of Lucille Ball, and included a story he'd never told anyone that illustrated the popularity of I Love Lucy overseas, a story that many people in his position would have saved for their own memoirs. Not Dann. He made that extra effort to think of something that would be an exclusive for my book. Just one small act, but indicative of the man himself and his character. The picture shows Dan in the mid-2000s at one of the Lucy fests, with our mutual good buddy, Mary Rapaport. Dann, I know you're entertaining everyone in heaven just about now. I'll miss your presence here on earth.
11.16.12 What’s Wrong With This Picture? Well, it’s Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance clowning at their best. So, in that sense, there’s nothing wrong with it, and everything right with it. But as I was scrolling through the message board on Vance’s Internet Movie Database page, and reading all the love so many people have for her, I started thinking about something I first wrote a long time ago: that she and Lucy were television’s all-time best comedy team.
This led to me Googling “all-time best comedy teams” and, to my surprise, Lucy and Viv didn’t show up on any of the lists, some of which were made by individuals, others by magazines like Entertainment Weekly. In fact, the only female team who showed up on any of the lists (which included TV, movies, and generic “all-time best” lists) were Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Don’t get me wrong—I love them. And as for the others on various lists—the favorites seemed to be The Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Martin & Lewis, and The Three Stooges—I have no problem with them. They were funny and original.
Even more modern teams like Cheech & Chong and The Smothers Brothers would make my own list. But Chris Farley and David Spade?! Farley, admittedly, could be very funny in sketches on Saturday Night Live. But Spade never did a thing for me.
Okay, I digress: my real problem is, where’s the love for Lucy and Viv? They appeared together on TV together for 26 years (1951-1977), in almost 300 series episodes, talk shows, and specials, half of that time spent in three hit series—I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, and The Lucy Show—the first of which remains the most beloved series (not just sitcom, but series, period) of all time, 61 years after its groundbreaking debut.
A lot of the credit for that classic comedy goes to all four Lucy principal cast members: Ball, Vance, Desi Arnaz, and William Frawley. But as Lucy and Viv proved during the first three seasons of The Lucy Show, they were just as funny without the men, and had a special chemistry which went beyond the characters of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz.
So, I repeat: where’s the love? Well, it’s here on this website, and always will be, as well as on many other websites, where the Webmasters, bloggers, and commentators understand that while Ball was a gifted slapstick comedian, and could hold her own in a dramatic role as well, and that Vance was a talented stage actress, stealing the show in both musicals and straight plays, they were somehow better and even more magical when they teamed up. And isn’t that the definition of “team”?
As I’ve also written before, one of the major characteristics that differentiates Ball and Vance from many of the male teams is that the latter usually consisted of a straight man and a funny guy. In our case, both performers were capable of providing laughs, singly and together.
Lucy was one of the greatest physical comedians ever, but without Vance supporting her and acting as a viewer stand-in—Vance was one of the great “reactors” of all time, so if the audience got involved in Lucy’s schemes, it was often because Vance was subtly giving them the okay, by her reactions and participation—we might have simply dismissed Lucy as foolish or clumsy, not funny. I know I don’t have to convince anyone who is reading this…or you wouldn’t be here. But sometimes it helps (me) to point out the obvious. Lucille Ball + Vivian Vance: It doesn’t get any better.
11.14.12 More proof that you never know where Lucy will show up during any given day. I was watching the movie Lola Versus, a so-so romantic comedy, on Sunday—watched it to see two actors I love, scruffy Joel Kinnamon of AMC's series The Killing, and adorable Hamish Linklater who co-starred in one of my fave sitcoms, The New Adventures of Old Christine. So I'm watching the film, and a scene started about halfway though with the heroine moping in bed. The wallpaper (left) over the bed contained a familiar-looking face, and I did a double-take, and then had to grab a screen shot of it. Now granted, this is probably not "Lucille Ball wallpaper," i.e., wallpaper specifically designed with Lucy's face on it...but damned if that doesn't look like Ms. Ball as she appeared in the 1960s, circa The Lucy Show. What do you-all think? Let me know if you agree!
GIVE THE GIFT OF LUCY That dapper chap you see at the left is...well, okay, it's me, hobnobbing with Lucy, Desi and Viv at the 1954 Emmys. Okay, not really, but...it's what I would have done had I been there. And when you can't be there, the spirit of Lucy is alive and well in the five books I've written about her and her cohorts in laughter (well, if I can't shamelessly promote myself on my own site, where can I?!). Pick up one or more of my books: the fourth edition of Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia (the Lucy A to Z eBook — for Kindle, et al — was updated in summer 2012), as well as The ABC Movie of the Week Companion, The Lucy Book Of Lists,The TV Tidbits Classic Television Book of Lists, Lucy in Print, The Comic DNA of Lucille Ball, and The Lucille Ball Quiz Book by clicking to order them online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Cathy's Closet). Or visit the special order/information counter at your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore.
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Waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!! That's all for now.
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