Van Johnson Blogathon- I Love Lucy “The Dancing Star”

Van Johnson isn’t a name that often comes up when people think about figures from the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, that isn’t to say that he wasn’t a star. He co-starred alongside many of Hollywood’s more legendary actors; but he never got that one film that would catapult him into the echelon of “legend.” Some of the “legendary” actors Van co-starred with: Gene Kelly (Brigadoon), Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (State of the Union), Judy Garland (In the Good Old Summertime), Humphrey Bogart (The Caine Mutiny), and Elizabeth Taylor (The Last Time I Saw Paris). However, despite not ever making “the film” to propel him to legend status, Van was a big enough star to appear as himself alongside two of television’s biggest legends: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, on an episode of I Love Lucy.

A young Van Johnson watches on as Frances Langford serenades the crowd in Too Many Girls.

The I Love Lucy episode, “The Dancing Star,” was not Van’s first experience working with Ball and Arnaz. In 1939, while trying to make it as a young actor in New York, Van scored a gig as understudy to the three male leads of George Abbot’s hit Broadway play (featuring the music of Rodgers and Hart), “Too Many Girls.” One of the main cast members (whom I’m going to assume that Van did not understudy) was the young 23-year old Cuban musician, Desi Arnaz. The play was a smash hit and Arnaz along with co-star Eddie Bracken were brought out to Hollywood to reprise their roles in the RKO film adaptation of the play.

In Hollywood, Van joined the cast as an uncredited part of the chorus. He can be seen in the background of a few scenes, but most prominently in the front of the crowd dancing during Desi Arnaz’ big conga number. Another new member of the cast of the RKO production was Lucille Ball. Ball was the star of the film and would play the role of the ingenue college student, Connie. Ball and Arnaz were introduced prior to the start of filming. However, their first meeting did not go well as Ball was still wearing the makeup and costume from her current film, Dance, Girl, Dance, which co-starred Maureen O’Hara. Ball’s makeup and costume was a black eye and a torn gold lamé dress that she wore while shooting a catfight scene with O’Hara. Looking at Ball’s black eye and torn gown, Arnaz could hardly envision her as the virginal ingenue of Too Many Girls. Later that evening, Arnaz and Ball were re-introduced. During this meeting, Ball had cleaned herself up and sported her own clothing and makeup. It was love at first sight for Ball and Arnaz and the rest, as they say, was history.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz met during the filming of “Too Many Girls”

Anyway, back to Van. After Too Many Girls, he got more understudy work, including as Gene Kelly’s understudy in the Broadway play, Pal Joey. Kelly would soon be starring in his first Hollywood film, For Me and My Gal, with Judy Garland. Discouraged, Van was about to quit Hollywood when friend Lucille Ball took him to the famous Chasen’s restaurant to meet an MGM casting director. This meeting led to Van getting a screen test at Columbia and Warner Brothers. Columbia didn’t pan out, but Van scored a few roles with Warner Brothers. After his contract with Warner Brothers ended, Van was signed to MGM. MGM is where Van finally got a break and soon was appearing in films. In 1943, Van got his big break when he appeared in A Guy Named Joe with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. He continued to appear in many quality films throughout the 1940s.

Van and Esther Williams in Easy to Wed.

In 1946, Van was re-teamed with friend Ball in Easy to Wed which also co-starred Esther Williams and Keenan Wynn. Through the remainder of the 1940s, Van continued to appear in many great MGM films. By 1950, Van was freelancing, which freed him up to appear in films in other studios. During the 1950s, Van also started appearing in shows on the burgeoning medium known as television. In 1955, Van was invited to appear in a guest spot as himself on his friends’ (Arnaz and Ball) sitcom, I Love Lucy. By 1955, I Love Lucy was a massive hit and big stars were willing to appear on their show for free just to get the chance to be part of the program.

Van appears during the Hollywood story-arc of I Love Lucy in the episode, “The Dancing Star.” Ricky Ricardo (Arnaz) has been offered a role as Don Juan in Hollywood. He along with wife, Lucy (Ball), and their best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) all head to California. While in California, wacky Lucy has various run-ins with stars (William Holden, Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, Harpo Marx, Rock Hudson, Sheila MacRae, Eve Arden, and CORNEL WILDE IN THE PENTHOUSE), often with disastrous results. One such star who did not suffer at the hands of Lucy however, was Van Johnson.

In “The Dancing Star,” Lucy’s old frenemy, Carolyn Appleby (Doris Singleton) shows up unexpectedly to pay Lucy and Ethel a visit while she’s on her way to Hawaii to meet-up with husband Charlie. Carolyn says that she’s going to stop over for a couple days so that she can meet all the stars Lucy’s been hobnobbing with per the postcards Lucy’s been sending out to her friends in Hollywood. Obviously, Lucy didn’t expect her friends to show up wanting to be part of the action. As Lucy is panicking, Ethel tells her that Van Johnson is appearing in a show at their hotel, The Beverly Palms. Ethel spots Van sleeping next to the pool and tells Lucy to go down there and pretend that she’s talking to him. Ethel will then casually bring Carolyn up to the window, point out Lucy and Van and all will be well.

Lucy Ricardo begs Van Johnson to dance with her in “I Love Lucy”

The plan goes off, somewhat, except that Carolyn has forgotten her glasses. Apparently Carolyn Appleby must wear contact lenses and has lost them, because in her previous appearances on the series, she’s had no issues with her eyesight. However, when Carolyn is in California, she’s blind as a bat. Carolyn can only make out two red-headed blurs and just has to assume that that is Lucy and Van. Of course, Lucy can’t leave well enough alone and brags to Carolyn about all the other stars that were also down at the pool. She then further ups the ante by telling Carolyn that she’s throwing a big soiree tomorrow evening where tons of stars will be in attendance. Conveniently, Carolyn’s flight to Hawaii is supposed to depart tomorrow evening. Aw shucks.

And because it’s Lucy and she has to be the object of envy of The Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League (who usually meets on Tuesdays, never on Thursdays, but occasionally on Fridays), she tells Carolyn that she’s “chummy” with Van. Lucy’s fib is based on the fact that Carolyn can’t see and that Van’s partner is a tall red-headed woman. With Carolyn’s blurred vision, she won’t be able to tell that Van’s partner is not Lucy. However, Lucy’s “great” plan is foiled when Carolyn’s airline finds her glasses and returns them to Carolyn at the hotel. Desperate, Lucy approaches Van and begs him to dance with her. She finally gets him to agree when she flatters him by saying that she’s seen his show 14 times and knows it backwards and forwards. Ethel and Carolyn see Lucy dancing with Van and all is well.

(VAN JOHNSON in response to LUCY RICARDO’S constant proclamations of not having much time and that “she’s” going to be here any minute)

VAN JOHNSON: “Who’s going to be here any minute?”

LUCY RICARDO: “Carolyn Appleby! Who do you think?!”

Van Johnson and Lucille Ball (Lucy Ricardo) in “The Dancing Star,” I Love Lucy
Lucy Ricardo finally gets her chance to be in the show. Screenshot from CBS’ colorized version of “The Dancing Star”

Later that evening, Lucy gets her big chance: Van’s partner is sick and he needs someone to replace her last minute. Seeing that Lucy knows the routine, Van thinks that she’s the perfect choice. And with this set-up, we finally get to see Lucy Ricardo in one of her rare performances where she’s allowed to perform a dance number without purposeful or accidental mishaps. In the “How About You?” number, Lucy and Van perform a beautiful, simple song and dance number. Lucy looks beautiful in her feather-covered gown. She and Van are a sensation. Ricky watches his wife dance this wonderful number with a deep adoration. Ethel and Fred watch their friend, proudly. And Carolyn is overjoyed.

Wait? Carolyn?! Wasn’t she going to Hawaii?

Apparently, Carolyn has decided to put off her flight to Hawaii one more day to attend Lucy’s big Hollywood party. Yikes.

Cue the famous “Lucy Meets Harpo Marx” episode, the unofficial second part of “The Dancing Star.”

“Gotta little laryngitis, baby!”

Classic Favorite TV Episode Blogathon- “Don’t Bug the Mosquitos” Gilligan’s Island

I know that I’m a couple weeks late with this one and missed the event. I also missed the Buster Keaton event. This was a very busy week/weekend for me and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the time to write this article. I had to prioritize some writing for my job (I write work procedures and other technical documentation) over my hobby writing. But I wanted to get caught up on this and my other blogathons–including finishing my Doris Day article on-time. I also have an article I want to write about an event going on amongst the Classic Film community on Twitter–PreCode April.

Rest in Peace Dawn Wells (1938-2020)

For the Favorite TV Show episode blogathon, I wanted to pay tribute to the late Dawn Wells. Wells passed away on December 30, 2020 from complications from COVID-19 (curse you COVID!) at the age of 82. Wells is best known as Mary Ann Summers, the young, perky Kansas farm girl castaway on Gilligan’s Island. Mary Ann was also my favorite castaway. At the beginning of the series, Mary Ann (along with The Professor) was relegated to the “And the Rest” part of the credits. Fortunately, at the behest of star, Bob Denver (Gilligan), Mary Ann and The Professor were added to the credits sequence in season two, where they remained until the end of the series. AUTHOR SIDENOTE: Seriously Gilligan’s Island theme song writers? You named 5/7 castaways by name, what’s two more castaways?

Anyway, as everyone recalls, almost every episode of Gilligan’s Island involved the castaways tying to get off the island. They often got their hopes up when a random celebrity/lookalike/character would show up on the allegedly uncharted island. Seriously, for an uncharted island, EVERYONE seemed to know where it was. I would imagine that the news of the SS Minnow’s passengers failing to return from their three-hour tour would have been Hawaiian news, if not national United States news. The passenger list includes a movie star, two multi-millionaires, and a prominent college professor. And if anything, the Skipper and Gilligan’s employer would be looking for them. And presumably, Mary Ann’s family and boyfriend, Horace Higgenbotham, would be looking for her. With all these random people coming across the uncharted island, why didn’t word get back to Hawaii?

But I digress. It’s Gilligan’s Island. It’s not supposed to make any sense. And don’t even get me started on that radio!

Mary Ann (Dawn Wells), Ginger (Tina Louise), and Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schaefer) are “The Honeybees.”

One such random visitor to find the uncharted island, were the Beatles-esque rock band, The Mosquitos. Apparently The Mosquitos traveled to the uncharted island to escape their fans and get some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the island isn’t deserted like they’d hoped and they find more fans in the form of Gilligan and Mary Ann. The castaways then learn that The Mosquitos aren’t planning on leaving the island for a month. To try and force the band to leave sooner, the castaways work to make life stressful for the band, so that they’ll want to leave. The Mosquitos do leave… but merely move to the other side of the island. They’re quickly discovered by the castaways. The band then informs the gang that they’re not planning on leaving for two months.

In order to make sure that The Mosquitos don’t depart without them, the male castaways form their own band, The Gnats. They are terrible. Then, the women make their own band, The Honeybees. As is to be expected, a band featuring Ginger is much better, and Mary Ann and even Mrs. Howell (!) are adorable. The Mosquitos are charmed by the ladies. However, this plan backfires as The Mosquitos leave in a hurry and without the castaways, because they don’t want competition from The Honeybees.

Does this plot make sense? No not really. But it doesn’t matter. The Honeybees’ song, “You Need Us” is completely charming, from beginning to end. The girls look great. Ginger looks gorgeous and shows off her dancing ability. Mary Ann is adorable. Mrs. Howell is a great sport and is much better than Mr. Howell at dancing and singing.

We just won’t think about how the record player is powered, why the castaways have a record player, and why do they have so many records to play? Why do they have three matching Honeybees’ costumes? Or Mrs. Howell’s wig?

Home Sweet Home Blogathon- The Brady Bunch and Their Home at 4222 Clinton Way

Here’s the story of a lovely lady. Who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother. The youngest one in curls.

It’s the story of a man named Brady, who was busy with three boys of his own. They were four men, living all together. Yet they were all alone.

Till the one day, when the lady met this fellow and they knew it was much more than a hunch. That this group must somehow form a family.

And that’s the way [they] became:

So goes the iconic opening theme song and credits sequence that not only introduces the characters, but also provides the audience with all the information they need to enjoy the show. I love The Brady Bunch. Yes, it can be corny at times and overly sappy, but for me, it treads the fine line between being charmingly sappy and obnoxiously saccharine (looking at you Full House) that purposely manipulates its audience. Yes, episodes of the Brady Bunch can have lessons, but more often than not, there are repeating motifs that “kids” of all ages (yes, adults too) can identify with. Some common motifs are: boys/men against girls/women, younger versus older, big-head syndrome, and puppy love. Despite what setbacks and challenges the characters may face, the audience knows that all will be resolved by the end of the episode.

The iconic Brady home–the second most photographed private residence in the country after the White House

Much of the action of the series unfolds inside the Brady residence at 4222 Clinton Way in an unnamed city. However, based on references made throughout the series, we can safely assume that the Bradys live somewhere in the sprawling Los Angeles area. It is also established that the oldest son, Greg Brady, is the “Casanova of Clinton Avenue.” The Brady Bunch’s house is a character in and of itself. Their house, both the exterior and interior is iconic. Even the layman Brady Bunch fan, even someone only remotely aware of the Brady Bunch’s existence, knows what the house looks like.

Mike Brady, the patriarch of the Brady clan, and an architect, designed the Brady’s home. Despite popular belief, they have more than one bathroom in the house. Aside from the kids’ famous Jack-and-Jill bathroom, Mike and Carol also have a bathroom in their master bedroom. Where else would Carol hang her purple shower curtain that Greg and “Raquel,” Coolidge High School’s goat mascot, rip down? Finally, I think it is safe to assume that Alice has her own bathroom attached to her bedroom. Based on the amount of Brady Bunch that I’ve watched (and it’s a lot), I believe that Alice’s room is behind the kitchen nearby the service porch.

The Brady house is well-designed and decorated. The multi-level home has a small foyer that brings guests into the Brady’s living room and dining room. The living room seems to be a more formal space as this is frequently where Mike entertains his clients, like Senor and Senorita Calderon, who later see Peter aka “Phil Packer” and Greg entertaining some girlfriends in a supposed X-rated manner at Marioni’s Pizza. This room is where Marcia entertains Davy Jones who stops by to bring Marcia a copy of his new album after he overhears her lamenting to his manager that she promised to get Davy to appear at her prom. The living room is also where Marcia meets her “dream of dreams,” Desi Arnaz Jr. The living room is not without its drama however, this is also the room where Peter accidentally breaks “mom’s favorite vase” with a basketball, despite mom having said: “don’t play ball in the house.” The living room is also where Marcia holds slumber parties until they’re disrupted by itching powder, and where kids hold their parties. It is at one of these parties when Peter learns that he does have a personality after all, and that personality is “lady killer.” This room is not without heartbreak however, aside from the sad demise of “mom’s favorite vase,” this is the room where Marcia starts bawling after the boys completely ignore her speech when she runs for Class President (against Greg).

The dining room: the scene of the infamous broken vase incident

Later, in the dining room, mom’s favorite vase endures yet another humiliation when it starts leaking all over the table after having been filled with water for some flowers. It seems that the kids’ glue job wasn’t up to snuff. The dining room also serves as the location for the kids’ house of cards contest that would determine whether the boys or the girls would receive Alice’s bounty of trading stamps. The boys wanted to use their stamps to buy a rowboat, and the girls wanted a sewing machine. In the end, Tiger runs into Greg, causing him to fall into the house of cards. The girls make good though and use the stamps to get a color television set. Presumably, this is the set that goes into the family room. Poor Alice, despite doting on the family day in and day out, never gets to eat dinner with the family. She finally gets to eat dinner with them when Mike announces that he will be making a gourmet dinner for the family. The dining room also features an entrance to the Brady’s backyard with the famous, low-maintenance (though we see Marcia cutting it with scissors in an episode) Astro-Turf lawn.

“The Man” aka Greg Brady eats breakfast in the kitchen while Carol and Mike chastise him for calling them by their first names.

The dining room is adjacent to the Brady’s kitchen. The Brady kitchen is iconic with its orange formica countertops and avocado green appliances. There is also an awesome double oven built into a brick column. There’s also a stovetop built into the counter. Over the years, much cooking goes on in the Brady kitchen, including, but not limited to: meatloaf, the girls’ horrible breakfast, pork chops and applesauce, strawberry preserves, Mike’s gourmet dinner, Marcia’s merit badge meal, spaghetti that tastes like metal when eaten with Marcia’s one-episode braces, Brady Kid lunch assembly line, Peter’s “Straw Split Fudge Short,” and countless other meals. This room is where Alice has the last apple, the last peach, and the last banana hidden. The tulip table and chairs (that I love, by the way) is where Marcia and Greg fight over Marcia’s date with Warren Mulaney and where Jan pretends to be an only child. This is where Mike, Carol and Alice sit over coffee at the table and discuss issues regarding the children. The kitchen also features an entrance to the backyard.

Greg, Marcia and Jan relax in the family room

Through the saloon doors and passthrough of the kitchen is the Brady den. The den is where the family watch the latest sports game, movie, or family member(s) on television. This is where the kids “Can make the World A Whole Lot Brighter” with their Brady Six act. This is the room where Alice irons and listens to her soap opera. This is also the room where the kids, seated on the plaid couches, sometimes receive lectures. One such lecture they received involved the high phone bills they were racking up. To remedy the situation (or so he thought), Mike installed a payphone in the family room. This somewhat worked until Mike found himself without a phone and without a dime needing to take a call from an important client. In the den, Marcia practices her yoga for one of the dozen clubs she joins when she starts at Westdale High. The den has the most-used entrance to the Brady’s backyard.

Greg and Marcia do “yard work” on the Astro Turf in the backyard.

The backyard is where Bobby and Cindy try to break the record for longest time teeter-tottering. This is where the kids, sans Jan, practice for the potato sack race. This is where Mike and the kids refurbish and paint the “S.S. Brady” a row-boat too small for the whole family to enjoy. The backyard provides room for all the kids’ school pursuits, such as a working full-size dunking booth (you can’t say Mike and Carol don’t go all-in for their kids and their kids’ educations. Money and time are no object, apparently) Greg’s re-creation of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, and where the family puts on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” as a benefit to pay for a gift for Mrs. Whitfield, a beloved teacher who is retiring. Later, in The Brady Bunch Movie, we will again see Mrs. Whitfield who has returned to teaching, but has apparently fallen on hard times in the 1990s and is busted for stealing school supplies. The backyard is where Bobby receives his first kiss, courtesy of the potentially mumps-infested Millicent. The backyard is not completely full of mirth and whimsy however, It is also the where Jan, not wearing her glasses (they make her look “positively goofy” she says), crashes into Mike’s anniversary gift for Carol, Peter risks potential murder (via Alice) for getting mud all over the patio, Greg brings home his lemon of a car, Peter is nearly killed by a falling ladder, but pushed out of the way by Bobby (who is covered in green paint in the process), Greg loses the pull-up contest to Bobby and has to become his slave, Greg announces to his parents that he will not attend college and will instead focus on becoming “Johnny Bravo,” and finally, poor Tiger’s vacant dog-house still stands as a reminder that Tiger hasn’t been seen since Season 2.

My favorite iteration of the girls’ room. I love the wallpaper!

Above the backyard are the bedrooms. The girls’ room is the room that had the shutter Greg was painting before he dangerously climbs through the window from the ladder (that comes crashing down towards Peter’s head, before Bobby pushes him out of the way and is doused with green paint) to answer the phone. The girls’ room is where a lot of tears were shed: Marcia when she was removed as Juliet from her school’s rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” Marcia when she has to get braces, Jan when she thinks she’s ugly, and poor Cindy when she endures frequent bullying by Buddy Hinton who mocks her for having a lisp. Buddy Hinton was such a loser, aside from being a bully, he’s obviously at least a 5th-6th grader picking on a 1st grader. But looking at his parents, especially his doormat of a mother, it’s no wonder. However, the girls’ room is also one of much happiness, this is where Marcia displays all her awards, where Jan finds her lost locket after looking for “The Little Bear” and where Cindy keeps her life savings (inside her doll’s head of course) that she happily contributes when the kids decide to form a singing group.

The most contentious room in the Brady home.

Adjacent to the girls’ bedroom, is the famous blue Jack-and-Jill bathroom. This room causes a lot of tension between the children, definitely fueling the misconception that it is the only bathroom in the house. The girls scatter their hair ribbons all over the place, much to the boys’ chagrin. Jan locks herself in the bathroom to scrub her freckles off with a lemon. Marcia tries to impress Cindy with her beauty routine only to have Cindy inquire about brushing her teeth with braces. Jan locks herself in the bathroom to try out the wig she purchased when she decides to change her whole look–“The New Jan Brady.” The drama over the bathroom reaches a boiling point in one episode, when Mike and Carol actually consider moving to a larger house with additional bathrooms. Thankfully, they reconsider after the kids proclaim their love for the house (and haunt it for good measure) when a potential buyer comes to look at the home.

The boys’ room. Bobby and Peter in the bunk beds, Greg in the single. Personally, I could do without the clown picture.

On the other side of the bathroom is the boys’ room. Peter and Bobby share a bunk bed with Greg in a single bed on the other side of the room. Unlike the girls’ room which was re-decorated at least three times, the boys’ room stayed pretty much the same (can’t lose those scary clown paintings), except when Greg moves into the attic. The boys’ room is pretty basic however. This is where Peter locks Bobby in the closet after he tires of being his slave. Greg croons “Clowns never laughed before, beanstalks never grew,” lyrics from a song he’d written during happier times before he was busted for smoking. Greg has a reality-check when he realizes that he may never be as great a pitcher as baseball great, Don Dysdale, whom he’d met earlier in the backyard. This is also where Bobby meets Joe Namath, who comes to visit the “ailing” Bobby after Cindy writes him a letter talking about her brother’s illness. This is the room where Greg wants to talk to Mike “man-to-man, not kid-to-man man-to-man but man-to-man man-to man.” This is where both Greg and Peter start shaving their one whisker.

Raquel and Alice in the hallway. Why is that chair there? It serves no purpose except to be in Raquel’s way!

The hallway isn’t that exciting except that it features Carol’s favorite feature: a walk-in linen closet, that she shows off briefly when giving an impromptu tour of her home to her fellow Westdale High PTA members. This closet is also located directly below Greg’s attic bedroom and the kids can hear all his secrets: such as him stashing “Raquel” in his bedroom. The hallway also has two random chairs that I don’t understand. Who is going to just sit in the hallway randomly? Get these out of here, Carol! These are taking up precious walking room.

Mike and Carol’s love nest. I really like their screen.

At another end of the hall, we have Mike and Carol’s master bedroom. This room was supposedly redecorated, when a decision was being made between striped or floral wallpaper. In the end though, they painted the room teal and it seemingly looked the same as it did before? I loved the floral architectural piece behind Mike and Carol’s bed. I also loved that this show actually featured parents who seemingly had a life and some romance outside of their six children. The more “romantic” side of their relationship is hinted to when the kids make Mike and Carol a “Do Not Disturb” sign for their bedroom. Mike and Carol’s closet, supposedly divided 50/50, but probably more 70/30 in Carol’s favor, is full of Carol’s frilly nightgowns, bags to match her shoes, and the different outfits she buys (skiing outfit for the mountains, bikini for the beach, cowboy outfit for the dude ranch, red flapper dress for the Charleston contest, country dress for the square dance). Nobody can accuse this woman for not dressing appropriately for the occasion.

Greg’s swingin’ bachelor pad in the attic. Personally, I think he should have incorporated some of the things from his first pad.
I mean, surely some of these things would work perfectly in Greg’s attic room? I think he needs some of the mood lighting and tapestries.

Upstairs, in the attic (that Mike must have somehow retrofitted from its 2′ height clearance in season 2 to being at least 7′ if not 9′ at the end of season 4), is Greg’s bedroom. Greg’s moving into the room was a contentious affair, with Marcia wanting the room as well, but ultimately Greg won out. His “bachelor pad” so to speak, is pretty sweet. Greg has a patchwork carpet, a larger bed, an old-time radio, a coat rack, a dartboard, a beaded curtain that separated a sink from his bedroom, and a globe! Greg’s room looks like what a kid might decorate his own room with if he had unlimited access to random stuff in his parents’ attic. I only wish Greg had incorporated some of the things from his previous bachelor’s pad in Mike’s den, such as the plastic flowers, the lava lamps and the mattress on the floor. The most exciting thing to happen in Greg’s attic room is when he stole Raquel the goat mascot from his rival, Coolidge High. Greg then tried to keep Raquel a secret, but everyone quickly found out.

The famous stairs served as the optimal space for promotional photos. From left to right: Cindy (Susan Olsen), Bobby (Mike Lookinland), Jan (Eve Plumb), Peter (Christopher Knight), Marcia (Maureen McCormick), Greg (Barry Williams), Alice (Ann B. Davis), Carol (Florence Henderson), and Mike (Robert Reed)

The famous Brady stairs were the focal point for many scenes. There are many moments with kids rushing excitedly up or down the stairs. Kids hid at the top of the stairs to spy, such as the kids spying on Marcia when she meets both Davy Jones and Desi Arnaz Jr. The Kids used the stairs to scare Alice when they send a “ghost” down a zipline to scare her when she walks in the door. Bobby slides down the stair railing in an episode. The Brady cast members regularly posed on the stairs, the kids in order by age, then the adults at the end. Then, of course, lest we forget, the stairs served as the vehicle in which Peter’s basketball traveled to take out mom’s favorite vase.

Oops! Marcia is about to spill correction fluid all over Mike’s architecture plans

At the base of the stairwell is Mike’s den. For the most part, this room remained quiet and professional (except when Greg redecorated it) as this is where Mike often worked when a deadline was looming, or when he had to re-create plans, such as when delivery boy, Greg, lost Mike’s plans after setting them down to peruse a car magazine. This room was strictly forboden to the kids, as Marcia learned when she spilled correction fluid all over the plans, during some horseplay with Jan and Cindy. Marcia was in the office writing her article for “Father of the Year.” Carol was really the only other person Mike allowed to be in the den while he was working. Alice came into the den to clean and talk to Mike and Carol. The kids only seemed to come into the den to seek some advice, like Jan did when she was stressed out about Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. Mike’s den is very classic in its decoration and lacks some of the more dated decor of the 1970s.

Ooh look at Alice’s luxurious view of the mop and bucket!

Behind the stairwell, I believe is Alice’s room. Her room isn’t seen often in the series, but she is seen emerging from somewhere behind the kitchen. As a live-in maid, and someone whom the Brady’s value enough to take to the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Cincinnati, and camping at Mount Claymore, it seems reasonable that she would have her own bedroom and bathroom. In the episode where Alice sprains her ankle tripping on Bobby’s Chinese Checkers (lying on the floor of the dining room), we see her in bed reading a book, All My Loves. Alice’s bedroom seems to be off-limits to the kids, except when they see her packing up her bedroom. After Mike and Carol’s marriage, Alice feels that her job is redundant, because Mike won’t need her after marrying Carol. The family puts on an elaborate ruse to show Alice how much she is needed.

Carol is about to find her mangled earring at the bottom of the washing machine in the service porch.

Just off of Alice’s bedroom is the laundry room, or service porch. No doubt Alice’s room suffered water damage when Bobby decided to wash his suit (dirty after rescuing “Pandora,” a cat owned by the world’s worst child actress) with an entire box of Safe detergent. Speaking of Safe, the service porch must be where Carol is storing the 2000 boxes of Safe they received as payment for the commercial they filmed. The service porch isn’t seen much, but it does serve as the opulent entrance to Alice’s bedroom!

The Brady home is iconic. For fans like me, every room of the house featured some memorable moment. We experience these moments as if we also lived in the home with the family. As an oldest child (though definitely not of six), I always identified with Marcia and Greg. They were my favorite of the kids. I also could identify with the third oldest, Peter, to an extent. I loved that the kids weren’t overly goody goody like Wally and Beaver in Leave it to Beaver, and I liked that the parents were portrayed as intelligent people with lives independent of their children. Carol, while she didn’t work outside the home (though she’s a relator in A Very Brady Christmas made-for-TV movie), was shown as being part of different clubs and charities. She also had hobbies like embroidery and sculpture. I felt like the kids were well-rounded and realistic. They didn’t have annoying catchphrases like kids on 90s sitcoms had. Even if their problems were solved in 30 minutes, so what? Who wants to watch Marcia’s over-inflated ego over playing Juliet play out over multiple episodes? I would welcome an extension of the Family Night Frolics. Or any of the episodes where the kids sing. “Good Time Music,” indeed.

The Brady Bunch has always been one of my absolute favorite shows. It’s right up there with I Love Lucy and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I have seen every episode, multiple times. I own the entire series on DVD and I have the two satire films: The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel. It’s quotable, I can recognize the episodes within seconds, I love their clothes (well most of them), and I really love their house. I would live in that house today, orange formica and all. Long live The Brady Bunch!

And remember: “Mom always said, don’t play ball in the house!”

Favorite TV Show Blogathon-“Adios, Johnny Bravo” The Brady Bunch

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By 1970, television shows were starting to move away from the family comedies like Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons and The Donna Reed Show to name a few.  The “rural comedies” like Petticoat Junction, Green Acres (my personal favorite) and The Beverly Hillbillies had been canceled.  The fantasy shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie had been canceled or would be ending soon.  Even the “Queen of Television,” Lucille Ball’s brand of slapstick comedy was beginning to wane in popularity.  Her last sitcom, Here’s Lucy, debuted a year before The Brady Bunch.  It also ended, along with The Brady Bunch, in 1974.  Lucille Ball was old fashioned by the time the 1970s rolled around.  The new “hot” shows were issue driven and were challenging societal norms.  The most popular shows during this era were The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son to name a few.  Compared to these shows, The Brady Bunch was in its own little fantasy world.

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The iconic opening credits of “The Brady Bunch”

The Brady Bunch debuted on September 26, 1969 and aired Friday nights on ABC until its cancellation on March 8, 1974.  During its five-year run, the beloved family sitcom never ranked high in the ratings (never even reaching near the Top 30).  It faced much critical snark, ranging from criticizing the simple (and sometimes saccharine) storylines, the unrealistic situations and resolutions, corny dialogue, just to name a few examples.  After the show ended, it was sold into syndication.  It was in syndication where The Brady Bunch achieved its iconic status and became firmly entrenched in pop culture. While critics disliked the show, children loved it because creator Sherwood Schwartz specifically geared the show to portray situations from the children’s point of view. Just like during its original run, opinions on The Brady Bunch fall into two camps: love it or loathe it.  I happen to fall into the former.  I love The Brady Bunch.  Some people like to refer to this show as a “guilty pleasure.”  I don’t.  I don’t believe in guilty pleasures as I don’t experience any guilt while indulging in things I love.  I unapologetically love The Brady Bunch.  I can watch this show non-stop all day and never tire of it.

The plot of The Brady Bunch is very simple:

Here’s the story, of a lovely lady
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls
All of them had hair of gold, like their mother
The youngest one in curls.
Here’s the story of a man named Brady
Who was busy with three boys of his own.
They were four men living all together.
Yet, they were all alone. 
Till the one day when the lady met this fellow
And they knew that it was much more than a hunch
That this group, must somehow form a family
That’s the way we all became ‘The Brady Bunch’ …

Yes, the show is saccharine at times.  Yes, many of the plots are simplistic.  Yes, it can be unrealistic in how polite the children are to each other and their parents.  But, I say, what’s wrong with that?  There are some other saccharine shows that are too sticky sweet for me, Full House for example (which believe me, I watched EVERY episode back in the day.  But the show doesn’t hold up as well as Brady Bunch.  I place the blame solely on the irritating Olsen Twins).  7th Heaven was unwatchable because it seemed fake and preachy.  With The Brady Bunch however, the show is just so charming, that I cannot get enough.  It’s corniness is part of its charm.  And what’s wrong with characters being nice to one another? There is so much hate in this world these days, watching The Brady Bunch is a nice way to go back to a time where people respected one another.  The Brady Bunch is also a nice way to escape all the awful things that happen these days and visit a world where the biggest thing that happens that day is that Cindy needs help deciding which parent to invite to watch her perform as “The Fairy Princess” in the school play. I don’t need to be confronted with issues like racism and domestic violence all the time.

Now, to get to the point of this blogathon entry: to discuss a favorite episode of a TV Show.  For this entry, I selected an episode of The Brady Bunch, “Adios, Johnny Bravo.”  This episode opens the fifth and final season and is a pop culture icon in its own right.  Many avid viewers of The Brady Bunch, will remember this episode as the time when Greg is told “you fit the suit” when he challenges the image a hotshot record company agent creates for him.

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The Brady Six (from left to right: Cindy, Marcia, Peter, Greg, Jan, and Bobby) audition for “Hal Barton TV Talent Review” television station.  I actually genuinely love Marcia and Greg’s outfits.

Many of my favorite ‘Brady Bunch’ episodes involve the episodes with “The Brady Six,” the singing group that the kids form.  I believe they only sing in maybe three episodes, but I love their songs.  They’re so cheerful and upbeat, it’s hard to feel miserable watching the kids belt out “It’s a Sunshine Day.”  “Adios, Johnny Bravo” opens with The Brady Six auditioning for “Hal Barton’s TV Talent Review,” a local television show.  Oldest kid Greg is crooning “You’ve Got to Be in Love (To Love a Love Song).”  The other kids, ranked from next oldest to youngest: Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby, and Cindy serve as the back-up singers and dancers.  They of course win the television audition, but Greg also catches the eye of Tami Cutler, portrayed by 1970 Playboy Playmate, Claudia Jennings.

Tami, along with her hilarious partner Buddy Berkman, work as talent scouts for a local record label.  Tami is in the audience at the auditions and approaches Greg about a possible record deal.  She gives Greg her card and asks him to call her at 10AM the next morning.  The kids, thinking that they’ve been “discovered,” are overwhelmed with excitement.  Back at the Brady house, the kids are overjoyed about the possible record deal and eagerly wait for 10AM the next morning to roll around. The next morning, Greg calls Tami as the kids anxiously wait to hear about the deal.  Tami asks Greg to come down to her office, alone.  Greg assumes that Tami thinks that he is “the leader” of the group.

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Tami and Buddy present Greg with his amazing new Johnny Bravo costume

Greg, now in Tami and Buddy’s office, plays some guitar as Tami and Buddy marvel at their new “find.”  Buddy presents Greg with his new suit, an amazing glittery matador outfit complete with epaulettes.  Greg will also be known as “Johnny Bravo.”  This is also the point when Greg discovers that Tami and Buddy only want to sign him and not the other five kids.  When Greg informs the kids of this new development, they are understandably upset and disappointed.  The girls stew in their room for about five minutes until maid Alice walks in and very astutely tells the girls that they just have sour grapes.  If they were in Greg’s shoes, they probably would have accepted the deal as well.  Of course, in true ‘Brady Bunch’ fashion, when a few of the kids have made amends, all the kids make amends.  There are never any holdouts.

Throughout the episode, mom and dad Carol and Mike playfully banter back and forth about which college Greg will attend when he graduates from high school at the end of the year.  Carol wants Greg to attend her alma mater, State University, and Mike wants Greg to go to his alma mater, Norton College.  It seems a given that Greg will go to college.  However, with the new record deal, Greg’s collegiate future appears to be in jeopardy.  Carol, Mike and Alice sit around the kitchen table, sipping hot cocoa, worried that Greg will decide against college.  The next day, while Carol and Mike plant flowers, Greg informs them that he will not be attending college.  They are understandably upset and disappointed.  Carol reminds Greg that fame is fleeting, but college will last a lifetime.

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“Adios, Johnny Bravo!” Greg rips up his contract after discovering Tami and Buddy’s intention to use him as a prop for their manufactured pop music.

At the studio, Greg informs Tami and Buddy of his decision.  Tami and Buddy go to work transforming Greg into “Johnny Bravo.”  Greg is informed of his new team of PR representatives, record label contacts and everyone else associated.  He even meets the group of girls hired to be Johnny Bravo’s groupies who mob him and tear off his shirt.  Greg then records his first Johnny Bravo song, “High Up on the Mountains.” After hearing the finished product, Greg is upset.  It sounds nothing like him.  It is so over manufactured, so sweetened up in the studio, that it doesn’t sound like anyone.  Greg’s voice is barely audible under the distorted guitar track.  When Buddy doesn’t seem to care and mentions the amount of “work” that went into creating “Johnny Bravo,” Greg realizes that he’s been taken in by Tami and Buddy.  To Greg, Tami utters those immortal words: “You fit the suit.”  Greg figures out that all Tami and Buddy really wanted was a naive guy whom they could use to pose as a singer while they created potential hit pop songs in the studio.  Greg is upset about being used as a stooge and rips up his contract and walks out.  (Side note: Greg already signed the contract.  Does ripping it up really nullify it?  I doubt it, unless Tami and Buddy didn’t make carbon paper copies or something).

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The amazing costumes from “Good Time Music”

The episode concludes with the kids performing “Good Time Music” on Hal Barton’s television program.   The Brady Six wear these amazing outfits.  The outfits aren’t as good as the ones they wear when they perform as “The Silver Platters,” but they’re pretty awesome.  The outfit comes in three colors: orange, goldenrod and pale yellow.  The boys and girls are paired off with their respective counterpart and are decked out in matching outfits.  Greg and Marcia are in orange.  Jan and Peter don the goldenrod.  Bobby and Cindy rock the pale yellow.  The boys’ outfits are pretty simple: white pants with a stripe of “their color” down the leg with a matching button down shirt and white patent leather shoes.  The girls wear these ugly, but fantastic, long dresses with ruffled collars and sleeves.  Cindy’s outfit is obviously a jumpsuit.  I cannot figure out if Marcia and Jan’s outfit are dresses or jumpsuits.  The best part of this whole performance is when Peter screws up the intricate Brady choreography (it happens toward the end of the performance.)

I love “Adios, Johnny Bravo.”  It has two awesome songs, hilarious and legitimately great clothes and “you fit the suit.”  This episode is only the tip of the iceberg as to what The Brady Bunch has to offer in terms of entertainment.

More Brady Bunch posts to come!

The Small Screen Blogathon–“I Love Lucy”

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Picture it: Salem, Oregon, 1995.  A beautiful peasant girl turns on her parents’ 15″ black and white tube TV.  She comes across a show on something called Nick at Nite.  She is instantly transfixed by the action on the screen.  A redhead (we’ll have to take the characters’ word for it, it’s black and white after all), her Cuban bandleader husband, and their two friends were involved in some wacky scheme.  The next day, the girl tuned into Nick-at-Nite again and watched another episode of this hilarious show about a woman whose only dream in life, it seems, is to be in show business, much to her husband’s chagrin. The show was I Love Lucy, and the beautiful peasant girl, was me, minus the peasant part–just tapping into my inner Sophia Petrillo.

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I Love Lucy is rightfully considered one of the best, if not the best (which “best” is obviously subjective) television show in history.  The show was groundbreaking, almost literally, and created the blueprint for all situational comedies to come.  Every show, from The Dick Van Dyke Show, to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, to Cheers to Friends are indebted to I Love Lucy for inventing the situation comedy and engineering the way in which to perform in front of a live audience.

In 1950, CBS approached Lucille Ball with an offer to move her popular radio show, My Favorite Husband, to the new burgeoning medium of television.  CBS wanted Ball, her co-star Richard Denning and the other cast members to make the move with her.  However, Ball had other ideas.  At this time, Ball had been married to her husband, bandleader Desi Arnaz for ten years.  The couple’s marriage was faltering.  Much of the strain on their marriage was caused by their differing schedules.  Ball was in Hollywood filming her radio show and Arnaz was on the road, touring with his band.  Ball, seeing an opportunity to work with her husband and keep him home, told CBS that she was interested in the offer, but only if Arnaz could star as her husband.  CBS balked, thinking that the American public would not accept that their star, Lucille Ball, was married to a Cuban.  Of course, CBS was completely wrong, but to prove it, Ball and Arnaz concocted a vaudeville routine and took their act on the road.  People across the country loved them and soon CBS had to relent and give Ball and Arnaz the go-ahead.

In March of 1951, Ball and Arnaz filmed their pilot.  It was filmed in kineoscope.  Kineoscope was a method of filming a live performance.  A camera lens would be focused on a video screen, which would record the performance as it was being recorded.  This footage would later be re-broadcast to other markets.  Typically shows were filmed in New York, as this is where a majority of the population lived in the late 1940s-early 1950s.  If you have ever seen a YouTube video where someone has made a video of a movie, show, concert, etc. playing on their TV,  you know that the sound is muffled and tinny and the picture is blurry.  This is exactly what it was like to watch a kineoscope show if you didn’t live near New York.

To see a couple examples of Kineoscope, go to You Tube and search for: “I Love Lucy Pilot,” and “Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on The Ed Wynn Show.”

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Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on the “I Love Lucy” Pilot

Above is a screenshot from the I Love Lucy pilot episode.  Ball wears a housecoat and big baggy pants for much of the episode because she was pregnant with Lucie Arnaz.  The Ricardos live in a completely different apartment and the Mertzes haven’t been created yet.  I Love Lucy episode #6, “The Audition” is essentially a re-do of the pilot.  In the pilot episode, Ricky schemes with his agent, Jerry.  In the I Love Lucy episode, Jerry’s lines are given to Fred Mertz.  The pilot episode was a success and Ball and Arnaz were given the green light to start their series.

To produce their series, Ball and Arnaz formed Desilu Productions.  Arnaz was president and Ball was vice-president.  They hired the writers from Ball’s radio show, My Favorite Husband. Many of the crew members they hired were acquaintances from Ball’s radio program and from Ball and Arnaz’ movie and music careers, respectively.  For the Mertzes, they originally wanted Bea Benederet (Betty Rubble in The Flintstones and Kate Bradley in Petticoat Junction) and Gale Gordon (Mr. Mooney in The Lucy Show and Harry Carter in Here’s Lucy).  However, Benederet was under contract to The Burns and Allen Show and Gordon was on Our Miss Brooks.

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William Frawley and Vivian Vance as Fred and Ethel Mertz

One day, William Frawley, an old acquaintance of Ball’s from her movie days, called Ball and asked if there was room for him on her show.  Leery of his reputation as a hard-drinker, Arnaz and Ball met with him and decided he was perfect.  Ball later said: “William Frawley was ‘Fred Mertz,’ period.” Frawley was cast on the condition that he always show up to work sober.  He would be fired on the spot if he ever showed up to work intoxicated.  During all six seasons of I Love Lucy and the three seasons of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, Frawley kept his promise.

Casting Ethel Mertz turned out to be more of a chore.  Ball originally wanted to throw the job to her old friend, Barbara Pepper (Mrs. Ziffel on Green Acres), but CBS said no.  Much like Frawley, Pepper had a drinking problem too, but hers was much more severe.  Then I Love Lucy director Marc Daniels (who directed the first season) suggested an actress he worked with in New York, Vivian Vance.  Vance had a successful Broadway career and had spent twenty years on stage acting in various plays until re-locating to Hollywood in the late-1940s.  She appeared in a couple films, but by 1951, she was still relatively unknown outside of the Broadway circle.  She just happened to be appearing in a revival of Voice of a Turtle in La Jolla, California.  Arnaz and head writer, Jess Oppenheimer, drove down to see Vance and hired her on the spot. Vance was reluctant to give up her stage career for the unknown medium of television, but friend Daniels convinced her it’d be her big break–and it was.

With all the pieces put in place, it was time to start producing I Love Lucy.  Desilu purchased two soundstages and tore down the dividing wall to create one large room that could hold four separate stages.  The Ricardos’ living room was the larger, permanent stage.  The Ricardos’ bedroom was typically in the smaller stage to the left and the kitchen was the small stage to the right.  The other stage would often be the Tropicana.  The walls of the small stages had wheels that allowed them to move around.  Oftentimes, when a scene with a large amount of action was filmed, the walls of the set would be rolled in front of the Ricardos’ living room set.  Case in point, there is a blooper in the famous Vitameatavegamin episode (#30 “Lucy Does a TV Commercial”).  When Lucy comes staggering out of her dressing room (plastered on Vitameatavegamin, alcohol 23%) and the stage hands are searching for Ricky, you can see the Ricardos’ living room between the Vitameatavegamin set and Ricky’s set where he performs.

CBS wanted Arnaz and Ball to use the cheaper kineoscope and to film their show in New York.  Arnaz and Ball informed CBS that not only did they plan on remaining in Los Angeles, but they also wanted to film their program on 35mm film, the same film used by the motion picture studios.  They wanted the whole country to see their program clearly, not just the East Coast and they wanted to have copies of their program–figuring that if it bombed, at least they’d come away with some “home movies” for their children. CBS complained initially about the increased cost of the film, but Arnaz, the shrewd negotiator he was, offered to deduct $1000/week from his and Lucy’s salaries in exchange for the right to use film and the rights to their show. CBS, figuring that this whole thing will never work, agreed.

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The “I Love Lucy” set.  This is an early season 1-2 episode based on the floral love seat in the living room.

Arnaz knew that Ball performed best in front of a live audience.  To accommodate a live audience, Arnaz had to equip his soundstage with bleachers.  He was also required by the fire marshall to bring the building up to code by adding bathrooms and other modifications required of a facility that is going to hold large groups of people.  In order to ensure that the cameras didn’t block the audience’s view of the action, Arnaz, along with Academy Award winning cinematographer, Karl Freund, devised the three camera technique.  This camera, nicknamed “the three-headed monster,” would film the action from three angles.  Then after production, the editors would splice together the footage to create the final show. This technique is still in use today.

The very first episode of I Love Lucy, that aired, was actually the second episode filmed.  Episode #2, “The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub” is the first of many “versus” episodes.  In this case, it’s the men versus the women.  Lucy and Ethel want to go to a nightclub for the Mertzes’ anniversary and Fred and Ricky want to go to the fights.  Lucy and Ethel declare that they will find their own dates who will take them to the club.  Ricky informs Lucy that he and Fred will do the same.  Enlisting the help of an old friend, Lucy gets herself and Ethel set up as Ricky and Fred’s blind dates.  Except, the girls aren’t just coming as themselves, they show up dressed as hillbillies.  This is the first of many episodes where Lucy tries to pull a fast one on Ricky.  Arnaz made it clear to the writers from day one that while Lucy can play tricks on Ricky, he didn’t want Ricky to look like an idiot.  Ricky either needed to be in on the joke from the beginning or figure it out before Lucy succeeded.  In the case of this episode, Lucy blows her cover by offering to go grab cigarettes for everyone, stating that she knew where they were.  Ricky tells Lucy he knows it’s her and Ethel, they make up and all is well–except that the men end up at the fights with the ladies dressed to the nines.  Let’s just hope that a compromise was reached and maybe they went to the fights and the nightclub that evening.

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“Lucy Goes to the Hospital”

I Love Lucy was a success and was at the top of the ratings 4/6 years it was on television.  In 1953, Ball found out she was pregnant (with Desi Arnaz Jr.) and she, along with Arnaz, thought it was the end of the program.  However, it was decided that Lucy Ricardo would be pregnant too.  Desilu hired a priest, rabbi and minister to read the scripts and highlight any objectionable content.  All three religious leaders could not find any issues.  CBS allowed Ball and Arnaz to go ahead with their plan and Lucy Ricardo was set to have a baby.  The only stipulation being that the word “pregnant” could not be used on the show.  They had to opt for the funnier ‘spectin coming from Ricky.  Words and phrases like “infanticipating” and “having a baby” were used instead.  The episode where Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky was the highest rated episode of any television show (at that point) and even got a higher rating than Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration that took place the following day after Little Ricky was born. During this time, Arnaz invented the re-run by re-airing old episodes of I Love Lucy.  He wanted to give Lucy time to recover.  To make the episodes “fresh,” he and Frawley and Vance filmed new flashback scenes to introduce the episodes.  When these repeats garnered the same or higher ratings than the original airing, it was decided to forgo the new flashback footage and just re-air the episodes as-is.

I Love Lucy enjoyed huge success during its original six year run, winning multiple Emmy Awards and achieving high ratings.  It ended its run #1 in the ratings.  However, I Love Lucy has achieved even greater success in the decades since.  It is estimated that I Love Lucy has never been off the air since its debut in 1951.  Ball’s face is one of the most widely recognized faces in the world.  There are new generations of fans discovering I Love Lucy each and every day.  It is truly an indelible part of pop culture and television history.

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My Top 5 Favorite Episodes of I Love Lucy:

1) Episode #114, “L.A. at Last!”

The Ricardos and Mertzes finally make it to Hollywood.  After checking into their hotel at the Beverly Palms Hotel, Lucy and the Mertzes are on the prowl for movie stars.  They decide to go to “the watering hole,” aka The Brown Derby for lunch and celebrity spotting.  Ethel manages to embarrass herself in front of Eve Arden and Lucy ends up embarrassing herself in front of William Holden.  The true gem of this episode is later, when Ricky, newly employed at MGM, meets Holden.  Holden offers to give him a ride to his hotel.  Ricky, unknowing about what transpired at the Brown Derby earlier that day, asks Holden if he’d mind coming in to meet Lucy.  Lucy, understandably freaked out, but forced into meeting Holden, tries to disguise herself with a scarf, glasses and fake putty nose.  The funniest part of the entire episode is the look on William Holden and Desi Arnaz’ faces when Lucy turns around after having re-shaped her nose.

2) Episode #147, “Lucy Gets a Paris Gown”

In Paris, Lucy makes it known to Ricky that she wants a Jacques Marcell dress.  Ricky, not wanting to pay the huge price tag, says no.  Lucy, not willing to give up, stages a convincing hunger strike in protest of Ricky’s decision.  Ricky, feeling bad for Lucy, buys her the dress, but then discovers that Ethel has been sneaking food to her.  The dress is returned and Lucy is fuming. To appease Lucy and “cure” her of her desire for high-end French fashion (which Ricky and Fred think is ridiculous), they find some potato sacks, a horse’s feedbag and a champagne bucket and have two Parisian original gowns designed and created: one for Lucy and one for Ethel.  The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy and Ethel realize that they’ve been duped and attempt to hide under a tablecloth, that they apparently steal from the restaurant as they run away.

3) Episode #81, “The Charm School”

After an upsetting party where Lucy and Ethel feel ignored by their husbands, especially when the date of another guest attracts all their attention, Lucy and Ethel decide that their husbands are bored with them.  Lucy finds out that the woman who came to her party the night prior had just finished a course at “Phoebe Emerson’s Charm School.” Lucy and Ethel sign up and are put through a charm regiment that involves learning to walk, speak and dress like a charming lady.  The time comes for the big reveal and Ricky and Fred are speechless.  The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy opens the door to let glammed-up Ethel in.  As she opens the door, there’s Ethel leaning against the door frame, dressed in a one-strapped, skintight, leopard print dress with a cool snake-like thing around her arm.

4) Episode #23, “Fred and Ethel Fight”

The Mertzes are fighting (because Ethel said that Fred’s mother “looked like a weasel,” to which I say: “Fred’s mother is still alive?”) and Lucy decides to invite each one over for dinner without the other one knowing.  She lets Ricky in on the plan.  Ricky works with Lucy trying to get Fred and Ethel back together, but during course of conversation, he and Lucy end up getting in a fight.  Now it’s Ethel and Fred’s turn to try and get Ricky and Lucy back together! The climax of the episode is when Ricky stages a fake fire in the apartment, so that he can “save” Lucy and be a hero.  The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy wants to pretend like she was hit by a bus and has Ethel help her put on casts and a metal arm brace thing and then Ricky stages the fake fire which Lucy doesn’t know is fake.  Lucy freaks out trying to grab things, casually tossing them out her 4th story window.  She grabs some dresses and her huge jug of henna rinse. Then she makes a rope with a bedsheet and ties it around herself, but neglects to tie the other end to anything.

5) Episode #122 “The Star Upstairs”

Lucy discovers that she has met 99 movie stars and wants to meet one more so she can have an even hundred.  She reads a blind item in the paper that a big star is staying in the penthouse of a local hotel for some rest and relaxation.  Lucy instantly jumps to the conclusion that the star is in her hotel, and after pressing the bellboy for details, her assumption is confirmed–Cornel Wilde is staying in the penthouse right above the Ricardos’ hotel room! Lucy blackmails the bellboy into letting her borrow his outfit so she can deliver the paper.  That scheme fails wholeheartedly.  In the next attempt, Lucy hides under the bellboy’s cart.  Through the course of events, Wilde ends up thinking that Bobby is a really talented ventriloquist who can throw his voice across the room.  The scheme comes off well, but Lucy ends up being left behind in Wilde’s room.  Desperate to get out, she attempts to climb down the balcony using a makeshift rope that she crafts out of a beach towel.  The funniest part of the entire episode is Ethel trying to distract Ricky from seeing Lucy’s legs dangling from the balcony.

Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon!

I Love Lucy, Ep. 79 “The Million Dollar Idea” January 11, 1954

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This weekend, “A Shroud of Thoughts” is hosting a blogathon.  The theme is “Favorite TV Show Episode.”  I knew that I would have to write about an episode from my favorite television show of all time–“I Love Lucy.”  But which episode?! They’re all so great.  It was difficult to narrow it down.  I didn’t want to write about “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” (aka “The Vitameatavegamin Episode”) or “Job Switching” (Lucy & Ethel work in the chocolate factory) or “Lucy’s Italian Movie” (Lucy stomps grapes) because I feel like those are the episodes that are always trotted out when someone discusses the best “I Love Lucy” episodes.  While I adore these episodes, there are many other great episodes that deserve recognition.  I settled on “The Million Dollar Idea.”  A hilarious episode that features one of my favorite quotes.  On paper, it’s not really that funny, but Lucy’s delivery of the line makes it.

“The Million Dollar Idea” opens with the Ricardos and Mertzes having dinner in the living room.

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Ethel (Vivian Vance) and Fred (William Frawley) rave about Lucy’s (Lucille Ball) homemade salad dressing.  Lucy admits that it is her Aunt Martha’s recipe.  Fred tells Lucy that she should consider bottling and selling it.  Ricky (Desi Arnaz) on the other hand, takes this opportunity to remind Lucy that her bank account is overdrawn…again.  They have an off-screen battle over the household accounts.

The next morning, Lucy decides that she’s going to take Fred’s idea and bottle and sell her Aunt Martha’s Salad Dressing.  She enlists Ethel’s help and the ladies are in business.  They come up with a product name: Aunt Martha’s Old Fashioned Salad Dressing.  To market their product, Lucy decides to take advantage of her friendship with “frenemy” Carolyn Appleby (not seen in the episode) since she remembered that Carolyn’s husband Charlie works at a television station.  “[We’ll] cut her in, to the tune of, say, three cents a bottle,” Lucy tells Ethel.  “Yeah. She likes that kind of music,” Ethel agrees.  They decide to go on The Dickie Davis Show.

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On the show, Ethel appears as “Mary Margaret McMertz,” a parody of popular radio show host Mary Margaret McBride who dispensed household advice to women for over 40 years. Ethel touts the salad dressing and asks an “average housewife, picked at random, from [the] audience” to come up on stage.  Of course, this wasn’t a random selection at all.  It is Lucy, disguised as average housewife Isabella Klump.  Ms. Klump raves about the salad dressing, to the point where she’s literally drinking it from the jar!  Ethel asks her viewers to write (623 E. 68th Street) or call (CIrcle 7-2099) to place their orders.  Of course, Ethel holds the cards backwards and then upside down, but that doesn’t hurt orders.  By the end of the show, Lucy and Ethel have 23 orders–at the bargain price of 40 cents a quart!

Back at home, Lucy and Ethel get to salad dressing production.  As far as I can tell, the ingredients in the salad dressing are: oil, salt and onions.  One has to assume there must be some vinegar in there? But the dressing isn’t a vinaigrette–it looks more like mayonnaise.  Perhaps the dressing has eggs in it and when emulsified, it becomes more of mayonnaise type dressing? Then there are the onions.  Big pieces of onion only cut into quarters.  Maybe it goes into the blender next? Not sure.  Regardless, Lucy and Ethel have horribly under-priced their  product.  Ricky, who obviously has more business acumen than Lucy (he does manage the Tropicana Club, after all), decides to calculate Lucy and Ethel’s profit.  After calculating the cost of the ingredients, the cost of the jars and the cost of the labels and dividing it by their 23 orders, Ricky determines that they’ll churn out a 3 cent per jar profit–the same profit that was promised to Carolyn Appleby.  He tells Lucy that that figure doesn’t even include shipping, mailing, insurance, taxes or overhead.  “Oh. Well. If you’re going to figure all that stuff,” Lucy tells him.  Ricky urges Lucy and Ethel to get out of the salad dressing business.  Fred then enters the kitchen carrying an enormous bag of mail, one of three bags that were delivered. “We must be terrific television salesmen!” Ethel declares.

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Dismayed at the thought of having to produce so many jars of non-profit salad dressing, Lucy and Ethel decide to return to The Dickie Davis Show.   They figure if they’re so good at selling the dressing, that they’ll be good at “un-selling it.” The next day, Mary Margaret McMertz is back.  She once again advertises Aunt Martha’s Old Fashioned Salad Dressing and invites “an average housewife, picked at random, from [the] audience.”  Of course, Lucy comes up on stage, this time as country bumpkin, “Lucille McGillicuddy.”  Mrs. McGillicuddy smells the dressing and is immediately disgusted.  “Smell it” she tells McMertz.  McMertz smells it and is taken with the same bad smell.  “How about that? Looks like Aunt Martha had too many old-fashioneds” Mrs. McGillicuddy says. McMertz asks Mrs. McGillicuddy to taste the dressing.  After getting over her initial repulsion and the promise of a new jar, Mrs. McGillicuddy takes a swig.  She’s overcome with disgust and looks for a place to spit it out.  “What’s Aunt Martha trying to do? Poison me?” she asks.

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Under great duress, Mary Margaret McMertz says, “Friends, I can no longer endorse this product.  If you have ordered it, send in your cancellations.”

Which brings me to my favorite part of the episode. Falling to the floor after drinking the vile salad dressing, Mrs. McGillicuddy pops up and says:

“CANCEL! CANCEL!”

McMertz once again shares the cancellation phone number and address.

Mrs. McGillicuddy reappears.  “AND DO IT NOW!” she pleads.

After the show, the girls are sure that they’ve succeeded in getting out of making all the salad dressing.  Fred brings in more sacks of mail.  Lucy and Ethel excitedly start reading the postcards.  “Cancellations!” they think.  Except they’re not.  They’re more orders! 1133 more orders to be exact.  Lucy and Ethel decide to purchase salad dressing from the store, remove the labels and attach their own labels.  It’s not entirely honest and costs 50 cents a quart (10 cents more than their product), but they can get their scheme over and done with in the shortest amount of time.  Lucy and Ethel, decked out in matching outfits, some sort of apron vest like thing (looks like something that a newspaper delivery boy would wear), roller skates and shopping carts (that they got from somewhere.  I doubt that people with minimal storage, like in an apartment, would have shopping carts lying around) get ready to deliver their wares.  “You take the east side, I’ll take the west side and I’ll be in Jersey a-fore ya!” Lucy tells Ethel.

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Happy 100th Birthday Desi Arnaz!

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Desi Arnaz, no doubt playing “Babalu”

100 years ago today, one of television’s great pioneers was born–Desi Arnaz.  Desi was born in Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city in Cuba, behind Havana.  Desi’s family was well off and he enjoyed a happy, carefree and idyllic childhood.  Desi’s father was the mayor of Santiago.  In 1933, when Desi was 16, his entire world came crashing down when the Batista Revolution came crashing into town.  Desi’s father was imprisoned.  All three of the Arnaz family’s homes were destroyed during the Revolution.  Six months later, the Arnazes fled to Florida, now penniless.

Now living in Miami, Desi finished his last year of high school.  His best friend was Al Capone, Jr. Desi and his father, the former mayor of Santiago, lived in an unheated warehouse where they ate beans from a can for dinner.  They regularly took turns chasing rats out of of their living space.  Desi found work cleaning canary cages.  Desi’s father ended up starting a small business building mosaic art pieces (fireplace mantels, for example) after capitalizing on broken tile that came from a nearby business.  Barely speaking English, Desi also attended English language courses in Tampa.

At the age of 19, Desi found work performing in a small musical group–The Siboney Septet (even though there were only five members, maybe they hoped for more?).  Desi was now earning $50/week.  Not a lot of money, but was more than he had been earning for quite some time.  The Siboney Septet regularly performed at a hotel in Miami.  It was at one of these performances where famous bandleader Xavier Cugat (whom you’ll remember as a rival of Ricky Ricardo’s in I Love Lucy) spotted Desi and offered him a job with his orchestra.  Desi actually had to take a $15/week pay cut, but was willing to gamble, because Xaxier Cugat’s band had the “name” and prestige that could open doors.  This is one of the first glimpses of Arnaz’ innate business acumen that would serve him well in about fifteen years.

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Desi Arnaz leading the conga line.  Who is that I spy in the white dinner jacket? Is that Errol Flynn?

After about a year with Cugat’s band, Desi decided to take another gamble–he was going to form his own orchestra.  The Desi Arnaz Orchestra started playing in small clubs and developed a following.  Eventually the Orchestra ended up in New York City.  Desi is also credited with starting the Conga craze in the United States.  In 1939, while performing with his orchestra, Desi was spotted by Broadway director George Abbot.  Abbot was casting his new play, Too Many Girls and was looking for a someone for the role of Manuelito, the Argentinian football player.  Desi won the role and was soon performing on the stage.  In 1940, RKO purchased the rights to the story and soon a film version was in the works.  Many of the Broadway cast members, including Desi, were brought to Hollywood to appear in the film.  Too Many Girls (1940), a B-movie musical at best, may be largely forgotten today and in all honestly, isn’t all that great of a film, may perhaps be one of the most important films ever made–not because of anything that happened on screen, but for what happened off screen.  Without this film, television could be very different today.

When casting the ingenue role in Too Many Girls, RKO bosses settled on 28-year old Lucille ‘Lucy’ Ball.  Lucy who started as an extra and bit player in 1933 at RKO, had steadily moved up the ladder, getting bigger and better parts with each passing year.  She managed to score some supporting roles in A-list films, like 1937’s Stage Door with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, but she was nowhere in the same league as either star.  In 1938, Lucy finally scored a leading role in The Affairs of Annabel, but this was a ‘B’ film.  The film was a modest success and Lucy had proven that she could carry a film.  By 1940, after starring in numerous ‘B’ films, Lucy was known as “Queen of the Bs” at RKO.  Too Many Girls was just another ‘B’ to her.

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Lucille Ball pictured here in “Dance Girl Dance” in roughly the getup she had on when first meeting Desi Arnaz.

During a pre-film meeting, in June(ish) of 1940, the future of the world was changed when Lucy met 23-year old Desi Arnaz.  Fresh off the soundstage after filming a cat fight scene with Maureen O’Hara in Dance, Girl Dance, Lucy looked worse for the wear.  Dressed in a torn gold lamé gown, while sporting tousled hair and a big, fake black eye, Lucy looked a fright and Desi was not impressed.  Lucy, on the other hand, took one look at the young, very attractive Cuban singer, and said in her autobiography, “It wasn’t love at first sight, it took five minutes.”  Later that evening, at a cast party, Lucy returned, all cleaned up and Desi was smitten.  After a whirlwind six months of filming their movie, traveling back and forth across country for their respective film and music commitments, and of course, dating when they were able, Lucy and Desi married on November 30, 1940.

Their marriage is famously tempestuous.  Both Lucy and Desi had their respective careers–two very demanding careers that kept them apart much of the time.  Desi tried a film career, but in 1940s America, his thick Cuban accent prevented him from getting many film roles.  His best film is arguably 1944’s Bataan, where he plays Felix Ramirez, a Mexican soldier during World War II.  In this film, (spoiler alert!) he plays an excellent death scene. By the end of the 1940s, Lucy’s film career was really not going anywhere, even after two studio changes (MGM and later Columbia).  In 1948, she was appearing on radio in CBS’ My Favorite Husband, playing Liz Cugat (later renamed to Liz Cooper), a character very similar to Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy.  In 1950, CBS wanted to move My Favorite Husband to the burgeoning new entertainment medium, television.

Lucy was very eager to take on this new opportunity, but with one provision, she wanted husband Desi to appear with her on the new show.  Lucy and Desi were tiring of their routine and were looking for a project that could keep them together.  They also wanted children and after a series of miscarriages, that dream looked to be finally coming true by the end of 1950, Lucy was pregnant with daughter Lucie Arnaz.  CBS balked at the idea of a Latin being married to an American girl like Lucy and were hesitant to take on the project.  Lucy and Desi, in an effort to prove CBS wrong, formed a vaudeville act and took their show on the road.  For anyone who is a big fan of I Love Lucy (like me), their act consisted of “The Professor” bit from Ep #6, “The Audition,” and the “Sally Sweet/Cuban Pete” bit from Ep #4 “The Diet.” Their road show was a massive success and CBS was successfully won over.

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Cuban Pete and Sally Sweet, part of Lucy & Desi’s vaudeville roadshow

By early 1951, Lucy and Desi had formed their own production company, Desilu Productions.  Desi was President and Lucy held the Vice President position.  After successfully selling their pilot (basically their Vaudeville show), they went to work on their weekly series.  They assembled their crew using the writing staff from My Favorite Husband, an Academy Award-winning cinematographer, Karl Freund, (who was interested in the novelty of television) and a variety of other professionals.  They also hired their supporting actors, Vivian Vance and William ‘Bill’ Frawley, who would forever be linked together for eternity (I’m sure much to both Vance and Frawley’s chagrin). With all the players in place, I Love Lucy was born.

Early on, before the first episode was filmed, Desi made one of the shrewdest business deals in television history–CBS was hesitant to pay all the extra costs accrued by the film, live audience, etc., so Desi offered to have Desilu pay all the extra fees in exchange for the rights to all the episodes.  CBS, obviously not knowing what they were doing, laughed and said (and I paraphrase): “Sure.  You can own the episodes.”  Desi, Lucy and Desilu made millions from the residuals of I Love Lucy.

Desi Arnaz ended up being one of the most powerful television producers of the 1950s.  He is credited, along with Freund, with inventing the three-camera filming technique that became standard practice for all scripted comedy shows.  This invention became a necessity when CBS wanted I Love Lucy to be filmed in New York, live.  Desi and Lucy balked, stating that they lived in Los Angeles and intended to stay in Los Angeles.  Desi also did not want to film I Love Lucy live, as it used kinescope film which was of very poor quality.  While the East Coast feed looked decent, the West Coast would be treated to a blurry and fuzzy picture.  Desi decided he wanted to film the show on 35mm film same way that films were produced.  The three camera filming technique is just one of the innovations that emerged during Desi’s fifteen year tenure as one of the top producers in America.

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The “I Love Lucy” stage from the audience’s point of view

In addition to filming the series, Lucy and Desi also wanted to film the series in front of a live audience.  Desi argued that Lucy needed a live audience to do her best work.  He retrofitted a soundstage with bleachers that could accommodate an audience.  He arranged the lighting and other necessary production equipment in a way that would not obstruct the audience’s view.  Finally, of course, he had to install or modify parts of the soundstage to up to various fire and city building codes.

In addition to the filming technique and the live audience-equipped soundstage, Desi is also credited with inventing the rerun while simultaneously challenging the social mores of the day.  During the show’s second season, Lucy found out she was pregnant.  Pregnancy depicted on screen was taboo.  Lucy and Desi were worried that their show was done.  Desi decided that Lucy Ricardo should be pregnant too.  CBS was horrified.  Desi made a deal with CBS: They will let three members of the clergy (priest, rabbi and minister) review each of the “baby” episodes to determine whether any of the content was objectionable.  Obviously, they didn’t find anything “bad,” in fact, they told CBS (and I paraphrase), “What’s wrong with a married couple having a baby?”  The only concession the I Love Lucy crew made was that the word “pregnant” would not be used in an episode.

To accommodate Lucy’s condition, the cast and crew produced as many episodes as they could before Lucy was unable to work any further.  While Lucy was on maternity leave, Desi decided to re-air previous episodes.  CBS again, playing the negative nelly role, said “who is going to want to watch something they’ve already seen?” (oh how little they know, I’ve probably seen every episode of I Love Lucy 100+ times).  To appease them, Desi, Vivian and Bill filmed new flashback segments that will set up the rerun.  After the rerun episodes aired, CBS discovered that the rerun episode got a higher rating the second time around than it did the first time.  After this, the flashback segments were dumped and CBS aired reruns of I Love Lucy during the show’s hiatus in the summer.  As a result, the cast and crew were also able to shorten their seasons (30 episodes/season vs. 35).

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Lucy and Ricky Ricardo are having a baby! Scene from episode #45, “Lucy is Enciente”

I Love Lucy ran from 1951-1960 (The last three seasons were a series of weekly specials, titled The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.  The official last episode of I Love Lucy, #179 “The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue,” aired in 1957).  In that time, it was one of the most popular shows on television.  In 1953, it was the most popular show, garnering staggering ratings.  Episode #51, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” got higher ratings than President Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration.  Almost 72% of the television sets in America were tuned to I Love Lucy, when Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Ricky Ricardo, Jr. Lucille Ball had also given birth to real-life son, Desi Arnaz IV on the same day the episode aired.  Since I Love Lucy’s debut in 1951, the show has never been off the air.  It regularly airs all over the world, every single day. The show won numerous Emmy Awards including accolades for both Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance.  William Frawley received multiple nominations, but never won.  Desi on the other hand, was never nominated.

By the mid to late 1950s, Desilu Productions was a thriving enterprise producing multiple television shows, including The Untouchables, Make Room For Daddy and Our Miss Brooks.  In the 1960s, Desilu went on to produce The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Star Trek.  Desi retired from Desilu in the early 1960s.  He dabbled in television here and there and even taught a college course on television production in San Diego in the 1970s.  In 1976, Desi published his autobiography, A Book (Excellent book by the way, if you can find a copy, it’s out of print).  In 1982, Desi appeared in his last film, The Escape Artist.  In early 1986, Desi was diagnosed with lung cancer.  By the end of 1986, Desi was nearing the end.  On November 30, on what would have been their 46th wedding anniversary, Lucy called Desi.  While he was too ill and weak to speak on the phone, daughter Lucie (who was caring for him) held the phone up to his ear. Lucy told him “I Love You” over and over again.  That was the last time they spoke.  Desi passed away a couple days later, on December 2.  He was 69.

Desi Arnaz was a television pioneer.  While he lacked any sort of formal business training, he was one of the most powerful television producers in the country.  What he lacked in education, he made up for in intuition, willingness to take risks, negotiating skills and simply an unwillingness to take “no” for an answer.  He didn’t receive the appreciation or accolades in his lifetime (simply, I Love Lucy would not exist were it not for him.  Even Lucy herself would attest to this) and was often just thought of as “the Cuban bandleader,” “Lucy’s husband,” or even “Ricky Ricardo.”  But he was much more.  Finally, some thirty years after his passing and sixty-plus years since I Love Lucy, he is finally being recognized for his contributions to television.  In 1990, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences inducted Desi into their Television Hall of Fame. In 2009, a statue of Desi was added to the plaza in front of the Television Arts and Sciences Headquarters in Hollywood.  His statue joins the Lucy statue that was installed in the early 1990s.

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Statues of Desi and Lucy in the plaza at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in Hollywood

In his autobiography, Desi says: “If we hadn’t done anything else but bring that half hour of fun, pleasure, and relaxation to most of the world, a world in such dire need of even that short a time-out from its problems and sorrows, we should be content.”

Thank you for everything Desi.  Feliz Cumpleanos!

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In Memory of Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017)

Beloved television icon Mary Tyler Moore passed away today at the age of 80.  While I knew that Mary had been in poor health for the last few years and I’m not entirely surprised by her passing, I am still very sad.  I absolutely love Mary Tyler Moore.  Along with I Love LucyThe Mary Tyler Moore Show was my “must see” show during my Nick at Nite years.  I also loved The Dick Van Dyke Show, the show that put Mary on the map, but The Mary Tyler Moore Show will always have a special place in my heart.

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While I Love Lucy is my #1 favorite television show of all time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show comes in a close second.  While Lucy Ricardo got the best of her husband Ricky often and for the most part, always got her way, she was still expected to live up to the expectations of women in the 1950s.  Lucy was expected to keep house, take care of children (or in her case, child) and attend to her husband’s needs.  Husband Ricky was the breadwinner.  She took care of all domestic chores.  To Lucy, this life was mundane and she wanted the excitement of show business, something that Ricky experienced on a daily basis.  Ricky didn’t want his wife having a career.  Even when Lucy got her way and made her way onto the stage, she was still expected to return to her domestic duties.  In the only two-three cringe-worthy moments in I Love Lucy, Ricky actually spanks Lucy when she does something he doesn’t like.  Ricky keeps Lucy in her place and she usually always returns to domestic life even though it is apparent that she wants more.

In 1961, 24-year old Mary Tyler Moore was cast in The Dick Van Dyke Show.  She landed the star-making role of Laura Petrie, wife of Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke).  This role allowed Moore to showcase her talent for dancing and also her comedic skills. In addition to her excellent chemistry with Van Dyke, the role of Laura Petrie allowed Mary to establish one of her great comic shticks.  Where Lucille Ball’s comedy came from situations she got herself into, much of Mary’s comedy came from being embarrassed.  In the episode “My Blonde-Haired Brunette,” Laura decides that Rob has become uninterested in her.  Knowing that blondes like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield are currently in vogue, Laura decides to make herself blonde.  She looks horrible as a blonde and Rob tells her over the phone that he loves her brown hair and he’s taking her out to dinner.  Desperate to change her hair before he comes home, she enlists friend Millie to help her.  Unfortunately, Rob arrives home when Laura’s hair is only half dyed.  She comes out with her half and half hair and collapses into a blubbering mess.  Mary Tyler Moore became one of the all-time best criers on television.  Even though Rob encouraged his wife to explore her talents, Laura Petrie ultimately was still a housewife and was expected to take care of son Ritchie and their home.  Laura somewhat bridges the gap between Lucy Ricardo and Mary Richards.

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Which brings us to The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966 after a very successful five-year run on television.  Between 1966-1970, Mary was having trouble finding her next project.  She tried movies.  Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) was successful, but did not lead to any big projects.  In 1969, Mary and Dick reunited for a special called, Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman.  In this variety special, Mary and Dick portray themselves and through a variety of song and dance routines, it shows off the various sides of Mary and Dick’s musical comedy talents.  This special paved the way for Mary to get her own show.  In 1970, The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered.

In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary portrayed Mary Richards, a newly single 30-year old woman who moves to Minneapolis to start a new life and career after her long-term relationship fizzles out.  Mary moves into a fantastic studio apartment managed by longtime friend, Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman).  Soon to be BFF, Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), lives upstairs.  Applying for a secretarial position at WJM News, Mary lands the job of Associate Producer.  WJM’s news is the lowest rated news program in the city.  Mary’s new co-workers include the brash, but secretly a softie, Lou Grant (Ed Asner), sarcastic and disillusioned writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin McLeod) and the buffoonish, arrogant anchorman, Ted Baxter (Ted Knight).  Later, Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White) who hosts “The Happy Homemaker” program at WJM and Georgette Franklin (Georgia Engel) join the gang.  Georgette ends up becoming Mrs. Ted Baxter.

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Mary Richards in many ways is the ideal woman of the 1970s (and maybe even now).  She’s gainfully employed and makes enough money to live independently.  She has many friends and even a close-knit group of co-workers who in many ways serve as a surrogate family for Mary.  While she would like to be married and have children, she isn’t desperate to have them.  She goes on dates and it is even implied that she spends the night with some of them.  She’s on The Pill!  Prior to 1970, were there any female television characters that even had sex, let alone were on The Pill? Mother characters don’t count.  Mary lived her own life according to her own terms.  There were times when Mary was a bit of a pushover and naive, but this is where the Rhoda and Lou characters came in handy–they were able to express their concerns to Mary in hopes that she’d make the right decision.  Throughout the 1970s, Mary Richards approached uncharted territory.  In an early episode, she discovers that the man who had her job before her made $50 more a week than she does.  She confronts Lou and demands to know why; In the fifth season, Mary faces the possibility of jail time for not revealing her news source; In the seventh season, Mary becomes hooked on sleeping pills. These are just a few examples.

Without further ado, my top 10 favorite episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

(This definitely isn’t meant to imply that I am not a fan of the other 158 episodes of the show)

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1. Put On a Happy Face (Season 3, Ep. 23)

Mary Richards is having a really bad week.  She’s late to work after her alarm fails to go off; She drips coffee on her new sweater before a meeting; she gets a flat tire; her paper bags fail causing her to drop her groceries all over the floor; she slips on the freshly waxed floor and sprains her ankle after trying to walk to the ladies’ room to fix her “hair bump”; she catches a cold from soaking her sprained foot; her date to the Teddy Awards bails; she ends up going to the award show with a “Robert Redford-type” (aka Ted Baxter); the dry cleaner ruins her dress; her hair dryer breaks; she gets a run in her stocking; it starts raining… This all culminates with Mary showing up at the Teddy Awards in a tacky dress, one wet slipper and one shoe, wearing a yellow rain slicker and haphazard hair.  Her false eyelash falls off.  She of course wins the Teddy Award she was nominated for and ends up a blubbering mess on the podium, only managing to apologize for her appearance.  She gets her award, and Mary is spelled wrong.  Of course it is.

*This is my favorite episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

2. The Dinner Party (Season 4, Ep. 10)

It’s time for another of Mary’s disastrous parties.  For someone who is so pleasant and well-liked by her co-workers and friends, it becomes a running gag in the series that she can’t seem to give a good party to save her life.  Nothing that happens at her parties is ever her fault, it just seems like everyone likes to bring their troubles to her parties.  In this party, Mary has invited Congresswoman Geddes as her guest of honor.  Her table only seats six.  The guests will be: Congresswoman Geddes, Mary, Lou, Rhoda, Murray and Sue Ann (who is cooking the dinner).  Sue Ann cooks exactly six portions of “Veal Prince Orloff.”  Rhoda shows up with a date (Henry Winkler) who has just been fired from Hempels and she feels bad.  Lou ends up taking 3 portions of Veal Prince Orloff and has to return two portions to the platter.  Ted, who was not invited to the dinner party, shows up to dessert.

3. The Lars Affair (Season 4, Ep. 1)

This is the funniest Phyllis episode.  This episode also introduces the Sue Ann Nivens character.  In this episode, Phyllis learns that husband Lars and Sue Ann are having an affair after meeting at Mary’s party.  Phyllis agonizes over the fact that her husband is cheating on her and even bakes a pie in an attempt to compete with Sue Ann.  The episode culminates with a confrontation on the set of “The Happy Homemaker” where Sue Ann refuses to give Lars up even after Phyllis points out all of his faults.  Sue Ann finally relents when Mary gives her an ultimatum, stating that being a homewrecker wouldn’t be a great image for “The Happy Homemaker,” it’s either Lars or her show.

4. Rhoda the Beautiful (Season 3, Ep. 6)

Perpetual dieter Rhoda has finally reached her goal.  Mary, Phyllis and the WJM staff give her praise but Rhoda cannot accept any of the compliments and meets each kind statement with a self-deprecating remark.  She ends up entering her department store’s “Miss Hempel Beauty Pageant.”  After a hilarious scene where Mary and Phyllis help Rhoda find something to wear (and Phyllis sings “10 Cents a Dance” from Love Me or Leave Me), Rhoda leaves for the pageant.  She looks fantastic and wins the contest.  Rhoda is finally able to admit that she looks good.

5. You Try to Be a Nice Guy (Season 5, Ep. 21)

Mary ends up becoming reacquainted with Sherry, a prostitute she met in jail while she was incarcerated for not revealing her news source.  Sherry got out of jail but was arrested again.  She recruits Mary to be a character witness at her court appearance.  Sherry is relying on a good character witness like Mary to keep her out of jail.  Mary agrees but unwittingly becomes responsible for Sherry’s behavior after having to give an oath promising to help Sherry look for legitimate work.  Mary, taking her oath seriously, is determined to find a decent job for Sherry but struggles since Sherry doesn’t have any marketable skills.  Finally, Sherry tells Mary that she wants to be a fashion designer.  Mary encourages her to pursue her dream.  To thank her, Sherry makes Mary a custom gown.  It ends up being a ridiculous, green colored concoction with lots of cutouts across Mary’s stomach and legs.  Only Mary Tyler Moore could wear this dress and not look atrocious, but it is so tacky and so completely not Mary Richards, that she looks ridiculous.  Ted and Georgette happen to show up at the same time Mary is wearing this dress and Ted can’t keep it together.  His reaction is the funniest part of the episode.

6. The Last Show (Season 7, Ep. 24)

All good things must come to an end and The Mary Tyler Moore Show unfortunately reached that point in 1977. I personally think they could have continued a couple more years, but it’s good that the show ended before the episodes started diminishing in quality.  In what is perhaps one of the best (if not the best) series finales of all time, the WJM crew (with the exception of Ted) learn that they are going to be fired.  Though they’re trying to repress their emotions, they finally let it all out after the end of their last newscast.  It’s hard to watch this scene without getting at least a little teary-eyed. Lou and Mary emotionally give speeches to everyone.  This culminates with the group sobbing in a large group hug.  Ted (or maybe Lou?) says he needs Kleenex and they move in one big glob toward the Kleenex box.  To lighten the mood, they sing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and leave the room.  Mary is left to turn off the lights. Thus ending The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

7. Sue Ann’s Sister (Season 7, Ep. 3)

Sue Ann’s sister Lila is in town.  Sue Ann is deeply jealous of Lila as it seems that every time Sue Ann gets something, Lila comes around and steals it from her.  Upon arrival, Lila and Lou immediately become chummy, which infuriates Sue Ann.  Lila then announces that she is interviewing for a “Happy Homemaker” type show on a rival network. This latest news is just too much for Sue Ann and she retreats to her bedroom.  The scene in Sue Ann’s bedroom is the funniest part of the entire episode.  Her bedroom is frilly gaudy.  She sleeps in a round bed, which we learn also vibrates.  She’s also got Tchaikovsky’s “Love Theme” from “Romeo and Juliet” queued up to play whenever I imagine she’s got something hot and heavy going on.  The best scene is when Ted walks in, looks up, and straightens his hat and tie–telling the audience about Sue Ann’s mirrored ceiling.

8. I Was a Single for WJM (Season 4, Ep. 24)

Inspired by the popularity of a local singles bar, WJM News decides to do a feature on the singles scene in Minneapolis.  The crew spends time at the bar each evening looking to find an “angle” for their story.  By Friday, Mary has become acquainted with many of the regulars and hopes to use them in WJM’s story.  When the singles become aware of the plan for cameras to enter their hangout and interview them, they become camera shy and leave in droves.  By the time the news starts, the bar is empty and Mary and co. are forced to improvise.

9. Edie Gets Married (Season 6, Ep. 1)

In this very emotional episode, Lou finds out that ex-wife Edie is planning on remarrying.  While he knows there isn’t a chance of them getting back together, Lou is still having trouble admitting that that aspect of his life (he & Edie) is over.  In a goodwill gesture, Edie invites Lou to her wedding.  Lou doesn’t know if he wants to attend, but ultimately does.  With Mary as his date, Lou very graciously and stoically watches his ex-wife tie the knot with someone else.  Originally Mary was supposed to provide moral support, but by the end of the ceremony, she’s a blubbery mess.  Lou then wishes Edie the best of luck in her marriage and Mary loses it completely.  Lou ends up taking her to the bar to console her.

10. The Square-Shaped Room (Season 2, Ep. 13)

Lou wants to surprise wife Edie with a makeover of their living room.  He plans to hire an old “designer” friend who currently decorates bus stations.  Mary suggests Rhoda, whose vocation is window decorator.  Lou hires Rhoda.  Rhoda agonizes over the right details for the room and finally settles for an all white motif with modern design.  The bookshelves appear to be made of white PVC piping.  There’s lots of white, shag, PVC and glass and a big number “5” on the wall.  This room is not Lou’s style at all and Rhoda has to return the room to its original state–however, there’s one change that Lou and Edie liked–the white walls.

The great thing about The Mary Tyler Moore Show, was that despite the show being named after its star, it was truly an ensemble show.  While Mary was in every episode, not every episode centered around Mary.  Every character had their own story lines and chances in the spotlight.  This is one of the few shows where the main characters were fleshed out.  We knew each character’s backstory, frustrations, successes, etc.  What I also loved about this show is how effortlessly they blended drama with comedy.  Lou had many very emotional moments (especially when dealing with Edie) and the show was able to easily add levity to a situation without undermining the scene.

In the famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode, Chuckles the Clown dies.  Not funny stuff.  Chuckles was dressed as a peanut and a rogue elephant tried to shell him.  His death is absurd and tragic.  Lou, Murray and Sue Ann get all the jokes out of the way in the first half of the episode.  Mary is mortified at her co-workers’ lack of sensitivity.  At the funeral, the co-workers are able to provide the somberness required for the occasion.  Mary, on the other hand, finally realizes the absurdity of the situation and can’t stop laughing during the pastor’s eulogy.  However, laughing at a funeral would be a very un-Mary Richards like thing to do–her laughter quickly turns to loud sobs.  It is a testament to Mary Tyler Moore’s talent that she was able to switch from laughter to crying so quickly and realistically.

Goodbye Mary.  You had spunk!

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I Love Lucy, “L.A. at Last!” Ep. #114

I wanted to incorporate one of my other loves into this website–classic television.  My love of classic television was born after I discovered Nick-at-Nite one evening, circa 1995 when I was in the sixth grade.  The first show I watched on Nick-at-Nite was I Love Lucy.  This ignited my love of Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy.  From then on, I had to see every episode of ‘Lucy.’  Later, my love of Lucille Ball led me to TCM to see her films.  From watching films with Ball, I ended up discovering a variety of other favorite actors including (but not limited to): Gene Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Ann Miller and Maureen O’Hara, just to name a few.  I Love Lucy also featured a lot of great classic movie stars whom I loved on the show and discovered their films later on TCM.  One of the all-time best I Love Lucy guest stars was William Holden.  Holden guest starred in my favorite episode– “L.A. at Last!”

After spending two weeks driving across country and making stops at a run-down cafe/hotel near Cincinnati, OH, a brief detour/jail stint in Bent Fork, TN, and a visit with Ethel’s father in Albuquerque, NM, the Ricardos and Mertzes finally make it to Los Angeles, CA.  After scoping out their hotel suite in the heart of Hollywood (courtesy of MGM), Ricky makes plans to have lunch alone (i.e. without Lucy) at the studio commissary.  To soothe Lucy and the Mertzes’ disappointment, he gives them full use of their car and some money for lunch.

Since they set foot in Hollywood, Lucy and Ethel have been on the hunt for movie stars.  Lucy wonders out loud if there’s any place where [the stars] gather in a big herd.  Fred jokingly says, “maybe they all gather at the same watering hole.”  This gives Lucy an idea and soon they’re off to “the watering hole,” aka The Brown Derby.  While in the restaurant, Lucy and Ethel immediately begin gawking and rubbernecking at every celebrity in sight.  We hear the restaurant page various unseen celebrities that they have a telephone call: Cary Grant, Walter Pidgeon and Gregory Peck.  Fred reminds Ethel that “they’re (the stars) just people like you and me.” “Telephone for Ava Gardner!” says the overhead page at the restaurant.  Fred jumps up and Ethel reminds him: “Remember? She’s (Ava Gardner) just people like you and me.” “She may be people, but she’s not like you and me!” Fred hilariously replies.

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“Look [Gregory Peck] is smiling…awwwwww!” 
After an embarrassing interaction with Eve Arden where Ethel asks her if she’s Judy Holliday or Shelley Winters, William Holden is seated into the next booth on the other side of Lucy.  Ethel gets Lucy’s attention and soon Lucy is gawking at Holden and making him uncomfortable.  He decides to turn the tables on Lucy and stare back.  Lucy is very uncomfortable and after a hilarious scene where Ethel cuts Lucy’s spaghetti with her manicuring scissors, Lucy and the Mertzes make a hasty exit–but not before Lucy trips the waiter and the pie on his tray falls on Holden.

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Ethel comes to Lucy’s rescue

Later, we see Ricky trying on costumes, a knight costume, for his new Don Juan picture.  He just so happens to meet Holden at the studio and Holden offers to give him a ride home.  Knowing Lucy’s love of movie stars and Holden in particular, Ricky asks Holden if he’d be willing to come in and meet Lucy.  Holden is only too happy to oblige. Lucy, fearful of being exposed as the one who threw a pie at Holden, tries to disguise her appearance.

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I wish I could find a better shot of William Holden and Desi Arnaz’ faces during this scene, they are really what makes it.

The funniest scene of the entire episode is the scene between Lucy with her fake putty nose, Holden and Ricky.  Lucy’s nose constantly needs re-shaped and she ends up lighting it on fire.  The looks on the men’s faces when Lucy is monkeying around with her nose is the absolute funniest part of the episode.  After the jig is up, Holden doesn’t let Ricky know about the shenanigans at the restaurant and tells him that he wanted to ask the waiter “who the beautiful redhead was,” but Lucy ran out before he had a chance.  Overwhelmed at Holden’s kind gesture, Lucy plants a kiss on him.  “I kissed Bill Holden!” she exclaims.

What I love about this episode, besides the episode itself is how it sets up William Holden for being a big blabbermouth.  In multiple episodes, other celebrities mention having heard from Bill Holden about Lucy.  I like the idea that Holden is going around town telling everyone about Lucy and how ridiculous she is.