Tag Archives: I Love Lucy

The Small Screen Blogathon–“I Love Lucy”


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.


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.”

i love lucy
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.

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.

i love lucy set
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.

“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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


Happy 100th Birthday Desi Arnaz!

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.

Desi Arnaz in a Conga Line
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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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!


Carole Lombard Blogathon!


For my blogathon entry, I am covering Carole Lombard’s friendship with Lucille Ball.

January 16, 2017 is the 75th anniversary of the death of comedienne Carole Lombard.  In 1942, Lombard, along with her mother, husband Clark Gable’s press agent, and fifteen army servicemen were killed when their plane crashed into the mountains in Nevada.  Lombard, et. al. were on their way back from a war bond rally in Lombard’s home state of Indiana.  It has been said that the group was supposed to travel back to Los Angeles via train, but Lombard was anxious to return home and wanted to fly.  Her mother and Gable’s press agent did not want to fly, but agreed to flip a coin with Lombard.  Lombard “won.”  After her death, Clark Gable was inconsolable and was seen racing around his San Fernando neighborhood on his motorcycle.  Friends were concerned that he was suicidal. Two such friends were Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz.


Ball and Lombard were friends from RKO Studios.  They were neighbors in the San Fernando Valley.  When Ball and Arnaz married in November of 1940, Lombard and Gable (who married the year prior) threw them a party at the Chasen’s nightclub in Hollywood. Many of Ball and Arnaz’ friends predicted instant doom for their union, but not Lombard and Gable.  Lombard and Gable frequently invited Ball and Arnaz to spend the day with them at their ranch.  After Lombard’s death, Gable (after tearing around on his motorcycle) would stop at Ball and Arnaz’ doorstep just to talk about his beloved wife Carole.  He would also occasionally bring over one of her films for the three of them to watch.  In her book, Love Lucy, Ball notes that she was never sure whether Gable was trying to torture himself by watching his late wife’s films, or whether seeing and hearing her brought him a sense of comfort (Ball, p. 123).  However, Ball and Arnaz were there for Clark and consoled him and entertained him when he needed it. caroleclark

By 1951, Ball’s career in the movies was waning and Arnaz’ never really started (because of his accent, studios claimed he was difficult to cast).  They had an opportunity to star in their own series in the fledgling industry of television. Ball was currently appearing on CBS’ radio show, My Favorite Husband, and the network wanted to move the program to the small screen.  At the time, “movie people” frowned on television as it seemed like a novelty and beneath them somehow.  It took some time to lure big screen stars to the small screen.  Ball and Arnaz (who at this time was a successful bandleader with The Desi Arnaz Orchestra that toured the country frequently) had to make a decision.  One night, Ball had a dream where friend Carole Lombard appeared and she said (to Lucy) “take a chance honey, give it a whirl.” This was all the confidence Lucy needed and I Love Lucy was born and television history was made.


TRIVIA: Lucy had a superstition about the combination of the letters AR–a combo which is present in both Lombard’s first and last name.  Lucy believed she hadn’t hit it big until she married Desi ARnaz.  When I Love Lucy filmed their pilot, Lucy and Desi’s characters were Lucy and Larry Lopez.  Aside from the fact that those names sound corny, Lucy wanted the characters renamed to incorporate “AR.”  Lucy and Larry Lopez became Lucy and Ricky RicARdo.  Later in her subsequent sitcoms, Lucy appeared as: Lucy CARmichael (The Lucy Show); Lucy CARter (Here’s Lucy) and Lucy BARker (Life With Lucy)

Ball, Lucille (1996). Love Lucy. Boulevard Books.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

Welcome to My New Blog!

There are so many blogs out there.  A person cannot “Google” a subject without finding someone’s blog on the topic.  There are many great blogs, ones that are regularly maintained and always evolving.  There are also a ton of blogs that an enthusiastic fan started and no sooner than they click “publish” on their free blog, they’ve abandoned it.  It’s a regular ghost town of deserted blogs on the internet–Here’s hoping my blog doesn’t end up a statistic.

My intention with this blog is to share my enthusiasm and opinions of classic film and television.  I may slip in some more recent films here and there, because I’m wacky like that.  I do not intend to provide any serious technical analysis of film or television.  I am not trying to win the Pulitzer Prize for greatest written article about Casablanca.  I am not auditioning for anything.  This is purely a not for profit fan blog written by someone who watches way too many movies and way too much television.  I feel all this couch potato time is worthwhile, however.  Someday, all this information (trivial or not) gleaned from these films and programs will assist in my quest to completely dominate trivia night. Everyone needs to know the name of the bully who relentlessly picked on Cindy Brady right? (Answer: It’s Buddy Hinton).

I am a former Nick-at-Nite junkie.  I discovered it one night in the sixth grade in 1995 and watched it religiously until it went downhill (circa 2002).  Nick-at-Nite, back in the day, had such a fun aesthetic.  Retro-inspired graphics, jingles, funny advertisements for their programming (Look up “The Pants That Ate Fred Mertz” on You Tube.  You won’t regret it), and on-screen placards before each episode which provided some basic information (episode name, number, original air date, etc.) with a fun trivia fact.  Their annual Block Party Summer (each evening featured a 3-hour block of a specific show) was one of my favorite times of the year.  It was always a downer when one day was a dud (e.g. one year, Mondays were “Monkee Mondays”).  I always thought: “Now what am I going to do [insert day of the week] nights?”

The first show I watched on Nick-at-Nite was I Love Lucy starring the inimitable Lucille Ball (aka “Lucy”). Even now, after 21 years, I Love Lucy is still my favorite television show of all time.  My other favorite shows that I discovered on Nick-at-Nite and continue to watch up until this day are: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Green Acres and The Brady Bunch.  There are so many fantastic shows that Nick-at-Nite introduced (or re-introduced) me to over the years, and thanks to Hulu and DVDs, I can enjoy them again and again.  I have been known to use a combination of You Tube, DVDs and Hulu to try and re-create at least something that kind of resembles my beloved night-time block of programming.  Until my demands are met, and Nick-at-Nite in all its 90s retro-inspired “graphic-ed” glory are reinstated, my makeshift block of classic programming will have to make do.

In conjunction with my Nick-at-Nite and Lucy obsessions, I branched out into classic movies, via Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and American Movie Classics (AMC).  TCM debuted in 1994.  I only had the channel for a few years before it moved to a higher tiered cable package (don’t worry, I have since gotten it back and have had the channel for the last ten years or so).   AMC used to show classic movies and shorts from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  They closer resembled TCM in that they played a variety of films with Nick Clooney introducing them (a la Robert Osborne on TCM), I used to watch a lot of Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges.

TCM (not so much AMC) provided the perfect venue to get to know more about my favorite classic television actor.  Knowing that Lucille Ball had a movie career before I Love Lucy, it was my intention to see her appearances in these films, whether she had a walk on role (e.g. 1935’s Roberta.  Ball appears in the fashion show sequence.  Her lines were deleted from the final cut) or a small bit part (e.g. 1935’s Top Hat, she appears as the flower shop clerk and has  couple lines), or was the star.  I had to see all her films.  I would set the VCR up for these recordings and cross my fingers that the tape didn’t run out or that I didn’t mess up the recording somehow.

During this time, I also watched the annual televised viewing of The Wizard of Oz, which was a tradition.  I love this movie and enjoyed watching it each and every year.  We eventually got the VHS, but there was just something about watching it on network television.  It was an event.  My favorite character in ‘Oz’ was Judy Garland’s character, Dorothy.  From my love of Judy, I started seeking her films out on TCM in addition to Lucy’s.

My love of Lucy and Judy has led me into an inescapable vortex of classic film.  Each film I watch has the possibility to join my running list of favorite films and introduce me to new favorite performers.  Thanks to Nick-at-Nite and TCM, I have discovered so many great stars that have become my new favorites: Errol Flynn, Katharine Hepburn, Gene Kelly, Humphrey Bogart,  Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Betty Grable, just to name a few.  I have one cardinal rule that I try to follow when going into a “new” film: Go into it hoping that it’ll become my new favorite film.  I never look for what’s wrong with a film until the end, when I discover that nothing “clicked” for me when I watched it.  I’m always willing to give films a second chance, unless I hated it so much that I don’t intend to ever watch it again (Apocalypse Now, I’m looking at you).

I hope to share my enthusiasm (and perhaps disappointment) about film and television.  Some of the films I may discuss, I have seen a billion times, others I just watched for the first time and am sharing my initial thoughts and opinions about the film.  I do not claim to be a film historian or expert, I am just a fan.  I’m constantly amazed how many films there are in the world and every day, I am finding out about more and more films I’ve never even heard of, let alone seen.  My DVR is always on the verge of being full.  I can’t help it, everything sounds so interesting.

Remember, this is all opinion, my opinion.  Please don’t beat up on me because you disagree with my opinion.  I’m open to conversation and trying to understand another point of view or perhaps giving a film a second (or third or more) chance, but if someone flat out disagrees that my favorite road movie is The Long, Long Trailer, then I really don’t care.  I love what I love.