Allen Jenkins has one of those mugs and voices that is instantly recognizable the second he’s on screen and opens his mouth. He’s never the lead, or even the major second lead, but he’s always there to provide ample support. My first introduction to Allen Jenkins was in his numerous appearances on I Love Lucy, often as a police officer. His most memorable appearance was in a late second season episode, “Ricky and Fred Are TV Fans.” In this episode, Lucy and Ethel are upset about becoming boxing widows when Ricky and Fred settle in for the evening to watch “the big fight.” It is established that Ricky and Fred have spent a lot of evenings watching boxing on television and their wives are fed up with being ignored night after night. Lucy and Ethel decide to go down to the corner drug store and call Ricky on the phone. Lucy will disguise herself as one of her friends and ask Ricky to call Lucy to the phone, which should clue him in that Lucy and Ethel are gone. The plan doesn’t work however, as Ricky just answers the phone, calls Lucy to the phone, sets the receiver down, then returns to watching the fight. The entire crowd in the drug store is caught up in the fight, including Officer Jenkins (Allen Jenkins). Lucy unable to get the drugstore clerk’s attention (because he’s watching the fight on television), decides to make change for herself. The bell on the cash register gets Officer Jenkins’ attention and he accuses Lucy of trying to rob the drug store. Lucy and Ethel get away.
Later, Lucy and Ethel return to the Ricardos’ apartment only to see the phone still off the hook and Ricky and Fred still watching the fight–they didn’t even notice the women’s disappearance. Insulted, Lucy decides to climb up onto the roof to cut the electricity to the Ricardos’ apartment. It seems a little drastic, and she has no fear about being electrocuted, but that’s how Lucy works, she doesn’t screw around. Anyway, while Lucy and Ethel discuss which cord is running to the Ricardos’ apartment, Officer Jenkins finds them and brings them down to the precinct. Now at the police station, Officer Jenkins tells his superior, Officer Nelson (Frank Nelson), that he’s finally tracked down the infamous female robbers, “Pickpocket Pearl” and “Sticky Fingers Sal.” The women are identified based on their hair color. ‘Pearl’ is a blonde and ‘Sticky Fingers’ is a brunette, who must have dyed her hair red, deduces Officer Nelson.
LUCY: Dyed your hair. A lot you know. My hair is naturally red. Isn’t it Ethel? ETHEL: Look Lucy, let’s not add perjury to our other charges. LUCY: Well I might have expected something like that from you. Pick. Pocket. Pearl.
Lucille Ball as “Lucy Ricardo” and Vivian Vance as “Ethel Mertz” in “Ricky and Fred Are TV Fans” in I Love Lucy. Originally aired June 22, 1953.
Allen Jenkins went all the way back to 1939 with Lucille Ball when he appeared with her in the RKO film, Five Came Back. In the film, nine passengers board a flight from Los Angeles to Panama City. During the flight, the plane flies directly into an intense nighttime storm, which ends with the plane crashing into a rainforest. The passengers and crew survive. Eventually the plane is repaired, but can now only support the weight of five passengers. The passengers and crew must decide which five people will get to return home. Lucy plays Peggy Nolan, a woman with a shady past and Allen plays Pete, a gunman who is tasked with escorting the son of a gangster back home.
Eight years prior to Five Came Back, Allen had made his film debut in the 1931 short film, Straight and Narrow playing what else? An ex-convict. Allen played many unsavory characters throughout his career. He also appeared in many memorable pre-code films such as: Three on a Match (1932), Employees’ Entrance (1933), 42nd Street (1933), Blondie Johnson (1933), and Jimmy the Gent (1934). During the production code era, he played opposite big Warner Brothers stars like Errol Flynn (The Perfect Specimen (1937), Footsteps in the Dark (1941), and Dive Bomber (1941)) and Humphrey Bogart (Marked Woman (1938), Dead End (1937), and The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) ).
Jenkins was born on April 9, 1900 in Staten Island, New York. Despite often being cast as the dimwitted thug or comic relief, Jenkins actually had a long pedigree when it came to show business training. His family earned their living in show business and he later trained at the reputable American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In the 1920s, Jenkins was working steadily on Broadway, even replacing Spencer Tracy in the play, “The Last Mile.” Jenkins’ turn in Tracy’s role is what led to Darryl F. Zanuck discovering him and bringing him out to Hollywood to work for Paramount Pictures. His first major role was reprising his Broadway role of “Frankie Wells” in the 1932 film adaptation of Blessed Event, starring Lee Tracy. This role led to Jenkins receiving steady work, often in gangster films throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
In Ball of Fire, Jenkins has a memorable role as the garbage man who rattles off one slang word after another, much to the bewilderment of the professors who are trying to write a comprehensive encyclopedia on American slang. He would later reprise his role in the film’s 1948 remake, A Song is Born.
GARBAGE MAN: I could use a bundle of scratch right now on account of I met me a mouse last week. PROFESSOR ODDLY: Mouse? GARBAGE MAN: What a pair of gams. A little in, a little out, and a little more out. PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: I am still completely mystified. GARBAGE MAN: Well, with this dish on me hands and them giving away 25 smackaroos on that quizzola. PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: Smackaroos? PROFESSOR ODDLY: Smackaroos? What are smackaroos? GARBAGE MAN: A smackaroo is a… PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: No such word exists. GARBAGE MAN: Oh, it don’t, huh? A smackaroo is a dollar, pal. PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: Well, the accepted vulgarism for a dollar is a buck. GARBAGE MAN: The accepted vulgarism for a smackaroo is a dollar. That goes for a banger, a fish, a buck, or a rug. PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: Well, what about the mouse? GARBAGE MAN: The mouse is a dish. That’s what I need the moolah for. PROFESSOR ODDLY: Moolah? GARBAGE MAN: Yeah. The dough. We’ll be stepping. Me and the smooch, I mean the dish. I mean the mouse. You know, hit the jiggles for a little drum boogie.
Allen Jenkins as “Garbage Man,” Richard Hadyn as “Professor Oddly” and Gary Cooper as “Professor Bertram Potts” in “Ball of Fire” (1941).
One of Jenkins’ last film roles was as the elevator operator who takes pity on the perpetually hungover Thelma Ritter in Pillow Talk (1959). Later, he moved to television, where he often played cops, or characters in blue-collared jobs. Aside from I Love Lucy, Jenkins also appeared in Adam 12, Bewitched, Batman, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He also made frequent appearances on Red Skelton’s show, The Red Skelton Hour, and also had a role in the 1950s sitcom, Hey Jeannie! (1956-1957). He is also remembered for voicing Officer Dribble on the cartoon series, Top Cat (1961-1962).
Allen Jenkins passed away on July 20, 1974 from lung cancer at the age of 74.
HUNK: Maybe I’m wrong. We all make mistakes, boss. That’s why they put the rubber on the ends of pencils.
Allen Jenkins as “Hunk” to Humphrey Bogart in Dead End, 1937.
I ‘m coming in hot with a last minute entry for Classic Film and TV Corner’s “Discovering Classic Cinema Blogathon.” I actually saw this blogathon announced awhile back and forgot to enter it. Oops. This is also my first opportunity to type something substantial using my new laptop that my husband got me for Christmas! Woohoo. My introduction to classic film didn’t come via the usual routes. I’m not old enough to have seen any of these movies in the theater during their original run. The first movie I saw in the theater was Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the age of 5 in 1989. Apparently I saw a re-release of The Aristocats in 1987 when I was 3, but according to my mom it did not go well and I did not see the whole movie. Lol. I traumatized my parents enough that it was 2 years before I went back. Having grown up in Salem, OR during the mid-to-late 80s through the early 00s, there wasn’t really any opportunity to see the classics in repertory theaters, as Salem doesn’t have any. While I did watch the annual TV viewings of The Wizard of Oz, and had secretly seen Psycho and The Birds despite my mom not wanting my sister and I to see them (my dad rented them while she was out of town), these did not ignite my love of classic cinema.
One evening in 1994, 10-year old me was flipping channels and came across Nickelodeon’s evening programming, something called “Nick-at-Nite.” For the record, 90s Nick-at-Nite was one of the greatest things ever and I really wish it would come back, but I digress. Anyway, I was instantly sucked in by the colorful graphics, catchy jingles and fun animation that once graced the evening Nickelodeon block. A voiceover came on screen and announced that a show called I Love Lucy was coming up on the schedule. I honestly do not recall if I’d ever seen or heard of I Love Lucy prior to this moment, but I do know that it was not something I watched regularly. The now-familiar I Love Lucy theme song started, the hearts on satin appeared with the cast’s names: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley. I still remember the first episode I saw, “L.A. at Last!” with William Holden guest starring. At that moment, I had no idea who the cast members were, let alone William Holden.
I was instantly transfixed by Lucy’s antics. In “L.A. at Last!,” Lucy decides that she and the Mertzes need to find the “celebrity watering hole,” where the stars all gather at the same place, thus saving Lucy time in having to track them down one-by-one. Bobby the Bellboy suggests that the group visit Hollywood’s famed Brown Derby restaurant–a well known hotspot for celebrities. As an aside, I will forever be sad that I cannot go to the Brown Derby, nor can I go to 99% of the famous Hollywood nightclubs of the 30s-50s. No Ciro’s or The Mocambo for me. Anyway, while at the Brown Derby, Lucy, Ethel and Fred are spotting celebrities left and right. We hear multiple celebrities paged to the telephone: Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Walter Pidgeon, Ava Gardner. Lucy and the Mertzes see each and every one of them (offscreen) get up for the phone. Ethel also manages to offend Eve Arden in the neighboring booth by asking her to identify a caricature of herself as either Judy Holliday or Shelley Winters. Lucy for her part, is in awe of Ethel. “You touched her!” Lucy says, much to Ethel’s dismay at her faux pas.
Then, big star William Holden sits down in the booth next to Lucy and the Mertzes. Ethel is immediately starstruck and gets Lucy’s attention. Lucy catches a glimpse of Holden in the booth and is swooning. Being the creeper that she is, Lucy can’t stop staring at Holden, making him very uncomfortable in the process. Lucy’s encounter with Holden at the Brown Derby culminates with her tripping the waiter and causing him to dump a cream pie all over Holden’s head. Later, Holden meets Ricky at MGM and offers to give him a ride home to his Beverly Palms Hotel suite. When Ricky tells Lucy he’s brought a big star home with him, Lucy is overjoyed, until Ricky reveals the big star’s identity. Frantic, Lucy puts on a ridiculous disguise which includes large black cat eye glasses, a scarf to hide her hair, and a big putty nose. The scene that follows is hands down the funniest moment of the entire series (in my opinion). The look on William Holden and Desi Arnaz’ faces when Lucy turns around after “fixing” her putty nose is hysterical. How lucky was I to have this be the first episode of I Love Lucy that I ever saw?
I was hooked on I Love Lucy from then on, watching it at 8:00pm every night–except on Saturdays, I Love Lucy started at 10:00pm. On “Whole Lotta Lucy” Saturdays, Nick-at-Nite showed two episodes of I Love Lucy, followed by an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Every episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour featured a different guest star. With the exception of Fred MacMurray, I didn’t know who any of the guest stars were. I also knewvery few of the I Love Lucy guest stars, with the exception of John Wayne, Orson Welles, and Bob Hope. As a kid, I always figured that these were people who “were famous at the time.” Lol.
Anyway, my family and I were also avid library goers, spending approximately one Sunday afternoon a month perusing the stacks. Now fully obsessed with I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball, I checked out each and every book about her in the library. I read multiple biographies about her, Desi, Vivian Vance, and anything I Love Lucy-adjacent. From these books, I learned that Lucille Ball had a fairly extensive film career and discovered that my library had a large selection of “The Lucille Ball Signature Collection” VHS movies. I watched each and every one. At the same time, my parents’ cable package had just acquired a new channel, the recently launched TCM. Every Sunday, I would find the new TV guide supplement in the newspaper and comb through it, looking to see if any Lucille Ball films or documentaries were scheduled that week. I’d always check PBS, A&E’s Biography program, TCM and AMC (when it showed old films).
From Lucille Ball’s film career, I was introduced to a myriad of different stars who quickly became favorites of mine. Through Lucy’s film, DuBarry Was a Lady, I learned about Gene Kelly. Because of my interest in Gene, I watched Singin’ in the Rain and The Pirate. ‘Rain’ introduced me to Debbie Reynolds and ‘Pirate’ introduced me to Judy Garland, who I was aware of through The Wizard of Oz, but hadn’t seen her in anything else prior. Through Judy, I learned about Fred Astaire (Easter Parade), which led me to Ginger Rogers. Rogers I’d seen before as she’d appeared with Lucy and Katharine Hepburn in Stage Door, which I’d borrowed from the library. From Stage Door, I recognized Eve Arden from the episode of I Love Lucy I’d seen. I continued on this path of constant discoveries and am still on the path somewhat, except that I’m more familiar with all the actors and know that the ones who appeared as guest stars on I Love Lucy weren’t just people who were famous at the time of I Love Lucy’s production era.
Cornel Wilde is no longer known as “Cornel Wilde is in the penthouse!” (I Love Lucy, “The Star Upstairs”). He’s a co-star in the excellent Leave Her to Heaven with Gene Tierney and he’s great in The Big Combo, his film being promoted on his episode of I Love Lucy. Charles Boyer isn’t just “LUCY! I love you, rawrrrrr” ((I Love Lucy, “Lucy Meets Charles Boyer”). He’s Ingrid Bergman’s terrifying husband in Gaslight, or the man who woos Olivia de Havilland in Hold Back the Dawn. Boyer is the man who arranges to meet Irene Dunne at the top of the Empire State Building in Love Affair. Unbelievably, I also didn’t know anything that William Holden did aside from being hilarious in I Love Lucy. I finally saw him in Sunset Boulevard and was blown away. After having seen him in so many films now, I can definitely say that Holden was a bona fide superstar.
From reading all the library books about Lucille Ball and her film career, I learned that she made it a point to hire her friends from the movies when she had an opportunity to do so. The film friend of hers who benefitted the most from this is of course, William Frawley, who is now a legend in his own right for playing the irascible Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy. Having seen a good amount of classic films now, Frawley is everywhere. He plays Errol Flynn’s boxing promoter, Billy Delaney, in Gentleman Jim. He also plays a cop in Flynn’s Footsteps in the Dark, and Deanna Durbin’s Lady on a Train. He is also in the perennial Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street. Frawley had called up Lucy’s husband and Desilu Production president, Desi Arnaz, and asked for the job of Fred Mertz. CBS was hesitant to take a risk on the alcoholic Frawley, but Lucy and Desi prevailed and Frawley is now a television legend.
I find myself pointing out I Love Lucy characters in various classic films. Elizabeth Patterson who played Mrs. Trumbull is everywhere in classic film. She makes a memorable appearance as Fred MacMurray’s Aunt Emma in Remember the Night. Charles Lane is another character who pops up everywhere He appears as Lucy’s typing instructor in Miss Grant Takes Richmond (also co-starring William Holden). He also appears in uncredited roles in a million excellent pre-code films such as: Blonde Crazy, Employees’ Entrance, 42nd Street, Golddiggers of 1933, She Had to Say Yes, and Blondie Johnson. He made multiple appearances in I Love Lucy: the expectant father (I always say “nine girls” when I see him in a movie), the passport office clerk, the man conducting auditions in the episode where Lucy has to tell the truth for 24 hours, and he plays the Ricardos business manager, Mr. Hickox. Allen Jenkins, has a memorable role in an episode of I Love Lucy playing a police officer who apprehends “Sticky Fingers Sal” and “Pickpocket Pearl” (Lucy and Ethel). Jenkins was almost a mainstay in Warner Brothers films, playing the sidekick to the male lead. He’s in Dive Bomber, Footsteps in the Dark, The Perfect Specimen, all with Errol Flynn. He also supports Humphrey Bogart in Dead End, Racket Busters, and the horribly named The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse. I even spotted Mr. Martinelli, owner of the pizza restaurant where Lucy works for one episode, as the villain in Marked Woman with Bogart and Bette Davis!
To this day, I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball are still my favorites. I also love Classic Film and I just love how well my favorite television show and my favorite era of filmmaking are so closely intertwined.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.