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Friday, June 10, 2011

Too Many Girls

A sheet music cover for a [now incredibly politically incorrect] song from the 1939 Rodger's and Hart musical, Too Many Girls.  This was the show that made Desi Arnaz a star, and the movie that was made based on it the following year was where Lucy and Desi first met, in early 1940.  Sheet music cover image courtesy of my wonderful uncle, pianist, historian, collector Peter Mintun.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Barbara Eden on "I Love Lucy"

The fabulous Barbara Eden, of "I Dream of Jeannie", remembers her guest spot on "I Love Lucy" in 1957. 

Here is the clip from the episode Eden guest-starred in, "Country Club Dance".

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Little Background with Davis and Carroll

Here is the first and second part of an interview with Madelyn Pugh Davis and her partner, Bob Carroll Jr., being interviewed about their careers.

A Fond Farewell to a Genius Behind the Scenes

Madelyn Pugh Davis, one of Lucille Ball's longtime writers, died at her home in California at age 90 on April 20, 2011.  Davis had been Lucy's writer for more than 40 years, starting with My Favorite Husband in 1948 all the way through Lucy's last short-lived television sitcom, Life With Lucy in 1986.  She was truly amazing, and without her, nothing "Lucy" would be what it is today.  All of us Lucy lovers need to be truly thankful to her, as well as to her many writing partners over the years: Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll, Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf. 
Here is her obituary from the New York Times:

Madelyn Pugh Davis, Writer for ‘I Love Lucy,’ Dies at 90

And from the Los Angeles Times:

Madelyn Pugh Davis dies at 90; 'I Love Lucy' writer

The Amazing Cast of "I Love Lucy"

From left: Ethel, Fred, Ricky, and Lucy in action.



From left: Vivian Vance, Desi Arnaz, William Frawley, and Lucille Ball at the 1954 Emmy Awards, at which Vance won for Best Supporting Actress and "I Love Lucy" won for Best Situation Comedy.

A FABULOUS caricature of the amazing "I Love Lucy" cast!  Source: http://blog.angiejordan.com/2009/digital-cartoon-of-i-love-lucy-cast.html

Casting

It is a well known fact in the entertainment world that half of any success acheived with any show is due to good casting.  Not to mention the fact that half a directors' job is to cast a perfect show, whether it runs for nine days, nine weeks, months, or in "I Love Lucy"'s case, nine years.  A show can have brilliant writers, directors, editors, and other technicians, but if something in the casting doesn't work, chances are the show won't either.
However, if the casting is just right, everything seems to fall into place.  And thus we arrive at the perfection of the casting of "I Love Lucy".  Now it can of course be argued that without "I Love Lucy"'s brilliant writing team, the show would not be what it was and continues to be, but there is no denying that the combination of the four stars of the show is what gave it it's ultimate lasting power.  In his autobiography, Desi Arnaz likened the success of the show to inventing and patenting the perfect formula, much like a company like Coca Cola did with their product.  All they did, he said, was find the ideal combination of ingredients, mixed them together just right, and finished with the ideal product. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An Amazing Quote from Lucy

"I am not funny.  My writers were funny.  My direction was funny.  The situations were funny.  But I am not funny.  I am not funny.  What I am is brave."

-Lucille Ball

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lucy and Ethel in Pictures

Some fun shots of the dynamic duo!
Lucy and Ethel as "Women From Mars" (from the episode "Lucy is Envious")

Lucy and Ethel in their "Jacques Marcel" gowns in Paris (from the episode "Lucy Gets a Paris Gown")

Lucy and Ethel consider different jobs (from the episode "Job Switching")

Lucy and Ethel

It is common knowledge that Lucy and Ethel played best friends on "I Love Lucy", and then again on "The Lucy Show".  As may be expected, they became best friends in real life as well. 
I have always loved the comraderie and love they have with and towards each other, and striven for that in my relationships with girlfriends.  For me that started at an early age, right around the time I discovered "I Love Lucy".  One of my best friends through childhood (who is now my sister, Emily) and I were a lot like Lucy and Ethel.  Emily never had the same crazy infatuation with "I Love Lucy" that I did, but she did get pretty hooked for a time, and I think without realizing it, we began to model our relationship after Lucy and Ethel.  We would scheme together, go against her brother, Elliott, together, and get into all sorts of shennanigans I think Lucy and Ethel would be proud of.  We even dressed up as them for Halloween when we were 13 (even though Emily as a dark brunette wore a ridiculous blond wig for Ethel and I had a very un-Lucy-like mouth full of braces), which was a blast.  (I dressed up like Lucy again when I was around 16 or 17, this time with a wash out red dye in my hair and a fake perm).
I daresay Lucy and Ethel inspired countless pairs and groups of girlfriends to follow their lead when it came to comraderie, support, and love.  "I Love Lucy" has many legacies, but I think Lucy and Ethel's is in a league of it's own.

One of Ethel's Best "I Love Lucy" Moments

As many Lucy lovers will agree, Ethel is the least appreciated cast member on the show.  However, she is insanely talented and ALWAYS deserves a second look.  This is my personal favorite scene of Ethel's from the entire run of the show.  She is so brilliant, so committed, and so fun to watch!  ENJOY!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Warming Up the Audience

This is a great clip of Desi Arnaz "warming up" the "I Love Lucy" audience and introducing the cast.  He did this for every show from the very first episode.  It is a rare opportunity to see the sets and the audience bleachers, as well as to see the actors out of character.  (I don't know what the beginning of the clip is all about, but it's great footage nonetheless!)

A Word From Lucy

I began reading Lucille Ball's autobiography, Love, Lucy, again (I've lost count of how many times I've read it, but I do at least once a year) a few days ago, and one particular passage always stands out to me.  I love hearing her in her own voice, I can almost hear her saying it.  Here is the passage:

"Actors and actresses all strive for affection.  We get up on a stage because we want to be loved.  The stage fulfills this need better than anything else; especially if you've found a rapport with an audience and can wrap them up in your arms and hug them close.
The irony is that in our terrible need to be loved, we pick an arena where we can also be rejected by the greatest possible number of people.  Nothing's quite so wonderful as those waves of love and applause splashing over the footlights--and nothing quite as shattering as when an audience doesn't like you.  All you've got to sell is yourself; rejection can't be anything but highly personal."

Being an actor myself, I can personally relate to these words on several levels.  I the first time I read this particular passage, which opens the third chapter of her book, when I was about fifteen or so, and it stood out to me then, too.  If Lucy, for example, had given up in 1928 when she was rejected on almost a monthly basis, how different would the world have been?  Often times I go back to her autobiography to read it and reflect, and feel better about myself and my "terrible need to be loved."  I love that her words are as true when she wrote them in circa 1964, remembering experiences in the 1920s and 1930s, as they are to me reading them in the early 2000s and now, a decade later.  Thanks, Lucy, we love you too. <3

Following Information

Hello all!

So, as I'm still very new to this blogging thing, I'm trying to do some research on how exactly one follows a blog.  My apologies to those of you who are more blog savvy than myself, for the repetition, but to those that aren't, these links may be helpful for you!

How do I use the Blogger Reading List?

What is Following?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lucy and Me

Here are a couple more questions I answered about Lucy:
Do you think she would be proud of you if she was looking down (or up) at you these days? What would most delight or impress her, and what would worry her?

My answer was this:

"Having not had any actual relationship with Lucy, it's diffcult for me to predict what she would think of me at any point in my life.  But knowing all I do about what kind of woman she was, what her values tended to be, I think she would approve of me.  More than that, I think she would love my blog!  I think she would be very appreciative and proud that she had made such an impact on a little kid who didn't see her first "I Love Lucy" until after she had passed.   And I'm sure she would be proud to have left such an amazing legacy with me.  She has been quoted in her autobiography as hoping "I Love Lucy" would never go off the air.  In the sense that I am taking that so much farther, I am sure she would be proud and happy for that.  I think her favorite part about what I do and how I think of her is that I have done my research.  I realize, unlike a lot of people, that Lucille Ball and Lucy Ricardo are not the same person.  In fact, they are incredibly different, and that was even something she stressed on occasion.  That being said, I really don't think anything I do or say about her would really worry her.  I strive to know her equally as a person and a performer, completely independent of each other, and I know that's how she wanted everyone to know her.  And I love both the person Lucille Ball and the character (which I increasingly believe is her alter-ego) Lucy Ricardo."

The Story of Lucy and Desi [short version]

I've been asked several times (most recently by my uncle Tim, who, along with my sister Emily, is inspiring me to go different directions with this blog) for a little more information on Lucy and Desi.  After all, by the time "I Love Lucy" debuted in 1951, they'd already been married for nearly 11 years.  So here's the short version of their romance:

Lucy and Desi met in 1940, during the filming of a musical called "Too Many Girls", which Desi had starred in (his first big break into mainstream performance) on Broadway.  When RKO bought the film rights and cast Lucille Ball, they also brought several of the original cast members from New York, Desi among them.  Desi, of course, played the Latin lover, and Lucy the igenue.
The story goes that the first time Desi saw Lucy, she was in costume for another film she was completing, "Dance, Girl, Dance" (1940) with Maureen O'Hara, in which she played a burlesque dancer.  She was in a dress slit to the thigh, dressed to the nines.  Desi took one look at her and exclaimed, "What a hunk of woman!" and was hooked.  Lucy was the same, as she would reflect years later, jokingly, "It wasn't love at first sight!  It took five minutes." 
They dated for a brief time, and discussed why they could never marry (he could be a womanizer, she was 6 years older and Protestant, he Catholic, he was performing as a musician in New York, she was under contract in Hollywood).  Nevertheless, they couldn't get enough of each other, and whisked themselves away to Connecticut and eloped on November 30, 1940. 
They had their share of problems, but were so in love with each other, they always made it work somehow.  Desi was in the army from 1943-46, and that was one of their harder times.  Lucy filed for divorce in 1944, but they reconciled the night before they were to appear in court. 
Even after they divorced in May 1960, Desi still sent Lucy flowers (her favorites--red and white carnations) on their anniversary.  When Desi died in December 1986, Lucy was the last person he spoke to.  To sum up their relationship, Desi is famously quoted (in his autobiography) as saying simply, "I Love Lucy was never just a title."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Lucy Thinks Ricky..." Part II

Here is the second part of "Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her".

"Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her"


Here is the very first episode that lucky audience got to see on September 8, 1951.  Little did they know they were witnessing the birth of a legend!  So imagine, as you watch this, that it's 1951, you've never seen a sitcom, you don't even have a TV, and you honestly have no idea what's in store.  And above all, ENJOY!

America Meets Lucy

The first broadcast of "I Love Lucy" hit television screens on October 15, 1951, with the episode "The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub".  This was not the first episode filmed, but due to pre-production issues, this was the first episode to air.  The first to be filmed (and what I still consider the very first "I Love Lucy" episode) was "Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her", which was filmed on September 8, 1951.
Throughout the pilot and first episode, Lucy was costumed in large robes and pajamas, first to conceal her pregnancy, then to hide her bandages and healing from her Caesarean section.  She had given birth to Lucie Arnaz on July 17, 1951, taken a brief break, and returned to work to film the first episodes.
The show was not an instant success, but became increasingly popular about halfway through the first season.  At this time, there were relatively few televisions in the US, but it did not take long for "I Love Lucy" to become one of the staples of American life.  Not long after the show debuted in it's regular time slot (Monday nights at 9:00pm), it was observed that activity across the country was affected.  Traffic was drastically reduced, restaurants saw less customers, and even retail shops noticed a drop in business.  As the show progressed, the actors got to know their characters as well as the writers did, the technicians mastered the camera, editing, and recording techniques, and "I Love Lucy" was well on it's way to becoming a television legend.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Barbershop "Quartet"

Here's an example of Fred and Ethel singing together with Ricky as part of a barbershop "quartet" that Lucy keeps trying to butt into.

You Keep Mentioning "Vaudeville"...

Here's a little background on one of the greatest forms of American entertainment.  A Little Explanation of Vaudeville

So, Did Fred and Ethel Really Hate Each Other?

In one word?  Yes. 
Yet they managed to play a married couple for nine years on television.  My own personal opinion is that they used their mutual dislike of one another to enrich their weekly character portrayals. 
When they first met, Vivian Vance was appalled she had to play the wife of someone old enough to be her father (23 years older, to be exact), and William Frawley was simply convinced that Vance had no talent whatsoever.  Eventually, Vance accepted that Frawley was just an old codger, and too much so to change his ways.  The only thing she always maintained was every week they got their scripts for that week's show, she would "pray there wasn't a scene where I had to be in bed with him."
Frawley couldn't have cared less what Vance thought of him.  Although he maintained his attitude that Vance couldn't sing or dance, many episodes in "I Love Lucy" continue to prove him wrong.  The show's premise of having the Mertzes as ex-vaudevillians turned out to work perfectly, as both Frawley and Vance had performed in vaudeville earlier in their careers (Frawley, of course, to a greater extent simply because of his age).  Regardless of their mutual disdain for one another, they performed perfectly together, perfectly with Lucy and Ricky in the "Battle of the Sexes" episodes, and were and are an integral part of the success of "I Love Lucy".

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Mertzes

As in "My Favorite Husband", it was decided that Lucy and Ricky needed another couple to play off of.  In "Husband", the couple that fit that description were more financially successful than the Coopers (Lucy and Richard Denning), but after beginning to consider William Frawley, things began to change.  He was a seasoned character actor, having been in vaudeville for years and nearly 100 films to his credit.  Frawley personally called Lucy, whom he had known briefly when they were both under contract to RKO pictures in the late 1930s-early 1940s, and asked her if there was anything on her new show for him.  Lucy mentioned the call to Desi, who met with Frawley soon thereafter and immediately liked him for the role of Fred Mertz.  The more Desi championed Frawley for the role, the more he was met with opposition (namely because of Frawley's well-known alcohol problem), and the more Desi ultimately convinced producers Frawley was perfect for the part.  It was agreed that as long as Frawley was absolutely sober while working, they were willing to work with him.  Once he was cast, the role of Fred Mertz evolved from more financially successful than the Ricardos to less (mostly to fit his physicality and gruff persona). 
Once Frawley was cast, producers began the search for his wife, Ethel Mertz.  "I Love Lucy"'s first director, Marc Daniels, suggested an actress he had worked with on Broadway in the late 1940s, Vivian Vance.  Though she had had a successful career onstage, she was still a virtual unknown in Hollywood.  She was appearing at La Jolla Playhouse in a production of "The Voice of the Turtle" when Desi and Daniels went to see her (Lucy's first pregnancy was in too advanced of a state to travel at this point).  Desi absolutely loved her and she was hired backstage after the show.  Luckily, after just a few rehearsals, Vivian and Lucy bonded quickly, and would remain close personal and professional friends for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Behind the Scenes



Top image: Desi demonstrating how they film the show to the audience in one of his early "warm ups" in which he would greet and welcome the audience and introduce the cast.
Middle image: The "I Love Lucy" set when the cast went to Hollywood in the fourth season.
Bottom image: Rehearsing the first episode ("Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her") with the cameras on an unfinished set (Desi is standing to the far right of the shot).

The Three Camera Method

Desi Arnaz knew that he needed the best he could get to help him revolutionize the way television was done.  For this, he chose legendary German cinematographer Karl Freund.  Together, they developed the three-camera method for filming the show, in which one camera got close-ups, one got medium shots, and the other got long shots.  Footage was then edited together during the editing process so audiences could see the show as a play, in sequence, and like a film, with different camera angles.  "I Love Lucy" was not only the first television show to be filmed, it was the first to use more than one camera, which became the standard method of filming sitcoms with live audiences ("Lucy" audiences were seated in bleachers across from the stage, with microphones hung above them.  The laughter you hear in every episode is from those original 1950s audiences, and never canned). 
During this pre-production period, Lucy and Desi started their own production company, cheifly because they wanted to have complete ownership of their filmed show.  CBS did not go for this at first, but agreed when Lucy and Desi compromised to a pay cut.  Their company became Desilu, with Desi as the President and Lucy as the Vice President (later, in the 1960s and beyond, Desilu was home to such shows as Star Trek, Mission:Impossible, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and many others).
With the desicion made to film and own their show, the focus turned back to the cast.  Originally, Lucy wanted two actors that played another couple on her radio show, Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet.  When neither could do the show because of previous commitments, the search began for what would become the other famous couple of "I Love Lucy": the Mertzes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Bit of Background

Hello all,

My uncle asked me the other day (after I told him about my blog) a very simple question: What about "Lucy" (the show and the person) made such a strong impression on you as a child?  What do you continue to love about her?  There were several more questions, but I thought it might be interesting for some of you to read my response if you feel so inclined.  Seeing that this is a blog of "all things Lucy", I would like to share a little more about what it means to me, other than the obvious I Love Lucy!

"Surprisingly enough, this is not the first time I have been asked this [why do you love Lucy?].  And honestly, I don't entirely know what about "Lucy" (both the person and the show) was that hooked me.  At the onset, I think it was because I thought the show was funny.  As an 8 year old, I'm pretty sure that would have been the first thing that attracted me to it.  But as I continued to watch it, I started liking the people, especially Lucy.  There was something magnetic about her, I just couldn't take my eyes off her every move.  I didn't think of the actors as actors for several years, they really were their characters to me.  I liked how ridiculous Lucy was, yet always so earnest.  She was never untrue, and everything she did had a reason behind it.  I loved (and still do) how she really just didn't care if her plan didn't work, but she had to try it anyway, and also how Ethel always helped her.  I loved their friendship.
As I got older and started studying acting and performance (as well as read a ton of books on the show and the actors), my love for Lucy and the show increased tenfold.  I admired her commitment to her character and all the other characters.  In improvisational acting (which happened on the show because it was live and they rarely did second takes), the #1 rule is to "just say yes" to keep things going.  And Lucy is a master at that.  I LOVE that about her as an adult.  I was right as a child to not think of the people as actors, but as their characters.  That, I ultimately learned, is a brilliant actor, and I have a huge appreciation for that now, as I also did as a child.  Also, I have realized as an adult that Lucy is an incredibly strong female role model, and an overall powerful woman.  Even as a 1950s housewife, she was independent enough to get the best of Ricky, and in general stand up for herself, and I greatly admire that quality.  That is one of the reasons I've done several reports on her throughout my academic career.
I have kept loving Lucy first and foremost because it is funny, and even though obviously outdated in many ways, still holds true today.  And also, I saw my first episode shortly before my parents divorced.  Therefore, it became a very grounding experience to watch "I Love Lucy".  It was (and still is to this day) like wrapping myself in a warm familiar blanket.  I watch it for enjoyment, education, laughter, but also comfort. 
My appreciation for her has definitely changed over time, but the fundamental reasons I love her remain the same, and are still difficult to put into words even after a college education.  She's funny, bold, sexy, powerful, and timeless."

Innovation, Inspiration, and Location

With television still in it's infancy, the vast majority of television shows and programs made between 1947-1950 were done in kinescope (see my "What's Kinescope" link for more infomation), which was the technological equivalent of film vs. digital today.  Kinescope itself was literally about as thin as cheesecloth, and therefore not known for longevity (hence the reason so many early television programs are lost to us today).  On top of all of that, television virtually only existed in New York City, where programs done in kinescope could be broadcast to the largest audience. 
Lucy and Desi, however, knew they did not want to use kinescope, but film, and they wanted to do the show in Hollywood (closer to home, in Chatsworth, CA).  Therefore it was decided that they would film the show in front of a live audience, chiefly because a) a show on film would have infinitely better longevity and quality, b) would reach a larger audience, and c) Lucy was better in front of a live audience (which she had learned doing "My Favorite Husband"). 
A television show had never been done on film, much less in addition to a live studio audience.  At the helm of pre-production, Desi proved to be an impressive innovator of technology.  His first order of business was to figure out how to do the show live while filming it.  And for that, he turned to the best in the business: Karl Freund.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Little Background...

What's Kinescope?

Lucy and Desi Before "Lucy"

This is a clip from the 1993 biography: "Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie", compiled by their daughter Lucie Arnaz.  The quality isn't great, but it's fascinating to see who, where, and what this amazing couple was before their success in television (by the time "I Love Lucy" premiered, Lucy and Desi had been married nearly 11 years!). 

Development

Lucy and Desi finished their vaudeville tour in early 1951, as Lucy could no longer do such vigorous physical comedy because she was pregnant with her first child.  Work began on a pilot for the show, written by Lucy's radio writers, Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh (the latter two would continue to write for all nine seasons of "I Love Lucy" until 1960).  "My Favorite Husband" had it's last broadcasted show on March 31st, 1951, and the pilot for "The Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Show" was filmed in kinescope earlier in the month.  In the pilot, Lucy is costumed entirely in oversized robes and pajamas to conceal her advancing state of pregnancy (she gave birth to daughter Lucie Arnaz in July 1951), and at the last moment, the lead characters names were changed from "Lucy and Larry Lopez" to what we all know them as now, "Lucy and Ricky Ricardo". 
Although by this point other networks were showing interest in taking on the show, CBS agreed to produce it, and a leading cigarette company, Philip Morris, agreed to sponsor.  At this point, Lucy, Desi, and all three writers decided the show needed a catchier name.  At one brainstorming session, Desi was thinking out loud, saying something to the effect of, "She can't sing, she can't dance, but she doesn't give up!  I Love that Lucy!" and the title of the show was born.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Sample of "My Favorite Husband"

This is a sample of Lucy's radio show that aired from 1948-1951.

The "I Love Lucy" Pilot

Here is a bit of the "lost" "I Love Lucy" Pilot, from 1951.  It was never shown on television until 1990, after both Lucy and Desi had passed.  At the time of the pilot's completion, the show was still called "The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Show". 

On Tour

Lucy and Desi started touring in 1950, and to rave reviews.  Their act included several sketches and numbers that would ultimately end up in the "I Love Lucy" pilot, and in several subsequent "I Love Lucy" episodes.  It included the song "Cuban Pete/Sally Sweet", which was featured in episode #4, "The Diet", as well as Lucy's clown bit.  For this, the would enter during a song Desi was conducting, wearing a mans felt hat and trenchcoat, carrying a cello, and looking for "Dizzy Arnazzi".  Her clowning was coached by Pepito, a brilliant Spanish clown of the era, and a close friend of Desi's.  He taught Lucy how to work with the trick cello and effectively elicit laughter from a live audience (she had also honed this ability on her radio show, "My Favorite Husband").  The cello sketch became part of the "I Love Lucy" pilot and episode #6 of the series, "The Audition" (in which Lucy asks for "Risky Riskardoo"). 
As the network executives who had previously shunned the possibility of Lucy and Desi working together heard the public's increasingly postive reaction, they could hardly refuse such a pairing.  Talk began on realistically transferring the show to television soon thereafter. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Beginning

"I Love Lucy" was first conceived in 1949, when CBS approached Lucille Ball to turn her successful radio show, "My Favorite Husband", into a TV show.  She liked the idea, but had one condition: her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, would play her TV husband.  The network instantly said no, no one will believe those two are actually married.  Ball responded with the obvious, "We ARE married!" (and had been for nearly ten years).  Still the network executives were hard to convince, claiming Ball and Arnaz would not make a good performance team.
To prove them wrong, Lucy and Desi put together a vaudeville act with Desi's orchestra, had a little help from Pepito, a great Spanish clown of the era, and took it on the road.