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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!). 


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.