Friday, January 14, 2011

I Love Lucy: My Childhood Love

Okay, I've finally come up with the new format for this year.  I'm mixing things up.  Now, my individual favorite topics will be on Friday, to get your juices flowing for more specific Hollywood fun over your weekends.  But it won't be limited to just movies this time around.  I'll be throwing in television shows too, and to start it all off, let's talk about one of the best classic shows in television history, "I Love Lucy"!

I've talked about a lot of actresses before that I longed to be just like as a kid, i.e. Ginger Rogers, Rosalind Russell, even Esther Williams.  But none of them compared to how much I loved Lucille Ball growing up.  I loved everything about her, her television show, her films, her comedic genius, her dramatic talent.  Hey, I even loved her abnormal, chemically-created, bright red hair.  Anything Lucy-related was the thing to get me for a present if you had no idea what else to buy.  And even though I might have only picked up Lucy Richardo's scatterbrained sensibilities, I still reminisce about those days of practicing being just as sassy, just as spunky, just as hilarious as her.

Lucy had already been an actress in Hollywood for 18 years before "I Love Lucy" came along.  Lucy came out to Hollywood back in 1933 to be a Goldwyn Girl (an all-female, all-blonde dance company owned by Samuel Goldwyn) for the film "Roman Scandals."  She was then hired as a contract player at RKO Studios (the studio she would buy years later with hubby Desi Arnaz) and became "Queen of the Bs" from all the B-movies she starred in while there, like the "Annabel" films, "Five Came Back" (1939), and "Dance, Girl, Dance" (1940).  It wasn't until 1942's "The Big Street" that she moved up in status, when MGM's Arthur Freed fell in love with her performance and signed her to an MGM contract for his new musical "DuBarry was a Lady."

Lucy had already met, fallen in love with, and married Desi by this time.  The two met while filming Rogers and Hart's "Too Many Girls" (1940).  Desi had come to Hollywood to reprise his role from the Broadway production of "Too Many Girls."  When Lucy and Desi first met, he actually didn't think that much of her, but it could have been the giant fake black eye still on her face from a day of shooting "Dance, Girl, Dance."  The next time they met though, it was an instant connection, and after a long summer romance, they eloped.

The couple struggled to make their marriage work from the beginning, though, thanks to the demands of their jobs.  Lucy's career was building, but Desi was a bandleader and had to tour.  As often as possible, Lucy would accompany Desi on his tours, sometimes participating in the act, but it still wasn't enough.  Then, in 1948, Lucy started a CBS radio series called "My Favorite Husband" about a scatterbrained wife and her Midwestern banker husband, as well as their married best friends.  The show lasted two years before CBS wanted to develop it for television. Lucy said yes on one condition...that Desi play her husband.

CBS balked at the idea, thinking America would never accept an American woman and a Cuban man as husband and wife.  But Lucy and Desi were determined to change CBS's mind because working together on a show meant no more long tours for Desi and crazy movie schedules for Lucy.  They could finally be together.  So the Arnazes spent the summer of 1950 touring the country in a vaudevillian act to prove the studio wrong.  It was a success and the next spring, CBS greenlit a pilot (which was never aired but the script did make it into the first season of "Lucy").  They basically just played themselves for the pilot, a movie star and a bandleader, and the biggest concern during it?  Hiding Lucy's pregnancy (skills they would get to use again a couple years later).

CBS loved the pilot and ordered the series...but they wanted it shot live in New York.  Lucy and Desi did not want to leave California, so Desi negotiated a deal to have the show shot on film in LA (something that was not done at that time).  So Desilu Productions was created, and everyone got cracking on creating what would become the standard for sitcoms to come (until the single-camera craze of today).  They rented two sound stages, created permanent film quality sets, brought in three film cameras, and constructed bleachers for an audience.  As Lucy once said, it was "a three-act play before an audience, filmed like a movie, recorded like radio, and released on television."  The first episode of "I Love Lucy" aired on October 15, 1951 and was an instant success - success that would last for seven years to come.

I could obviously go on and on and on...and on about "I Love Lucy" and Lucy and Desi themselves, but I'll leave that for later dates.  I simply suggest today going back and cherishing the classic television that started it all...and get some good laughs in there too.  And be sure to come back on Tuesday when I start my new weekly feature focusing on elements throughout Hollywood, whether they be person, place or thing.  Have a great weekend, everyone!  Til Tuesday.

(Post-tidbit:  Lucy was actually six years older than Desi and 40 years old when "I Love Lucy" began.  So, thinking it wasn't very acceptable in society for an older woman to be married to a younger man, they knocked off 10 years for the character Lucy Richardo's age.)


  1. What a great post! Your passion for the subject is clear...and infectious!

    I'm shocked that Lucy was 40 when she started I Love Lucy. Learn something new every day!

  2. I think we've all seen I Love Lucy, every episode, about a thousand times. It is definitely one of the fondest memories I have of tv - watching Lucy every day. Every few years I seem to do it all over again. It feels like home!

  3. Thank you! I'm glad you all enjoyed it! :)