TV: I LOVE LUCY

by PETER TATCHELL (copyright 2011)

It was probably the greatest sitcom American television has ever produced … the zany antics of a lovable redhead who caused physical mayhem in whatever she was trying to do. Primarily a vehicle for fading B-list movie star Lucille Ball, the series resulted in her quickly becoming “The First Lady of Television” and a show business legend in over half a century of reruns.

After two decades in Hollywood, progressing from eye candy in an early 30s Eddie Cantor romp, a stooge for the Marx Brothers and a glamorous leading lady in several musical comedies, by the end of the 1940s Lucy was trying her luck in the lead role of a weekly C.B.S. radio comedy called My Favorite Husband.

After a shaky start during the 1948 summer season (and the replacement of the actor playing her husband) a creative production team had steered the show to success in those twilight years of network broadcasting. Supporting the star, the programme featured Richard Denning (as her newly installed spouse) and radio stalwarts Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet.

By the end of 1950 television had taken off and all the major stars (and a large portion of the advertising budget) had switched to the new medium. C.B.S. was eager for My Favorite Husband to join the procession but Lucille Ball had different ideas.

With her real life husband of ten years Desi Arnaz constantly touring the country with his band, Lucy was eager to start a family and have him staying with her in Los Angeles. And, as a catalyst to her plans, she wanted Desi to replace Denning in a revamped version of the radio series.

With C.B.S. uncertain how the viewing public would take to a Cuban with a noticeable accent in such a lead role, Mr and Mrs Arnaz worked up some comical routines and tried them out in front of live audiences. Then, with their own money they produced a pilot episode to finally convince the network heavies. (At the time of filming, Lucy was pregnant with her first child … daughter Lucie).

The scheme worked and I Love Lucy was given the green light to debut on October 15 1951, with a new supporting cast of William Frawley and Vivian Vance now part of the proceedings (Gordon and Benaderet became regulars in the TV sitcoms Our Miss Brooks and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show). And behind the scenes, the writers of the radio show were retained for the television venture (often adapting their earlier scripts).

The new format revolved about scatterbrained Lucy Ricardo and her bandleader husband Ricky. They lived in a New York apartment managed by landlord Fred Mertz and his wife Ethel, a couple of ex-vaudevillians. Early storylines centred on the non-talented half of the Ricardo family trying to break into show business, usually with the assistance of a reluctant Ethel.

Central to the action were pratfalls, facial expressions and outlandish stunts. Up to then, slapstick on TV had been the domain of male performers like Milton Berle, Ed Wynn and Abbott & Costello and though it had not previously been a major part of the Lucille Ball resume, it would soon become her trademark.

Viewers immediately warmed to the cast and the weekly antics of its red-headed star, with the programme quickly becoming the #3 rated show on television.

Its popularity prompted CBS radio to broadcast an audio version of the sitcom throughout that first season, with TV soundtracks being book-ended by “Ricky Ricardo” to set the scene (the edition of February 27 1952 is known to survive).

Meanwhile, the TV version of I Love Lucy had become a technical pioneer with the newly-formed Desilu production company creating a 3-camera process to pre-record each episode directly to film. This created a clearer recording than the usual method of making a kinescope, where a camera was aimed at a television screen as a show was transmitted live (to be screened later for audiences outside the original viewing area).

In the early days of network television the industry term ‘programme arc’ hadn’t been invented, but by the second season of I Love Lucy Lucille Ball’s real life pregnancy meant her character in the show would also be an expectant mother. As a result, ongoing storylines led up to the ‘blessed event’ mid-season (though the word ‘pregnant’ was never uttered, owing to an overdose of prudery by C.B.C. executives).

The TV birth coincided with the arrival of Desi Arnaz Jr. in real life and the character of ‘Little Ricky’ would eventually play a part in the storylines as a toddler (played by actor Keith Thibodeaux).

I Love Lucy was now the top-rated show on television, a spot it would hold for most of its weekly run (it briefly went to #2 in its fifth season amid the onslaught of The $64,000 Question).

By the end of 1954 it was decided to temporarily relocate the Ricardos and Mertzes to the West Coast with storylines relating to Ricky having received an offer to star as Don Juan in a movie. The situation would allow the programme to have an all-star guest lineup of Hollywood names like William Holden, Rock Hudson, John Wayne and Harpo Marx.

Though Ricky’s film deal eventually falls through, the group remains in Los Angeles into the start of the following season before heading home to New York. But not for long … with the change of scene a huge success with viewers it was decided to send them all on a trip to Europe. (Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners would employ a similar storyline a year later).

From the British Isles to Italy, the Swiss Alps to the gaming tables of Monte Carlo, it was a colourful time for all concerned (though this time the only guest star encountered along the way was token Frenchman Charles Boyer).

Back home, I Love Lucy’s sixth season was as popular as ever but it would be the last as a weekly show. Ongoing plotlines now centred on the Ricardos moving out of the city to rural Connecticut (with Fred and Ethel eventually joining them). Occasional guests included Bob Hope, Orson Welles and George Reeves (as his TV alter ego Superman).

I Love Lucy was still enormously successful but by the end of 1957 it was decided to limit the format to a series of occasional specials. There were five aired on a monthly basis throughout the 1957/8 season, after which they appeared as part of the new hour-long Desilu Playhouse weekly series. Top name guest stars were featured, and the ensemble travelled to a range of colourful destinations … cruising to Havana, skiing in Sun Valley and visiting such locations as Las Vegas, Mexico, Alaska and Japan.

Throughout the 1950s Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were the top husband and wife team in show business and to capitalize on their popularity they starred in a couple of big screen movies The Long, Long Trailer and Forever Darling. The pair also made appearances on a number of other prime time TV programmes. Among them were three editions of The Ed Sullivan Show (October 3 1954, February 5 1956 and September 30 1956), game shows like What’s My Line (October 2 1955) and I’ve Got a Secret (February 9 1956) and, in reciprocal arrangements for appearing on I Love Lucy (and the later The Lucy – Desi Hour) … The Bob Hope Show (October 18 1956), The Danny Thomas Show (January 5 1959) and The Milton Berle Special (November 1 1959). Lucille Ball also made solo guest spots on Sgt. Bilko (March 18 1959) and The Ann Sothern Show (October 5 1959).

After three seasons and a total of thirteen one hour programmes, by the start of 1960 ongoing marital problems saw the end of the Arnaz marriage and the couple went their separate ways. Lucille Ball headed for the Broadway stage and a hit show called Wildcat before more television success in the 1960s with The Lucy Show (which for a time also featured Vivian Vance) and Here’s Lucy (with her children Lucie and Desi Jr.). Both sitcoms also reunited her with My Favorite Husband co-star Gale Gordon.

But the Ricardos and Mertzes had appeared together for the last time (apart, that is, from endless reruns and a plethora of videos and dvds).

Episode Guide

1/1       October 15 1951         The Girls Want To Go To A Night Club
1/2       October 22 1951         Be A Pal
1/3       October 29 1951         The Diet
1/4       November 5 1951       Lucy Thinks Ricky Is Trying To Do Away With Her
1/5       November 12 1951     The Quiz Show
1/6       November 19 1951     The Audition
1/7       November 26 1951     The Séance
1/8       December 3 1951        Men Are Messy
1/9       December 10 1951      The Fur Coat
1/10     December 17 1951      The Adagio
1/11     December 24 1951      Drafted
1/12     December 31 1951      Jealous Of Girl Singer
1/13     January 7 1952            The Benefit
1/14     January 14 1952          The Amateur Hour
1/15     January 21 1952          Lucy Plays Cupid
1/16     January 28 1952          Lucy’s Fake Illness
1/17     February 4 1952          Lucy Writes A Play
1/18     February 11 1952        Break The Lease
1/19     February 18 1952        The Ballet
1/20     February 25 1952        The Young Fans
1/21     March 3 1952              New Neighbors
1/22     March 1 0 1952           Fred And Ethel Fight
1/23     March 17 1952            The Moustache
1/24     March 24 1952            The Gossip
1/25     March 31 1952            Pioneer Women
1/26     April 7 1952                The Marriage License.
1/27     April 14 1952              The Kleptomaniac
1/28     April 21 1952              Cuban Pals
1/29     April 28 1952              The Freezer
1/30     May 5 1952                 Lucy Does A T.V. Commercial
1/31     May 12 1952               The Publicity Agent
1/32     May 19 1952               Lucy Gets Ricky On The Radio
1/33     May 26 1952               Lucy’s Schedule
1/34     June 2 1952                 Lucy Thinks Ricky’s Getting Bald
1/35     June 9 1952                 Ricky Asks For A Raise

2/1       September 15 1952     Job Switching
2/2       September 22 1952     The Saxophone
2/3       September 29 1952     The Anniversary Present
2/4       October 6 1952           The Handcuffs
2/5       October 13 1952         The Operetta
2/6       October 20 1952         Vacation From Marriage
2/7       November 10 1952     The Courtroom
2/8       November 17 1952     Redecorating
2/9       November 24 1952     Ricky Loses His Voice
2/10     December 8 1952        Lucy Is Enceinte
2/11     December 15 1952      Pregnant Women
2/12     December 22 1952      Lucy’s Show Biz Swan Song
2/13     December 29 1952      Lucy Hires An English Tutor
2/14     January 5 1953            Ricky Has Labor Pains
2/15     January 12 1953          Lucy Becomes A Sculptress
2/16     January 19 1953          Lucy Goes To The Hospital
2/17     January 26 1953          Sales Resistance
2/18     February 2 1953          The Inferiority Complex
2/19     February 16 1953        The Club Election
2/20     March 9 1953              The Black Eye
2/21     March 30 1953            Lucy Changes Her Mind
2/22     April 20 1953              No Children Allowed
2/23     April 27 1953              Lucy Hires A Maid
2/24     May 4 1953                 The Indian Show
2/25     May 11 1953               Lucy’s Last Birthday
2/26     May 18 1953               The Ricardos Change Apartments
2/27     May 25 1953               Lucy Is Matchmaker
2/28     June 1 1953                 Lucy Wants New Furniture
2/29     June 8 1953                 The Camping Trip
2/30     June 22 1953               Ricky And Fred Are T.V. Fans
2/31     June 29 1953               Never Do Business With Friends

3/1       October 5 1953           Ricky’s Life Story
3/2       October 12 1953         The Girls Go Into Business
3/3       October 19 1953         Lucy And Ethel Buy The Same Dress
3/4       October 26 1953         Equal Rights
3/5       November 2 1953       Baby Pictures
3/6       November 9 1953       Lucy Te1ls The Truth
3/7       November 16 1953     The French Revue
3/8       November 23 1953     Redecorating The Mertz’s Apartment
3/9       November 30 1953     Too Many Crooks
3/10     December 7 1953        Changing The Boys’ Wardrobe
3/11     December 14 1953      Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined
3/12     December 21 1953      Ricky’s Old Girl Friend
3/13     January 11 1954          The Million-Dollar Idea
3/14     January 18 1954          Ricky Minds The Baby
3/15     January 25 1954          The Charm School
3/16     February 1 1954          Sentimental Anniversary
3/17     February 8 1954          Fan Magazine Interview
3/18     February 15 1954        Oi1 Wells
3/19     February 22 1954        Ricky Loses His Temper
3/20     March 1 1954              Home Movies
3/21     March 8 1954              Bonus Bucks
3/22     March 22 1954            Ricky’s Hawaiian Vacation
3/23     March 29 1954            Lucy Is Envious
3/24     April 5 1954                Lucy Writes A Novel
3/25     April 12 1954              The Club Dance
3/26     April 19 1954              The Black Wig
3/27     April 26 1954              The Diner
3/28     May 3 1954                 Tennessee Ernie Visits
3/29     May 10 1954               Tennessee Ernie Hangs 0n
3/30     May 17 1954               The Golf Game
3/31     May 24 1954               The Sublease

4/1       October 4 1954           The Business Manager
4/2       October 11 1954         Mertz And Kurtz
4/3       October 18 1954         Lucy Cries Wolf
4/4       October 25 1954         The Matchmaker
4/5       November 1 1954       Mr. And Mrs. T.V. Show
4/6       November 8 1954       Ricky’s Movie Offer
4/7       November 15 1954     Ricky’s Screen Test
4/8       November 22 1954     Lucy’s Mother-In-Law
4/9       November 29 1954     Ethel’s Birthday
4/10     December 6 1954        Ricky’s Contract
4/11     December 13 1954      Getting Ready
4/12     January 3 1955            Lucy Learns To Drive
4/13     January 10 1955          California, Here We Come!
4/14     January 17 1955          First Stop
4/15     January 24 1955          Tennessee Bound (with Tennessee Ernie Ford)
4/16     January 31 1955          Ethel’s Home Town
4/17     February 7 1955          L.A. At Last (with William Holden)
4/18     February 14 1955        Don Juan And Starlets
4/19     February 21 1955        Lucy Gets Into Pictures
4/20     February 28 1955        The Fashion Show
4/21     March 14 1955            The Hedda Hopper Story (with Hedda Hopper)
4/22     March 21 1955            Don Juan Is Shelved
4/23     March 28 1955            Bull-Fight Dance
4/24     April 4 1955                Hollywood Anniversary
4/25     April 18 1955              The Star Upstairs (with Cornel Wilde)
4/26     April 25 1955              In Palm Springs (with Rock Hudson)
4/27     May 2 1955                 The Dancing Star (with Van Johnson)
4/28     May 9 1955                 Harpo Marx (with Harpo Marx)
4/29     May 16 1955               Ricky Needs An Agent
4/30     May 30 1955               The Tour (with Richard Widmark)

5/1       October 3 1955           Lucy Visits Grauman’s
5/2       October 10 1955         Lucy And John Wayne (with John Wayne)
5/3       October 17 1955         Lucy And The Dummy
5/4       October 24 1955         Ricky Sells The Car
5/5       October 31 1855         The Great Train Robbery
5/6       November 7 1955       Homecoming
5/7       November 14 1955     Face to Face aka The Ricardos Are Interviewed
5/8       November 28 1955     Lucy Goes To A Rodeo
5/9       December 5 1955        Nursery School
5/10     December 12 1955      Ricky’s European Booking
5/11     December 19 1955      The Passports
5/12     January 2 1956            Staten Island Ferry
5/13     January 16 1956          Bon Voyage
5/14     January 23 1956          Second Honeymoon
5/15     January 30 1956          Lucy Meets The Queen
5/16     February 6 1956          The Fox Hunt
5/17     February 20 1956        Lucy Goes To Scotland
5/18     February 27 1956        Paris At Last
5/19     March 5 1956              Lucy Meets Charles Boyer (with Charles Boyer)
5/20     March 19 1956            Lucy Gets A Paris Gown
5/21     March 26 1956            Lucy In The Swiss Alps
5/22     April 9 1956                Lucy Gets Homesick
5/23     April 16 1956              Lucy’s Italian Movie
5/24     April 23 1956              Lucy’s Bicycle Trip
5/25     May 7 1956                 Lucy Goes To Monte Carlo
5/26     May 14 1956               Return Home From Europe

6/1       October 1 1956           Lucy And Bob Hope (with Bob Hope)
6/2       October 8 1956           Little Ricky Learns To Play The Drums
6/3       October 15 1956         Lucy Meets Orson Welles (with Orson Welles)
6/4       October 22 1956         Little Ricky Gets Stage Fright
6/5       October 29 1956         Visitor From Italy
6/6       November 12 1956     Off To Florida
6/7       November 19 1956     Deep Sea Fishing
6/8       November 26 1956     Desert Island
6/9       December 3 1956        The Ricardos Visit Cuba
6/10     December 17 1956      Little Ricky’s School Pageant
6/11     December 24 1956      Christmas Show
6/12     January 7 1957            Lucy And The Loving Cup
6/13     January 14 1957          Lucy And Superman (with George Reeves)
6/14     January 21 1957          Little Ricky Gets A Dog
6/15     January 28 1957          Lucy Wants To Move To The Country
6/16     February 4 1957          Lucy Hates To Leave
6/17     February 11 1957        Lucy Misses The Mertzes
6/18     February 18 1957        Lucy Gets Chummy With The Neighbors
6/19     March 4 1957              Lucy Raises Chickens
6/20     March 11 1957            Lucy Does The Tango
6/21     March 18 1957            Ragtime Band
6/22     March 25 1957            Lucy’s Night In Town
6/23     April 1 1957                Housewarming
6/24     April 8 1957                Building A Bar-B-Q
6/25     April 22 1957              Country Club Dance
6/26     April 29 1957              Lucy Raises Tulips
6/27     May 6 1957                 The Ricardos Dedicate A Statue

THE LUCY – DESI HOUR (one hour specials)
***      November 6 1957       Lucy Takes A Cruise To Havana
(with Ann Sothern and others)
***      December 3 1957        The Celebrity Next, Door
(with Tallulah Bankhead)
***      January 3 1958            Lucy Hunts Uranium
(with Fred MacMurray)
***      February 3 1958          Lucy Wins A Racehorse
(with Betty Grable)
***      April 14 1958              Lucy Goes To Sun Valley
(with Fernando Lamas)
***      October 6 1958           Lucy Goes To Mexico
(with Maurice Chevalier)
***      December 1 1958        Lucy Makes Room For Danny
(with Danny Thomas)
***      February 9 1959          Lucy Goes To Alaska
(with Red Skelton)
***      April 13 1959              Lucy Wants A Career
(with Paul Douglas)
***      June 8 1959                 Lucy’s Summer Vacation
(with Ida Lupino and Howard Duff)
***      September 25 1959     Milton Berle Hides Out at the Ricardos
(with Milton Berle)
***      November 27 1959     The Ricardos Go To Japan
(with Robert Cummings)
***      April 1 1960                Lucy Meets The Moustache
(with Ernie Kovacs)

Specials

WE LOVE LUCY (1986)
hosted by Lucie Arnaz (with guest Danny Thomas)
includes Lucy Meets Milton Berle, Lucy Makes Room for Danny, The Celebrity Next Door

WE LOVE LUCY #2 (1987)
hosted by Betty White
includes Lucy Goes to Alaska, The Ricardos Go to Japan, Lucy Goes to Sun Valley

WE LOVE LUCY #3 (1987)
hosted by Ann Jillian
includes Lucy Wins a Racehorse, Lucy Wants a Career, Lucy Hunts Uranium

I LOVE LUCY – THE VERY FIRST SHOW (1990)
hosted by Lucie Arnaz

I LOVE LUCY – THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL (2001)
hosted by Whoopi Goldberg

 

Radio

My Favorite Husband
Starring Lucille Ball, Richard Denning, Gale Gordon, Bea Benaderet
CBS July 5 to September 24 1948, 
October 2 1948 to July 1 1949,
September 2 1949 to June 25 1950,
September 2 1950 to March 31 1951
96 shows with collectors

* recordings of My Favorite Husband are included with the various DVD box sets noted:
September 17 1948    Liz and the General      6/4 (series 6, disc 4)
October 2 1948            Young Matrons League Tryouts                  6/4
November 20 1948     George Attends a Teenage Dance             4/5
January 21 1949          The Marriage License                                  1/7
February 11 1949        Valentine’s Day                                              1/4
March 19 1949            Giveaway Program                                         4/3
April 22 1949              Time Budgeting                                              1/9
May 13 1949               Anniversary Presents                                      1/3
June 25 1949               Liz Changes Her Mind                                   2/4
July 1 1949                  Reminiscing                                                    4/2
October 7 1949           George Tries for a Raise                                 1/9
November 25 1949     Quiz Show                                                      1/9
December 9 1949        The French Lessons                                        3/3
December 30 1949      Liz and George Handcuffed                          2/1
February 10 1950        Mrs. Cooper’s Boyfriend                                5/4
February 17 1950        Liz Teaches the Samba                                   1/6
March 19 1950            The Wills                                                         1/2
April 9 1950                Hobbies                                                           3/5
April 16 1950              Anniversary                                                  6/1
April 23 1950              Liz Appears on Television                              3/1
May 14 1950               Numerology                                                    1/2
May 21 1950               Mrs. Cooper Thinks Liz is Pregnant               2/2
May 28 1950               Selling Dresses                                                1/8
June 4 1950                 George is Messy                                         1/3
September 2 1950       Husbands are Sloppy Dressers           3/2
October 7 1950           Liz Becomes a Sculptress                               2/3
October 14 1950         Liz Cooks Dinner for Twelve                         6/3
October 21 1950         Safety Drive                                                  6/2
December 2 1950        Trying to Marry Off Peggy Martin                 2/5
December 9 1950        Trying to Cash the Prize Check                      3/4
December 30 1950      Liz has the Flimjabs                                        1/5
January 6 1951            Liz Substitutes in Club Play                           4/4
January 27 1951          George is Drafted / Liz’s Baby                       4/1
February 3 1951          Liz’s Inferiority Complex                               5/1
February 10 1951        The Misunderstanding of the Black Eye        5/3
March 3 1951              The Passports                                             5/2
March 24 1951            Iris and Liz’s Easter                                        1/1

I Love Lucy
CBS c.1952 (edition of Feb 27 1952 exists)


DVDs

I LOVE LUCY – THE COMPLETE SERIES
CBS 34 DVD set
contains all 6 seasons plus the 13 one hour specials
(bonus extras include the above audio recordings of My Favorite Husband)

(each season of I Love Lucy was also released separately, as was a collection of the 13 one-hour specials)

THE FUNNY WORLD OF LUCY – volume 1
Good Times DVD
80 minute documentary covering the I Love Lucy years
(volume 2 traces the later career of Lucille Ball)

Discography

We’re Having a Baby / I Love Lucy (vocal)
single

MUSICAL MOMENTS FROM I LOVE LUCY
Star Merchants LP SM 1951 (1982)
features soundtrack items from I Love Lucy:
I Love Lucy theme
Cuban Pete and Sally Sweet
El Cumbanchero
Straw Hat Song
Guadalajara
There’s a Brand New Baby at Our House + We’re Having a Baby
I Love Lucy theme
We’ll Build a Bungalow
Granada
Mama Inez
Babalu
I Love Lucy theme (vocal)

Books

LUCY & RICKY & FRED & ETHEL – THE STORY OF I LOVE LUCY
by Bart Andrews (E.P. Dutton, New York. 1976, as THE I LOVE LUCY BOOK: Doubleday paperback, New York. 1985)

LOVING LUCY – AN ILLUSTRATED TRIBUTE TO LUCILLE BALL
by Bart Andrews and Thomas J. Watson (Robson, London. 1980)

FOR THE LOVE OF LUCY
by Ric B. Wyman (Abbeville Press, ?. 199?)

I LOVE LUCY
by Michael McClay (Warner Books, New York. 1995)

I LOVE LUCY – THE CLASSIC MOMENTS
by Tom Watson (Running Press / Courage, Philadelphia. 1999)

MEET THE MERTZES
by Rob Edelman and Audrey Kupferberg (Renaissance Books, Los Angeles. 1999)

A BOOK
by Desi Arnaz (1976)

LUCY IN THE AFTERNOON
by Jim Brochu (New English Library, London. 1990)

LUCY & DESI – THE LOVE STORY OF TELEVISION’S MOST FAMOUS COUPLE
by Warren G. Harris (Simon & Schuster, New York. 1991)

DESILU – THE STORY OF LUCILLE BALL AND DESI ARNAZ
by Coyne Stephen Sanders and Tom Gilbert (1994)

THE LUCY BOOK
by Geoffrey Mark Fidelman (Renaissance Books, Los Angeles. 1999)

BALL OF FIRE – THE TUMULTUOUS LIFE AND COMIC ART OF LUCILLE BALL
by Stefan Kanfer (Alfred Knopf, New York. 2003)

LUCY WE LOVE YOU volume 1 – number 1 (special memorial issue)
80 page magazine (I.F.P. Inc., Hollywood, 1989)

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