Forty years ago, on March 7, 1974, one of the last “big” movie musicals opened at New York’s Radio City Music Hall (I dragged my mom there so I could see it in one of the most magnificent theaters in the country): Mame. This is a picture one either loves or hates. I happen to adore it. And perhaps over 40 years, some of the legendary criticism about Lucy’s apperance can be forgiven? Or perhaps not. In any case, this is a picture of Lucy promoting the film before it opened on The Merv Griffin Show.
If you know me, you know I’ll use any excuse to post an Al Hirschfeld drawing. In that spirit… One doesn’t often associate Lucille Ball with the Beatles, but in light of the 50th anniversary of the British Invasion of America (1964) led by the Fab Four, I’ve seen several TV programs that reinforce the importance of the Beatles’ contribution to our culture by pointing out that the group was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 greatest artists of the century. Inevitably, before showing the spread in the magazine that honors the Beatles, the magazine’s cover is shown. My (and your) favorite redhead is one of four of the 100 Artists and Entertainers of the (20th) Century chosen by TIME to grace the cover, in one of my all-time favorite Al Hirschfeld illustrations. The cover is shown at top left, featuring Lucille Ball, Steven Spielberg, Bob Dylan and Pablo Picasso.
But what you may not know is that the cover illustration ran into controversy when Hirschfeld first presented it to the editors of TIME. The original commissioned piece featured five artists: Lucy, Spielberg, Charlie Chaplin, Louis Armstrong and Picasso. All was “hunky-dory,” as Hirschfeld recalled, “until one of the editors opined that my depiction of the great Louis Armstrong—whom I’d been drawing for decades and unequivocally admired—was less than flattering. The fact that Mr. Armstrong had been chosen as one of five ‘cultural icons of the 20th century’ along with Chaplin and Picasso et al [to represent the 100 on the cover] didn’t seem to weigh in on the positive side. Nevertheless, I obligingly revised the drawing.” Hirschfeld, in making the original drawing public [seen to the right of the actual cover], commented that the viewer could “be the judge of whether the King of Jazz would say I played him false.”
I think the original was “Hirschfeldingly” fabulous. But, as the artist said, you are the judge. I’m just happy that Lucy made the final cut.
Tomorrow, December 25, is Christmas, but there was an early present on television December 20 for all who love I Love Lucy and classic comedy (and is there anyone who doesn’t?!): The series’ Christmas episode, previously seen only in a not-so-great black-and-white transfer, was colorized and given high-def clarity, along with Lucy’s popular grape-stomping episode from the Ricardo’s and Mertz’s Europe trip aired on CBS at 8 p.m. The high-def transfer made me tingle in anticipation for the initial Blu-Ray I Love Lucy release in spring 2014. Note that only the holiday scenes were in color in the Xmas episode. It’s essentially a series of flashbacks, and those are in black and white, which actually adds to the nostalgic feeling of the episode. I had predicted a typical Lucy ratings win for this one, and sure enough, the one-hour special topped the ratings in TV’s most coveted category, adults aged 18-49. Total viewers numbered close to nine million, third highest viewership of the night — not bad for a sitcom that took the nation by storm more than 62 years ago!
I hope you enjoyed the special presentation and have a safe, happy holiday and a fabulous new year!
On December 8, 1952, 61 years ago, I Love Lucy aired the episode “Lucy is Enceinte,” in which Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball), after telling neighbor Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) that she’s going to have a baby, tries to find the best way to tell her husband, Ricky (Ball’s real-life hubby, Desi Arnaz). When she can’t find the “right time” to do it, she interrupts Ricky’s nightclub act to tell him. The real-life tears of Ball and Arnaz that followed made the final cut, and made the episode a classic, one of the most touching television scenes ever filmed.
Thus followed a series of episodes filmed before Ball had to leave the series and rest, all about a pregnant woman and the various dilemmas she faces; aside from being groundbreaking television, they were some of the show’s funniest, and most real, episodes.
The penultimate episode, in which Lucy had her baby, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” aired on January 19, 1953, and was seen by a record-breaking 71.7 percent of the television audience (roughly 44 million people), more viewers than President Eisenhower got for his televised inauguration the next day. It remains a record surpassed only by Elvis Presley’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, September 9, 1956 (watched by 82.6 percent of the viewing audience).
The pregnancy story line catapulted I Love Lucy to the No. 1 spot in the ratings that season (1952-1953, the second season of the series, a position it held for a total of four years out of its six-year run (the other two seasons, the show ranked No. 2). That kind of audience is no longer possible due to the fracturing of the TV market by the many cable networks that have launched in the past few decades, most of which have had to settle for capturing a much smaller niche, or specialized, audience.
Lucille Ball had her baby by C-section on the same day I Love Lucy broadcast the Ricardo’s blessed event. Ball and her “$50 Million Baby,” Desi Arnaz Jr., were on the cover of the first national edition of TV Guide. The love affair between TV Guide and Lucille Ball, and her classic series I Love Lucy, continued over 60 years; Lucy was on the magazine’s cover more than any other star, and just this year, celebrating 60 years of its national edition, TV Guide recently voted “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” the No. 1 most riveting moment on television. Ever.
Because I Love Lucy has never been off the air since its original broadcast years (1951-1957), and because the show remains extremely popular in the United States and many countries, it is estimated that I Love Lucy’s most popular episode, and television’s most riveting moment, is the most-viewed television episode of all time.
Not bad for a washed-up film star and her bongo-playing husband.
Film and television comedian Shirley Mitchell has died of heart failure on November 11 at the age of 94. The Hollywood Reporter was notified of Mitchell’s death by her sister-in-law, Oscar nominee (for 1950’s Sunset Boulevard) Nancy Olsen, who informed The Hollywood Reporter.
Mitchell, despite appearing in 12 films and 70 television series, many on the small screen in recurring roles, is probably best remembered for the handful of I Love Lucy episodes on which she played Lucy Ricardo’s friend Marion Strong. She is the last surviving “adult” cast member of the classic TV show. (Keith Thibodeaux, who, billed as Richard Keith, played Little Ricky during the 1956-57 final season, is 62 years old.)
Mitchell played Marion Strong for three episodes in the 1953-54 season of I Love Lucy, her most memorable appearance being in the episode that aired November 9, 1953, “Lucy Tells the Truth.” Ricky (Desi Arnaz), Ethel (Vivian Vance) and Fred (William Frawley) bet Lucy (Lucille Ball) $100 that she can’t go 24 hours without telling the truth. Lucy takes advantage of the opportunity during her weekly bridge game with Ethel, Marion and Carolyn Appleby (Doris Singleton) by telling the girls exactly what she thinks of them and their behavior.
After Lucy is goaded by Ethel and Carolyn into saying how she really feels about Marion’s over-the-top hat, Marion thinks she’s just kidding and starts cackling, a memorable laugh created by Mitchell. Lucy shuts her up by cracking, “Marion, stop cackling. I’ve been waiting 10 years for you to lay that egg!” Mitchell is at right in the picture above, with Vance.
Mitchell was the widow of Jay Livingston, a triple Oscar-winning composer (for “Que Sera, Sera,” “Mona Lisa” and “Buttons and Bows”).
With Mitchell’s passing, the entire principal and supporting cast of I Love Lucy belong to the ages. Rest in peace, funny lady.
On my website/blog, there’s an email to get in touch with me (email@example.com). It’s used mainly by Lucy fans and collectors with questions about memorabilia they own and what it might be worth. Recently I received such a question, but the item it concerned was so unusual, well, here was my response to “GB”:
“This is very cool, and I’ve never seen anything like it in the Lucille Ball memorabilia market. It appears to be an actual printing plate from TV Guide‘s first national issue, dated April 3, 1953, which had Lucy and her newborn son Desi Jr. on the cover.
“It is one of the color plates (there would have been four total to print the page in color: red, green, blue, and black).
“I want to say this is very valuable…a near-mint or mint copy of that issue itself goes for hundreds of dollars.
“But this is a printing plate, and I don’t really know what the collector’s market is for them, how they are priced, what collectors value in them, etc. For example, would someone who collects printing plates in general want this, or would it just be of interest to a Lucy fan? Also, the plate has spots on it that indicate damage, perhaps — dark areas on the lower left corner, along the right border, and across the top. Again, I don’t know how this affects the value.
“But since TV Guide celebrated the 60th anniversary of this issue this year, I still want to say you could have a real gem on your hands, especially to a Lucy collector.”
GB noted, “Triangle Publications, owned by the late Walter Annenberg, published TV Guide and Seventeen magazines among many others, and also owned media such as the Philadelphia Daily News, the Philadelphia Inquirer and WFIL TV.
“Triangle Publications’ Gravure Division printed TV Guide and the company’s other magazines in Philadelphia. GB noted, “I worked in Quality Control from 1966 to 1978. There were four plates made, one for each color: yellow, magenta, cyan, and black. I think this is the magenta [red] plate and I have never seen the other three. I will get in touch with the people you suggested soon; thanks for the info.”
For the record, the first national edition of TV Guide, which any Lucy fan knows was a cover picturing Desi Arnaz Jr., with a small photo of Lucille Ball in the corner and the headline “Lucy’s $50 Million Baby!” Isn’t it beautiful? And a real piece of television and magazine history. Enjoy!
The “I Love Lucy Christmas Special,” a one-hour special featuring two newly colorized back-to-back classic episodes of the classic series, will be broadcast Friday, Dec. 20 (8:00-9:00 p.m.) on CBS, the show’s original network, according to the website TV by the Numbers, which added, “ The two episodes—the seldom-seen ‘Christmas Episode’ and ‘Lucy’s Italian Movie’ (aka ‘Grape Stomping’)—were colorized with a vintage look, a nod to the 1950s period in which the shows were filmed. The main titles and end credits of the two episodes are seamlessly combined into one set—at the beginning and end of the hour—with no interruption between the episodes.”
As anyone reading this knows, the episodes star Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, and Vivian Vance and William Frawley as the Ricardos’ friends and landlords, Fred and Ethel Mertz. Note that the flashbacks in the Christmas episodes will remain in black-and-white to indicate they took place “in the past.” Pretty funny, considering the series is almost 62 years old.
The holiday episode, which was not included in the original syndicated package of “I Love Lucy” episodes, was “discovered” in 1989 and broadcast shortly thereafter, but has never been seen in color. In it, the Ricardos and Mertzes reminisce about some of their more famous past adventures while tree-trimming (Lucy tells Ricky she’s pregnant, the Barbershop Quartet episode—in which Ricky, Fred and Ethel try to prevent Lucy from singing—and Lucy’s fabled trip to the hospital to “deliver” Little Ricky). There’s also a plot involving Santa Claus that was written especially for the episode.
“Lucy’s Italian Movie” ran during the 1956 season when the Ricardos and Mertzes visited Europe for a string of episodes. While in Italy, Lucy is asked to be in a film, and tries to practice stomping grapes at a real vineyard to get the proper “feel” for her role; the episode became an instant classic.
“I Love Lucy” was voted “the best TV show of all time” in a 2012 viewer poll conducted by People Magazine and ABC News. No news to me. Set your DVRs for December 20th!
This is the week for personal, not-your-usual glimpses into Lucille Ball’s life. First, I caught 1963′s Hollywood Without Make-Up on Turner Classic Movies, a fabulous film by Ken Murray that takes us into the “private lives” of Holly wood stars via his personal filmed footage. Lucy was featured in several scenes, at Aspen, Colorado, and on the Paramount Studios ranch where she was glimpsed clowning between takes while filming 1950′s Fancy Pants. Then Murray offered some rare candid shots of Lucy, including the one shown here, which was taken in the 1940s at her and husband Desi Arnaz’s beloved ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. (Sorry for the blurriness of the enlarged picture; that’s due to the less-than-perfect TCM print.)
But wait! There’s more. If you’re lucky enough to live in or be visiting the Hollywood area, you should catch “Home Movie Day Los Angeles” tomorrow, October 12, at the Linwood Dunn Theater, 1313 Vine Street. Sponsored by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the event is called a “day-long celebration of home movies” beginning at noon, with “Day Los Angeles,” a free event that offers Angelenos, their families and friends a chance to watch their personal home movies on the big screen.
The good stuff for movie fans comes at 7 p.m., when the Academy will present Hollywood Home Movies IV, featuring “specially selected home movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, including footage of such luminaries as Lucille Ball, Billie Burke, Humphrey Bogart, Marlene Dietrich, Betty Grable, Cary Grant and Shirley Jones.” General admission for the evening event is $5; for more info, visit homemovieday.com/losangeles.
Hosted by multiple Emmy winner (and treasure) Betty White, sponsored by The Paley Center for Media and broadcast on NBC September 1, a scene involving Lucy (Ball) and Ethel (Vance) from I Love Lucy was chosen as the No. 1 moment on the special TV’s Funniest of the Funniest. As White noted, there were precious few others as qualified as herself to host the show: Amazingly, she’s been around for the entire 60 years covered in the countdown of the top 30 funniest moments ever aired on television. And what did TV’s No. 1 comedy team do to justify being chosen as creating the funniest moment? Oh, not much, except try to get jobs wrapping candy on a conveyor belt. The Top 5 included scenes from The Cosby Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. But when it came to No. 1, White explained, “All that was needed for this scene to become your all-time favorite was Lucy, Ethel and a few hundred chocolates.”
This classic I Love Lucy episode first aired on September 15, 1952, and has since become perhaps the ultimate example of what can happen when writing plus performing plus production come together to create the perfect comedy. That’s the inestimable Elvia Allman as the factory foreperson between Vance and Ball in the pic.