Baby Boomers

America’s Most Loved Comedy Sitcom: ‘I Love Lucy’ in Color

T.R.A.S.H.– “Trivial Revelations of a Sick Human-Being. In journalism school at Texas State University (Southwest Texas State in the late 1970s), my University Star weekly column, T.R.A.S.H., won state and national awards in collegiate competitions.

On any given week, it would receive more reader mail than letters to the editor. I’ve always enjoyed trivia and will occasionally write some for Cleverjourneys.

Many good writers and television news reporters cut their teeth typing away on old Royal typewriters inside the news room on the second floor of Old Main, the historic gothic castle-like building tower above the campus.

I Love Lucy was originally a radio program titled My Favorite Husband.

Lucy Ball’s acting career was active even in the 1930s. One of her earliest credited roles, although a minor role, was with The Three Stooges.

Lucille Ball decided to go ahead with the series after having a dream in which Carole Lombard – the screwball comedy actress that died in a plane crash and who was a close friend of Lucy – recommended she take a shot at the risky idea of entering television, and to get off of radio.

CBS initially balked at hiring Desi Arnaz to play Lucy’s husband on their new TV show. They didn’t think the audience would believe that she and Desi would make a logical couple. It was Richard Denning who played Lucy’s husband, on the radio. 

Desi Arnaz’s character’s name was not Ricky Ricardo originally. It was Larry Lopez.

Bea Benaderet and Gale Gordon had played Iris and Rudolph Atterbury on the radio show, and Lucy Ball wanted them to be in on the TV venture, not William Frawley and Vivian Vance as Fred and Ethyl Mertz.

Benaderet couldn’t get out of her contract on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Frawley simply called Lucy and asked for the role. Frawley had a reputation for being an out-of-control alcoholic. When CBS found out about him playing the role of Fred Mertz, they didn’t approve.

Claiming moderation in drinking, Frawley called the network and its myriad stable of vice-presidents every name imaginable, interrupting himself only once to order another drink.

Arnaz told “He’s perfect!” and
would hire him with one provision – if he was late to work or unable to perform except because of legitimate illness more than once, he’d be written out of the show.

He never arrived at filming drunk or impaired, and typically learned his lines quicker than the other series regulars. He and Arnaz became and remained close friends, even years after the show ended production.

Many of his scenes display Fred having his hands deep in his pockets. This would not show his hands trembling, due to his alcoholic withdrawals.

Frawley had a clause in his contract that excused him from filming if the New York Yankees were in the World Series, which they were each year the show was on the air except in 1954.

Vance was 22 years younger than Frawley, but with the right wardrobe and makeup, she was made to look a generation older than Lucy.

Fred and Ethyl had been married for many years so they occasionally had disagreements – like all married couples do. But in real life, Frawley and Vance despised each other.

A clause in their contract stated if anything happened to either of them, the other could be written out of the show. Vance hated being identified with Frawley and once he found out how she felt, he hated her in return.

Arnaz was born in Cuba. His father was a Cuban senator and his mother was considered amongst the most beautiful women in Latin America.

Arnaz is credited for several firsts. I Love Lucy was one of the first TV shows to be filmed in Hollywood, at a time when many shows were done live in New York. He was said to have pioneered the use of three film cameras simultaneously, and the results were high-quality prints preserved for future TV audiences. In actuality, other television shows did that beforehand such as Jackie Gleason’s “The Life of Riley” (1949) which also was shot with the Three Camera System using film.

He also invented the rerun during the pregnancy episodes of the series by re-playing some episodes (and change some of the scenery and lines) from the first season to give Lucille Ball time to rest and start to raise their newborn son, Desi Arnaz Jr.

Many of the characters in I Love Lucy were named after real-life people that Lucille Ball knew earlier in life. One of those characters was named Marion Strong. Strong was one of Lucy’s best friends and roommate for a time in New York, and also set Lucy and Desi up on their first date.

An impressive list of guests appearing throughout the years includes Tennessee Ernie Ford, William Holden, John Wayne, Bob Hope, Will Wright, Elsa Lanchester, Van Johnson, Orson Welles, Rock Hudson, Eve Arden, Charles Boyer, Harpo Marx, Barbara Pepper, Pepito Pérez, Peggy Rea, Herb Vigran, Barbara Eden, Arthur Q. Bryan, Janet Waldo, Richard Crenna, Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, Gale Gordon, Natalie Schafer, Hedda Hopper, Bob Jellison Louis Nicoletti, Richard Reeves, Doris Singleton, Hy Averback, Kathryn Card, Jay Novello, George Reeves, Mary Jane Croft, Jerry Hausner, Elizabeth Patterson, Aaron Spelling, Ross Elliot, Hans Conried, The Pied Pipers, Johnny Jacobs and more.

“Lucy Does A TV Commercial” has the now iconic scene of Lucy getting tipsy after drinking “Vitameatavegamin,” but what was really in the bottle?

Apple pectin.

“Lucy’s Italian Movie” contains a classic grape-throwing brawl. Her grape-stomping partner was Teresa Tirelli, who was not an actress and spoke little English.  Instead of the fight being completely choreographed down to the tiniest detail to assure Lucy wouldn’t be injured, Lucy wanted the fight scene to be as realistic as possible and didn’t know what would happen!

In “Lucy and Superman,” George Reeves, as the superhero, effortlessly pushes a heavy piano. Not so fast, Man of Steel. Special casters from Chicago were used on the piano.

3 replies »

  1. OMG, so many great memories. I truly loved Lucy and her side-kicks. Such a great show! And Old Main?? Yep, spent many hours there researching and studying. Guess I was a few years ahead of you, and I missed your journalistic work. Glad I’m experiencing it now! Thanks, Jack, for the memories!

    Liked by 1 person

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