I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy is a classic and the most popular American sitcom from the 1950s, starring comedienne Lucille Ball, her husband Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley. The series ran from October 15, 1951 to May, 1957 on CBS (180 episodes, including the "lost" Christmas episode). Keith Thibodeaux (credited as "Richard Keith") played "Little Ricky" in the last two seasons. The program was filmed at Desilu, the production studio jointly owned by Ball and Arnaz.
The sitcom was based on a radio show starring Lucille Ball and Richard Denning called My Favorite Husband. Denning was enthusiastic to continue his role as Ball's husband, but Ball wanted her real-life husband, Cuban-born musician Desi Arnaz, to play her onscreen spouse. Studio heads were worried that American audiences would not find such a "mixed marriage" to be believable, and were concerned about Arnaz's heavy Cuban accent. But Ball was adamant, and they were eager to have her in the part. To help sway their decision, Ball and Arnaz put together a vaudeville act featuring his music and her comedy, which was well received in several cities. In the end, CBS agreed, but refused to let Desi Arnaz' role be part of the show's title (as in "Lucy and Ricky"). After lengthy negotiations, Arnaz relented and agreed to "I Love Lucy", reasoning that the "I" would be his part.
Set in New York City, I Love Lucy is centered around Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball), a housewife, her husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) who is a singer and bandleader, and their friends and landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). Most episodes take place in the Ricardo's modest brownstone apartment at 623 East 68th Street — which in reality would be in the middle of the East River — or at the downtown "Tropicana" nightclub where Ricky is employed, and sometimes elsewhere in the city. Later episodes took the Ricardos and the Mertzes to Hollywood for Ricky to shoot a movie, and then they all accompanied Ricky while he and his band toured Europe. Eventually the Ricardos and the Mertzes moved to a house in the rural town of Westport, Connecticut.
Lucy Ricardo is a loving if somewhat naïve housewife with an ambitious character who has a knack for getting herself into trouble. In particular, she is obsessed with joining her husband in show business. Fred and Ethel are themselves former vaudevillians, which strengthens Lucy's resolve to prove herself as a performer. Unfortunately, Lucy Ricardo cannot carry a tune or play anything other than an off-key rendition of "Glow Worm" (or "Sweet Sue") on the saxophone and evidently has no other artistic or managerial talent. Yet Lucy is determined to show everyone around her that she is much more than an ordinary housewife. A typical I Love Lucy episode involves one of Lucy's ambitious but hare-brained schemes, whether it be to sneak into Ricky's nightclub act, find a way to associate with celebrities, show up her fellow women's club members, or simply try to better her life, usually she ends up in some comedic mess, often dragging in Ethel as her reluctant companion. Legend says that Ricky often cried: "Lucy! You got some 'splainin' to do!" However, like other supposed "famous quotes" (Cary Grant saying "Judy, Judy, Judy", or "Peetah, give me the lettah" by Bette Davis), this line was never actually spoken by Desi Arnaz.
At the time, most television shows were broadcast live from New York City, and a low-quality 35mm or 16mm kinescope print was made of the show to broadcast it in other time zones. But Ball was pregnant at the time, and she and Arnaz therefore insisted on filming the show in Hollywood, California. The duo, along with co-creator Jess Oppenheimer, then decided to shoot the show on 35 mm film in front of a live studio audience, with three cameras (this technique is now standard for sitcoms today). The result was a much sharper image than other shows of the time, and the audience reactions were far more authentic than the "canned laughter" used on most sitcoms of the time. The technique was not new — another CBS comedy series, Amos 'n' Andy, which debuted four months earlier, was already being filmed at Hal Roach Studios with three 35mm cameras to save time and money. But I Love Lucy was the first show to use this technique with a studio audience.
Scenes were often performed like a play, from start to finish, without interruption. As retakes were rare, dialogue mistakes were often played off as intentional as the actors continued. For example, in her last run-through of the famous Vitameatavegamin commercial, Lucy skips to the end of the speech (unscripted), realizes her mistake, and returns to the midpoint without missing her comic timing. This technique allowed the show to remain fresh for years and appear as a "live" performance.
On January 19, 1953 68% of all United States television sets were tuned in to I Love Lucy to watch Lucy give birth. The next month on February 18 Ball and Arnaz signed an $8,000,000 contract to continue I Love Lucy through 1955. After the end of the weekly series, the actors reunited for monthly one-hour specials under the title The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.
Considered by professional clowns to be one of their own, Lucille Ball's 'clown character' was "Lucy Ricardo." (nee "Lucille McGillicuddy" — an instantly recognizable clown moniker). Lucy Ricardo was a friendly, ambitious and somewhat naïve housewife, constantly getting into trouble of one kind or another.
The setup of the show provided ample opportunities for Ball to display her skills at clowning and physical comedy. She is regarded as one of the best in the history of film and television at physical 'schtick'.
Lucy tries to get into the act — a recurring and almost omnipresent theme on the show, was that "talentless" plain old Lucy the Housewife dearly desired a chance to perform, as anything: a dancer, showgirl, clown, singing cowboy — or in any role. The real joke here is that Lucille Ball, aside from being regarded as beautiful, was also quite talented in a variety of performance arts, as well as being a ground-breaking television producer.
Perhaps the best example of this gag is when Lucy shows up unannounced at Ricky's club, toting a clown-modified cello and pretending to be a musician, asking to speak with "Risky Riskerdoo" (Ricky Ricardo) this classic includes Lucy winding the cello's tuning peg as if it were a watch (to the accompaniment of ratcheting sounds) and shooting the cello's bow at Ricky's backside.
Lucy in the Candy Factory — ("Speeeeeeed it up a little!!") Lucy and Ethel attempt to get jobs — for which they are demonstrably unprepared — the classic candy-gobbling scene in this episode is an American cultural icon.
The Mirror Gag — now a classic improvisational acting exercise (with Harpo Marx), in which Lucy, dressed as Harpo Marx encounters the real Harpo while hiding in the kitchen doorway. Perplexed at what he sees he confronts his reflection and Lucy is forced to mimick his every move.
The Stranger with a Kind Face (aka 'Slowly I turned' or 'Niagara Falls!') in which a veteran clown introduces Lucy Ricardo to some basics of the clown art, and is schooled in this classic (and at that time quite familiar) vaudevillian routine, complete with 'seltzer bottles' (a familiar clown prop) and slapstick.
Vita-meata-vege-min — One of the most memorable episodes was titled "Lucy Does a Commercial", filmed during the first season (episode 30 of 35) on March 28, 1952, and first aired on May 5 of that year. In this episode Lucy manages to get a role as the "Vitameatavegamin girl" and is tasked with trying to sell the public a tonic that has healthy amounts of vitamins, meat, vegetables, minerals — and the less than healthy dose of 23% alcohol. Eventually while rehearsing, Lucy gradually and inexorably becomes half-crocked, with the inevitable hilarious result, made only the more funny by the alliterative, tongue twisting product name and pitch. "Do you pop out at parties? Are you unpoopular? Well, the answer to all your troubles is in this bittle lottle!"
In November of 2001, fans voted this episode as their all-time favorite during a 50th anniversary I Love Lucy television special.
Lucy Tries to Meet the Famous Star — another recurring theme, many popular stars were eager to appear on the show, and hilarity ensues in countless episodes as a result of the character, Lucy's obsession with fame and the famous.
The Cousin Ernie story arc. Lucy receives a letter informing her that her "Best Friend's Roommate's Cousin's Middle Boy" — of whom she has never heard — is coming to visit from "Bent Fork, Tennessee". 'Cousin Ernie' (immaculately played by "Tennessee" Ernie Ford) is a stereotypical Country Boy in the Big City, in awe of the sophistication (as he perceives it) of his new hosts. Cousin Ernie and the citizens of Bent Fork and its environs are encountered several times during the course of the show's life.
The Singing Jailbreak — This episode is part of the Hollywood story arc. Ricky, Lucy, Fred, and Ethel participate in a square dance called by Cousin Ernie to escape a Bent Fork, Tennessee jail in the course of which the sheriff and his two Rubenesque daughters are tied up with a handy piece of rope. Lucy gives a feminine kick into the officer's groin. Then Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel make their escape to continue their cross country venture.
- Lucille Ball .... Lucille 'Lucy' Esmeralda MacGillicuddy Ricardo
- Desi Arnaz .... Enrique 'Ricky' Alberto Ricardo y de Acha III
- Vivian Vance .... Ethel Mae Roberta Louise Potter Mertz
- William Frawley .... Frederick 'Fred' Hobart Edie Mertz I
- Kathryn Card .... Mrs. MacGillicuddy (1955-1956)
- Mary Jane Croft .... Betty Ramsey (1957)
- Jerry Hausner .... Jerry, Ricky's agent (1951-1954)
- Bob Jellison .... Bobby, the Hollywood bellboy (1954-1955)
- Keith Thibodeaux .... Ricky Ricardo, Jr. (1956-1957) (as Little Ricky)
- Joseph A. & Michael Mayer .... Ricky Ricardo, Jr. (baby) (1953-1954)
- Frank Nelson .... Ralph Ramsey (1957)
- Elizabeth Patterson .... Mrs. Mathilda Trumbull (1953-1956)
- Richard & Ronald Lee Simmons .... Ricky Ricardo, Jr. (baby) (1954-1955)
- Doris Singleton .... Caroline Appleby (1953-1957)
I Love Lucy (The Show)
- 1952: Nominated - Best Comedy Show
- 1953: Won - Best Situation Comedy
- 1954: Won - Best Situation Comedy
- 1955: Nominated - Best Written Comedy Material: Madelyn Davis, Jess Oppenheimer, Robert G. Carroll
- 1955: Nominated - Best Situation Comedy
- 1956: Nominated - Best Comedy Writing: Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Davis, Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf for episode: "L.A. At Last"
- 1952: Nominated - Most Outstanding Personality
- 1952: Nominated - Best Comedian or Comedienne
- 1953: Won - Best Comedienne
- 1954: Nominated - Best Female Star of a Regular Series for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1955: Nominated - Best Actress Starring in a Regular Series for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1956: Won - Best Actress - Continuing Performance for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1956: Nominated - Best Comedienne
- 1957: Nominated - Best Continuing Performance by a Comedienne in a Series for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1958: Nominated - Best Continuing Performance (Female) in a Series by a Comedienne, Singer, Hostess, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or any Person who Essentially Plays Herself for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1954: Won - Best Series Supporting Actress for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1955: Nominated - Best Supporting Actress in a Regular Series for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1957: Nominated - Best Supporting Performance by an Actress for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1958: Nominated - Best Continuing Supporting Performance by an Actress in a Dramatic or Comedy Series for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1954: Nominated - Best Series Supporting Actor for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1955: Nominated - Best Supporting Actor in a Regular Series for: "I Love Lucy"
- 1956: Nominated - Best Actor in a Supporting Role for: "I Love Lucy"
- Never Nominated
- Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet were originally approached for the roles of Fred and Ethel, but neither could accept due to previous commitments.
- At various times, Ethel's middle name was Mae, Roberta, and Louise.
- The Mertz's kitchen was never shown except in the episode, "Never Do Biz With Friends".
- Lucille Ball liked naming supporting characters after real-life people. Carolyn Appleby was one of her teachers, and Marion Strong was a friend in Jamestown, New York.
- Kathryn Card, who played Lucy's scatterbrained mother, first appeared in the series as a slovenly housewife who mistakenly believes Ricky Ricardo has invited her to join him on a date at the Tropicana.
- Barbara Pepper, later featured as Doris Ziffel on the series Green Acres, frequently had one or two lines in a crowd scene. Her friendship with Ball dated back to the film Roman Scandals, in which both appeared as Goldwyn Girls.
- Many true facts about Ball and Arnaz made it into the series. Like Ball, Lucy Ricardo attended high school in Celeron, New York, and the Ricardos were married at the Byram River Beagle Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, just as the Arnazes had been.
- Reportedly, the longest laugh in any sitcom ever — 65 seconds — was heard in the episode Lucy Does the Tango, during which Lucy - her jacket filled with raw eggs — slams into Ricky and breaks them while rehearsing a tango routine for the PTA show.
- The show was one of the first programmes made in the USA seen on British television which became more open to commerce with the launch of ITV in September 1955, a commercial network that aired this series.
- Ball and Arnaz capitalized on the series' popularity by starring in Vincente Minnelli's 1953 film The Long, Long Trailer as Tacy and Nicky Collini, two characters very similar to Lucy and Ricky.
- I Love Lucy is commonly spoofed, including on an episode of The Fairly Oddparents, in which Cosmo and Wanda go into a TV and star in a fictional show called I Love Wanda.
- Ethel Mertz née Potter is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- Ethel Mertz and Betty Ramsey, the neighbor from the later seasons, were childhood friends.
- Joe Garner, Stay Tuned: Television's Unforgettable Moments (Andrews McMeel Publishing; 2002) ISBN 0-7407-2693-5
- Bart Andrews, The 'I Love Lucy' Book (Doubleday & Company, Inc.; 1976)
- Coyne Steven Sanders & Tom Gilbert, Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (William Morrow & Company, Inc.; 1993)