The death of movie stars often revives interest in their old films, suddenly turning those stars into hot properties in the home-video market. Lucille Ball, who died April 26 at 77, was recognized as more of a TV star than a movie queen, but she's about to become a home video star too.
CBS-Fox is rush-releasing a series of cassettes of her "I Love Lucy" TV shows--due out June 23. Previously available only by mail-order through the CBS Video Club, this will be the first time that shows from her most famous series will be sold at retail outlets.
In addition, Turner Home Entertainment is releasing some of her old movies--comedies mostly--in September, in black and white, not colorized.
Up until now, Ball hasn't been big in the home video market, which is geared to movies rather than repackaged TV shows. She did appear in more than 50 features, beginning in 1933, but most of them either were B-films or featured her in small parts. She is best known for her television work, which continues to be available in reruns.
Already there are indications that Ball's death has boosted interest in her movies. Turner marketing executive Martin Weinstein cited a marked increase in the demand for three of her movies--"Five Came Back" (1939), "The Affairs of Annabel" (1938) and "Room Service" (1938), featuring the Marx Brothers. "Five Came Back," a drama about the survivors of a plane crash in a South American jungle, is, some critics say, her best dramatic film performance.
"Normally, orders for these three movies are about a few dozen a month," Weinstein said. "But since Lucy died, the orders have increased to a few hundred a month."
Now CBS-Fox is gambling that, since her death, fans will want to own copies of her classic "I Love Lucy" TV shows. There are four $14.98 cassettes, each including two half-hour shows, totaling 51 minutes. Among them are "Lucy Does a TV Commercial," "Lucy and Harpo Marx," "Lucy's Italian Movie," "Lucy Goes to the Hospital" and "L.A. at Last," featuring William Holden.
According to CBS-Fox marketing executive Mindy Pickard, these eight shows are the most popular of the 179 episodes of the series, based on books and fan club feedback. She added that these cassettes were originally scheduled to come out in the fall but, figuring Ball's death would create a demand for them now, the release date was moved forward a few months.
Since these shows are constantly reshown on broadcast television, why would fans want to purchase the cassettes instead of taping them for free?
"These are the complete, unedited versions," Pickard explained. "These contain minutes that are edited out of the TV showings to make more room for commercials. They would appeal to the real, hard-core Lucy fans."
CBS-Fox will continue to put out these shows on cassette, with more releases tentatively scheduled at the beginning and the end of next year.
Turner Entertainment, meanwhile, will release 18 Ball movies this fall at $19.98. Most are re-releases that have been repackaged. Only three titles are previously unreleased: "I Dream Too Much" (1935) with Henry Fonda, "Look Who's Laughing" (1941) with Edgar Bergen, and "Seven-Day Leave" (1942).
Most of the films in the Turner package are from Ball's RKO period, 1935-42, when she moved up from bit-player to star. Some were previously released on Media, VCA and Republic, but the video rights reverted to Turner in May of last year.
Some of the Turner titles are: "Annabel Takes a Tour" (1938), "You Can't Fool Your Wife" (1940), "Joy of Living" (1938), "Big Street" (1942) and "Easy Living" (1949). The package also includes famous films that present Ball in only small parts, such as the Fred Astaire films "Top Hat" (1935) and "Follow the Fleet" (1936), as well as "Stage Door," the 1937 drama starring Katharine Hepburn. Other future stars, Eve Arden and Ann Miller, also are in "Stage Door."
There should be a lot of interest in "Too Many Girls," a 1940 Rodgers & Hart musical comedy that features Desi Arnaz. As all Lucy buffs fans know, Ball met Arnaz during the filming of this movie.
Other Ball movies on video are "Sorrowful Jones" (MCA, 1949), a so-so remake of Shirley Temple's "Little Miss Marker," and "Du Barry Was a Lady" (MGM/UA, 1943), a musical featuring Red Skelton that's most notable for its Cole Porter score.
Some Ball movies that are not yet on video include "Fancy Pants," a 1950 comedy starring Bob Hope, and "Without Love," a 1945 Tracy-Hepburn vehicle. Most of her '60s and '70s films, including "Facts of Life" (1961), "Critic's Choice" (1963) and "Yours, Mine and Ours" (1968), are not available on home video. But "Mame," which critics called a real stinker, is out on Warner Video. This 1974 film version of the play "Auntie Mame" was her last feature movie.
Lucy buffs might also be interested to know that "Roman Scandals," a 1933 musical starring Eddie Cantor and Ruth Etting, is out on Nelson/Orion. This is her first movie appearance. She's one of the girls in those gaudy Busby Berkeley production numbers.