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A Ball Of Fire

June 22, 1997

Was Lucille Ball, or perhaps the character Lucy, television's first feminist ("The Lucy Chronicles," by Steven Stark, May 4)? Absolutely!

One of the most memorable moments of my telemarketing career was when I was confronted by a woman who stated in no uncertain terms that her husband made all the decisions.

"That isn't how Lucy would have handled it," I suggested to this woman.

"You're right," she corrected herself with a laugh, and I had made a sale.

Frederick Cleveland

Hollywood

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Allow me to challenge the claim that Lucy was TV's first feminist. Perhaps that designation should be awarded to Blondie, who wound up on TV after making her way successfully through the comic strips, the movies and radio. The cartoon strip was even named after Blondie, who was the calm center of the stormy shenanigans originated by her lovable and infantile husband Dagwood.

Also, I never particularly liked the "lie your way into trouble, lie your way out" part of the Lucy ethic.

Gary Nordell

Culver City

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Editor's Note: The comic-strip and movie versions of "Blondie" did precede "Lucy"--and television, for that matter--but the CBS sitcom was aired later, in 1968-'69. It was unsuccessful and not renewed.

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Having recently completed my late father's memoirs ("Laughs, Luck . . . and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time," by Jess Oppenheimer with Gregg Oppenheimer), I feel compelled to point out certain errors in the article.

Writer Stark claims that "advertisers and network executives never really seemed to like" the show. But they liked it so much that, in 1953, they signed Lucy and Desi to a 98-episode, $8-million renewal contract, the biggest ever to that date.

Stark also suggested that the ethnic background of Desi's character, Ricky, made Lucy's rebellion less threatening because "few in the audience ever mistook themselves for Desi." Not so. It was easy for them--regardless of ethnicity--to identify with this American husband who argued with his wife about household expenses, attempted to teach her golf and poker and frantically tried to get her to the hospital in time to have her baby.

Stark's assertion that Lucy didn't appreciate the humor in her own performances was ludicrous. When Lucy said, "I never thought that I was funny," she was referring to the fact that in real life, without the benefit of her comedy writers, she wasn't a particularly comical person.

Stark claims that Lucy and Desi "produced scripts" for the series "based on their own lives." The truth is that neither ever wrote a "Lucy" episode. That task fell exclusively to Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh Davis, Bob Carroll, Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf.

Lucy acknowledged that she was neither a comedy writer nor an ad libber. She did understand how funny she was, and she knew that her writers made that possible. "I appreciate them daily," she once said, "I praise them hourly, and I thank God for them every night."

Gregg Oppenheimer

Santa Monica

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Yes, Lucille Ball did play an "unapologetically ambitious woman who challenged her husband's authority and wasn't afraid to be funny." Nevertheless, she still had to manage on an allowance, cowered when Ricky got angry and, after buying a hat against his wishes, had to endure a spanking.

Mary E. Hanson

Whittier

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