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Orange County

Fair Fans Seeing Red, and Loving Lucy

July 19, 2001|ANDREA PERERA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At this year's Orange County Fair, the most popular attraction might not be the giant Ferris wheel or the Super Slide. It just might be a goofy redhead named Lucy.

That's because the "I Love Lucy" 50th Anniversary Experience--complete with Suzanne LaRusch as a Lucy impersonator--is making the Costa Mesa fairgrounds the second stop in its four-year national run. Fair officials estimated that 5,000 people paid the additional $3 Monday--the first day they took a count--to visit the interactive museum and exhibit.

Pat Gorinac, 73, of Costa Mesa has been a fan of the sitcom since it premiered Oct. 15, 1951.

She said the exhibit was well worth the extra fee.

"This is what I wanted to see most at the fair," Gorinac said. "I didn't care if it cost me $5 or $15 extra."

Inside a tent filled with costumes and memorabilia, Gorinac wandered among set replicas of the Ricardos' New York apartment, the Tropicana nightclub and a Beverly Palms Hotel room. She paused every once in a while to read the biographies of the show's stars: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley.

"I didn't know she was a model!" Gorinac said of Ball.

Outside, Shirley Hill, 62, and grandson Geoffrey, 12, both of Westminster, tried out two games based on famous episodes.

First, the duo joined forces at the grape-stomping booth from "Lucy's Italian Movie." After pounding on the sensor-sensitive floorboards, a huffing and puffing Geoffrey said: "It's sort of hard because your feet start to hurt."

Watching "I Love Lucy" has been a family tradition for three generations. "We've watched every [episode] and still do," Hill said, referring to the reruns that have kept the show on the air for 50 years.

The Hills then tried out a game based on the episode "Job Switching," which has Lucy trying to wrap chocolates speeding by on a conveyor belt.

During the first of three races to sweep the chocolates off the belt, the Hills tied Steve Lovett, 44, and his daughter, Melissa, 9, of Yorba Linda.

Lovett said he and wife Donna, 39, raised Melissa and sister Michelle, 12, to be "lifelong fans" of "I Love Lucy." That and the Three Stooges.

In between the chocolates and grapes, Sharon Hall, 35, of Long Beach tried out her best "Veetameatavegamin" commercial pitch. Raising a bottle of the "miracle elixir," she spouted out the tongue twister of a slogan.

Maureen Tierney, 46, a fair employee videotaping the feat, said she could tell Hall was a true Lucy-phile.

Even though the cue card with the slogan written on it was missing a word, Hall sailed right through it. She had memorized the entire slogan from viewing the show so many times.

For years, Hall said, "I've been imitating Lucy in the privacy of my home."

Like Hall, most people get a "nostalgic feeling" when they walk through the Lucy exhibit, said Becky Bailey-Findley, the fair's CEO and general manager.

"That show was very much a part of everyone's life," she said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Classic Television

From 1951 to 1957, every Monday at 9 p.m., Americans tuned in to see what mischief their favorite redhead was up to on the "I Love Lucy" show. Three sets from the series--the Ricardos' apartments in New York City and Hollywood, and Club Tropicana--are recreated at the Orange County Fair:

Apartment at 623 East 68th St., NYC: Home to the Ricardo's for 168 episodes of the show. Shown is their second apartment, on the third floor, with a large picture window in the living room.

Tropicana Club: Ricky worked as the orchestra leader, earning $150 a week. When he bought the Manhattan club, he renamed it Club Babalu.

Beverly Palms Hotel: Suite 315 at the fictional hotel had a panoramic view of the Hollywood Hills. It was the setting for Lucy's run-ins with celebrities like William Holden and Harpo Marx.

NOTE: Entry to the exhibit is $3 for adults, $2 for children 2-12

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