Advertisement

50 Years Later, Writers Still Love 'Lucy'

October 15, 2001|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I Love Lucy" writers Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll Jr. remember where they were the night the seminal Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz sitcom premiered Oct. 15, 1951, on CBS.

"We saw it at [series' director] Marc Daniels house," says Davis. "Emily, his wife, was the camera coordinator. She was a good cook. She had dinner and we watched the show."

Everyone thought that Ball was "terribly funny and wonderful," she recalls. "We had hopes for [the show] .... We hoped it would be on for 13 weeks."

Not only did "I Love Lucy" last more than 13 weeks, it never ranked below third place in the ratings in any of its six seasons.

After its initial run on the network ended in 1957, the Emmy Award-winning comedy continued in reruns on CBS in prime time for another two years and ran on daytime on the network until 1967.

It has been in syndication heaven ever since.

"I Love Lucy," which was created by producer Jess Oppenheimer, premieres again tonight on cable's TV Land network.

The very first episode of the series, "Lucy and Ethel Go to a Night Club," will air at 9 p.m.--the same time it premiered on CBS 50 years ago.

TV Land is launching its "I Love Lucy" run with a 50-episode weeklong marathon salute. And it's presenting the series as it hasn't been seen since its original run--with the animated elements in which Lucy and Ricky Ricardo are seen as cartoon figures in the opening and closing credits.

*

The addition of "I Love Lucy" to TV Land isn't the only anniversary celebration for the sitcom.

Scheduled for Nov. 11 is a two-hour CBS salute, "I Love Lucy's 50th Anniversary Special," featuring a slate of stars and produced by Desi Arnaz Jr. and Lucie Arnaz.

"I Love Lucy" followed the adventures of Lucy Ricardo, a wacky Manhattan housewife whose crazy antics and schemes got her into trouble with her trigger-tempered husband, a Cuban-born nightclub bandleader, Ricky.

Residing downstairs were their landlords and best friends, Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance).

Among the episodes being shown during the TV Land marathon are Lucy's grape fight in the wine vat in Italy, Lucy's commercial for Vitameatavegmin, Lucy and Ethel's ill-fated stint in a chocolate factory and the birth of Little Ricky on Jan. 19, 1953. He was born the same night on TV as Desi Arnaz Jr. was born, and it's estimated that seven out of 10 people with televisions watched that installment.

William Asher, who directed 110 episodes of "Lucy" and later directed numerous episodes of "Bewitched," says that the atmosphere on the set was serious.

"We were working hard," Asher says.

He treated the filming, which was shot with three cameras before an audience, as if it were a play.

"There was no stopping," he says. "If an actor got in trouble with lines, the other actors would have to get them out of it. And they would get them somehow back on the script. We would start at 7 and we were out by 8:30 p.m."

During the week, after rehearsals were done, Asher would work with Ball alone at night on the physical aspects of the script.

"What we would do is work out the routine," he says. "Some of it was embarrassing to try in front of people; I mean, they were pretty ridiculous things to do."

Arnaz, he says, "made very strong contributions to the story. He was very serious about his work. The first time anybody saw the script was Monday morning. We would read it and there would be a long discussion about changes and things to do. He would be the leader of that. He would have more suggestions and story ideas and things to improve the script than anyone else."

Davis and Carroll had worked with Ball on her radio show, "My Favorite Husband," with Richard Denning. Originally, Carroll says, CBS wanted her to do that show for TV. "Lucille Ball, good for her, said, 'No, no, no

The writing team would figure out the story for the week and then would write the first draft. Oppenheimer would do the rewrite. They always stayed away from topical humor.

"We did stories that everyone could relate to," Davis says.

"We tried to get real kind of stories," Carroll adds. "Don't do business with your friends. Don't sell the washing machine to the Mertzes. Real basic things like jealousy and money matters."

Each episode contained a small physical bit for Ball in the first act and a big one for the finale.

"Nothing was too broad [for Ball] or too difficult," says Davis, who tried out some of the stunts first to make sure they would work.

Ball was a perfectionist who was very fussy about her props. Davis recalls the episode in which Lucy accidentally makes a gigantic loaf of bread. Ball thought the prop bread looked too fake, so the prop person went over to Helms Bakery and ordered a loaf of real bread. "They had to have a special pan made for it," Davis recalls. "She liked to rehearse with real props."

*

"I Love Lucy" marathon airs today from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Tuesday-Thursday from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Friday from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on TV Land. Beginning Oct. 22, it will air weeknights at 9 p.m. "I Love Lucy's 50th Anniversary Special" can be seen Nov. 11 at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|