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Obituaries

Bob Carroll Jr., 88; co-wrote scripts for TV's 'I Love Lucy'

January 31, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Davis were walking down a street in Hollywood one day in the 1950s when they noticed a pizza maker in the window of an Italian restaurant tossing pizza dough into the air -- nothing out of the ordinary.

But for the comedy writing team of Carroll and Davis, two of the three original writers on Lucille Ball's top-rated "I Love Lucy" television series, it was potential gold.

"Bob and I looked at each other and said, 'Ah-ha!' " Davis recalled this week. "We called Lucy, and she came down and went in and the guy taught her how to do that, and we used that on the show."

Carroll, who spent a good portion of his more than 40-year comedy writing career dreaming up new comic stunts and schemes for television's red-haired queen of comedy, died Saturday at his home in Los Angeles, said his daughter, Christina Carroll. He was 88. The cause of death was not announced.

Carroll and Davis were writing for Ball's CBS radio show "My Favorite Husband," co-starring Richard Denning, when she decided to launch a television series co-starring real-life husband Desi Arnaz.

Carroll and Davis, with "My Favorite Husband" colleague Jess Oppenheimer, made the move to TV with Ball.

The three writers wrote the pilot for the landmark series, which premiered on CBS in October 1951, and they were the show's only writers for the first four seasons.

During that time, they were responsible for a string of memorably hilarious episodes, including Lucy and Ethel (Vivian Vance) on a chocolate candy assembly line, Lucy stomping grapes in Italy and Lucy inadvertently getting smashed while doing a commercial for Vitameatavegamin.

The Emmy Award-winning series was rated the No. 1 show for four of its six seasons and was never out of the top three.

"Mom always credited her gifted writers with the unprecedented success of 'I Love Lucy,' " Lucie Arnaz told The Times in a statement. "She would tell anyone who'd listen that without the 'black stuff,' as she referred to the meticulously detailed and specific stage directions for some of their most classic episodes, that she could never have given birth to those laughs that have become legend.

"No one was more responsible for the joy 'I Love Lucy' has brought to millions than Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis, who first brought those classic ideas to the page. What a wonderful legacy to leave to the world."

Born on Aug. 12, 1918, in McKeesport, Pa., Carroll moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., when he was 3. His father bought and sold real estate, and the family later moved to California for a time before returning to Florida.

After returning to Los Angeles with his family in the early 1940s, he landed a job as an usher at CBS Radio in Hollywood, where he progressed through the mailroom and other departments before becoming a staff writer in 1943.

He teamed up with fellow CBS staff writer Madelyn Pugh about three years later. They were writing for Steve Allen's radio show "It's a Great Life" when they joined "My Favorite Husband."

"One thing I'm proud of is that Bob and I never had any arguments, which with teams is very rare," Davis said. "Neither one of us liked fussing and fighting."

Davis said they were not much alike personally -- "Bob was strong on jokes and very funny" -- but they shared the same comic sensibility.

"One time, we were reading a script at the table," she recalled. "I felt that a joke could be funnier if we added a certain word. I wrote it in the margin of my script, and I looked over and Bob had written the same word.

"So we thought alike and thought the same things were funny."

Before Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf joined the series for the fifth season of "I Love Lucy," Carroll, Davis and Oppenheimer turned out scripts for more than 125 episodes.

"People would ask us, 'How could you do all those scripts?' " Davis said. "And Bob used to say, 'Well, when we go down Monday morning and sit at the table, there'd better be something to put into Lucy's little hands.' "

When they came up with a new physical stunt for Ball to perform, they usually tried them out first on Davis.

As Carroll told "CBS This Morning" in a joint appearance with Davis in 1990, "Madelyn always said she's more expendable than Lucy, but not for me she wasn't. So we'd wrap Madelyn in rugs and strap her into swivel chairs and hang her out of windows, and she came through nicely. So I said, 'If it works for Madelyn, it will work for Lucy.' "

Asked during the interview why "I Love Lucy" has endured in reruns for so many years, both Carroll and Davis credited Lucille Ball.

"She was the funniest lady in the world," Carroll said. "And they had a great cast too. Desi was a wonderful straight man. And Viv and Bill [Frawley]. And we were kind of young and clever ourselves."

After "I Love Lucy" ended production, Carroll and Davis wrote for "The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show," "The Lucy Show," "Here's Lucy" and "Life With Lucy." In addition, they wrote the original story for "Yours, Mine and Ours," the 1968 film comedy starring Ball and Henry Fonda.

Among their many TV credits, Carroll and Davis created "The Mothers-in-Law," a 1967-69 situation comedy starring Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard. They were executive producers on the TV series "Alice," for which they won Golden Globes in 1980 when the show tied with "Taxi" in the best comedy TV series category.

The team of Carroll and Davis got the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award from the Writers Guild of America in 1992 and a UCLA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

The twice-divorced Carroll is survived by his daughter, Christina. A private memorial service will be held.

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dennis.mclellan @latimes.com

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