I Love Lucy is a television sitcom that aired in the 1950s. During that time, it was the most popular American sitcom. It starred comedienne Lucille Ball, her husband Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley. The series ran from October 15, 1951 to May 6, 1957 on CBS (180 episodes, including the "lost" Christmas episode). This show was ranked #2 on TV Guide's top 50 greatest shows of all time in 2002, behind Seinfeld and ahead of The Honeymooners. The program was filmed at Desilu, the production studio jointly owned by Ball and Arnaz.
The sitcom was based on a radio show starring Lucille Ball and Richard Denning called My Favorite Husband. Denning was enthusiastic to continue his role as Ball's husband, but Ball wanted her real-life husband, Cuban-born musician Desi Arnaz, to play her onscreen spouse. Studio heads were worried that American audiences would not find such a "mixed marriage" to be believable, and were concerned about Arnaz's heavy Cuban accent. But Ball was adamant, and they were eager to have her in the part. To help sway their decision, Ball and Arnaz put together a vaudeville act featuring his music and her comedy, which was well received in several cities. In the end, CBS agreed, but refused to let Desi Arnaz's role be part of the show's title (as in "Lucy and Ricky"). After lengthy negotiations, Arnaz relented and agreed to "I Love Lucy", reasoning that the "I" would be his part.
Arnaz persuaded Karl Freund, cinematographer of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) and Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) as well as director of The Mummy (1932), to be the series' cinematographer, which many critics believe accounts for the show's lustrous black and white cinematography.
Lucille Ball was the last main cast member still living when she died on April 26, 1989. The only living cast member is Keith Thibodeaux (credited as "Richard Keith") who played Lucy and Ricky's young son "Little Ricky" in the last two seasons.
1 The show
2 Innovative techniques
4 Themes and Highlights
6 Emmy Awards
6.1 I Love Lucy (The Show)
6.2 Lucille Ball
6.3 Desi Arnaz
6.4 Vivian Vance
6.5 William Frawley
7 DVD Releases
10 External links
"Oh Ricky, you're wonderful!"Set in New York City, I Love Lucy is centered around Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball), a housewife, her husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz), who is a singer and bandleader, and their friends and landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). Most episodes take place in the Ricardos' modest brownstone apartment at 623 East 68th Street — which in reality would be in the middle of the East River — or at the downtown "Tropicana" nightclub where Ricky is employed, and sometimes elsewhere in the city. Later episodes took the Ricardos and the Mertzes to Hollywood for Ricky to shoot a movie, and then they all accompanied Ricky while he and his band toured Europe. Eventually the Ricardos and the Mertzes moved to a house in the rural town of Westport, Connecticut.
Lucy Ricardo is a loving if somewhat naïve housewife with an ambitious character who has a knack for getting herself into trouble. In particular, she is obsessed with joining her husband in show business. Fred and Ethel are themselves former vaudevillians, which strengthens Lucy's resolve to prove herself as a performer. Unfortunately, Lucy Ricardo cannot carry a tune or play anything other than an off-key rendition of "Glow Worm" (or "Sweet Sue") on the saxophone and evidently has no other artistic or managerial talent. Yet Lucy is determined to show everyone around her that she is much more than an ordinary housewife. A typical I Love Lucy episode involves one of Lucy's ambitious but hare-brained schemes, whether it be to sneak into Ricky's nightclub act, find a way to associate with celebrities, show up her fellow women's club members, or simply try to better her life. Usually she ends up in some comedic mess, often dragging in Ethel as her reluctant companion. Legend says that Ricky often cried: "Lucy! You got some 'splainin' to do!" However, like other supposed "famous quotes" (Cary Grant saying "Judy, Judy, Judy", or "Peetah, give me the lettah" by Bette Davis), this line was never actually spoken by Desi Arnaz. Perhaps the closest he came to this line was his admonition to Lucy, "That's no 'scuse!" to which she mockingly answered, "That's plenty 'scuse!"
"It's so tasty, too!"At the time, most television shows were broadcast live from New York City, and a low-quality 35mm or 16mm kinescope print was made of the show to broadcast it in other time zones. But Ball was pregnant at the time, and she and Arnaz therefore insisted on filming the show in Hollywood. The duo, along with co-creator Jess Oppenheimer, then decided to shoot the show on 35 mm film in front of a live studio audience, with three cameras, a technique standard among present-day sitcoms. The result was a much sharper image than other shows of the time, and the audience reactions were far more authentic than the "canned laughter" used on most filmed sitcoms of the time. The technique was not completely new — another CBS comedy series, Amos 'n' Andy, which debuted four months earlier, was already being filmed at Hal Roach Studios with three 35mm cameras to save time and money. But I Love Lucy was the first show to use this technique with a studio audience.
Scenes were often performed like a play, from start to finish, without interruption. As retakes were rare, dialogue mistakes were often played off as intentional as the actors continued. For example, in her last run-through of the famous Vitameatavegamin commercial, Lucy skips to the end of the speech (unscripted), realizes her mistake, and returns to the midpoint without missing her comic timing. This technique allowed the show to remain fresh for years and appear as a "live" performance.
On January 19, 1953 68% of all United States television sets were tuned in to I Love Lucy to watch Lucy give birth. The next month on February 18 Ball and Arnaz signed an $8,000,000 contract to continue I Love Lucy through 1955. After the end of the weekly series, the actors reunited for monthly one-hour specials under the title The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.
Main article: List of I Love Lucy episodes
Themes and Highlights
In the course of the show, numerous comic ideas were introduced, and often reappeared in subsequent episodes. Several bits remain famous and beloved, often listed amongst television's best. The following list reviews some of the high points.
Considered by professional clowns to be one of their own, Lucille Ball's 'clown character' was "Lucy Ricardo." (nee "Lucille McGillicuddy" — an instantly recognizable clown moniker). Lucy Ricardo was a friendly, ambitious and somewhat naïve housewife, constantly getting into trouble of one kind or another.
The setup of the show provided ample opportunities for Ball to display her skills at clowning and physical comedy. She is regarded as one of the best in the history of film and television at physical 'schtick'.
In the course of the television series, Lucy shared the screen with numerous famous clowns. Prominent among these were Red Skelton and Harpo Marx.
Lucy tries to get into the act — a recurring and almost omnipresent theme on the show, was that "talentless" plain old Lucy the Housewife dearly desired a chance to perform, as anything: a dancer, showgirl, clown, singing cowboy — or in any role. The real joke here is that Lucille Ball, aside from being regarded as beautiful, was also quite talented in a variety of performance arts, as well as being a ground-breaking television producer.
Perhaps the best example of this gag is when Lucy shows up unannounced at Ricky's club, toting a clown-modified cello and pretending to be a musician, asking to speak with "Risky Riskerdoo" (Ricky Ricardo) this classic includes Lucy winding the cello's tuning peg as if it were a watch (to the accompaniment of ratcheting sounds) and shooting the cello's bow at Ricky's backside.
Lucy in the Candy Factory — ("Speeeeeeed it up a little!!") Lucy and Ethel attempt to get jobs — for which they are demonstrably unprepared — the classic candy-gobbling scene in this episode is an American cultural icon. This bit was a variation on an old vaudeville routine. Jackie Gleason also did a variation, involving decorating and boxing cakes as they came off an assembly line.
The Mirror Gag — now a classic improvisational acting exercise (with Harpo Marx), in which Lucy, dressed as Harpo Marx encounters the real Harpo while hiding in the kitchen doorway. Perplexed at what he sees he confronts his reflection and Lucy is forced to mimick his every move. This bit was a tribute to Harpo and Groucho's famous mirror scene in the Marx Brothers comedy classic, Duck Soup.
The Stranger with a Kind Face (aka Slowly I Turned) in which a veteran clown introduces Lucy Ricardo to some basics of the clown art, and is schooled in this classic (and at that time quite familiar) vaudevillian routine, complete with 'seltzer bottles' (a familiar clown prop) and slapstick. The Three Stooges are among many others who performed variations on this classic.
Vita-meata-vege-min — One of the most memorable episodes was titled "Lucy Does a Commercial", filmed during the first season (episode 30 of 35) on March 28, 1952, and first aired on May 5 of that year. In this episode Lucy manages to get a role as the "Vitameatavegamin girl" and is tasked with trying to sell the public a tonic that has healthy amounts of vitamins, meat, vegetables, minerals — and the less than healthy dose of 23% alcohol. "And it's so tasty too - grimacing
- just like candy!" During rehearsal, Lucy becomes progressively more inebriated, with the inevitable hilarious result, made only the more funny by the alliterative, tongue twisting product name and pitch. "Do you pop out at parties? Are you unpoopular? Well, the answer to all your troubles is in this bittle lottle!"
In November of 2001, fans voted this episode as their all-time favorite during a 50th anniversary I Love Lucy television special.
Lucy Tries to Meet the Famous Star — another recurring theme, many popular stars were eager to appear on the show, and hilarity ensued in countless episodes as a result of the character, Lucy's obsession with fame and the famous.
The Cousin Ernie story arc. Lucy receives a letter informing her that her "Best Friend's Roommate's Cousin's Middle Boy" — of whom she has never heard — is coming to visit from "Bent Fork, Tennessee". 'Cousin Ernie' (immaculately played by "Tennessee" Ernie Ford) is a stereotypical Country Boy in the Big City, in awe of the sophistication (as he perceives it) of his new hosts. Cousin Ernie and the citizens of Bent Fork and its environs are encountered several times during the course of the show's life.
The Singing Jailbreak — This episode is part of the Hollywood story arc. Ricky, Lucy, Fred, and Ethel participate in a square dance called by Cousin Ernie to escape a Bent Fork, Tennessee jail in the course of which the sheriff and his two rotund daughters are tied up with a handy piece of rope. Then Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel make their escape to continue their cross country venture.
Lucy does the tango - The Ricardos' and the Mertzes' chicken business is not going very well, so Lucy and Ethel come up with a plot to fool the boys into thinking the hens are laying by smuggling eggs in the henhouse, hidden underneath their clothes. However, Ricky insists that he and Lucy rehearse their tango number for a local benefit. Unbeknownst to Ricky, Lucy's blouse is filled with chicken eggs. When Lucy slams into Ricky in the final dance step, the eggs break, saturating Lucy's shirt with broken eggs. The skit resulted in the longest audience laughter in the show's history.
Lucille Ball .... Lucille 'Lucy' Esmeralda MacGillicuddy Ricardo
Desi Arnaz .... Enrique 'Ricky' Alberto Ricardo y de Acha III
Vivian Vance .... Ethel Mae Roberta Louise Potter Mertz
William Frawley .... Frederick 'Fred' Hobart Edie Mertz I
Kathryn Card .... Mrs. MacGillicuddy (1955-1956)
Mary Jane Croft .... Betty Ramsey (1957)
Jerry Hausner .... Jerry, Ricky's agent (1951-1954)
Bob Jellison .... Bobby, the Hollywood bellboy (1954-1955)
Keith Thibodeaux .... Ricky Ricardo, Jr. (1956-1957) (as Little Ricky)
Joseph A. & Michael Mayer .... Ricky Ricardo, Jr. (baby) (1953-1954)
Frank Nelson .... Ralph Ramsey (1957)
Elizabeth Patterson .... Mrs. Mathilda Trumbull (1953-1956)
Richard & Ronald Lee Simmons .... Ricky Ricardo, Jr. (baby) (1954-1955)
Doris Singleton .... Caroline Appleby (1953-1957)
I Love Lucy (The Show)
1952: Nominated - Best Comedy Show
1953: Won - Best Situation Comedy
1954: Won - Best Situation Comedy
1955: Nominated - Best Written Comedy Material: Madelyn Davis, Jess Oppenheimer, Robert G. Carroll
1955: Nominated - Best Situation Comedy
1956: Nominated - Best Comedy Writing: Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Davis, Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf for episode: "L.A. At Last"
1952: Nominated - Best Comedian or Comedienne
1953: Nominated - Most Outstanding Personality
1953: Won - Best Comedienne
1954: Nominated - Best Female Star of Regular Series
1955: Nominated - Best Actress Starring in a Regular Series
1956: Nominated - Best Comedienne
1956: Won - Best Actress - Continuing Performance
1957: Nominated - Best Continuing Performance by a Comedienne in a Series
1958: Nominated - Best Continuing Performance (Female) in a Series by a Comedienne, Singer, Hostess, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or any Person who Essentially Plays Herself
1954: Won - Best Series Supporting Actress
1955: Nominated - Best Supporting Actress in a Regular Series
1957: Nominated - Best Supporting Performance by an Actress
1958: Nominated - Best Continuing Supporting Performance by an Actress in a Dramatic or Comedy Series
1954: Nominated - Best Series Supporting Actor
1955: Nominated - Best Supporting Actor in a Regular Series
1956: Nominated - Best Actor in a Supporting Role
"I Love Lucy- Season 1" (9 Separate disks, sold separately)
"I Love Lucy- 50th Anniversary Special"
"I Love Lucy- The Complete First Season" (7 disks, sold together)
"I Love Lucy- The Complete Second Season"
"I Love Lucy- The Complete Third Season"
"I Love Lucy- The Complete Fourth Season"
"I Love Lucy- The Complete Fifth Season"
"I Love Lucy- Seasons 1-5"
"I Love Lucy- The Complete Sixth Season"
Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet were originally approached for the roles of Fred and Ethel, but neither could accept due to previous commitments. Gordon did appear as a guest star in a few episodes, playing Ricky's boss, Mr. Littlefield. Gordon was a veteran from the classic radio days in which he perfected the role of the exasperated character, such as in Fibber McGee and Molly. He would go on to costar with Ball in most of her post-I Love Lucy series. Benaderet once guest starred playing the Ricardo's neighbor, the elderly Miss Lewis.
At various times, Ethel's middle name was Mae, Roberta, and Louise.
The Mertz's kitchen was never shown except in the episode, "Never Do Business With Friends".
Lucille Ball liked naming supporting characters after real-life people. Carolyn Appleby was one of her teachers, and Marion Strong was a friend in Jamestown, New York.
Kathryn Card, who played Lucy's scatterbrained mother, first appeared in the series as a slovenly housewife who mistakenly believes Ricky Ricardo has invited her to join him on a date at the Tropicana.
Barbara Pepper, later featured as Doris Ziffel on the series Green Acres, frequently had one or two lines in a crowd scene. Her friendship with Ball dated back to the film Roman Scandals, in which both appeared as Goldwyn Girls.
Many facts about Ball and Arnaz made it into the series. Like Ball, Lucy Ricardo attended high school in Celoron, New York, and the Ricardos were married at the Byram River Beagle Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, just as the Arnazes had been.
Reportedly, the longest laugh in any sitcom ever — 65 seconds — was heard in the episode Lucy Does the Tango, during which Lucy - her jacket filled with raw eggs — slams into Ricky and breaks them while rehearsing a tango routine for the PTA show.
The show was one of the first programmes made in the USA seen on British television which became more open to commerce with the launch of ITV in September 1955, a commercial network that aired this series.
Ball and Arnaz capitalized on the series' popularity by starring in Vincente Minnelli's 1953 film The Long, Long Trailer as Tacy and Nicky Collini, two characters very similar to Lucy and Ricky, named Tacy and Nicky.
I Love Lucy is commonly spoofed, including on an episode of The Fairly Oddparents, in which Cosmo and Wanda go into a TV and star in a fictional show called I Love Wanda.
Ethel Mertz née Potter is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Ethel Mertz and Betty Ramsey, the neighbor from the later seasons, were childhood friends.
I Love Lucy is the first of only three shows to end its run as the #1 TV show in America. The other two are The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998.
It is now well-known that Vance and Frawley did not get along, a fact which seemingly added some humorous edge to their on-screen interaction. When the series ended, Vance and Frawley were said to have been offered a chance to take their Fred and Ethel characters to their own spin-off series. Frawley was willing to do so, but Vance refused to ever work with Frawley again.
Ball and Arnaz's eventual off-screen personal problems had a much more serious effect, contributing to the demise of the show.
The last episodes of the series had to be made, even though Ball and Arnaz were divorcing/divorced. A contract had been signed before the two began to have major problems, and it wasn't lifted. This is why in the last episodes of the series, one can see Ball looking as if she had just been crying, even in supposed-to-be funny skits.
The familiar opening featuring the credits superimposed over a "heart" image, known to most of the show's younger fans, was created specifically when I Love Lucy went into syndication. When originally broadcast on CBS, the episodes featured an opening with animated drawings of Ball and Arnaz, making reference to whomever the particular episode's sponsor was (usually Phillip Morris). Since the original sponsor references were no longer applicable when the shows went into syndication, the new opening was created. These openings (with the sponsor names edited out) are now used on TV Land showings.
"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied the TV show, as well as Toni Basil's song "Mickey", in the song "Ricky" on his 1983 debut album, working in many of the show's classic schticks and closing with a segment of the I Love Lucy theme. Yankovic also produced an album of the show's greatest musical moments entitled Babalu Music.
On Babylon 5, Ambassador Sinclair refers to himself and Captain Sheridan as "Lucy and Ethel." Sheridan responds, "Lucy and Ethel?"
In the movie Rat Race one of the characters pretends to be a coach driver and drives a group of women, dressed up as Lucy to the "Third annual I Love Lucy Convention"
It's been rumored that Arnaz had a photographic memory, able to remember the scripts perfectly after reading them just one time.
The series is as of April 2006 the longest running program to continue airing in the Los Angeles area almost 50 years after it ended. Ironically, the series is currently aired on KTTV, which had given up the CBS affiliation several months before I Love Lucy premiered.
Joe Garner, Stay Tuned: Television's Unforgettable Moments (Andrews McMeel Publishing; 2002) ISBN 0-7407-2693-5
Bart Andrews, The 'I Love Lucy' Book (Doubleday & Company, Inc.; 1976)
Coyne Steven Sanders & Tom Gilbert, Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (William Morrow & Company, Inc.; 1993)