Alex Escarano --
The Power of One*
Whenever I hear someone bemoan, "I'm just one person -- what can I do?" I think of our good friend -- and longtime We Love Lucy member -- Alex Escarano, who passed away in August, 1997. Never one to complain, Alex's motto seemed to be not "what can I do?" but "when do we start?" During his short 40 years, Alex was an artist, an actor, a writer, an environmentalist, an AIDS activist -- and always a Lucyfan.
I first me Alex in November of 1979. He had heard that Lucy was filming her first big special for NBC, and he flew to Los Angeles from Miami to be in the audience. He recognized me from the club publications, and we sat together at the show. Afterward, Lucy's secretary, Wanda Clark, offered to take me backstage -- and Alex tagged along. When I introduced him to Lucy, her eyes got real big and she called out, "Eh, Cubano!" giving him a big smile. (She always did have a special place in her heart for Desi's countrymen.) Lucy also signed a couple of beautiful 1940s glamour photos for Alex that evening.
Born in Havana, Alex immigrated to the United States in March, 1967, at the age of 9. The very first American TV show he saw was an I Love Lucy -- "Never Do Business with Friends." That's the show in which the Ricardos sell the Mertzes their old washing machine, and when things go awry Ricky spouts some colorful Cuban "spressions." Little Alex's ears picked up on those right away, and I Love Lucy became a habit.
Alex was soon enrolled at Citrus Grove Elementary School, and in 1975 was graduated as class president from Miami Senior High. He attended Duke University on a scholarship, and earned a degree in art in 1979.
After Alex's sojourn to Los Angeles, he returned to Miami -- but only long enough to tidy up his affairs. By early spring, 1980, he was back in LA, where he found employment at KTTV, Channel 11. To his delight, the station carried the syndicated reruns of I Love Lucy.
Come Thanksgiving, Alex noticed that one of KTTV's competitors was carrying a nearly full-day of back-to-back reruns of Twilight Zone. "Why can't we do something like that with I Love Lucy?" Alex asked in a station staff meeting. No one had ever done a Lucy marathon, and the few stations that had experimented with marathon programming of any ilk had done it with "cult" favorites like Twilight Zone and Star Trek. No one but Alex could imagine a full day of a single sitcom being successful.
Biding his time, Alex waited 18 months, then made his suggestion again. This time he proposed the idea as a "birthday salute" to Lucy -- who would be celebrating her 72nd birthday that August 6. Rather than merely showing selected episodes, Alex suggested the station have various celebrities appear on-camera to wish Lucy a happy day.
This time around, Program Director Don Tillman liked the idea and set aside 13 hours of airtime. Twenty-six half-hour episodes of I Love Lucy were shown, along with pre-taped birthday greetings from Gary Morton, Gale Gordon, Mary Jane Croft, Mary Wickes, director Marc Daniels, writers Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Eve Arden, Eva Gabor, Rose Marie, Richard Deacon, Steve Allen, Jack Lemmon, Red Buttons, Bea Arthur, Jimmy Stewart, and so many, many more. Alex produced and directed the day-long event -- and in some instances actually went to these stars' homes and personally supervised the taping of their messages.
KTTV, not surprisingly in retrospect, dominated the ratings August 6, "winning" at least half the time periods in which the Lucy Marathon aired. Word of the success spread throughout the industry, and a second Marathon was presented in 1984. Subsequently, the station aired shorter, more-traditional marathons, first on Lucy's birthdays and later on the Fridays of Thanksgiving Weekend. Other stations around the country followed suit and held Lucy Marathons of their own. Had Alex not persisted in his original vision, such comedy feasts might never have happened at all!
Alex also found fulfillment during these years as an actor and part-time comedy writer. He was seen in countless Spanish language commercials, and made guest appearances on such soap operas as General Hospital and Days of Our Lives. He wrote comedy material for The Joan Rivers Show and for Rick Dees' syndicated radio program.
Upon returning to Miami in 1987, Alex entered an introspective period as a full-time artist. He became a regular fixture at the Miami Beach Art Deco Festival, among other local art showcases. While concentrating on his art, his activism and role in AIDS awareness blossomed -- and a clear AIDS message was incorporated into each of his murals and paintings. He joined AIDS Action, a Washington DC advocacy and education group, and served as a national board member.
In 1993 he became good friends -- and later roommates -- with another young Cuban emigre, Pedro Zamora (photo, right), whom he met at the Body Positive Resource Center, a support and therapy group for HIV-positive patients. At Alex's encouragement, Zamora auditioned for, and became a member of MTV's The Real World -- and became an outspoken, highly visible AIDS activist himself. Zamora specialized in teaching AIDS awareness to teens, and after his death in 1994, Alex helped fulfill his commitments.
"Perhaps Alex's greatest contribution was as Pedro's mentor and communicating Pedro's message to youth when Pedro was no longer able to," says Judd Winick, a cast member with Pedro on The Real World in 1994. "Were it not for Alex, Pedro would never have gone on MTV, and our country would be that much less aware about HIV/AIDS."
Alex also concerned himself with the environment, and championed the cause of keeping Biscayne Bay clean. "He went to libraries, schools, and was in the Junior Orange Bowl parade as Don Diego," recalls his sister Cynthia. "He would tell kids that when he and Ponce de Leon first came to Florida, all the waters around Miami were clean and clear -- and asked them to help clean up the bay. He had so much love, and he gave 100 percent. He touched more people's lives than I ever could have imagined."
All of us at We Love Lucy are grateful for the brief time we had with Alex. His vision... his daring... his enthusiasm... inspired us all.
Muchas gracias, mi amigo. Viya con dios...
*Article, by Tom Watson, reproduced from
Lucyfan Magazine, (Winter, 1998/'99)
Photo, top: Alex admiring the "Lucy" artwork of
fellow fan Rick Carl, 1979.
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