The following article and sidebar were originally published in our We Love Lucy newsletter #10, in December, 1996.
DANN CAHN REMEMBERS:
The First 'I Love Lucy'
Dann Cahn recalls
getting Lucy’s first show
on the air 45 years ago
In a time when new television programs seem to come and go in a matter of weeks, it’s a little mind-boggling to realize that I Love Lucy has been with us now for 45 years!
Yes, the program celebrated its 45th anniversary on October 15, 1996. The truth of the matter is TV (and radio before it) has always been a rather volatile medium driven by the maxim that no one ever really knows what the public will like. Lucille Ball knew what a "crap shoot" starting a television series could be -- and was eternally grateful that the American public fell in love with her show almost from the very beginning.
Getting any show up and running can be a logistics nightmare for the people in charge, and I Love Lucy was no exception. "The team" in those days consisted primarily of Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh, the creative trio who had written Lucy’s radio program, My Favorite Husband, and who had also conceived the premise for the TV show. Oppenheimer, who had served as producer-director of the radio project, would serve as producer of I Love Lucy as well.
Assembling a staff was Oppenheimer’s first chore that summer. Al Simon, who had been working with Ralph Edwards’ production company, signed on to serve as Desilu’s production manager; Karl Freund, an award-winning cinematographer Lucy knew from her MGM days, was persuaded to try his hand at television; and Marc Daniels, a noted director of "live TV" dramas in New York, agreed to direct.
To edit the show, Daniels suggested a man named Alan Jaggs, who unfortunately did not have the 8 years "apprentice" experience then-required by the editors’ union. Oppenheimer then asked a creative young man named Bill Asher, who himself was trying to get yet another TV project off the ground. Asher declined, but suggested a friend of his, Dann Cahn -- who at that moment just happened to be finishing a movie assignment. Cahn said he could be available after Labor Day. Cahn it was.
(Jess never forgot Bill Asher -- a year later, when Marc Daniels decided to move on to another assignment, Bill was brought in to replace him.)
Real estate was another problem. Lucy’s rather crude pilot or audition film had been produced the previous March in a converted radio studio at CBS’ Columbia Square facility. For the actual series, Desilu would need its own dedicated space. Unfortunately, most of the big motion picture studios at that time considered television a major competitor, and refused to rent a soundstage to a fledgling -- but promising -- video operation.
Finally Desilu found adequate room on a small Hollywood movie lot called General Service Studios. They knocked out a wall, laid a new floor, added bleachers for the audience, and began building sets for the first Ricardo apartment. Space was so tight that they decided the Ricardo bedroom would "double" (with different furnishings) for the Mertz living room.
Production began Saturday, September 8, on "Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her." The cast attempted to film the show "straight through" like a Broadway play, with few breaks between scenes. Because Lucy was featured throughout, she layered her costumes for the first few scenes, then played the last scene with a raincoat over everything else. The company quickly realized this would never work for the full series, and beginning with show number two, they allowed for costume changes between scenes.
That second episode, "The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub," in which Lucy and Ethel dress up as hillbillies to fool their husbands, proved so much more entertaining that Philip Morris and CBS decided to air that one first. Everyone was thrilled with putting their "best foot forward" -- everyone except Dann Cahn and his assistant Bud Molin whose job it was to edit the scenes and give a show its timing, pacing, and overall "patina." For them, the switch was a potential disaster. It meant they had even less time than they had thought to get the premiere show "on the air."
Dann, then his mid-twenties, was the closest thing Desilu had to "an old pro" as far as "filmed TV" was concerned -- he had helped to edit one of the medium’s first film anthologies for 6 months back in 1949. Molin had been a friend of Dann’s since both had "served time" in the editing room at the low-budget Republic Studios in the late 1940s. Working fast and for long hours was nothing new to either man -- but this last minute switch was a real challenge.
Dann recently recalled, "Bud Molin and I were putting in 14-hour days and it was obvious by the time we started editing that second episode (to air first) that we needed help. We got a young eager apprentice from USC film school by the name of Gary Freund (not related to Karl).
"We had a nice old timer, Hal Hodge, based across the street at Consolidated Film Labs, to cut the negative. We still needed someone to smooth out the laugh tracks after editing and put in a few sound effects and cut the music. Al Simon, the production manager, thought that because we had "the Monster" (the 4-headed Moviola), Bud and I should have time to do it all ourselves. I said, ‘It’s impossible!’ on the schedule we were operating on. At a meeting with Simon, Jess Oppenheimer and Desi Arnaz, Desi made a crack, ‘Danny, you want to have a cutting room staff as big as my band!’ A year later we did.
"Jess had been spending more time with me in the cutting room than the others and could see that Bud Molin and I needed help."
Dann enlisted the aid of another old friend from his movie days, Quinn Martin, who was busy editing the voice of "Francis, the Talking Mule" for a Donald O’ Connor picture at Universal. Quinn was reluctant to give up a "sure thing" movie assignment for a TV gig that could end after a couple of months. "I twisted his arm (ear) on the phone," Dann recalls today, and Quinn came in for an interview. He not only agreed to join the Desilu staff as a music and sound effects editor -- he stayed with the new company nearly ten years and became one of its most successful producers.
But that was all down the road. In 1951, Quinn and Bud and Dann set their sights on getting I Love Lucy on the air. As Cahn recalls, "The I.A.T.S.E. contract in those days was for a six-day work week. Bud and I added a seventh day to our endeavor and got that second show, which was shot on Saturday, September 15th, ready for the premiere in less than four weeks. (Editing, music, sound effects, optical camera work and titles, dubbing, negative cutting and answer print.) We got two 35mm prints out of Consolidated Film Laboratories on Friday, October 12th. One for the West Coast and one for New York and the East Coast. No jet planes in those days. The New York print made it with just hours to spare. We also ordered 16mm backup and delayed-broadcast prints.
"On Monday, October 15th, I Love Lucy was scheduled to debut on CBS. Emily Daniels, who was the camera coordinator as well as the wife of Marc Daniels the director, had invited me to their home to see the premiere and have a late dinner. After a full day’s work, I drove to the Daniels’ home deep in Laurel Canyon. Crowded around the TV were Lucy, Desi, Vivian Vance with her then-husband Phil Ober, the writers Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr., the head writer/producer Jess Oppenheimer and his wife Estelle.
"Talk about unsophisticated television transmissions. The 16mm backup print ran in sync with the 35mm broadcast print in case something happened to the broadcast print in transmission. Somehow the sound on the Los Angeles backup print got turned on during the broadcast of the premiere. It was running three or four sprockets ahead or behind the 35mm picture transmission. With both sound tracks going at one point, on ahead of the other, the dialog sounded like it was being transmitted from a pair of speakers on a football field.
"When the sound went out during the show and then the sound doubled up, I thought Desi was going to have apoplexy. We all had a lot riding on this and Desi had risked a lot to have the show made on film. Now he might have been wrong. He looked at me. I looked back. What did I know? The answer print had been fine.
"On Tuesday, October 16, 1951, the Daily Variety in an otherwise fair review noted, and I quote, ‘I Love Lucy...suffered two annoying fluffs, once the sound was completely lost and later, as if to make up for it there were two voices talking at the same time...’ It was a shaky kick off!
"On Wednesday, October 17th, Weekly Variety came out. The technical goofs were not mentioned because they only involved the Los Angeles broadcast. The New York transmission must have gone well because it was a glowing review. It started out --
‘CBS and Philip Morris fell heir Monday night to one of the slickest TV entertainment shows to date. Its the new Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz I Love Lucy situation comedy, which the cigarette company has installed in the Monday Night at 9 period. It’s costing PM $30,000 a week (exclusive of time) for the half hour film series. (Without even enjoying benefits of residual rights, which revert back to the packagers), but on the basis of this weeks preem installment, it should sell lots of cigarettes. ...it’s a slick blending of Hollywood and TV showmanship, for which much credit belongs to Karl Freund masterminding on the camera and Marc Daniels on the direction. Lucy is a hang-over of sorts from the ex-CBS radio series, My Favorite Husband, with Jess Oppenheimer again heading up the writing brigade (along with Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr.) with Oppenheimer also producing and turning in a top quality job on both to match Daniel’s directorial skill.’"
It was an auspicious start for this rather unusual new television venture. For Lucy and Desi, it meant maybe the gamble on television had not been so foolish after all. For Dann Cahn, it was, as he put it, the start of "the most exciting and successful decade of my life."
In the Beginning:
A Different Beginning!
When I Love Lucy originally aired on CBS (10/15/51-6/24/57), the opening titles were much different than the satin-heart-with-script-writing that we have seen for years on the reruns. The original presentations were introduced by little Lucy and Ricky animated stick figures; the title was printed within a heart, but the lettering was in a free-hand block style. (The figures appeared again at the end of Act I in short animated sequences that led into and out of the mid-break commercial.)
Why were these elaborate animated productions eliminated? Because the stick figures normally popped out of a sponsor’s product -- a pack of cigarettes, a can of shortening, etc. In those days one or two sponsors normally picked up the entire tab for a series. Once the show went into reruns, it had multiple sponsors (as most all programs do today), making the animated openings obsolete. (The script-heart version, as a matter of fact, was created as early as 1951 when the show was first offered for sale to Canadian stations -- which booked their own sponsors.)
The first animated openings were produced by Dudley Television Corp. to the specifications of the Milton Biow Advertising Agency on behalf of Philip Morris cigarettes. It was then Dann Cahn’s job to integrate the sequences into the weekly shows, as filmed by Desilu. Dann wrote about the task in the November, 1995, issue of Cinemeditor magazine, which has graciously allowed us to reprint the article in full:
The Animated Opening of
I LOVE LUCY
by Dann Cahn, A.C.E.
The animated opening to each episode of I Love Lucy presented a genuine challenge to the editorial department. Every week we had to prepare a different integrated billboard to introduce the show. In the illustrations above, the animated stick figures of Lucy and Desi were on a scaffold. An alternate billboard had them putting up a marquee and, in still another, they were working searchlights.
In the above opening, Johnny, the bellhop, begins the process with his "Call for Philip Morris!" Then the stick figures descend on the scaffold and "I Love Lucy" is revealed, followed by the two figures rolling up the cigarette pack to reveal the opening scene of the episode.
Today, this type of opening would be easily generated as computer effects, but in 1951, all of this had to be assembled each week on an optical printer using fine-grain masters. It was slow and complicated. The schedule dictated that each week the optical would have to be composited on a Saturday to make the air dates.
Originally, Larry Glickman, head of Pacific Title, was hired by Al Simon to do the optical printing and title work, but Larry felt the job didn't justify working Saturdays. Darrell and Howard Anderson had an optical printer set up at the General Service Studios where we were filming, so I laid out my schedule for them. Saturdays were not a problem. They got the job and they did it well. When Desilu started a second series, Our Miss Brooks, we gave them that job also. Thus began a long partnership between the Howard Anderson Company and Desilu. As the Desilu empire grew, so did the Howard Anderson Company -- and the association continued through the legendary Star Trek series.
Originally published in the November, 1995, issue of Cinemeditor. Used by permission of Dann Cahn, A.C.E., and American Cinema Editors, Inc.
Photos included in this article were made from original videos through the courtesy of Rob Vale of Videostill.
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Original material © 2005 Lucyfan Enterprises.
I Love Lucy is copyrighted by and a registered trademark of CBS Worldwide, Inc.
Images of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz used by permission of Desilu, too, LLC.
Licensing by Unforgettable Licensing, Northbrook, Illinois.