On the Ball

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American Masters: "Finding Lucy"
PBS Television

It was with a great deal of excitement and anticipation that we approached PBS' recent broadcast of "Finding Lucy," an entry in the network's esteemed American Masters series. Finally, we thought, a documentary that will give the great lady her due -- and examine not just the chronology of her life, but explore her art and craft, and help explain just what it was that made her an American "master."

Alas, a few minutes into the program, we discovered that this was to be merely another re-telling of the "Lucy-Desi love affair," which has been done two or three times already. (Lucie Arnaz's Emmy-winning "Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie" is by far the best!) While it is true that Lucy's relationship with Arnaz was a very important element of both her life and career, it was not the end-all and be-all of the woman herself. We expected a little more introspection from a PBS program, especially one entitled "American Masters" -- perhaps some insights about the lady's genius or art.

Equally disappointing, the documentary totally glossed over the later years. Lucy's second husband, Gary Morton, was hardly mentioned -- even though she was married to him a decade longer than she was married to Desi. The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy may not "hold up" as well today as I Love Lucy, but they were extremely popular when they were being made, and deserved more in-depth coverage.

But there were also some glaring holes in what was presented. I Love Lucy creator, writer, and producer Jess Oppenheimer was given very little credit for his massive contributions to the show -- it was he, for example, who convinced CBS to do the pregnancy stories, not the Redhead (as this program would have us believe). Writers Bob Weiskopf and Bob Schiller were not mentioned at all!

On the other hand, we did enjoy seeing some of the new footage that the producers unearthed from the film vaults -- and many of the interviews were great (although there were many "voice-overs" that were unidentified, so the viewer had no idea as to who was speaking). We especially enjoyed Maury Thompson's recollections about "the Lucy company" being "a family," and Fran Drescher's comments about the little, very human, very real gestures that Lucy-the-actress added to a scene.

Overall, we rated the presentation as a "nice try," but the quintessential Lucy documentary has yet to be made!

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