Still in Love with Lucy
by Thomas Watson
Monday, September 17, 2012
Dear Fellow Lucyfans,
Just Reminiscing: the Lucy-Desi Shows...
In last Monday’s newsletter, I mentioned that CBS Home Entertainment is preparing to re-release its DVDs of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour in new packaging (photo, right). Included are all 13 of the specials that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz headlined between 1957-60, again playing Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Vivian Vance, William Frawley, and Keith Thibodeaux also repeated their respective I Love Lucy characters.
Over this past summer, I had reason to view all 13 of these programs multiple times each for a special project on which I was working… For me, it was something of a wonderful reunion with some old friends – not just the Ricardos and the Mertzes, but the programs themselves.
I am one of the few people I know who remembers seeing these programs when they were originally telecast on CBS in the late 1950s. Like many people, I later “rediscovered” the shows over the summer of 1962 – 50 years ago!!! – when CBS repackaged them as a weekly series, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. (Prior to this, they were known as The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, or more informally as "the Lucy-Desi hour shows." Hollywood insiders called them, "the Lucy-Desi Jumbo Shows.")
As many Lucy fans on other web sites have frequently commented, not all of the programs were created equal. Some are wonderful, some are very entertaining, and a few are… well, let’s just say, weaker than the rest.
My all time favorite has always been “The Celebrity Next Door,” the show in which Broadway legend Tallulah Bankhead moves into the house next to the Ricardos, and quickly becomes involved with Lucy’s shenanigans. The script was originally written with Bette Davis in mind, but she was not available, and how lucky we are that the storyline was quickly adapted for Miss Bankhead. She and Lucy are priceless together.
The weakest of the 13 is probably the last, “Lucy Meets the Mustache,” with guest stars Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams. It was filmed in the early spring, 1960, and everyone at Desilu (except maybe Ernie and Edie) knew that this would be the Arnazes’ very last show together, and everyone was understandably sad… The script itself is a little weak, and I just discovered one of the reasons why: the Hollywood writers' guild was on strike that spring (for 6 months!!!) and Desilu did not have anyone around to punch up the scenes during production.
Moreover, “Mustache,” like a handful of other episodes, was not filmed in front of an audience… This was a mistake. Desilu had pioneered filming comedies like this in front of a studio audience, and one can certainly “feel” the difference. The actors simply do not have the same energy as they did in the programs that were filmed with 350 people watching and giggling.
I loved watching The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour almost as much this summer as I did 50 summers ago… Back then, of course, we all knew that CBS was merely warming-up Monday to be “Lucy” night again… Miss Ball’s new series, The Lucy Show, was waiting in the wings to premiere on October 1. (Ah, the sweet anticipation...)
Because The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour was filling in for the vacationing Danny Thomas and Andy Griffith series, CBS started the summer show with the 1958 episode, "Lucy Makes Room for Danny." The rest of the shows were not aired in any particular order. Fifty years ago tonight – on September 17, 1962 – the series ended with “The Ricardos Go to Japan.” (Only 12 of the shows were presented that summer; a Girl Scout Jamboree special had been scheduled for September 24th.)
What many fans don't realize is THIS would be the second-ever network showing for “Japan” – just as the 1962 showcase gave us the second-ever glimpse of “Lucy Wins a Race Horse,” “Lucy Meets the Mustache,” and my aforementioned favorite, “The Celebrity Next Door.” None of these had been repeated during the 1957-60 era! ("Lucy Wants a Career" was not shown for a second time until the summer of 1963!)
The ratings on the summer show were, of course, “through the roof” – and CBS scheduled the series again during the summers of 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1967, after which it – and I Love Lucy itself – went into syndication.
Speaking of I Love Lucy, it has always fascinated me that this program – these characters, these actors – were so popular in the 1950s that even after the half-hour series ended production in 1957, repeats of the show continued to air in primetime on CBS every week during the 1957-58 and 1958-59 seasons.
So while we were seeing the periodic Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show specials (approximately every 4-6 weeks), audiences also got to see the Ricardos and Mertzes in their earlier adventures every Wednesday night (during 1957-58) and Thursday night (during ’58-59). (Again, many of these half-hour programs were being aired for only a second time!) Finally, in January, 1959, I Love Lucy became a five-times-a-week daytime show. And the ratings on all of these soared.
I’m a little sad right now… My summer project is ending almost 50 years to the day after my summer “visit” with the Lucy-Desi shows ended in 1962… But, of course, this time it's different: this time I have the DVDs that allow me catch up with these old friends whenever I want…
All the best…
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