Wanda, center, poses with actress Melody Thomas Scott
and Ms. Thomas' daughter, during Jamestown visit.

Wanda Goes to Jamestown

For Wanda Clark, Lucille Ball's personal secretary of 27 years, it was a trip of a lifetime: she'd been invited to take part this past August in the annual "Lucy Birthday Celebration" staged by the Lucy-Desi Museum in Jamestown, New York. "I had heard Lucy talk about Jamestown, Celeron and the park at Midway countless times," Wanda confessed. "She had such fond memories of the area -- I just had to see it for myself."

And see it she did! When not needed for one of the official Museum functions, she was proud to be "just another tourist." "I did not sit in my hotel room," she reports proudly. "I rode the tour buses, went out to see the house in which Lucy grew up, saw the highschool, saw the new Lucille Ball Memorial Park, and visited with some of the townspeople. I wanted to see it all."

Wanda was guest of honor at a special breakfast held at the Wright Conference Center in downtown Jamestown. Museum director Ric Wyman hosted, and the two fielded questions from the sold-out audience. They also screened an episode of Here's Lucy in which Wanda made a cameo appearance -- as a secretary. "That was Lucy's idea," Wanda confided. "I never would have volunteered for that!"

Wanda, who started with Lucy in 1963, shared memories about her years with the Redhead -- and how the two came together in the first place. "Cleo Smith, Lucy's cousin, introduced us," Wanda recalled. Wanda, who grew up in Oklahoma, had relocated to Los Angeles and was working at Look magazine, where Ms. Smith was also employed. When, Cleo left the publication to produce Lucy's new CBS Radio series ("Let's Talk to Lucy") and discovered Lucy also needed a secretary. She recommended Wanda. Wanda stayed with Desilu Productions and its successor, Lucille Ball Productions, until February1990, when the office closed.

"I had regular business-office duties," Wanda recalled. "I handled her personal and business calendar, arranged transportation, took care of fan mail, lined up interviews and publicity photos…Everyday was an interesting experience, and I enjoyed the variety."

"Lucy never asked her staff to do any job she couldn't do herself," Wanda explained. "She loved her work. A lot of people termed her a perfectionist, but I do not see that as a bad thing. She simply wanted things done correctly. Fan mail was very important to Lucy. We'd send out stacks and stacks of autographed pictures every year -- even after we stopped producing the shows, the reruns stayed on and the mail never stopped." Lucy, of course, was not "all work and no play," according to Wanda. "She loved to laugh and have fun, loved to play games like 'Hangman' and 'Scrabble.' When she took up Backgammon, it became a real passion."

Because of her association with Lucy, Wanda came into contact with most of the guest stars that appeared on the show. "Donny Osmond did a show when he was 13 or 14," she recalled. "He had a crush on little Lucie, who was 17 or 18 at the time. It was one of the cutest shows we ever did. There was a sweetness to those shows, unlike a lot of shows today."

"Lucy loved to tell a story about Jack Benny, who was her real-life next-door neighbor," Wanda said. "The family was sitting around the dinner table and Jack just walked in the back door with his violin and strolled around the table a couple of times, playing. Lucy was on the floor, laughing about that."

Even though I Love Lucy had ended by the time Wanda arrived on the scene, she got to know the cast members well. The rumors that Bill Frawley was always drunk and that Vivian Vance and Lucy did not get along are all untrue, she said.

"Those kinds of stories people love to pass on. They simply aren't true. Lucy and Vivian were very close. When Vivian was terribly ill, Lucy visited her. She drove up to her northern California home and it broke her heart. But they were very good friends and respected each other's talents. Vivian was so wonderful in the show. The more I see them as the years go past, the more I realize how good Vivian was. And Lucy knew that.

"William Frawley… he wasn't an old crank around the set. He did his job and he did it very well. He didn't socialize with a lot of people, but that's no (big deal). The story seems to be that he drank a lot, but he never drank on the job. After I Love Lucy ended, he spent several years on other (Desilu) shows, like My Three Sons."

"Lucy loved Gale Gordon. I'll tell you, Gale was probably the nicest gentleman in Hollywood. I did know him very well. He could do anything they asked him to. Lucy didn't even want to try to do a show without Gale Gordon in her cast. He was just wonderful."

As for Lucy and Desi themselves? He would come around to visit the children, so Wanda saw them together often. "I guess they just couldn't live together and maintain a healthy marriage. But she never said anything bad about Desi. She respected him and appreciated the work he did with her. And Desi was the most charming man."

Lucy passed away in 1989. "It was very sudden," Wanda recalled. "Less than a month before she died, she appeared at the Academy Awards with Bob Hope, looking glamorous and beautiful and full of spirit. That's the way I will always remember her."


Wanda visits with actress Isabel Sanford,
another guest for the Jamestown weekend.

 



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