Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The 'I Love Lucy' Book

If you've seen my blog, then you know the story of Lucille Ball. Now here's the story behind the series that made her a LEGENDARY household name, 'I Love Lucy' Book.

While television itself was still in infancy, I Love Lucy became America's FAVORITE obsession. No Joke! After Feb.15TH, a pilot for CBS HAD TO be done. The first thing needed was a format for a script. The network wasn't overjoyed to have Desi involved in this Lucille Ball series. Because of his extensive background, CBS wanted/hired Jess Oppenheimer to work his TV "magic" on Lucy/Desi's new show. Due to timing, Jess and the other writers decided to utilize pieces of Lucy/Desi's vaudeville act in the pilot.

When the pilot was beginning to be shot/filmed, nothing had been singed legally. CBS execs sought Desi and attempted a "Power Play" (Sign the contracts as is or no show). Calling their bluff, Desi was right, the studio paid for everything. Originally the show was to be shot in NY which was no reason for it. To make things easier, the show settled to be set in Manhattan, while remaining in Hollywood. Since CBS refused to put up $5,000 remainder fee and Lucy/Desi would get 5,000 between them + 50% off all rights, they took a salary cut and FULL ownership of the show. It was Desi's idea - which had NEVER been done before was to shoot before a live studio audience.

After the Lucy/Desi characters were fully set/ready, the writers came up w/ an older married couple. Lucy had originally wanted Gale Gordon and Bead Benaderet for these roles but they were both contractually obligated elsewhere. After little Lucy was born, Lucille received a call from someone asking "if there was a role for him in her new show". It was William Frawley.

When Desi had originally met w/ Frawley, he was hesitantly fearful to cast him, due to William's insobriety. In 1951, after already appearing in over 100 films, William was a familiar face and considered a plus for 'I Love Lucy'. After doing a play in 1945, Vivian Vance suffered a nervous breakdown, then she suffered from two seizures and became incapable of doing anything but follow her husband around. Then she met a woman physiatrist who changed her life. With more than 20 years of stage experience and training behind her, Vivian had what it took for a TV show. Once the show became a hit, Vivian was displeased w/ her portrayal of Ethel Mertz. She also hated the idea of being cast as Frawley's wife due to uncertainty and age. (He was 64 and she was 39.) Many times during the "Lucy" run, production had to be called due to Bill's refusal to co-operate, since the William-Vivian feud that ranged for the FULL "Lucy" run.

The TRUE challenge was early on when 3 writers were required to crank out 1 episode per week (40-50 pages). With everything set, all they needed was a location to film. When Lucy explained how much this show meant to her/respected his work, her said "yes" (Karl Freud). After much search, the studio officially settled  on General Silver Studio as a set for the show. After the deal, reports said it was the HIGHEST ever, predicting a pattern for the future. Eight days prior to the first camera shooting, construction to build the set began. A man at CBS took a huge gamble to be production manager; if the show picked up, he was fine - if not, he would be out of a job, since quitting work on 'Ozzie & Harriet' to do 'Lucy'. After a few days, a whole new team was assembled.

When it was time to officially shoot the pilot, a long line of people began forming along Romaine Street "Desilu Playhouse". Inside all of the executives sat/seen the show wondering if where their money had gone too. With nerves everywhere, Lucy settled to make Vivian comfortable by making her laugh. NOW was the moment of TRUTH w/ Lucy's career on the line. All Lucy remembered from that night was trying to protect her stomach since she gave birth to Lucie just prior by Cesarean. Everyone was nervous for a reaction from testers. Days later, the show aired and they never looked back.

On Monday 10-15-51, @ 9:00p time slot 'I Love Lucy' debuted on CBS. Before the episode actually started, spokesman Phillip Morris presented the first "Lucy" commercial. Afterwards starting the 'I Love Lucy' pilot, immediately following. The next day the reviews came in to incredible reviews. During the weekly morning meetings, Lucy had a marvelous sense of what worked and what didn't. If something was wrong, she couldn't sense it, but felt something was missing/wrong. They fixed it. During a dinner break, the ENTIRE crew discussed the episode, from 8-to-10, sometimes as late as 1 AM. In a 'Time' magazine cover story, the phenomenon of 'I Love Lucy' was analyzed and said "Lucille Ball's low comedy and antics dethrown such TV Veteran headlines as Milton Berle and Arthur Godfrey.

Instructed by her doctor, Lucy was insisted to spend the weekends resting due to exhaustion. Business was good. Plans had gone underway for 'Lucy' to be produced into a radio show, but too many complications came. By May, 11 million American families were invited to the Ricardos/Mertzes. The April 7TH airing broke a TV record w/ 'I Love Lucy' being the first TV show to be seen in 10 BILLION homes. When it came to the CLASSIC 'Vitameatavegamin' ad, people couldn't keep from laughing. Another CLASSIC scene from 'Pioneer Women' where Lucy bakes her own bread w/ too much yeast. After the filming was over, the GIANT loaf was cut into huge slices and given to the crew to take home.

The 'Job Switching' episode was quite a challenge. Hiring a candy maker from Cee's Candy Store - a real pro. There was ALOT of similarities to the real-life couple Lucy/Desi & Lucy/Ricky. Desi's fractured English was NOT written into the script. Ricky's Spanish outburst were merely an extension to the REAL Desi Arnaz. When Lucy found out she was pregnant, Desi was worried about the status of the show and what would happen. The producers thought it was great! It was a perfect segue into season 2. In the July 18, 1952 edition of 'TV Guide', it was stated that Lucy's pregnancy would appear on the show. Featuring a seven episode constituting her "expectancy". CBS found it a nicer word. One episode shot during Lucy's pregnancy was the CLASSIC 'Job Switching' episode.

For 6 weeks, newspapers were responding like crazy when it came out that the Ricardo's baby be "born" that Monday. Without meaning to be crusaders, the Arnazes did manage to lift from the shoulders of all expectant mothers a load of embarrassment and gaucherie.Mail that reached Desilu was more pro-than-con. Hundreds of thousands were encouraging, only 207 letters were disapproving. Quietly on Monday, Jan. 19Th, Lucy gave birth to a boy, Desi Jr. Everyone was elated! Newspapers went wild across the world - seven minutes after the baby's birth. The following day after when General Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated a president, Walter Winchell mentioned her on his report. When 29 million people witnessed that, 44 mill. seen Little Ricky's birth. The arrival of Little Desi sent the popularity of the series to an all-time high. In 1952, sponsored merchandise sold like crazy. The show used a set of twins and paid $25.00 each per show to pose as Little Ricky. The remainder for the 1952-53 season was hectic.

In 1953, it was assistant director Jerry Thorpe's job to find a set of twins to play Ricky Jr. But child labor laws prevented the company from fully utilizing these kids' talents. After Desi seen these kids, he signed them for the show. There was NOT ONE person interviewed for this book, who did not agree that most of the credit for the show's superiority and success goes to Lucy. William Frawley rarely socialized w/ anyone connected to the show off-set. In spite of poor reviews, lower ratings, the Communists scare and a handful of mediocre episodes, the show took top honors as the 'Most Viewed Show' in the '53-'54 season.

In the five years that Jess Oppenheimer was on the show, there was maybe 3 times that they didn't finish a story idea they started on the same say due to it taking longer than usual. But it also helped ALOT that they had ALOT of backlog scripts from 'My Favorite Husband'. The situations for which they wrote for Lucy to be in the ideas came from REAL life. "If I could do it, Lucy could" situations that COULD happen in real life. There was NO QUESTION about the fact that Jess (Oppenheimer) was the creative force behind the 'Lucy' show. Everyone was always worried about who was doing what and who got credit for it. As the shows successes grew, so did clashing egos.

The use of guest stars coming in helped the slightly faltering 'Lucy' ratings. An interesting financial negotiation took place in the forth season. For the inherent promotional consideration, GM agreed to pay Desilu 5,000 cash to cover the added production costs some exterior shooting involving the car. GM also tossed in 5 Pontiac's, 3 of which went to series' writers. On March 8TH, 1955, sponsor Phillip Morris announced it was dropping 'I Love Lucy' after the June 27TH telecast. Reasons due to trying new concepts at a lesser costs. 'Love Lucy' completely changed Lucy's memorization. From a movie actress, she had trouble remembering lines. She found a quicker way w/ co-operation from the writers. The show was filled w/ factual errors and oversights that could easily have been corrected.

Bill Asher
With new blood coming in, one key staffer was about to leave. Bill Asher, who directed a ton of episodes including classics, left due to not feeling no creative control anymore. Although Desi toyed w/ the idea of having 'Lucy' in it's fifth season, he decided that he had had enough to do already. Outside of situations w/ kids, the shoot w/ John Wayne went smooth as glass. Overseas in 1955, the British LOVED Lucy and it had become a way of life all over the world. As 1955 came to a close, Desi had already developed into a top-flight executive and TV tycoon.

William Frawley's outspokenness set a general rule, he couldn't be in front of press without a chaperone. He was also a familiar face at sporting events. Charles Boyer's appearance did call drama on-set. One episode that needed NO fixing was in Rome and the grape stomping. The big concern was for Lucy to not get hurt during the fight scene w/ Theresa Tuelli. Interestingly the MOST hilarious scene in the show - Lucy's fight w/ Teresa was NOT in the script. The last Europe episode was Lucy on a plane carrying cheese as a baby to not pay a fee. After this episode, Jess Oppenheimer left the show w/ Desi as a primary reason.

To add to his responsibilities since Oppenheimer, Desi assumed the role of producer in season six. Desi Arnaz, Jr. whom, in a way, was portraying the real kid who played Little Ricky reacted to "competition" . He had an identity problem. He wanted desperately to be better at something - anything - than the boy he was playing.

With the new hour long episodes, an enlarged budget pleased Vivian due to a change-up in costumes since she was sick of being in the frumpy clothes. It really did make her feel better. For an episode of an hour long, Desi signed one of Lucy's old classmates in school, Bette Davis. But an incident stopped her from actually appearing on the show. Bette's replacement was one of Lucy's idol's - Tallullah Bankhead - A real nightmare - but she was really great. CBS had initially acquired 179 episodes in re-runs. Desi was ready to sell. He borrowed the money from the Bank Of America to but RKO Studios for expanding productions. For the episode 'Lucy Goes To Sun Valley' shot at a lodge @ 5:30AM, but afterward, sending it back to the studio. 2 Days later, the studio called frantic wondering where the film went. Only to show up 3 months later unprocessed at Desilu's station.

It was after completing 'Lucy Goes To Sun Valley' Bob Carroll, Jr. and Madelyn Martin quit. They felt they had exhausted each  'Lucy' premise. They were brain weary. Vivian Vance had trouble being in the spotlight. For 8 years, she was in the shadow of Lucille Ball. She was the sued in 1959 for a divorce by husband Phillip Ober. To saver her faltering marriage, Lucy planned a trip on a French ocean liner. Tensions built between Lucy and Desi. Putting up a front at the studio. Lucy and Desi tried to desperately maintain a friendly relationship. It failed on Desi. Desi went to the Bank Of America, borrowed a few more million and bought RKO so he could expand and put more to work. As director, Lucy was lost w/o Desi. Since Lucy was at a loss, she let Desi take over and he got the revue ticking like a clock. Before 1959 was out, Lucy wanted to sue for divorce. The last Lucy/Desi outing was titled 'Lucy Meets The Mustache'. Ironically the last scene Lucy/Desi ever played together seemed to explain their REAL life marital problems. Backstage, there was no hope or smiles. It was over for Lucy/Desi. After the episode aired in April 1960, their divorce was old news. "TV's/America's favorite couple" had offically ended.

My Three Sons
Lucy admits that Desi drank and went out w/ other women, but she didn't worry soon enough. Desi Jr. contends that his father aged 10 years because of pressure from the television industry. Bill Frawley accepted an offer from ABC 'My Three Sons' . William Frawley died of a heart attack suddenly on 3-3-66. Vivian Vance remarried to a literary agent on 1-16-61. She became active in the CT Association For Mental Health and was awarded for her dedication. In 1962, Lucy ran into Vivian Vance Dodd. Lucy told of a new script . Six months later, they were in Hollywood filming 'The Lucy Show'. Desi produced it and made Lucy feel welcome. Even though everyone was together again .      .      . once it's broken, can't be fixed. In 1979, Vivian & John moved to Belevedre, CA. It was there that Vivian lost her life to cancer in 1979. There are Countless Lucy addicts out there. The popularity of the series knows no age barrier.

                                                       We Love Lucy!

What was 
YOUR Favorite Lucy episode out of this ICONIC series?


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