You’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do if you’re not celebrating 70 years of I Love Lucy.
Television’s most enduring comedy began on Oct. 15, 1951. With the help of showrunner Jess Openheimer, Lucille Ball, who bounced from RKO comedies to chorus girl roles in movies, turned a radio hit into a TV sensation. She did it because of, not in spite of, being cast (at her insistance) opposite her real life, Cuban-born husband Desi Arnaz. The black-and-white CBS series quickly established Ball as arguably the 20th century’s biggest female comedy star.
I was born shortly after I Love Lucy ended a six season run in 1957. Yet throughout my childhood, well into the ’60s, you could watch it several times a day. This was back when you had to walk up to the set and turn the channel, of which there were at most, 12 options. You can still watch the series daily in the Greater Toronto market on Hamilton’s CHCH.
While not all episodes have aged well (“Hey Rick — how’d Lucy get that black eye? You take a belt at her?”) its ratio of non-PC moments is no worse than more recent shows such as, say, Friends. It remains way funnier, as well, thanks to Ball’s remarkable gift for physical comedy.
Four of the six original seasons it was the most-watched show on television and it never finished a season out of the top-three. Read Programming Insider Marc Berman’s tribute to I Love Lucy in Forbes online for all kinds of Lucy facts and trivia, including who the original choices were to play neighbours Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance).
All this month, TCM has made Ball their “Star of the Month” by programming many of her feature films every Thursday night. The Atlanta-based classic movie network is also currently showcasing Ball on the third season of their podcast The Plot Thickens. Ben Mankiewicz hosts this audio review which, over several chapters, follows the Jamestown, N.Y. actress from her early years as a model to her triumphant takeover of television.
Speaking of podcasts, Ball can also be currently heard on SiriusXM’s “Let’s Talk to Lucy,” a re-cut of a radio series she did in the mid-’60s. Ball takes her act on the road, dropping in on movie star pals such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin but also on a few rising stars of the day such as Barbara Streisand and her friend Carol Burnett. Ball felt it was time her fans heard from her directly rather than as the zany redhead she played on television, and many episodes find the actress getting downright philosophical in her approach to mid-life.
Finally there’s even a feature film biopic about Lucille Ball in the works. “Being the Ricardos,” written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, will star Nicole Kidman with Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. Produced by Amazon Prime Video, it is set to be released later this year.