When you think of I Love Lucy, a few images probably spring to mind. Lucy stomping on grapes, Lucy and Ethel stuffing bon-bons down their shirts, and Lucy attempting to say “Vitameatavegamin.” That last scene occurred on the 30th episode of the show, “Lucy Does a TV Commercial”, which first aired on CBS sixty years ago on May 5, 1952.
In the classic episode, Ricky is hosting a TV show and needs someone to do a commercial spot. Lucy begs to do it, but Ricky refuses, even after Lucy pulls apart their television set, climbs inside and demonstrates what a fine spokeswoman she would be. She schemes her way onto the show, and does take after take of the ad for the cure-all tonic “Vitameatavegamin,” which contains 23% alcohol. The more takes she does, the better the product tastes, and the harder it is for Lucy to stay on script:
I Love Lucy debuted 60 years ago on October 15, 1951 and within 6 months became the first TV show to be seen in 10 million homes. Today it’s still broadcast in reruns all over the world. The Archive has not only conducted interviews with many of the show’s cast and crew members, but with numerous other TV legends who were fans of or inspired by the popular sitcom.
Here are a few more little-known facts about I Love Lucy, straight from those who worked on the show:
THE SHOW’S SPONSOR WAS PHILIP MORRIS CIGARETTES, BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT DESI SMOKED Irma Kusely- I Love Lucy’s hairdresser
“Philip Morris was the sponsor. And Desi smoked Chesterfields. So I don’t know how they did that.”
NO I LOVE LUCY SCENE LASTED LONGER THAN 10 MINUTES Dann Cahn – Editor
“Ten minutes at a time. Each reel of film, of a load, was ten minutes. They timed a scene to be shot within ten minutes. They never ran ten. Seven, eight were the most… Then they’d entertain the audience and they’d do another one.”
“Sometimes he would fool us. We wrote it and he says, ‘he wouldn’t say it that way.’ I forget the word, a couple of them were like that … He never minded and there’s an interesting thing, he admitted years later, sometimes there’d be a joke that was based on American slang or something… And he wouldn’t know what it was, but he never let on … we’d do some little joke on that and he never said a word. He told me, ‘well, I figured you guys said it was funny, it was funny, but I didn’t know what it meant.’”
THE FAMOUS SHOT OF LUCY, RICKY, FRED AND ETHEL DRIVING TO CALIFORNIA (SEEN ABOVE) WAS THE FIRST PROCESS SHOT FOR TELEVISION
Dann Cahn – Editor
“I packed up and I met an agency in New York and I went across the George Washington Bridge and made that famous first process shot for television – which was when they went across the bridge singing “California Here We Come.” They were in the Pontiac with the top down, but they were sitting on the sound stage with the audience. And behind them was the what we called process film plate, which I shot out of the rear end of a station wagon of going across the bridge, and it was projected behind them on the screen. And that was the first process photography for television. Momentous moment, and it looked great, and there’s still stills all over the place of them on the bridge driving in the Pontiac, which you can buy anywhere.”
THE SHOW SHOT ON THURSDAY BECAUSE DESI LIKED LONG WEEKENDS
Ted Rich – Editor’s apprentice
“They’d shoot the shows – like on The Lucy Show, we’d shoot on Thursday. It’d start on Monday, but Desi wanted to shoot the show on Thursday because he loved to play golf and they had a home in Palm Springs. And they’d take off Friday and they’d go away. So they’d shoot the show on Thursday.”
DEAN MARTIN REFUSED TO REHEARSE
Ted Rich – Editor’s apprentice
“We had Dean Martin, coming on as a guest on the show. They were scared to death because Dean Martin would not rehearse. He would not come in at all. He did it spontaneous as he came on. And they – Desi Arnaz was so worried and Billy Asher was our director. They were so concerned, because sometimes, I don’t know whether it was true about whether he had an alcohol problem or what. You never know when you’re relaxed and you have an audience there. But they went ahead with the show because they had him billed for it and the script written for him and, by gosh, we filmed the show and Deanwalked right on and did his scene and it worked great and it was hysterical. But the cameras don’t know where he’s going to be or what and again, he’s saying that same thing, once he got on the set, stay with him. Because even though he’s doing that episode, he’s going to finish. If we miss Lucy or Desi Arnaz in something of the coverage – we can pick it up the next episode. It wouldn’t be a problem because the sets didn’t change that much. But it was scary in those kinds of situations when we had a person like that come on and you don’t know what to expect. It was a nail-biting time for them.”
RED SKELTON GAVE LUCY PANTOMIME LESSONS Jay Sandrich – Assistant Director
“One of the most interesting experiences I had is when we did an hour show with Red Skelton. There was a scene in a boxcar and they’re both hobos as they called them in those days, and he is doing a pantomime of eating a meal and she’s supposed to do it exactly the way he did it. So she stopped him in rehearsal when he started, and he was a great pantomimist and she said, ‘how do you do that?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know. I just do it.’ And she said, ‘no you, you’ve got to show me.’ He said, ‘well what do you mean?’ She goes, ’show me how you do it.’ So for about two or three hours, he tutored her. ‘Well you’ve got to feel that there’s a glass there. You got to feel the weight, when you bring it up to your lips and you’ve got to pretend like you’re swallowing the liquid.’ And she’d say, ’show me.’ And he’d do it, not quickly. He’d have to do it moment by moment by moment. By the end of those two or three hours, whatever it was, she was as good as he was.”
NOT ALL OF THE CHICKS SURVIVED THE “LUCY RAISES CHICKENS” EPISODE
Jay Sandrich – Assistant Director
“The other one I remember which was not a happy experience, we had a bunch of chickens, baby chicks and they bought them at the beginning of the week and they were in a box. And by the time Thursday came around, take the lid off the box, one of ‘em was big enough to crawl out of the box and crawl on the floor and one of the cameras rolled over it right in front of the audience. I mean the cameraman didn’t see it or anything, and try to get an audience to laugh after they’d just seen a baby chick run over. Horrible.”
ACTOR KEITH THIBODEAUX NEVER GOT SCREEN CREDIT AS LITTLE RICKY Keith Thibodeaux – Little Ricky
“No, never, never did… Well only thing I can guess is that they wanted people to think that little Ricky was their real son, Desi Jr., Desi Arnaz Jr. So whenever I did get mentioned, it was always, ‘Lucile Ball, Desi Arnaz, William Frawley, Vivian Vance, and Little Ricky,’ so it could have been Rin Tin Tin for that matter.”
- by Adrienne Faillace
For even more about I Love Lucy, click here to visit the Archive’s show page.
Tomorrow, August 6, 2011, marks Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday! Sadly, Lucy passed away in 1989, before the Archive of American Television was founded. Fortunately, the Archive has captured many interviews with her friends and colleagues in its collection. Here are a few selections:
LUCY’S HAIR DYE WAS KEPT UNDER LOCK-AND-KEY Irma Kusely – Lucille Ball’s Hairdresser
“Her hair color? I call it apricot but a lot of people think of it as red. It’s not red at all. It’s a golden apricot color. We used regular hair dye when I did her own hair. We then used as a balance, a henna rinse, which she was famous for. She had a safe of it in my garage … She loved to gamble and when we did a show in Las Vegas, she met a very wealthy sheik and he heard about her problem about the henna and he said he would send her the henna. And he did. She moved a box of henna which was in my garage but in the safe. There was a lot of it left when she left this world, but I had to give it to the estate. I don’t know what little Lucie did with it, maybe sold it for a million dollars. Just for a spoonful, can you imagine what I could’ve made with that?”
“The TV commercial was scripted. It took us a day and a half to get that name Vitameatavegamin, too. That was a tough one. The most amazing thing is that she didn’t use any cue cards. She did that whole thing in one take. Which she did a lot. She and Harpo Marx, same thing. They just did it, in front of the audience. They didn’t need any retakes, amazing.”
Watch the famous take below:
LUCY WAS ONCE ACCUSED OF BEING A COMMUNIST Dann Cahn – editor
“In those early seasons of I Love Lucy, we had the terrible Red scare, where they called Lucy a Communist and everybody was walking around in Hollywood afraid that we’d be called up before the House Un-American Activities Committee. They had to apologize to Lucy because she was no more red than her hair was, which wasn’t red. Her grandpa had been a Socialist, and somehow she had signed a card to the Communist Party for the old man to keep him quiet. That was a big scare for a week and Desi went out and made this wonderful speech [about how the only 'red' thing about Lucy was her hair].”
“LITTLE RICKY” COULD HAVE BEEN “LITTLE LUCY” IF LUCY HAD GIVEN BIRTH TO A GIRL Dann Cahn – editor
“And then the next big dramatic thing that hit the newspapers was Lucy went to the hospital for a Cesarean birth on a Monday morning and that night they gave birth to a little boy on the show. It had been decided weeks earlier that whatever Lucy had, and remember there was no testing, that the baby’s birth is going to be the same sex.”
STAR TREK WAS PRODUCED UNDER LUCY’S WATCH (WHEN SHE WAS PRESIDENT OF DESILU) Leonard Nimoy – actor
“I met her once or twice. She never came on the set but Bill [Shatner] and I were having lunch one day in the commissary and she came by the table graciously and said, “hi guys, you’re doing great work. Keep it up, thanks.” and left. I think the next time we met her was when we were asked to come to a reception for Charlie Bluhdorn who was head of Gulf and Western, who had just bought the studio from her in 1967. Some of us were asked to come and say hello to him and welcome him, and Lucy was there.”
LUCY LOVED TO PLAY BACKGAMMON Doris Singleton – Actress, “Carolyn Appleby” on I Love Lucy
“We were going to a party at writer Seaman Jacobs’ house and everybody was there. The doorbell rang and it was Lucy. I was very surprised to see her because nobody said that she was coming. Lucy comes in and says, “OK, where’s the game?” Like, in “Guys and Dolls.” I said, “What game?” She said, “June told me that it was a backgammon game.” She was crazy, crazy about backgammon. That’s what Lucy did all the time when she was not on the set. She’d go to her room and play backgammon with one of her stand-ins or friends — she had a group that were always on the show.”
To see more Archive interviewees discussing the legacy of Lucille Ball, visit her curated TV Legend page here.
Happy Birthday to Archive Interviewee Madelyn Pugh Davis! Born March 15, 921, Madelyn became known in the 1950s for her work writing on the I Love Lucy television series, alongside partner Bob Carroll. Watch the complete interview with Bob and Madelyn here.
About This Interview
Bob Carroll, Jr. (1918-2007) and writing partner Madelyn Pugh Davis, were interviewed for three hours in Los Angeles, CA. Davis and Carroll speak of their 50-year writing relationship that included writing for Steve Allen, as well as the decades of working with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and the classic I Love Lucy show.
When asked about working together, Madelyn said “We never had to argue about what was funny. We just argued about the temperature of the room.”
The interview was conducted by Tom Gilbert on November 24, 1997.
The complete season three of Here’s Lucy comes out on DVD tomorrow. This season featured some of the show’s most well-known episodes, including “Lucy the Skydiver,” “Lucy Cuts Vincent’s Price,” and “Lucy Goes Hawaiian, Parts One and Two.” The third season opener, “Lucy Meets the Burtons” featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was certainly the show’s most famous— it was also the series’ highest-rated episode. Variety called this episode “a fine example of situation comedy played to the hilt.”
“We did Here’s Lucy with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. They said they wanted to be on, and Lucy thought they were kidding.” — Madelyn (Pugh) Davis