Wednesday, November 10, 2021

EP250: For Those Who Love Lucy

Ken does a deep dive into the history and making of the most successful sitcom in history, I LOVE LUCY. Bet you’ll learn things you didn’t know.

Note: I accidentally mis-identify two names.  See if you can spot them.  

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M Shayler said...

I have to ask; was it intentional or coincidence that this comes just as the trailer for Aaron Sorkin's "Being The Ricardos" drops. I'm skeptical about Nicole Kidman's Lucy. Let's hope Sorkin and company will do justice.

Mike Doran said...

In gratitude for four years of high school German:

Karl Freund's name was pronounced FROYND; it's the German word for friend.
Lucy had known Freund from her RKO days.
Desi brought him in to figure out how to make a Hollywood soundstage accommodate three bulky Mitchell film cameras and all the lights needed for the look and the audience.
Karl Freund spent most of a day explaining to Desi why this was impossible.
And Desi said to Freund:
"Papa, I didn't hire you to tell me it can't be done - I hired you to figure out how to do it!"
Freund joined up - and the rest you know.

Brian Phillips said...

Part of this podcast makes mention of laugh tracks. If you want to read a funny story about them, try "Laugh Track" by Harlan Ellison, which is in his collection, "Angry Candy", which has a lot of great stories in it besides that one.

Craig Gustafson said...

Herbert Hoover? Lon Chaney?

Additional fact - Lucille Ball had a comedy mentor during her time at MGM - Buster Keaton. They were close friends and he trained her in physical comedy.

They finally teamed in an otherwise horrible "tribute" special called "A Salute to Stan Laurel."

Excellent episode. But - you're *not* going to talk about "Camp Runamuck"? Then at least focus on the "Captain Nice" vs. "Mr. Terrific" controversy.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I admire Lucille Ball's many talents, but I never really loved the show. (She's very good opposite Harpo Marx in the copy of the DUCK SOUP mirror scene.) I enjoyed more seeing her in her early movie roles - particularly STAGE DOOR.

I do love the way Carol Burnett talks about her - Ball was apparently generous with advice and mentoring, and they were great friends. Burnett's birthday was a day or two after Ball died - and Burnett still got flowers from her that day.

I can't imagine a universe in which I'd want to see either Kidman's or Sorkin's take on her.


Bob backwards said...

Ken said he was at the Rhoda taping so he would know but here's a Youtube comment from the V. Vance episode:

"I"m glad the audience cheered when Vivian Vance came on but I felt the cheer could have/should have been louder. They clapped but clearly lacked the enthusiasm, reverence she deserved."

Fred said...

• A perfect episode to have had sponsorship from both the upcoming
Sorkin (starring 3 Oscar winners),
and the ongoing podcasts of Lucille Ball’s 240 episode 1960s radio interview show
• Look for a Bela Jr lawsuit!!!
• Pugh (with Carroll) and (posthumously) Oppenheimer both had memoirs
• Jordan Young’s The Laugh Crafters is an invaluable often hilarious interview book of comedy writers from radio/early Tv including
Lucy stalwarts Bob Weiskopf and Bob Schiller, plus Paul Henning, Irving Brecher, Charles Isaacs, Norman Panama, Sherwood Schwartz, Hal Kanter, George Balzer, Sol Saks, Larry Gelbart and Parke Levy
• The pod archive has his many fun long DesiLu and Lucy interviews
with many long-passed intimates
• Lucy and Desi showed the value of producing and owning one’s own work,
but also
¥ The downside of not using the best available technology — film instead of kinescope
assured the show’s future re-run viability, but they should’ve used color film
like Sgt Preston The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid
¥ The hazards of selling ownership too soon

Gary said...

Regarding the Rhoda audience's reaction to Vivian Vance, in those days applause and ovations tended to be much more subdued and dignified than today. And standing ovations were practically non-existant. Nowadays anybody off the street can be introduced, and the audience screams and goes wild like The Beatles just landed.

VincentS said...

Wow! An awful lot of information in that one, Ken. You really did you research. I enjoyed all the info, much of which I had never heard before. And, yes, I know the scene in MODERN TIMES you alluded to. But I think you meant J. Edgar Hoover, not Herbert Hoover.

Jeff Boice said...

Thanks. Back in 1952 my parents were among the first in town to get a TV set. Every week a large group of friends and neighbors came over to watch I Love Lucy.

Decades later the folks were taking a Caribbean cruise (they loved those cruise ships) and one time one the features was a gathering of some of the production people from I Love Lucy. Dad went and was bemused when the speakers talked about what a great guy Desi was. Many in the audience were NOT happy to hear any positive words about Mr. Arnaz- they loved Lucy but despised Desi.

Fred said...

Lucy pal and fellow Goldwyn girl
shows up in the episode where Desi sings the theme song

Pepper had great film/TV credits — even in bit parts, when drink and weight intruded—
but is best recalled as Mrs Ziffel on Green Acres

Among her starring credits in “A” Films
King Vidor’s
Wheeler & Woolsey’s
The neglected dark comedy,_He_Says

Frederic Alden said...

I picked up the two errors on Dracula and the FBI Director. This was one of the best podcasts, Ken. Pad it out a bit and you could take it on the college lecture tour, if there is still such a thing and times get tough.
One thing to keep in mind about ratings and number of viewers is that in the early 1950's many parts of the country got only one or two TV channels, all over-the-air of course, and may not have gotten CBS. I remember visiting relatives in the L.A. area back then and being amazed that they got 8 or 9 different channels.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Off Topic: Since today is Veterans Day, MeTV is showing the "M*A*S*H" finale with the accompanying retrospective. This is not an official F.Q., but Ken, do you get royalties every time this airs? And did you have to join SAG or AFTRA to film the comments? I may have asked this before. Just curious.

Happy Veterans Day to all the vets from every branch.


VincentS said...

BTW - Have a safe Veteran's Day and thank you for your service.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Unrelated: I happened to just discover that Disney Plus has a remake of Doogie Howser - set in *HAWAII*, Ken, apparently just for you, with a female Hawaiian teen juggling high school and her early medical career.

Anyone seen it?


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Also: inside the world of foley artists.


Mike Barer said...

That was an excellent episode. There was so much history covered. There were no audio clips and yet it had my attention for the full 45 minutes.
It is clear that you really did your homework for this episode.

thirteen said...

Re the reception for Vivian Vance, I think the studio audience must have already known she was there, so its reaction was subdued. Compare and contrast with the reaction to Tom Selleck's surprise entrance on Friends, when the audience went nuts and they had to stop rolling. (Plus, he was Tom Selleck, for cryin' out loud.)

Spike de Beauvoir said...

One of my favorite Vivian Vance stories, I think it's from a biography, The Other Side of Ethel Mertz:

Vivian's car broke down on a road trip and she knocked on the door of a nearby house to use the phone and call for help. The woman at the house had been ironing and watching I Love Lucy on her TV. She opened the door and saw the real-life Ethel on her porch, just as TV Ethel appeared on the TV screen. She looked from the real to the TV a couple times and nearly fainted till Vivian laughed and asked to use the phone.

During Lucy's days at the studio, Ginger Rogers's mother Leila ran improv workshops after hours for the contract players, and Lucy was an enthusiastic participant. I like to think of that freewheeling energy and the contrast with official studio PR showing screen tests, hair and makeup applications, diction lessons, and other controlled activities. Leila Rogers played Ginger's mother in Billy Wilder's The Major and the Minor, she was very good.

Gerry Whitehead said...

Hi,Ken!I met you ONCE in person at the K/MEN 35th anniversary Party.I was a radio jock also in the Bakersfield area for many,many years.My air name was Jim Diamond ,and we have a mutual friend,Doug DeRoo.The I Love Lucy bio was just great!I think you meant Bela Lugosi as Dracula,not Lon Chaney.(I think that Universal had him(Chaney) penciled in for Dracula,but Chaney died before filming began._Bob Harlow once told me a story that you saw Desi Arnaz on a movie soundstage .You hid from him and yelled "Ha Ha Ho Ho Lucy"!Desi yelled at you in his Cuban accent,"Hey,cut that Chit out"!I have written a book,called The Diamond Mine(Or,Confessions Of A Bakersfield D.J.)Let me know if you'd be interested in a copy!I also have some air checks of you as well as Truck Ken Stevens from KERN,Bakersfield,KYA,San Francisco,etc. Thanks,Gerry Whitehead(A.K.A.Ji Diamond)Bakersield

By Ken Levine said...


That Desi story never happened. I met him once in the elevator at CBS (of all places) and told him how much his show meant to me and he was very appreciative and gracious. That's it. A two minute pleasant conversation.

Gerry Whitehead said...

Thanks,Ken,for your prompt response!It's interesting how stories about celebrity meetings get stretched and distorted over the years!I had heard Desi was a great guy,and that if he wanted something out of one of his workers,he'd simply put his arm around him/her and call them "Amigo"!Whatever happened to Larry Balmahja,one of your co-writers on "MASH"?I had become friendly with him in 1973,when he was coming up here for week-end at KERN and KAFY(I was with KUZZ at that time).Speaking of Lucy,I bought my wife the entire "I Love Lucy"run on DVD some years ago.It's GREAT,not only does it have all the original promos for the shows,it's got a lot of the original network commercials.Happy Thanksgiving,Gerry(Jim Diamond)Whitehead,Bakersfield

JessyS said...

@ Jeff Boice

I think many in that cruise audience were not appreciative of Desi's contribution to television history given that he was basically the inventor of the modern filming technique which allowed for filming before an audience. Without him, there is no doubt that Cheers doesn't get made, at least before an audience. Getting a herd of animals into Rebecca's office, that is another story.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Finally got a chance to listen to this podcast, it's a wonderful overview of the show with lots of history and surprising details. I'm glad you brought out that Lucy and Viv were very close friends. Lucy commented often in later years about her appreciation of Viv's talent and that she could have become a great director. Thank you and I'd love to hear more podcasts focusing on classic sitcoms.