Within the fandom annals, before Gleeks and Trekkies roamed convention halls, there were — and still are — Lucy fans; a fervent bunch that communes frequently to pay homage to TV's greatest female sitcom pioneer. Like Frank Sinatra fans, it's easy to peg them as a blue hair bunch, however, Ball-dom pervades far beyond the Gen X crowd who grew up watching I Love Lucy reruns at their grandmother's house. Lucy fever, quite alarmingly, has also affected millennials like Glee hottie Dianna Agron, who days before Ball's Aug. 6 birthday, smartly referred to her co-star Jane Lynch on Jimmy Fallon as “our Lucille Ball — who I was obsessed with growing up. Am I the only one who knows who Lucille Ball is?”
Appropriately commemorating Ball's legend, the Hollywood Museum and CBS DVD celebrated the star's 100th birthday and I Love Lucy at 60 years by packing more fans at the Max Factor building Thursday than the orchestra section at a Lady Gaga concert. Folks respectfully ducked their heads so that stars such as Valerie Harper, Rip Taylor, Carolyn Hennesy and Ruta Lee could catch a glimpse of the surviving I Love Lucy legends on stage: Actress Shirley Mitchell (who played Marion Strong on the show), editor Dann Cahn, music composer Arthur Hamilton, writer Bob Schiller as well as daughter Lucie Arnaz, publicist Tom Watson, Desilu production executive Bernard Weitzman and Ball's personal secretary Wanda Clark. If there was an appropriate place to throw a ball for Ball, it was here – the building where the actress dyed her auburn hair to classic red during the run of her '50s sitcom. And the birthday party isn't over. Throughout this weekend, there will be Lucy festivities, from a Hallmark Channel marathon to a record gathering of redhead impersonators in Ball's hometown of Jamestown, New York.
Sprawled throughout the second floor of Max Factor until November 30 is a fresh array of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz memorabilia featuring hats from I Love Lucy, comic books, board games and costumes from her late '60s/early 70s series Here's Lucy. Today, Lucy merchandising continues to grace chocolate bar wrappers and Barbie dolls.
Everybody loves Lucy for myriad reasons: She was a physical comedic genius, the first female studio executive and a TV pioneer who created the concept of filming before a live studio audience. Even more so, per Watson, she was “the great common denominator with people. Unlike other stars like John Wayne, Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe who you had to go watch at the movies, Lucy came into our homes; she was a guest in my house.”
Ball adored working with the physical guys, i.e. Harpo Marx, Red Skelton, and even once gave her public blessing to a burgeoning John Ritter who guest-starred on the 1986 show Life With Lucy. However, she wasn't a natural, rather a perfectionist when it came to getting laughs.
“She believed that constant rehearsal would make her better whereas some of the great comedians like Jackie Gleason would do it in one take,” said Weitzman who also commented on Ball's savvy when it came to financing and championing such productions as Mission: Impossible and Mannix – shows which CBS initially wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. In a classic I Love Lucy clip below, Ball mimicked Marx. On Dick Cavett, she described that in order to rehearse properly, “they had to teach Harpo his routine” as he never remembered his schtick.
Arnaz exclaimed that her mother's approach toward comedy was, “You have to believe what you're doing. There has to be a 100% commitment to the predicament you're in and what your character wants. I think that's why that show (I Love Lucy) was so good, they never played it like it was funny — but believable.”
Earlier in the evening, Arnaz moved the crowd as she reflected on the Lucy revolution from its production technological breakthrough to pop culture phenomenon: “The truth is they (Desi and Lucy) wanted to stay together so that they could have a family…Everyone did it for all the right reasons: Not to be famous, not to make money, not to be better than another show…No one worried whether people were more talented then the next nor who had more lines. They just got in the sandbox and played — and I think that's the reason why this show has survived so long.”
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