January 29, 2011

Hallmark Channel's 24-hour Marathon of "I Love Lucy"

As part of their month-long Countdown to Valentine's Day, The Hallmark Channel is presenting a 24-hour marathon of I Love Lucy episodes beginning with season four's LA at Last on Saturday, January 29 at 5am/4c and continuing on through to season six's Desert Island.

At the beginning of the 24-hours of I Love Lucy, comedy's original fab four travel to Los Angeles where Ricky (Desi Arnaz)has been cast in a movie about Don Juan. Temporarily moving the action from New York's nightclub scene to Hollywood, these episodes hold special significants because they mark the beginning of a career-long tradition from Lucille Ball, in that they features a number of Ball and Arnaz's real-life celebrity friends in guest appearances as themselves. The celebrity guests often served as a way for Lucy and Desi to promote other projects associated with their Desilu Production company.

In LA at Last, which first aired on February 7, 1955, Lucy schemes to meet William Holden. Of course Lucille had already met Holden some years prior when the two starred in 1949's Miss Grant Takes Richmond. Also making a cameo in this episode is Eve Arden, Lucille's longtime friend an co-star in 1937's Stage Door. At time this episode aired, Arden was starring in CBS's Our Miss Brooks, another Desilu Production, which co-starred Gale Gordon. Gordon, as any Lucy-geek like myself knows, played Lucy's husband's boss on radio's My Favorite Husband, the precursor to I Love Lucy. He also guested on I Love Lucy as Ricky's boss at The Tropicana. Gordon would also go on to co-star with Lucille in each of her three subsequent series.

Following LA at Last are Don Juan and The Starlets and Lucy Gets in Pictures. Then there's more celebrity cameos in Fashion Show. Lucy, desperate to belong among the Beverly Hills ladies decides to visit the exclusive salon of designer Don Loper, who appears in the episode as himself. Lucy can't afford the dress, but learns of a celebrity wives fashion show. Lucy schemes her way into the show which also features real-life celebrity wives Sheila MacRae (Mrs. Godon MacRae), Brenda Holden (Mrs. William Holden), Jeanne Martin (Mrs. Dean Martin), Frances Heflin (Mrs. Van Heflin), Marilyn Tucker (Mrs. Forrest Tucker), and Mona Carlson (Mrs. Richard Carlson).

Then it's Hedda Hopper, famed gossip columnist as herself in the appropriately titled The Hedda Hopper Story. This episode also features Kathryn Card as Lucy's mother, Mrs. McGillicuddy.

Ricky's movie gets canned in Don Juan is Shelved, then, in Bull Fight Dance, Lucy gets another shot at fame when MGM asks her to write a story about what it's like to be married to Ricky Ricardo. While this episodes doesn't feature any celebrity guests, it is memorable for the bull fight dance in which Ricky sings about Fernando the Fearless. When Lucy arrives on stage as a very effeminate-looking bull, she upstages Ricky and gets all the laughs.

Kathryn Card is once again on-hand for the Hollywood Anniversary episode, during which Ricky sings The Anniversary Waltz.

In The Star Upstairs, while writing in her diary, Lucy calculates that she's met 99 stars while in Hollywood and needs one more to make it an even 100. Ethel (Vivian Vance) reads in a gossip column that a famous movie star is staying nearby in a hiding place that begins with Beverly, so Lucy's hot on the trail. With the aide of a bellman, Lucy eventually tracks down Cornel Wilde, who's staying just above her in the penthouse of the Beverly Palms.

Still more stars appear in the remaining Hollywood episodes, including: Rock Hudson, Van Johnson, Harpo Marx, Richard Widmark and John Wayne.

With the marathon reaching the halfway mark at 3:30p/2:30c, we join the gang at the end of season five when they return to New York, but only temporarily. Up next, they prepare to leave for Ricky's European Tour. While in Europe, Lucy meets Charles Boyer, gets a Paris gown, tries escargot, battles a dragon, climbs the Swiss Alps, stomps grapes, bikes the banks of the French Riviera, gambles in Monte Carlo and disguises a piece of cheese as a baby in order to smuggle it onto the plan for the return home.

As the Hallmark marathon continues into the wee hours of Sunday morning (3am/2c), Lucy and the gang return to New York, where Ricky tries desperately to keep her from stalking his upcoming nightclub headliner, Bob Hope. The episode titled Lucy Meets Bob Hope marked the debut of season six, as well as the first appearance of Keith Thibodeaux as Little Ricky. The role had previously been played by much younger actors, Joseph and Michael Mayer.

Elizabeth Patterson appears in her eleventh and final I Love Lucy episode as Little Ricky's elderly babysitter, Mrs. Matilda Trumbull in Little Ricky Learns to Play The Drums. While curmudgeonly Fred Mertz (William Frawley) is featured throughout the series, this episode in particular showcases the actor at his very best.

Then it's a cameo by Orson Welles in Lucy Meets Orson Welles. Next up, Little Ricky Gets Stage Fright. Then Lucy and Ricky get a surprise visitor when Jay Novello appears as Mario Orsatti, a Venetian gondolier they met in Italy.

With only a few more episodes to Hallmark's I Love Lucy marathon, the gang head on yet another road trip, this time to Florida. Ricky, Fred and Little Ricky decide to head to Florida before the girls in order to get a head start on some deep sea fishing. When Lucy and Ethel can't find their train tickets, they decide to share the ride to Florida with Mrs. Grundy (Elsa Lanchester), a woman who's looking to share the cost of the trip. While en route, a radio news report puts fear into the girls' minds when they think their driving companion is none other than hatchet-weilding murderer. Problem is, Mrs. Grundy thinksLucy and Ethel are said murderer and her accomplice.

Once in Miami the girls scheme to catch a bigger fish than the boys in Deep Sea Fishing. Lucy and Ethel stir up a whale of a tale when they cheat by buying a huge fish. Of course, things get slippery when they need a place to hide it.

Hallmark's day-long I Love Lucy marathon comes to a close on Sunday morning at 5:30a/4:30c when the girls try to keep the boys from judging a beauty contest in Miami by stranding them on an island during a boat ride. While on the island, Ricky and Fred go in search of civilization and discover a huge Island native in the form of Claude Akins, who's on the island filming a movie. At Ricky's request, Claude scares the girls. The episode also features cameos by Joi Lansing and Jil Jarmyn. At the time this episode was filmed Joi had just been cast in Desilu'sThe Fountain of Youth, a TV pilot directed by Orson Welles. Despite winning a Peabody Award, the pilot was never greenlit and aired only once as part of the Colgate Theatre in 1958. Lansing's I Love Lucy co-star, Jarmyn, at the time of filming was a recurring character in the long-running crime drama, The Lineup, yet another Desilu Production. With that, the 24-hour I Love Lucy Saturday/Sunday marathon comes to a close.

I Love Lucy airs as part of Hallmark's weekday schedule with two back-to-back episodes Monday-Friday beginning at 6am/5c.

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