October 01, 2011

Celebrating 60 Years of I Love Lucy

I Love Lucy premiered 60 years ago this month, and our adoration for Lucille Ball has only grown over time. To honor the comedian and her storied history with TV Guide Magazine (she's been on more covers than any other star), we asked her daughter, Lucie Arnaz, 60, to share some of her favorite memories of that period. Arnaz, an actress and singer, has kept her mother and father Desi Arnaz's legacies alive by donating scrapbooks and arrangements to museums and producing shows that honor the legendary couple. Currently, she is developing a tribute to the Latin music of I Love Lucy.

This is a big year for your mom, Lucille Ball. It's not only I Love Lucy's 60th anniversary, but the 100th anniversary of her birth. What's it been like?
Arnaz: Fabulous! There have been tons of celebrations, including at the Hollywood Museum, the Library of Congress and the Paley Center for Media. Even Google did a salute partnered with the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy that's in her hometown, Jamestown, New York.

Let's start from the beginning. You never appeared on I Love Lucy, did you?
Arnaz: My mother was pregnant with me in the pilot — does that count?

What's your favorite Lucy episode besides the pilot?
Arnaz: "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana" - It's a flashback to when Lucy and Ricky met in Cuba. My mom and dad have a drum duel in a nightclub and it is so sexy. When I [watch it], I see such an amazing amount of love and romance and sexual heat. There's powerful passion in their eyes even though in real life, they were close to divorcing.

Did your mom have a favorite episode?
Arnaz: She said she had two. The sweet one when Lucy has to tell Ricky she's having a baby, "Lucy Is Enceinte". The emotion of the scene got the better of them and they started to tear up. They thought they'd have to redo that shot, but everyone on the set said, "No, no, no!" The wild and crazy [favorite episode] was when Lucy dresses up as the Queen of the Gypsies, "The Operetta". She said, "I loved getting into costumes with my teeth all blacked out. I thought I looked hysterical, and I never had such a good time as with that silly-ass song and trying to hit that note."

Did your mother get a lot of pleasure from doing I Love Lucy?
Arnaz: It was her only pleasure! She and Viv, Dad and Bill had so much fun at work they never wanted to go home. She loved the whole process.

Did she feel that joy with her other TV shows?
Arnaz: My mother absolutely loved going to the studio every day and being that Lucy character. Nothing in her life ever made her happier, and that's why when it ended and she didn't have it anymore, I watched her deteriorate emotionally.

So many stories talked about how Lucy may have been the biggest TV star, but she still was a typical wife and mom?
Arnaz: A lot of that came from public relations people, but before I Love Lucy hit, she considered herself just a married woman with a gorgeous husband. She didn't cook very well but she enjoyed being in the kitchen and getting all homemaker-y. When they moved the radio show to television, she convinced [CBS] to put Desi on as her husband. She thought she was just getting a chance to work with her husband so he wouldn't be on the road all the time. Then the show took off like Seabiscuit and she never looked back.

Was your mom anything like her iconic on-screen character?
Arnaz: She was opinionated and professorial and not the person that you would expect. People thought she was like Lucy Ricardo. And she wasn't at all.

Do you love — and hate — I Love Lucy at the same time?
Arnaz: Yes. Of course I longed for those moments that I never had with my mother, just the ordinary stuff that other kids take for granted. That part was hard. The rest was wonderful.

When you look at the Lucy shows, what makes you most proud of your mother?
Arnaz: Unfathomable talent! She wrung every last bit of humor and fun out of everything they gave her.

You worked with your mom on "Here's Lucy" for six years. What were the most special moments?
Arnaz: When we were doing a dance number or singing. That wasn't her bailiwick, so I would be all excited and she would go, "I can't do this!" We would help each other. When we got it right, we'd be, "Yay! We did a dance together!" It was a wonderful bonding experience.

Why do you think people are still laughing at Lucy 60 years later?
Arnaz: The brilliant writing and execution! None of the actors played it like it was funny. They played it for real and [the audience] bought into it. It's the best medicine ever. My mom made a tonic that never had to be renewed. The date on it never expires. You can always drink it and feel better.

Which female comics today would make your mom laugh?
Arnaz: She would adore Ellen DeGeneres and Debra Messing. When I'm watching Debra, she reminds me a little of my mother. And Tina Fey!

On her centenary, what would you like to say about Lucille Ball, your mom?
Arnaz: I miss her — along with Dad — more than anybody. I just know that she had a great life and she was always grateful to all the people who loved her.

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