October 24, 2011

Memories of Lucy and Desi

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s daughter,
Lucie, recently donated hundred of pieces
of her family’s history to the Library of Congress,
and it is on view through January.
From the day "I Love Lucy" debuted in October 1951, families took the show and the characters to their hearts. For the next six years, they gathered around black and white sets, doubled over in laughter, as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and their neighbors clowned and cavorted in zany situations to the Latin beat of Ricky's band.

The winner of four Emmy Awards and multiple nominations for the show and its stars was followed by "The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show" from 1957-1960. Today the most beloved couple in television continue to bring joy to the world in syndication. Best of all, their legacy is preserved by the Library of Congress in an exhibit of their lives and accomplishments.

Last Saturday, the 60th anniversary of "I Love Lucy" and the 100th birthday of Lucille Ball were honored by BABALU!, a celebration of their lives and gifts of music. It was hosted by their daughter, Lucie Arnaz, and set to music by their son, Desi Arnaz, Jr., in an evening of their father's brilliant and lively orchestrations performed by the Desi Arnaz Orchestra.

"I had stored 20 some boxes of my father's music, including 300 of his charts, in my garage for years not knowing whether to give them to the family, donate them or trash them," Lucie said. "I wondered if they were valuable and remembered that he always said, if you don't know what to do, don't do anything.

"One day I was chatting with Michael Feinstein and he told me I should have them archived at the Library of Congress. Along with the music, I had 110 scrapbooks of the family from the 1930s to the 1970s. I took Michael's advice and contacted the LC. Roy White came to my house in New York and arranged to have them picked up. The items in the scrapbooks were glued to paper, which isn't good. They even preserved them."

Although Lucie is not a historian, she regards everything she has done for her parents' legacy a necessity. She was so unhappy about the show CBS aired in their memory, calling it a "slothful, tabloid piece," that she set to work to discover why all their success didn't make them happy.

"I began by interviewing people who knew them well like Van Johnson, Ann Miller and their makeup artists," she said. "It was a tempestuous marriage, but I wanted to know why he drank and she played backgammon at the end of their lives. I looked at home movies going back many years and saw amazing footage."

She approached NBC with her findings. The result, a documentary that was as cathartic to her as it was a joy for their fans, won an Emmy Award.

"I was trying to tell the truth and to be as objective and journalistic as I could," she said. "Some of the story was not pretty, but it was balanced with love."

I Love Lucy: An American Legend
Where: Library of Congress, Foyer of Reading Room LM113
When 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. through January 2012
Info: Free to the public.

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