December 04, 2017

‘I Love Lucy’ Fun Facts You Haven’t Heard Before

From the article of the same name for the Entertainment section of definition.org on October 20, 2016 by Murray Newman.

There was once a famous American television sitcom aired from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957. The sitcom became first of many things. It is the first scripted TV series filmed with 35 mm. film in front of a live studio audience. It was also the first show to use the three-camera format. The show is none other than I Love Lucy. Amazingly, those firsts were not even the most impressive parts of the show.

These are just whispers of the things that you need to know. We bring you these 40 fun facts about I Love Lucy that you haven’t heard before.

Desi Arnaz was to be named Larry Lopez when the show was first being put together. The name was only changed to Ricky Ricardo because producers thought Larry and Lucy had horrible alliteration.

William Frawley and Vivian Vance, who played Fred and Ethel, were more than two decades apart in age in real life and that disparity caused some real friction on set. Reportedly, they didn’t get along and would constantly call one another names. It wasn’t until years after the show went off the air that their costars realized the tension they were around every day.

Lucille Ball’s iconic red hair didn’t exist until 1942. She dyed her hair for the movie DuBarry was a Lady. Her original hair color was brown. She only dyed it blonde when she first came to Hollywood. She would become known for her bright red hair, but that wasn’t what she looked like naturally.

The show was shot in front of a live audience that included 300 viewers. It was done from the first shoot until the last. Amazingly, there were a lot of “one take” scenes. Desi Arnaz later claimed that Lucille Ball works better if there are real people in her front watching her performance. You can actually hear the lyrics to the theme song in the episode “Lucy’s Last Birthday.” It’s the only episode to do this!

The lyrics are: “I love Lucy and she loves me. We’re as happy as two can be. Sometimes we quarrel but then. How we love making up again. Lucy kisses like no one can. She’s my missus and I’m her man. And life is heaven you see. ‘Cause I love Lucy, Yes I love Lucy and Lucy loves me.”

Desi Arnaz is probably the best in the industry when we talk about being prepared for every single scene. His incredible memory allowed him to read and memorize every one of his lines in just one script reading. Staffers on the show say he never messed up his lines despite very little preparation for every single scene.

Do you remember the famous grape stomping scene with Lucy? Turns out Lucille was actually choking on the grape, but continued to film. Once the cameras were off, the crew realized she was actually choking and came to help. If you want to track down the scene, it was in the episode “Lucy’s Italian Movie.”

Lucille Ball was featured on the very first ever cover of TV Guide. However, she was not just featured on that one alone. In fact, she would go on to be featured on 39 covers throughout her career. That’s more TV Guide appearances than any other celebrity. Given the fact that she revolutionized TV sitcoms, she is most certainly deserving of this honor. With so much hype the show did something that no other series had ever done.

This is one of the most popular scenes of the series and perhaps in all TV history. As Lucille Ball pretended to become increasingly drunk on the special product, she was actually downing a bunch of Apple Pectin. Lucille Ball didn’t like filming the scene and it was only years later that she admitted it was actually a very funny moment on the series.

The Ricardos’ best friends and neighbors got their names from people close to Lucille Ball. Fred came from the star’s brother (who himself was named after grandfather) while Ethel was named after Broadway star and Ball’s friend Ethel Merman. Coincidentally, Ethel actress Vivian Vance was an understudy for Merman years earlier.

Frawley’s portrayal as Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy will do down in TV comedy history, but he reportedly could not memorize his lines so well. He would get so frustrated with his lines, that he would supposedly rip out pages from the script and complain about having so many lines in each episode.

I Love Lucy ended, still ranked #1 on television, in 1957. The series has only become a bigger part of the pop culture consciousness since. It’s still show in syndication all over the world, with episodes watched by 40 million Americans a year alone. In addition, merchandise with Lucy’s iconic red locks continues to proliferate.

Whenever Lucy got herself into a crazy situation, someone off camera can be heard saying, “Uh-Oh!” That person is Lucille Ball’s actual mother and she was present at every filming. The sound producer for the show, Glen Glenn, even used the “Uh-Oh!” for other shows!

In order to get the show filmed on the most expensive – and therefore best – type of film possible, Ball and Arnaz both took pay cuts so the production crew could afford it. The series was so popular during it’s initial run that parts of American life would simply shut down while it aired. Telephone and water usage would dip dramatically for the program’s half-hour duration, and even department stores would shut their doors early due to lack of customers.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz demanded the show be filmed on 35mm film, which is expensive, and in Hollywood instead of New York City. CBS wasn’t convinced but the couple settled their differences by getting ownership of the series. Desilu Productions, formed by them, made about $40 million from this move, which is a lot more now…try $256 million in today’s economy.

The episode of Lucy giving birth to “Little Ricky” was viewed by over 70 percent of all U.S. households and had higher ratings than the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ironically, the storyline coincided with Lucy’s reali-life pregnancy of Desi Arnaz, Jr.

Lucille Ball initially did not want to make the jump from film to television. But then, she had a dream featuring Carole Lombard — a comedic actress and deceased friend — who convinced Ball to “take a chance” with the TV gig. Ball listened to her friend in the dream, and it obviously worked out.

Desi Arnaz’s accent got a lot of attention on the show, but if anybody other than Lucy made fun of the way he spoke, those jokes were usually met with silence from the audience. It was an unwritten rule on the show that only Lucille Ball could make fun of Desi’s pronunciations.

When the CBS executive approached Lucille Ball to turn her popular radio show “My Favorite Husband” into a TV show, she immediately agreed if her condition was granted. Her condition is that her real-life husband Desi Arnaz must be given the role of her on-screen hubby. Executives said there was no way the average American would believe she was married to a “foreign” man with an accent they couldn’t understand. At that point Lucy and Desi had already been married for more than 10 years.

William Frawley was such a huge baseball fan – of the New York Yankees no less – that his contract stipulated that he could miss work if the Yankees were playing in a World Series game.

While Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance ended up becoming close friends, it did not start that way. In fact, Ball began the show questioning if Vance could play her part in a comedic way without taking the spotlight from her. The good news is that they patched thing up as the series began.

William Frawley had a reputation for drunken binges and crazy antics, which caused much hesitation on behalf of the others to work with him. Desi Arnaz, however, knew Frawley was the best casting choice, but gave him one stipulation: never be late. Frawley, in all the time on the show, never missed a day.

All four main actors received wide-spread acclaim for their work, but it was Desi Arnaz who never received an Emmy nomination. William Frawley received five noms, but never won. Lucy and Vivian Vance both won for their roles, though Vance was far behind Lucy who won four times on 13 nominations.

I Love Lucy producers had to keep changing the phone number used on the show so that they weren’t numbers actually being used in service. The Ricardos had two phone numbers, while the Mertzes’ ended up with four different numbers.

One tradition of the show that lasted until the very end was that every time an actor could get the audience to erupt into spontaneous applause, that person was given a silver dollar after the scene.

Desi Arnez would often skip rehearsals and table reads to attend to Desliu Studios business. However, the actor was always able to memorize his lines after reading the script, and would deliver them perfectly at tapings. Arnaz would even memorize other character’s lines to make sure everything was on point.

During the filming in 1952, Lucy became pregnant and the regulations were put in place to use the word “expecting, not “pregnant.” So a minister, priest and rabbi (no joke intended) went through and reviewed each and every episode in order to ensure no viewers were offended by the pregnancy.

After Lucille Ball gave birth to their son, Arnaz wanted to give his wife a chance to rest at home without having to film the next episode. So he somehow convinced the network to basically air previous episodes again. Henceforth, the TV rerun was born and has since been a staple in the industry.

When Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced in the early sixties, she assumed control of Desilu and became the first woman to run a major television studio singlehandedly. She proved successful, turning numerous hit shows, and eventually selling the studio for millions of dollars.

When Ball first began acting, she thought a name that sounded famous would help her take on new Broadway roles. She chose the name Diana Belmont, after the famous Belmont Stakes racetrack on Long Island, New York.

The reason why there were only a few retakes is because every single line on the show was scripted. Lucille Ball revealed later: “We never ad-libbed. We never ad-libbed on the set when we were putting it together. It was there.” Even during Ball’s famous Vitameatavegamin scene every single word was scripted and cue cards (just like in a real commercial) were used to make sure Ball didn’t forget a single line. By the way, the “Vitameatavegamin” was actually apple pectin.

The initial plan of the producers was to create a show for Ball and Arnaz that would mirror their real lives. However, the stars did not agree. They thought their celebrity lives wouldn’t be relatable. Instead, they wanted to create something new and unique.

After the show ended and Ball and Vance were making some rounds in the talk show circuit, Lucille revealed she had made “joke contracts” that demanded silly things like, “Vance must gain five pounds every week and she must never get more laughs than Ball.” Think of all the dessert Vance could have had though?

While some celebrities love to feature their children in episodes or other productions, Lucille Ball was opposed to the idea. That is why her kids — Lucie and Desi, Jr. — never appeared on an episode of I Love Lucy. Years later, the kids had no regrets of not being part of the show, which is something some parents should keep in mind.

Lucy was the first pregnant woman to ever play a pregnant woman on TV. Before the show, the idea of intimacy was often shied away from and Ball definitely did not want to hide her growing belly.

When it came to naming characters on the series, Lucille Ball seemed to prefer the personal touch. Over the course of I Love Lucy’s run, characters were named after her grandfather (Fred), a roommate (Marion Strong), a teacher (Lillian Appleby), and close friend (Pauline Lopus).

When they weren’t filming or running the production studio, Ball often led a very normal life as she enjoyed gardening, painting, and taking a dip in the pool. Seems like their “every-guy” persona from the show translated to real life.

In order to keep up the illusion for young watchers of the show, in the episode titled “Superman,” famous actor George Reeves appeared as the titular character, but instead of giving the actor credit, Ball wanted his guest star name to be displayed only as “Superman” in the credits. Reeves agreed.

When President Eisenhower was sworn in, millions of Americans tuned in. But when Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky in the “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” episode, more people tuned into that than the inauguration. Lucille Ball, America’s favorite TV personality.

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