August 03, 2005

A nostalgic look at Lucy versus Lucille

Baby boomers are turning television shows from the 1950s and '60s into gigantic DVD profits. Just take a glance at the best selling DVDs of old television shows from January through June of this year. The top shows were "Hogan's Heroes," "Brady Bunch," "I Love Lucy," "Gilligan's Island," "Andy Griffith," "Green Acres," "Lost in Space" and "Star Trek."

A diligent search of programming on any given day will usually produce an episode from almost all of the top shows. They may have stopped writing new episodes, but there isn't a moratorium on the rerunning of old ones. Roaming around in the wee hours of the morning, you can catch up on your favorite episodes of "I Love Lucy."

Not even the most rabble rousing feminist could take offense at the show for it was always presented as pure farce at its best but you can make a case for viewing it in the context of women's studies. No matter what the plot twist from episode to episode, the main theme never varied.

Ricky Ricardo earned the money. Lucy Ricardo spent the money. Ricky was a star. Lucy was a housewife. When they played turnabout, Ricky would prove that men who earned the bacon never had to learn how to cook it. Lucy would come to understand that the only role she was born to play was that of wife, mother and goof up.

The weekly dénouement was close to a faithful portrait of the proper role of husband and wife in the thinking of the time. After some hilarious caper Lucy would learn that it was a jungle out there and that Ricky was the lion and she but a pussycat.

Lucy would promise to be a good little submissive housewife; he would promise to remain her big strong protector. Everyone lived happily-ever-after or at least until the next episode when Ricky would have to teach her the same lesson all over again.

What makes looking back on "I Love Lucy" days so fascinating is what we now know to be the contrast between their reel roles and the roles they played in real life. On screen Desi Arnaz played Ricky Ricardo as competent, strong and dependable - someone the little lady could always count on. He was the undisputed authority figure in their castle.

Lucille Ball played Lucy Ricardo as a bubblehead. So lacking in business acumen was our Lucy, her inability to balance a checkbook was good for at least one laugh on every show. Lucy, who yearned for stardom, only got to perform on the wicked stage courtesy of husband Ricky, the real talent of the family.

But what was life like back at the ranch where Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball really lived? Those up on Hollywood lore know it was Jane not Tarzan who ran that operation.

Desi had talent and production savvy but he also had a chemical dependency. It was Lucille's boundless energy, creative spark and extraordinary talent that made the show click week after week. A brilliant businesswoman, Lucille not only managed to amass a fortune, she was one of those rare celebrities wise enough to keep it.

Lucy and Ricky are a fun couple to drop in on when ever we are lonely for the '50s. For nostalgia's sake, we will always love Lucy as the queen of the clowns. But as a role model, we should be much more attuned to the aspirations of Lucille - wife, mother, comedienne and business moguless-with-the-mostess - on the ball.

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