January 31, 2010

Lucy Special: "Lucy Calls the President" coming to DVD

Fans of Lucille Ball, know that she created a number of TV specials. Although she had appeared on game shows and commercials during the running of I Love Lucy, it was in the 1960s and 70s that the networks created one-hour TV specials featuring Lucille Ball with a well-known guest star.

One of these great TV specials aired on CBS in November, 1977, "Lucy Calls the President". Lucille Ball plays, Lucy Whittaker, who decides to call President Jimmy Carter during his weekly radio show and bring up a topic of local Indiana civic importance. He tells her he will be in her area, and will visit her to discuss the matter. Later, the plan is changed to a dinner with the President at Lucy's house, and everyone she has ever known demands to be invited. Lucy finds herself in many situations from chaos in the kitchen to cases of mistaken identity.

This special was more or less, a bittersweet Lucy Show reunion as it featured most of the regulars from that show. This was also the final appearance of Lucille Ball with Vivian Vance. Vivian had already been diagnosed with Breast Cancer and was receiving chemotherapy treatments and had suffered a stroke, which left her face partially paralyzed, just a few months prior to filming this special. This was also the last time Lucille worked with Mary Jane Croft and Mary Wickes. Lucy had also just lost her mother, DeDe, in July 1977, four months prior to the shows airing, and was visibly distraught at her mother's absence in the audience.

MPI Home Video now brings this Lucy Special to DVD, coming to retail on April 6th.  Bonus features include previously unseen Dress Rehearsal footage with Lucy along with the cast as well as a featurette with guest actor James E. Brodhead and other rare Lucy footage.

Last year, MPI brought us a double-feature of Lucy Specials, "Lucy Gets Lucky" and "Three for Two", which was previously featured here on the Everything Lucy blog.  In these specials, Lucy stars with one of her favorites, Dean Martin and Jackie Gleason.

This special was released last year in June 2009.

I'm sure we can look forward to seeing more of the Lucy Specials being released and becoming part of our complete Lucy collections.

You can purchase both of these DVD's from Amazon through the links provided in this article, or visit the Everything Lucy Store to purchase these DVDs and many more great Lucille Ball DVDs and collectables.

January 29, 2010

Celebrate Valentine's Day with Lucy and Desi!

Celebrate Valentine's Day with Lucy and Desi!  The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center is offering a romantic Valentine evening Saturday, February 13, at the Lucy-Desi Museum and at Roberto's at the Ironstone.

The evening begins at 5 p.m. at the Lucy-Desi Museum, with cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and a tour of the Museum. There'll be romantic music, featuring local musician Steve Swanson, and then a screening of a film starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. There'll even be an opportunity to have your photo taken to commemorate the evening.

Leave the Lucy-Desi Center with special souvenirs of the evening...a lovely long stemmed red rose for the lady, and a wine glass filled with chocolate hearts for the gentleman.

Participants will then proceed to Roberto's at the Ironstone for a Valentine's meal that includes a choice of four entrées, beverage, and dessert selection.

This special Valentine fund-raising treat is limited to 25 couples. Price per couple, $99, including tax and tips.

For reservations, call the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center at 484-0800 ext. 249.

January 24, 2010

Vivian Vance Scrapbook Found

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle, details how a never-before-seen scrapbook that was owned by Vivian Vance. Known better as Ethel Mertz on the I Love Lucy Show, Vivian Vance’s personally created archive opens up chapters the public has never seen and presents in pictures and printed newspaper clippings of her extraordinary life as an actress, mental health advocate, and housewife, and the love she had for her husband, John Dodds.

Included with the scrapbook was a transcript of an unpublished book written by Vivian Vance-Dodds about her life. One of the chapters is published within the story about the scrapbook.

This excerpt from Vivian's manuscript details some of the pain she went through in her own childhood, to how her closeness with Lucille Ball was interrupted as her being a lesbian. It also tells of her laughter and wonderful friendship she shared with Lucy throughout the years.

Here is the excerpt:
Lucille Ball and I were just like sisters. We adored each other's company. She and I had so many laughs on "I Love Lucy" that we could hardly get through filming without cracking up. Then I began hearing that Lucille and I were too close. My first husband disapproved of my closeness with Lucille. "People are talking about you two," he'd say. "You ought to be careful about the hugging and kissing you do on the show."

The word in Pacific Palisades, where I lived, was that something was wrong with me, something my analyst wouldn't tell me about. That sent me leaping into my car and driving 30 miles to talk to my analyst, Dr. Steele. "Is there anything the matter with me that you've never told me?" I wanted to know. Dr. Steele reassured me there wasn't.

Overall, my years on "I Love Lucy" were great fun. Lucille and I used to watch our own shows and rock with laughter at what we'd done on camera. We thought we were knock-outs in some routines. Before shooting, Lucille and I would do advance planning. We'd plot together: "What if I step on your head when I climb down from the upper berth...Suppose we both get so busy crawling around on the floor that we back into each other under the table?" Sometimes it took no more than talking about it to send us into stitches.

Yet when the role of Ethel Mertz was first offered to me, I actually tried to turn it down! When Lucille and her husband Desi Arnaz began turning their radio show into a TV series in 1951, Bea Benadaret - not I - was the original choice to play Ethel Mertz, Lucy's next-door neighbor. But Bea signed up for "The Burns and Allen Show." So Desi came to my dressing room after a performance of a play I was appearing in, and he offered me the role of Ethel. I told him: "I really don't care to have anything to do with it."

I meant every word. In 1951 television was a silly new medium that didn't amount to anything and attracted little attention. But, Desi kept calling. Finally, against my real desire and best judgment, I got pushed into playing Ethel Mertz for 13 weeks at $450 a week. Then Lucille's agent advised her to fire me from the show! He told Lucille: "Her eyes are bigger than yours. You'll have to let her go".

Lucille ignored his advice. Later she told me about it, and I said: "If I had your looks and talent, I'd fire that agent - not me!" Shooting began in a rented studio filled with cobwebs and dust, and no heat or hot water. The windows were so grimy you couldn't see out of th...and the toilets were unspeakable. We walked in - and Lucille handed me a can of Bon Ami cleanser. "Clean out the john", she said.

It was hard, but I got a scrub brush and went to work. I consoled myself by thinking, "Maybe you're a girl who's due to go down in history. Nobody's tried doing a television show like this before." I was right. "I love Lucy" was a success. At our peak we had 70 million viewers every week. There'd never been an audience that big before - and there hasn't been one since on a regular week-to-week basis. But throughout the "Lucy" years I was in analysis, trying to sort out crossed wires in my life.

I was married to a man, an actor, who liked to dominate and discipline me. I kept trying to please him, but nothing I did was right. There were times when I would literally beat my head against a bedroom wall in frustration. However, my problems went far back before this marriage. I'd grown up feeling I was the greatest sinner on God's earth. My mother had raged at me, whipped me and served hellfire and damnation up to me three times a day.

To Mama, I was a "bad girl". From the time I could first remember she had said, "What did I ever do to have a child like you?" I had a hang-up about showing my legs in public - Mama used to scream at me that showing my legs could drive men to sin. Whenever I heard four-letter words, I vomited.

Once a man exposed himself to me on the New York subway, and I retched until I was sick. I blamed myself, thinking: "He wouldn't have done that unless I looked like a whore." Mama - who'd cracked up more times than I could count - had told me that someday I'd have a nervous breakdown. And in my mid-30's her forecast came true. I cracked up.

I became perpetually fatigued and felt like I couldn't go on living. There was no telling when I'd black out. Before I went anywhere I always wrote my name and address on a piece of paper and put in my handbag, so someone would know who I was if I went totally crazy - which I thought I was going to do. One morning I woke up and the walls of my room seemed to be closing in on me. If they reached me, I knew my mind would crack. With tears streaming down my face, I slid out of bed, crawled to the telephone and called an analyst, Dr. Steele.

Analysis finally helped me. And working with Lucille Ball, seeing all the strength she had, was good and healthy for me. After 18 years of marriage, we filed for divorce and I went ton to find happiness with my second husband, John Dodds.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/collectivemind/detail?entry_id=55214

See a treasure trove in the photo gallery from Vivian's scrapbook here.

January 21, 2010

I Love Lucy Trivia Book Writer Has Died

Reported by VALERIE J. NELSON - Los Angeles Times

Bart Andrews, a prolific author of TV trivia tomes who wrote "The 'I Love Lucy' Book," an early definitive appreciation of the classic sitcom, has died. He was 64.

Andrews died Dec. 26 at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center following a heart attack, said his sister, Cathy LaGreca. After a series of strokes, he had moved four years ago from West Hollywood to a nursing home in Los Angeles.

"He was the first guy to ever write a history of the 'Lucy' show. It was the first book," said Lucie Arnaz, daughter of the program's stars, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

"It has been extremely helpful to the estate," Arnaz told The Times last week. "Early on . . . that was the book you went to."

Although Andrews was born Feb. 25, 1945, in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a sense his "real birth" took place on Aug. 8, 1950, the day his father brought home the family's first TV set, Burt Prelutsky wrote in The Times in 1977. It was a 12-inch RCA Victor.

"After that, I'd rush home and watch anything," Andrews said in the article. He also recalled the shock he felt as a child when he attended a taping of the "Howdy Doody" show and "couldn't believe" the star was "only just a puppet."

His world was forever altered when his parents tuned in to the Oct. 15, 1951, premiere of "Lucy," he wrote in "The 'I Love Lucy' Quiz Book." His parents "let me stay up past my bedtime to watch."

As an adult, Andrews said he could name the title of any of the 179 "I Love Lucy" episodes when given three words from the script - "unless the line is 'Honey, I'm home.' "

He considered the discovery of the long-missing unaired pilot episode - a copy was found in 1990 - "the biggest find in terms of archival material in the history" of TV.

By then, he had written more than 25 books, most of them TV-related with "Trivia" or "Quiz" in the title. His final book, "Out of the Madness," was an unauthorized biography of Janet Jackson published in 1994.

The four books he wrote about Ball and her seminal comedy turned Andrews into an acknowledged expert on the sitcom that unfailingly made him laugh.

"The 'I Love Lucy' Book," released in 1985, was a revised and expanded version of a 1976 book that he co-wrote, "Lucy & Ricky & Fred & Ethel." Amid the minutiae were nuggets of "refreshing dissonances," according to a 1976 review of the earlier book. They included a quote from William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz, on Vivian Vance, who portrayed his TV wife Ethel: "I don't know where she is now and she doesn't know where I am and that's exactly the way I like it."

The idea for a writing career based mainly on esoterica from the airwaves grew out of a family gathering where younger cousins failed to stump Andrews with TV trivia.

"After I got home, I wrote out 20 questions and mailed them to the boys with the promise to send them answers in a week," Andrews told The Times in 1977. "In the meantime, I ran into a friend in publishing who thought there might be a book in that sort of thing. And I've been at it ever since."

He was born Andrew Stephen Ferreri, the second of two children of businessman Joseph Ferreri and his wife, Camille, and grew up in New York City.

After attending New York University, he moved to Los Angeles to work for pioneering TV producer Sheldon Leonard as Bart Andrews, a pen name he adopted in high school. He became a freelance writer and literary agent before finding his niche in trivia.

At his West Hollywood apartment, he devoted a room to his extensive "I Love Lucy" memorabilia, which included a photograph of the show's cast displayed atop his family's first TV. For years, Andrews drove a 1953 Pontiac with a license plate that read "I LV LCY."

His sister is his only immediate survivor.

January 11, 2010

Teen Actress in Lucille Ball Movie has Died

Holly O'Brien, a teen actress in the 1968 feature "Yours, Mine and Ours", starring Lucille Ball, who went on to become a children's agent and casting director for commercials, died Dec. 30 at her home overlooking Lake Malibu. She was 55.

At age 13, O'Brien was cast in the comedy "Yours, Mine and Ours" playing Susan, one of Frank's (Henry Fonda's) 10 children and one of the 18 who become a family when Fonda marries Helen (Lucille Ball).

Later, O'Brien worked as a singer and dancer alongside such talents as Mitzi Gaynor, Anthony Newley, Kate Smith and Mac Davis. She also performed as a member of the international recording group St. Tropez.

As a theatrical agent, O'Brien worked at Abrams-Rubaloff & Lawrence, Jack Rose Agency, L.A. Talent, L.A. Models and her own firm, Landmark Talent, before she became a casting director.

O'Brien is survived by her fiance, Rick Squire; her sister, Rosemary O'Brien; and numerous cousins.

January 07, 2010

Video from "An Evening With Lucille Ball"

Video from the show "An Evening with Lucille Ball" starring Suzanne LaRusch:

Directed by Lucie Arnaz, this touching, funny and uplifting one-woman play is created and performed by Suzanne LaRusch and written by LaRusch and Arnaz. Lucy guides us through the lifetime of personal memories inspiring her timeless sketches on I Love Lucy, her 30-year television career and never-before heard personal recollections about her tempestuous and complicated marriage to Cuban bandleader turned impresario, Desi Arnaz. Crafted in the spirit of the amusing lectures Lucy enjoyed giving throughout her career, the evening recreates the comic genius and the magic behind the “Queen of Comedy.” It’s an evening with the REAL Lucy, as you’ve never seen her before.Join us for special talkbacks with Lucie Arnaz following the performances on Jan. 14, 15 and 16.

Click here for tickets and more information!

January 05, 2010

Do It Today: An Evening with Lucille Ball at the Florida International Museum

An icon of American television lives on in the form of Suzanne LaRusch in An Evening with Lucille Ball: Thank You for Asking, which opens tonight and remains onstage at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts for the next two weeks. Directed by Ball’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, the one-woman show allows LaRusch’s Lucy to share stories about classic sketches from I Love Lucy and her relationship with costar/husband Desi Arnaz.  For those too young to appreciate Ball’s impact on popular culture, she was named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Important People of the Century” and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors. And any discussion of the best TV shows (and funniest episodes) to date has to include her classic sitcom, which remains in syndication around the world. Talkbacks with daughter Arnaz follow the Jan. 14, 15 and 16 performances. Jan. 5-17, 7:30 p.m., Tues. Weds. and Fri.; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thurs. and Sat.; and 4 p.m., Sun., 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa, 36.50, tbpac.org. – Anthony Salveggi

January 04, 2010

Suzanne LaRusch hopes you'll love Lucille Ball, too

By Anne Glover, Times Staff Writer, TampaBay.com

Mention the words Lucille Ball, and many people will immediately flash to their favorite episode of I Love Lucy: the candy factory, Vitameatavegamin, William Holden putting out Lucy's fake nose that's on fire.

But for Suzanne LaRusch, the late comedian and actress is much, much more than the zany redhead who was always getting into trouble. She was a smart businesswoman, a mother who loved her children (even if she didn't always show it), a perfectionist and, says LaRusch, "I'll just say it, she was a classy broad."

LaRusch should know. She portrays Ball in a play that she wrote, An Evening with Lucille Ball, Thank You for Asking!. It opens tonight and runs through Jan. 17 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

We spoke with LaRusch last week as she was packing for her trip to this coast from California and watching an old appearance by Ball on the Dick Cavette Show. Here are some highlights:

How she came to be Lucille, not Lucy: LaRusch started as a child actor in a Kodak commercial at 18 months old, but it wasn't until she was working at Universal Studios in Hollywood that she used her talents for doing impressions (she'd been doing Mae West, Marilyn Monroe and others) to launch into a career first as Lucy Ricardo, and now as Lucille Ball. She explains: "The perception is that Lucy Ricardo and Lucille Ball are the same person. L-u-c-y is a person that Lucille Ball invented. She always talked about that character as a third person." In fact, LaRusch emphasizes that she didn't get into portraying her because she was a huge fan of I Love Lucy. To her, it was just part of her acting repertoire, one that she was very good at. But over time, she became a historian of the woman and the show.

That's why it's a play, not old skits. If you want to see Lucy stomping grapes, rent some DVDs, suggests LaRusch. Her play is meant to be a re-creation of one of Ball's old lectures that she used to give, answering questions from the audience and reminiscing about her career and her life. Ball had used these lectures as a way to connect with her fans without having to be L-u-c-y.

LaRusch began writing the play in 1997, but it wasn't until 2006 that she had a version she performed. All along, she had the permission of Ball's heirs, daughter Lucie Arnaz and son Desi Jr. Then in 2008, Lucie Arnaz saw the play and immediately started making suggestions. "She treated it like the Scarecrow (from the Wizard of Oz)," says LaRusch. "She took out the stuffing and put it back in." More importantly, Arnaz became the play's director ("very intricately involved") and provided valuable insight into her mom and dad's life, including suggesting clips and home movies that would go well at different moments. She and husband Larry Luckinbill remain firmly associated with the show.

What can the audience expect? The construct of the play is Ball answering questions from audience members (really actors who have recorded their lines in a studio). As Ball answers them, she relives moments from her life. That's why you won't see her doing skits, only remembering scenes from her shows as they were being filmed. LaRusch is confident that her audience will love Lucille and not clamor for Lucy. "I promise they will not be disappointed," she says. "There's a touching scene at the end where the lights go down and she reminisces about the love of her life, Desi."

Shhh, here's a little insider info: LaRusch, who would love to take the show to Broadway, shared a fact that's usually reserved for after the show. The actors who are "audience members" asking questions are in some way either related to Ball or worked with her during her career. LaRusch says she accomplished this because during her career playing Lucy, she met so many people who had that connection. Tampa Bay audiences will be able to see who the questioners really are after the play.

An Evening with Lucille Ball, Thank You for Asking!, opens tonight at 7:30 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. Tickets are $36.50 and up. Call (813) 229-7827 or visit tbpac.org. Runs through Jan. 17. Running time is approximately two hours and includes a 15-minute intermission. The center is offering special talkbacks with Lucie Arnaz after the performances on Jan. 14, 15 and 16.