Monday, August 06, 2007


Today would have been Lucille Ball's 96th birthday. She was born in Jamestown, New York in 1911 and after her father dies suddenly in 1915, she (and her brother Fred) were raised by their mother (Dee Dee) and her paternal grandmother. Her three best friends in the world were Ginger Rogers, Mary Wickes and of course Vivian Vance. She was sent home from "dramatic school in 1923" because she was deemed as having "no talent whatsover" (I wonder how loud and long God was laughing at that one) Bar none, no other comediasn remains in my heart and mind and memory like Lucy does. She was simply the most original and amzing performer of all. Along the way, she created a television dynasty and reached several "firsts". Ball was the first woman in television to be head of a production company: Desilu, the company that she and Arnaz formed. (After buying out her ex-husband's share of the studio, Ball functioned as a very active studio head.) Desilu and I Love Lucy pioneered a number of methods still in use in television production today. When the show premiered, most shows were captured by kinescope, and the picture was inferior to film. The decision was made to film the series, a decision driven by the performers' desire to stay in Los Angeles.Sponsor Philip Morris did not want to show kinescopes to the major markets on the east coast, so Desilu agreed to take a pay cut to finance filming. In return, CBS relinquished the show rights back to Desilu after broadcast, not realizing they were giving away a valuable and durable asset. Desilu made many millions of dollars on I Love Lucy rebroadcasts through syndication and became a textbook example of how a show can be profitable in second-run syndication. In television's infancy, the concept of the rerun hadn't yet formed, and many in the industry wondered who would want to see a program a second time.
Desilu also hired legendary German cameraman Karl Freund as their director of photography. Freund had worked for
Fritz Lang, and had shot part of Metropolis. In addition, he had directed a number of Hollywood films himself, and knew his business. Freund used a three-camera setup, which became the standard way of filming situation comedies. Shooting long shots, medium shots, and close-ups on a comedy in front of a live audience demanded discipline, technique, and close choreography.I Love Lucy dominated the weekly TV ratings in the United States for most of its run. The strenuous rehearsals and demands of Desilu studio kept the Arnazes too busy to comprehend the show's success. During the show's hiatus', they starred together in feature films: Vincente Minnelli's The Long, Long Trailer (1954) and Alexander Hall's Forever Darling (1956). When the couple finally found time to attend a Hollywood movie premiere in late 1953, the entire star-studded audience stood and turned with a thunderous applause. It finally connected with the Arnazes. I Love Lucy made them the biggest stars in the nation, even among the Hollywood elite.
Desilu produced several other popular shows, most notably Our Miss Brooks. The Untouchables, Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible. Many other shows, particularly Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and I Spy, were filmed at Desilu Studios and bear its logo. But the eternal logo for laughter and pure honesty in comedy (as defined by Neil and Danny Simon) goes to this amazing performer. Nobody did it better. Lucy was the "James Bond" of comedy. I will venture to say that she still keeps the angels laughing-- and God knows they need it after dealing with the world!

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