Monday, August 8, 2011

Rant #554: We Still Love Lucy

I am feeling much better as we enter the work week. I don't know if I passed the kidney stone or not yet, but one thing that I know passed this weekend was the 100th birthday of America's favorite comedienne.

Lucille Ball would have turned 100 on Saturday, and a few of the cable networks, including Hallmark and Turner Classic Movies, honored her by showing "I Love Lucy" and her early films.

But honestly, that isn't enough.

This redhead--who, as you know, really wasn't, but kept that carrot top going for decades--revolutionized television situation comedies as the star of "I Love Lucy."

With her then-husband, Desi Arnaz as the guiding technical force of the show, the program broke ground in so many areas that it's hard to name them all. From how it was shot to the pregnancy episodes, this show broke ground as much as a ditch digger does.

And the focus was on Lucy, the henna-rinsed actress in a black and white sitcom.

Sitcoms were relatively new in the early 1950s, as was the entire television medium. Although Ball is given credit as the first real pratfalling female star, she really wasn't. Certainly, Ball took a page out of the manic, and completely forgotten career of comedienne Joan Davis.

Davis was tall and lanky like Lucy was, and she used this to the best of her ability in a number of 1940s comedies, including "Hold That Ghost" with Abbott and Costello.

The further link between Davis and Ball is that Davis' TV series, "I Married Joan," where she co-starred with the future Thurston Howell III, Jim Backus, went after the same type of audience as Ball's show did, and Davis was the comic centerpiece of the show, like Ball was.

The difference between "I Married Joan" and "I Love Lucy" is that the Lucy show had the best writers, the best technicians, and Arnaz, who knew what he wanted and got what he wanted.

But Davis--one of the more popular movie comediennes in the 1940s--deserves to be remembered as the movie comedienne who passed the mantle over to Ball, who generally was featured in light, more sophisticated comedies in her earlier Hollywood days, such as "Stage Door."

That being said, Ball took it and ran with it for the next few decades.

The key to "I Love Lucy" is that Ball--not really a comic before this show although she did appear in numerous comedies in her early career--learned to be a comic on the show, and she did pretty much whatever gag the writers wanted her to do, no matter how outlandish.

We know that she barked orders as much as she took them, but Ball completely put herself in the hands of her writers, and of course, in the hands of Arnaz, who probably knew what she needed to do as a comic more than he knew what she needed as his wife.

Television owes a major debt of gratitude to Ball, who set the pace for everyone from Carol Burnett to such later female TV stars as Roseanne Barr.

And just about every sitcom created since the early 1950s owes its existence to "I Love Lucy."

Ball appeared in three other sitcoms: "The Lucy Show," "Here's Lucy," and the lamented "Life With Lucy."

I watched all of them when they were originally on the air, and now they are all on DVD, except "Life With Lucy," which wasn't as bad as some people claimed that it was.

By that time, Ball was an elderly woman, and a woman of such an age doing pratfalls wasn't looked at too kindly by most people. Slapstick comedy wasn't in, sexual patter was starting to creep into what we watched and laughed at, and the show was looked at by many as old fashioned and out of date.

But she did what she did because she knew how to get a laugh, not like today's actors and actresses and writers, who don't know how to build to a laugh like she did.

Even though she died years ago, I would say she is still missed, as is Arnaz. They knew what they wanted on "I Love Lucy," got what they wanted, and the rest is history.

They were two of a kind, and there will never, ever be anyone else like them on network TV.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I originally erred. "I Love Lucy" was on TV prior to "I Married Joan," but Joan Davis certainly was an inspiration to Lucille Ball as a comedienne, much like Lucy inspired Carol Burnett.



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