Saturday, August 06, 2011

100 Years of Lucille Ball

A century ago today, one of the funniest people who ever lived was born. I've been watching I Love Lucy since before I can remember. It was a staple of my days as a child, and I still catch it now. (And boy, if only Netflix were streaming this series... that would be perfect.) I think everything I originally liked in humor begins with her. Thanks for everything.


Caffeinated Joe said...

It has been a classic show for so long, some people probably take it for granted! My kids see it as a summer tradition, watching I Love Lucy reruns. So much better than any reality tv crap!

Happy 100th Lucy!

Tallulah Morehead said...

Lucille Ball, whom I met and was a guest in her home with her and Gary Morton in 1974, was not "one of the funniest people who ever lived." In fact, she was not funny herself at all. Furthermore, Lucy herself would have told you this had you said such a silly thing to her face. (And saying silly things to her face was not advsable, as she was very formidable, and one of the scariest people who ever lived.)

If we're going to remember her on her centenuary, as we should, we should remember her accurately. She was a skilled, beautiful, and talented actress, who could PLAY comedy material very well. This is why she always gave credit to her writers, and never shafted them on money or credit, and thus they remained with her for years.

The Marx Brothers were funny, born funny, naturally funny. Stan Laurel was a born comedian, whose idea of a day off was to come into the studio and create gags for other people's movies. Years after Oliver Hardy died, people socializing with Stan would tell of how he would spontaneously come up with Laurel & Hardy material anywhere they went. He was a genuinely funny person who could not shut it off. I know and/or have known a lot of funny people personally, working with many of them also: Robin Williams, Andy Kaufmann, John Belushi, Barry Humprhies, Buster Keaton, Stan Freberg, others. They are naturally funny. Yes, they work(ed) at it, and honed and crafted, but dinner with them, or just a sidewalk conversation with them, would be funny.

Lucy was not funny. Conversation with Lucy was a minefield, and woe unto he or she who set a foot wrong. If she was in a good mood, or drunk (as she often was at The Golden Globes in her last decade. In fact, a drunk and heckling Lucy was the best reason to watch it back then.), you might have an pleasant evening with Lucy, especially if you did not work for her.

(Coment continues below)

Tallulah Morehead said...

(Part 2)

So let us praise Lucy for that for which she deserves praise. First off: she was an excellent actress, and played comedy perfectly. She did this through very hard work. She was a believer in rehearsal. If something is good when you've rehearsed it three times, it will be so much better if you rehearse it 16 times. She rehearsed everything again and again and again until it was perfect. The contribution this made to her work's success can not be overstated.

(But did she have taste in comedy material? Could she tell fine work from mediocre material? No. That evidence is plain. I LOVE LUCY which holds up even now, when it is dated beyond belief, and grossly sexist - "If Ricky finds out I bought a new hat, he'll KILL me!" I'd like to have seen Desi even try to treat the real Lucy the way Lucille Ricardo was treated. - because Desi Arnaz was a brilliant producer. He and Karl Fruend invented multi-camera sit-com filming. Desi cast the show, and edited the scripts. The proof is simple: She did three series without Desi: The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy, and Life With Lucy. All three are unwatchably bad. Though made later than I Love Lucy and mostly in color (The early, seldom-ever-seen, episodes of The Lucy Show were also in Black & White), these shows seem throwbacks to a far-earlier era, to a TV show from before TV. They superficially resembled the earlier show, but they are vaudevilles that were being surpassed on other stations by other clowns at the time. Lucy could not tell the difference. Desi could.

She was a very sharp businesswoman, no small feat. She was not funny sitting behind the desk running Desilu, not funny at all. In fact, she struck terror into folks pitching shows to her, but she knew her business inside and out and ran it very effectively. She should not be remembered as "funny," but she should be remembered for green-lighting Star Trek. That took vision.

So let's remember and honor Lucy for who she really was and what her accomplishments really were, and not a sentimentalized icon named "Lucy" who was thought to be funny because she was on a funny show, and worked damned hard to make it work.

And the next ime someone tells me Lucy was "one of the funniest people who ever lived," they are sentenced to sit through two showings of Mame, the movie from which Lucy personally fired the divine Madeline Kahn the first day on the set, famously saying: "There is only one funny redhead in this movie." (Actually, with Kahn banished, there were no funny red-heads in the movie.) Don't worry, don't fret. Beatrice Arthur is funny in it.

Tallulah Morehead said...

(To be fair to Lucy, which I must be, it should also be said that she fired Rock Hudson from Mame the first day of shooting as well (firing two stars the first day is a most effective way of instilling the fear of God in your remaining employees.), replacing Rock with Robert Preston. There is no way this was not an improvement to that terrible movie. However, if she'd really wanted to impress me, she'd have kept Kahn and fired herself, replacing herself with Angela Lansbury.)