History has never been a "best seller" as far as television is concerned. Yes, there have been any number of specials and made-for-TV movies based on historical fact, but very few regularly-scheduled series have dareed to bring to life historical events and personalities every week. One series that did is seldom discussed today, even though it ran nightly for two consecutive years and featured some of the biggest names in show business: CBS' Bicentennial Minutes.
Premiering July 4, 1974, the series consisted of 732 one-minute programs, each recounting an authenticated piece of American history--everything from the momentous to the obscure. Each dealt with material that happened exactly 200 days earlier on the same date as the broadcast.
Taken as a whole, the Minutes represented a veritable mosaic of American life as it existed during the period leading up to the Revolution. Some segments embraced a political event, such as the opening of the Continental Congress or the closing of the Port of Boston, while others offered small, yet telling details about the lives of the colonists. Sam Adams, viewers learned, never had a head for business, and had to accept clothing from anonymous Bostonians in order to attend the Continental Congress. Martha Washington, viewers were told, had her own special recipe for storing cherries. The "pay off," of course, was the Minute of July 4, 1976, the day the United States celebrated its 200th Birthday.
The narrator of each minute was a well-known personality from various professions. Actor Charleton Heston narrated the first one, which described George Washington's concern about the closing of Boston harbor by the British as a result of the Boston Tea Party. Subsequent minutes were narrated by such personages as Richard Widmark, Edward Asner, Norman Cousins, Jean Stapleton, Glenn Ford, Walter Cronkite, Cleveland Amory, Richard Chamberlain, and Father Ellwood Kieser.
Lucille Ball was invited to narrate the Minute that would air on Thanksgiving evening, November 28, 1974 (at the conclusion of a two-hour episode of The Waltons). The subject matter dealt not with the impending Revolution, but with corn husking, and how the activity provided colonists in New England with a welcome break from the monotony of farm life. (How appropriate for a lady who herself had brought such merriment into the lives of modern viewers.)
Because the Bicentennial Minutes series may never be seen again, except possibly in some home-video format, we thought it might be interesting to present some stills from the segment, and to reproduce the text of Lucy's narration. (Lucy history buffs might be interested to note that the segment was video-taped on October 15, 1974.)
Bicentennial Minutes was produced for CBS by William Kayden. Lewis Freedman served as Executive Producer, and Meryle Evans and Researcher and Assistant Producer. The program was sponsored by Shell Oil Company.
This is Lucille Ball.
Two hundred years ago today...New England farmers were enjoying lively corn shucking parties in the crisp night air.
Corn was piled into great heaps, and bonfires burned in the fields. Young people ran and flirted in the shadows.
A Yankee farmer remembered how it was: "...the neighboring swains are invited and after the corn is finished, they give three cheers...but cannot carry in the husks without a rum bottle. They feign great exertion, but do nothing until the run enlivens them, then all is done in a thrice..."
And when the work was done?
"The chairs in wild disorder flew quite around the room.
Some threatened with firebrands, some brandished a broom,
While others resolved to increase the uproar,
Lay tussling the girls in wild heaps on the floor."
That's the way it was.
Originally printed in our Spring, 1993 newsletter.
Original material (c) 1993, 2005 Lucyfan Enterprises. "Bicentennial
Minutes" is copyrighted by CBS Worldwide, Inc. I Love Lucy is
copyrighted by and a registered trademark of CBS Worldwide, Inc.
Images of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz used by permission of Desilu, too, LLC.
Licensing by Unforgettable Licensing, Northbrook, Illinois.