Lucy in Color:
A Reel-Life Mystery
(November 1, 2001)
Twenty four years ago, when our We Love Lucy club first started, Lucy fans around the globe had a "wish list" of four long rumored productions that had somehow gotten lost, or at least been taken out of circulation:
(1) the 1956 I Love Lucy Christmas Show
(2) the original I Love Lucy pilot kinescope
(3) the I Love Lucy feature film produced in 1953
(4) an episode of I Love Lucy filmed in color
Well, over the years the gods have been good to us, and the first three items on the list have turned up. The Christmas Show was found in the CBS vault, and excerpts were shown on an NBC Rona Barrett special, "TV: Inside and Out" in December, 1981. A few years later, CBS had parts of the program colorized, and aired the new version as a holiday special in 1990. The original black-and-white version was shown in 1991, and both were subsequently released on home video.
(Also colorized at this time was "L.A. at Last," the William Holden episode, but the program has never been telecast. We screened a portion of the show at our Loving Lucy 2001 Convention.)
Lucy and Desi's friend, Joanne Perez, widow of Pepito, the Spanish clown who had helped the Arnazes develop their 1950 vaudeville act, discovered a copy of the I love Lucy pilot (photo, right) among her husband's personal affects. The film became the basis for an Emmy-nominated CBS special in 1990, and has since been released on home video.
Dann Cahn discovered the I Love Lucy feature film a few months ago (see separate story), and the movie was screened in its entirety at Loving Lucy 2001. Selected highlights from the film are included in CBS' I Love Lucy 50th Anniversary Special .
So what about the I Love Lucy filmed in color?
Most people now believe the show never happened. During his long search for the feature film, Dann Cahn kept his eyes open for any possible color prints or negatives in the various film vaults. He found none. He remembers the idea of doing a show in color being discussed, but does not remember the show actually being produced. He now thinks the idea may have been killed when Desilu and/or CBS discovered how much more expensive the color production would have been vs. the usual black-and-white.
"Everything about our show was geared to Karl Freund's black-and-white photography," Dann recalls. "And I mean everything -- the costumes, the make-up, the set, the lighting… All that would have to be adjusted were the show to be done in color. And then of course, there was the cost of the color film itself." Dann believes the idea died "on the drawing board."
But longtime fan Bill Hamilton is not so sure. He recently rediscovered an ad that was run in the San Francisco issue of TV Guide back in 1954. It announces that the December 6 episode, erroneously listed as "Ricky's Screen Test" (it should have been "Ricky's Contract") was being telecast that week in color. Huh? Of all the episodes that could have been (or should have been) done in color, "Ricky's Contract" is not one of them. It is a rather bland, two-set show, with no great costumes or scenery or comedic scenes. A better choice, indeed, would have been "Ricky's Movie Offer," with Lucy dressed as Marilyn, the Mertzes as Spanish dancers, and Mrs. Trumbull as a Spanish senora; or "Ricky's Screen Test," with Ricky dressed as Don Juan and Lucy as his beloved... Moreover, we recently checked with the Program Records department of CBS Television Network in New York, and they have no record of these -- or any -- episodes of I Love Lucy being produced or televised in color. Certainly, if the network or Desilu had gone to the added expense of doing a show in color, CBS’ press department would have promoted it far and wide.
Which begs the question: who, then, would have put this ad in TV Guide -- and why?
The mystery continues….
As for our Lucyfan "wish list" -- well, three outta four ain't bad!
This is Henna Hooper in Hollywood…
TV Guide reprints from the collection of Bill Hamilton.
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Original materials © 2001 Lucyfan Enterprises. All rights reserved.
"I Love Lucy" is copyrighted by and a registered trademark of CBS Worldwide, Inc.
Images of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz used with permission of Desilu, too, LLC.
Licensing by Unforgettable Licensing, Northbrook, Illinois.