Lucy in Color:
The Mystery Continues
(November 15, 2001)
Shortly after we posted last week's story, "Lucy in Color: A Reel Life Mystery," about the long-rumored color episode of I Love Lucy, we received the following e-mail from Paul Fitzpatrick of Wood-Ridge, New Jersey:
"It was interesting to read that there might have been an I Love Lucy episode filmed in color, and the TV GUIDE listing and ad certainly point to a strong possibility. Also, I know that The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show filmed an experimental color show (see the book 'Say Goodnight, Gracie') and The Jack Benny Program filmed two. Both of them were CBS shows. You might check to see if THESE shows were heavily publicized."
Well, we did just that...
First we found our copy of "Say Goodnight, Gracie," and found that George Burns and Gracie Allen did, indeed, film an episode in color -- and it was used to open the 1954-55 season. According to authors Cheryl Blythe and Susan Sackett, "If CBS was to survive, it would have to make the transition to color, and in 1954 it allocated funds for certain of its programs to do a trial color episode. 'Burns and Allen' was one of those shows chosen." (The authors also confirmed our earlier suspicions about the price: "The cost of this one episode was double what a normal episode cost…")
We then asked our TV and video expert Stuart Shostak about the Benny programs, and he confirmed that there was at least one Benny show done in color, an episode in which Jack visits a carnival. The show had an original air-date of March 6, 1955 -- the same season as both the Burns and Allen show and the rumored Lucy.
This got us to thinking... If CBS was indeed testing its regularly-scheduled programs for color in 1954, who better for the test than MGM's "Technicolor Tessie" herself, Lucille Ball? I Love Lucy had to have been one of the shows tested!
A few weeks ago we had asked CBS to check their I Love Lucy files for any references to a color show -- and they found none. We now wondered if someone at the network back in the 1950s might have created a cross-reference file, summarizing all the programs that were telecast in color? We made a phone call -- and a few hours later received a reply: Yes, such a file did exist, and -- hallelujah! -- it started with the early 1950s. (Most color-casts prior to 1954 were apparently one-time-only specials, major sporting events, etc.) Included in the file was a detailed 5-page press release outlining the network's color plans for the 1954-55 season, some original hand-written notes (ballpoint pen on now very yellowed legal paper) that were apparently kept as the season progressed, and an "after the fact" summary of the shows that were televised in color. The file also included these "after the fact" reports for the entire 1954-59 period. Here's what they tell us…
According to the initial press release, dated August 19, 1954, the I Love Lucy broadcast of December 6, 1954, was earmarked to be presented in color. (Unfortunately, no episode title or content information was mentioned for this -- or any of the shows on the list.) Also scheduled for color was the Burns and Allen Show of October 4, the December Bride of October 25, and the Line-Up program of November 19. (These latter two, like Lucy, were Desilu film productions.) Also on the list were some 42 other programs slated to be "color-cast" between August 22 and December 30 of that year -- and another 29 for the spring of 1955.
Now the bad news: The original press release had apparently been amended by a diligent record-keeper who had kept the list "current" by noting changes -- in pencil -- as they were announced. Three programs were added to the list -- a Jo Stafford Show of November 9, a Chrysler Shower of Stars on November 18, and a Bob Crosby Show on December 2. Crossed out were at least a dozen of the originally-planned shows -- including the December Bride of October 25, the Line-Up of November 19, and, yes, the I Love Lucy of December 6.
The ballpoint notes and the "after the fact" list, dated January 4, 1955, confirms that CBS televised 38 different programs (totaling 50 hours and 15 minutes) during calendar year 1954 -- but I Love Lucy was not one of them. Indeed, except for the Burns and Allen Show of October 4, all of the shows appear to have been done "live," either from CBS' newly-renovated-for-color Studio 72 in New York or from Studio 43 at CBS Television City in Hollywood.
The only film program on the list for spring of '55 was the aforementioned Jack Benny Program. There was no mention of I Love Lucy or any of the Desilu shows on the subsequent lists for 1955-1959.
Bottom line: Bill Hamilton's TV GUIDE was half-right. The I Love Lucy of December 6, 1954, was at one time scheduled to be shown in color, but ultimately was not…
But there are still a few unanswered questions:
- First and foremost, why were plans changed for Lucy and the other Desilu film shows?
- "Ricky's Contract" (the episode that aired on December 6) was filmed at Desilu on October 14, presumably in black-and-white. Why was there not time to change/cancel the TV GUIDE "color" ad that Bill found for the week of December 4? Was someone "asleep at the switch," or was the decision made at the last minute. If so --
- Could "Ricky's Contract" have been filmed in color even though CBS showed it in black-and-white? (This is probably wishful thinking on our part -- but hope springs eternal…)
So, yes, the mystery continues… And we will continue to snoop around… Maybe someday we will discover the complete story as to what happened to I Love Lucy 's color show.
This is Henna Hooper in Hollywood…
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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.