The Minuteman and the Redhead 50 Years Ago:
I Love Lucy had a Ball with Westport
October 22, 2001
By RITA LAZZARONI Correspondent
WESTPORT -- Although she painstakingly restored Westport's Minuteman statue to pristine condition a few years ago, Linda Merk-Gould surprisingly was unaware of the local landmark's most famous moment on May 6, 1957.
On that night, on millions of television screens nationwide, the figure of a colonial militiaman had a central role in the last half-hour episode of "I Love Lucy," the phenomenally successful sitcom that forever revolutionized American television.
In typical madcap style, Lucy Ricardo accidentally destroys the statue -- which her bandleader husband Ricky was to dedicate. Lucy then unsuccessfully tries to stand in for the shattered memorial to -- a tableau of a colonist taking aim with his musket -- that in real life stands on Compo Road South.
"Oh no! Oh no!" Merk-Gould said after hearing what Lucy did to the historic statue. Then, the conservator added: "What a classic scene. Where can I get the video?"
But any die-hard "I Love Lucy" fan would know that the statue episode is a significant one for the classic sitcom -- the last episode of the show's sixth and final season, which was first broadcast 50 years ago last week.
"I Love Lucy" premiered Oct. 15, 1951, on the CBS television network. For six years, every Monday night at 9, TV sets across America tuned in to catch the escapades of Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball), her bandleader husband Ricky (Ball's real-life husband Desi Arnaz), and their best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance).
Besides their enduring popularity in constant reruns around the world, the original 180 half-hour episodes of "I Love Lucy" introduced several television innovations. These include shooting from three cameras simultaneously before a live audience, as well as on film, and overcoming technical challenges through improvements in lighting, set design and editing.
"I Love Lucy" was also the first television show ever rerun.
The show also created an American comic icon out of the zany hi-jinks of a ditsy, showbiz-crazed redhead, played by Ball, a former "B-movie" queen. In real life, though, Ball was no airhead -- she became a hard-nosed television studio owner.
In celebration of the show's golden anniversary, a prime-time "Lucy" marathon was broadcast last week by the TV Land cable network, which telecast the show's first episode last Monday, exactly as it aired 50 years ago to the hour.
In the final season of "I Love Lucy," the Ricardos (and, of course, the Mertzes) move from New York City to Westport -- just as one of the comedy series writers, Bob Weiskopf, had done after his son was born.
In Los Angeles, where the show was filmed, Weiskopf drew upon his experience moving from Greenwich Village to Westport when he helped to script the move by Lucy and Ricky to the suburbs.
In the 10 episodes based in Westport, Lucy wreaks hilarious havoc in town with her neighbors and all the staid suburban organizations she joins, from the garden club ("Lucy Raises Tulips") to the country club.
In fact, one of Lucy's suburban crises -- having her home overrun with baby chicks (episodes 172-173) -- predates that of Westport's other agri-minded television celebrity, Martha Stewart, by several decades.
References to Westport's Main Street and Boston Post Road are highlighted throughout the last season of "I Love Lucy," especially when Lucy literally slices through town, riding an out-of-control lawnmower.
In the show's finale, "The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue," Lucy destroys a statue -- clearly inspired by Westport's Minuteman statue, a memorial to the local forces who took on the British in the Battle of Compo -- just an hour before its dedication.
"My favorite line is, Oh Ethel, what are we going to do? They'll throw me out of the Historical Society!' " laughs Alice Shelton, the Westport Historical Society's education director, and also a member of the town's Representative Town Meeting.
"I can't imagine the Westport Historical Society ever throwing out Lucille Ball," Shelton said. "I asked the president of the society if we really would have and she said, Well, it depends on what she did.' "
Merk-Gould, who serves on Westport's Board of Education, admitted that she never realized the Ricardos had put down roots in Westport, at least for dramatic purposes. "I heard that Lucille Ball had lived in Greenwich, but I didn't know of any connection with Westport," she said.
Neither did Louis Weiskopf of Fairfield, who has been asked countless times over the years whether he is any relation to Bob Weiskopf of "I Love Lucy" and "All in the Family" fame.
"The show took place in Westport? I had no idea," said Weiskopf, who is not related to the late comedy writer. In February, at the age of 86, Bob Weiskopf died at his home in Los Angeles.
At the Westport Historical Society, Shelton, who grew up watching "I Love Lucy" reruns, pays homage to celluloid Westporters Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.
Shelton leads a summer children's camp called "Time Travelers," which ends with a viewing of America's favorite redhead pretending to be the Minuteman statue. The show's finale is a big hit with the Time Travelers.
"The students had fun guessing which parts of the story were historically accurate," Shelton said. "It's cute, it's lighthearted and some things are real." She said the final "Lucy" episode proves that learning about history can be fun.
"And what could be more fun than Lucy?" she said.
For Lucy Finale, No Place Like Home
October 22, 2001
The final "I Love Lucy" show, broadcast May 6, 1957, featured many references -- some accurate, some not -- to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo's new country hometown of Westport.
The plot has Lucy volunteering as chairwoman of the Westport Historical Society's "Yankee Doodle Day Celebration."
In real life, Westport's annual Yankee Doodle Day Fair is run by the Westport Women's Club, not the historical society.
In the episode, part of the celebration involves dedicating a Revolutionary War statue depicting a Minuteman soldier to be unveiled on "Jessup" Green.
Westport's Jesup Green is downtown, near the library and Main Street, but the town's landmark Minuteman statue is located miles away on Compo Road South.
While making the dedication speech, Ricky commemorates the Battle of Compo in 1777 (when local Minutemen militia battled British redcoats), and notes that many ancestors of those who fought in the battle still live in the community.
"The references to the battle and its descendants are accurate," said Alice Shelton, education director of the Westport Historical Society. "But the actual statue was dedicated in 1910."
Lucy refers to the artist who created the statue as "Mr. Sylvestri." The actual statue's sculptor was H. Daniel Webster. The face of the Minuteman statue is thought to be a composite of battle veterans' descendants.
Also in the last episode, Fred Mertz dresses up as a town crier. "A nice touch, since Westport's newspaper at the time was called The Town Crier," Shelton said.
The episode is notable for one other piece of trivia: It was the only time during the run of "I Love Lucy" that both of Lucy and Desi's two real-life children appeared on the show. They are among the crowd on hand for the statue dedication ceremonies.
-- RITA LAZZARONI
We Love Lucy Comment: Lucie Arnaz has indicated that the long-held belief that she appeared in "The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue" is in error. Her brother Desi is in the final "unveiling" scene, but not she.
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Article © 2001 by Connecticut Post
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