I LOVE LUCY Movie Found
for 50th Anniversary Celebrations
(October 6, 2001)
Included in CBS's I Love Lucy 50th Anniversary Special will be seldom-seen footage culled from the long-feared-lost "I Love Lucy" theatrical movie. Yes, the the wait is finally over, and fans at home will at last have a chance to see at least part of the special film made by Desilu Productions over 48 years ago. The picture, comprised of three first season episodes of the Lucy television series, stitched together with new wrap-around material, was produced in 1952-53, but never released. It was put into storage, eventually forgotten even by most of the people who worked on the project, but rediscovered this past summer by editor Dann Cahn (photo, right).
"The picture was prepared back in 1952-53," Dann recalls. "No one knew the Lucy shows would have a 'life' after their first airing on CBS -- there were no re-runs in those days -- and Desi thought we could edit two or three of the shows together and release them theatrically."
Brought in to helm the project was Lucy's old MGM buddy, director Edward Sedgewick (pictured left with Bill Frawley). Sedgewick, along with comedian Buster Keaton, had greatly influenced Lucy's interest (and skill) in slapstick comedy. Sedgewick immediately set to work, selecting three of the first season's Lucy episodes, and determining how to tie them together as a movie. Producer Jess Oppenheimer expressed some concern that the sound track to the television footage included the audience's laughter -- so Sedgewick suggested the movie be constructed as a show-within-a-show, with an on-camera audience, in essence, watching the production of a Lucy show.
"The film opens," recalls Cahn, "with the audience filing in to our sound- stage at General Service Studios. Actress Ann Doran plays one of the excited audience members who are there ostensibly to watch a filming of the show. Desi comes out and talks to the audience -- just as he did every Friday night. He tells them about the cameras and sound equipment... and then he introduces the cast. He brings out Bill Frawley, Vivian Vance, and, of course, Lucy... One by one, the cast greets the audience, then takes their place in the Ricardos' livingroom -- and we cut to the opening scene in 'The Benefit' (Episode #13) the first of the three shows Sedgewick had chosen for the film."
This opening sequence (including Desi's on-camera introductions) is one of the treasures of this rediscovered film: it allows us, the viewer, to experience what it was like 50 years ago to attend a filming of I Love Lucy. It also reveals to the observant viewer that the footage was actually filmed on May 16, 1952, the night Desilu filmed "The Handcuffs." Special sets built especially for that episode are visible in the background! One can also see Wilbur Hatch and the Desi Arnaz orchestra assembled at the far end of the soundstage!
The three programs that Sedgewick "stitched together" were the aforementioned "The Benefit," plus "Breaking the Lease" (Episode #18) and "The Ballet" (Episode #19). One or two minutes of new material connecting the three shows make the feature a seamless whole.
(The "revised" storyline has Ethel asking Lucy to get Ricky to perform at her club benefit -- which, as we all know, Lucy does, but not before she manages to get herself included in his act... Ethel's club is so grateful that it gives the Ricardos a special plaque... After an evening of celebrating, and singing around the piano, the two couples quarrel and the Ricardos decide to move out, until the Mertzes remind them they have a long-term lease. The Ricardos manage to break the lease -- via an all-night jam session -- but the two couples ultimately kiss and make up... The next day, Lucy and the Mertzes want to go out to the movies to celebrate their renewed friendship, but Ricky has to work: he needs to audition a couple of new acts for his show -- a burlesque comic and a ballerina... Once again, Lucy tries to get into the show. And so it goes...)
The added footage did, indeed, make the feature play like a single story... and the film ends (at the conclusion of "The Ballet") with Desi stepping out of character, thanking the audience for coming -- and the entire cast takes a bow.
The "I Love Lucy" feature-film was shown in its entirity -- for the first time in 48 years -- at this summer's Loving Lucy 2001 Convention. Prior to that, its only public screening was a "sneak preview" in a theatre in Bakersfield, California, in the spring of 1953. That preview was a success, and Desilu had every intention of releasing the film to theatres -- then MGM appeared on the scene. Metro signed the Arnazes to do "The Long, Long Trailer," which it wanted to promote as Lucy and Desi's "return to the big screen." The studio did not want this quasi-tv movie to negate that claim. The feature was put into a vault -- in cans that were eventually mislabeled -- and was "lost" for nearly 50 years.
Dann Cahn, however, never forgot about the film... Five years ago -- after our first convention -- he started asking around about it. He thought it would make a wonderful event for our 1997 convention... He checked the vaults at Desilu/Paramount, but found nothing. He checked at CBS, again nothing. He even asked about it at MGM -- no one had any record of an "I Love Lucy" feature. Then, in 1998 Lucie Arnaz rediscovered an also-presumed-lost print of "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana," the 75-minute special her parents produced in 1957, and Danny's enthusiasm for "lost causes" was restored. He renewed his efforts to find the feature, and this past summer -- five years after he first began -- he found it!
Sadly, the bits and pieces of the film that will be included on the CBS special may be the feature's first and last hurrah: neither CBS nor Paramount, both of which have new I Love Lucy VHS and DVD collections in the works, has any current plans to release the movie for home video. At least this time, Danny assures us, when the film is returned to the vault, it will be carefully marked and catalogued.
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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.