Memories of Maury
One of the faces sadly missing from Loving Lucy 2000 was that of Lucy's longtime associate, Maury Thompson. Maury had worked for Lucy for 16 years (1951-67) in various capacities, and loved sharing colorful anecdotes about the Redhead. He participated in panel discussions at our first four conventions, and could not believe that fans would actually wait in line for his autograph. "After all those years of working behind the scenes," he said, "It was nice to finally meet the audience one-on-one." He was scheduled to appear again this year, but called a few weeks beforehand to say he was not feeling well and would have to cancel. Never one to complain, Maury later confessed that cancer, long in remission, had come back. Maury died August 7, 2000, three weeks shy of his 84th birthday, at his home in Irvine, California.
Maury was born Maurice A. Thompson on August 30, 1916, in Lockeford, California -- a small town just north of Stockton. He was graduated from Stockton College of Commerce with honors, and served in the Navy during World War II as chief yeoman under Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He settled in Los Angeles after the war, and found employment at CBS -- which was then in the throes of setting up its television operations.
In late summer of 1951 Maury was offered the job of script coordinator for a new television series the network had optioned -- a sitcom called I Love Lucy. There was only one hitch: it was being produced by an outside company -- something called Desilu Productions. If Maury stayed at CBS, he would probably always have a job. If he joined Desilu and the show folded in 13 weeks, he'd be out on the street. Throwing caution to the wind, he joined the new company… and never looked back.
"Those early days were very exciting," he recalled later. "We felt a little like pioneers because no one had ever done a multi-camera film show in front of an audience. There were no rules, no style-guides to follow. Sometimes it felt like we were making it up as we went along."
Maury appeared on camera in two of the first season's I Love Lucy episodes, once as the stage manager in "Lucy Writes a Play," and again in "Lucy Does a TV Commercial. In the latter, he appeared as the script clerk stationed on the set in the famous scene in which Lucy rehearses the Vitameatavegamin commercial.
At the start of Lucy's second season, Maury replaced Emily Daniels as camera coordinator, a position unique to Desilu series, which at the time were the only television programs to be shot with three (or four) film cameras in front of an audience. Over the years he would perform that function on other Desilu-produced sitcoms as well, including Our Miss Brooks, starring Eve Arden, Those Whiting Girls(see photo, right), and The Ann Sothern Show. He also trained a succession of other camera coordinators for the studio.
"Lucy was a strict taskmaster," Maury later recalled, "but she could also be very sweet. I remember that when we started the second year, Lucy discovered my birthday was coming up and she wanted to celebrate. The company ordered a cake, and Lucy decided to give me the little apothecary jars that we were using as props in the Ricardo kitchen set. I had always admired them. Well, Bill Asher, our director, hit the ceiling. He said she shouldn't give those away -- that the audience at home would notice them missing. Lucy snapped back, 'If the audience is tuning in every week just to see the props -- we're in BIG trouble!' I got to keep the jars."
Maury later carried home the burlap dress that Vivian Vance wore in the "Lucy Gets a Paris Gown" episode. "Viv and I had become very good friends," he recalled. "I mentioned to her once that I was going to a costume party and was trying to find something to wear… One thing led to another, and one of us remembered that gunny sack outfit. I tried it on, and it fit! The funny thing is: I never returned it… Forgot all about it until a couple of years ago. When I found it again in an old wardrobe, I asked Lucie Arnaz if she wanted it for the museum."
Maury stayed with Desilu even after I Love Lucy ended, and when Lucy and Viv returned in 1962 with The Lucy Show, Maury was again on hand as camera coordinator. When Viv decided to leave the show after the third season, Maury pitched the idea of moving the Lucy Carmichael character to Los Angeles, an idea the Redhead liked so much that she made him the series director for the 1965-66 season.
“We started that season with a bang!,” Maury later remembered. “Or should I say a splash? That was the Marineland show, with Lucy in the pool with the porpoises” (see photo). The new Southern California locale logically opened the show up to regular appearances by Hollywood celebrity guest stars, which Lucy relied upon from then on. Guest stars directed by Maury included John Wayne, George Burns, Dean Martin, Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, Joan Blondell, and Mel Torme.
Maury also appeared on-camera with Lucy once again, this time as an annoyed airline passenger across the aisle from her in a 1966 episode in which she flies to London after winning a contest.
Thompson was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding directorial achievement in a comedy for a 1966-67 episode of The Lucy Show. At the end of that season, he parted company with Lucy, and after a brief stint working with former Desilu boss Desi Arnaz on The Mothers-in-Law, which reunited him with Eve Arden, he retired from show business and opened an antiques store (see photo, right).
“A few years after I’d retired, Lucy and Gary called and asked if I could drop everything and come in to direct an episode of Here’s Lucy. Apparently their regular director was not available. Unfortunately, I was up to my neck in work at the shop and had to decline. I think she was a little miffed – but we remained friends. The last time I saw her was backstage at Life With Lucy in 1986. We hugged and had a good time. That show was not successful, but she was thrilled just to be working again. I think that was when she was happiest – when she was out there making people laugh.”
One of Maury's good friends was "the other Thompson" who worked the various Lucy shows, producer Tommy Thompson. Tommy passed away just last March. After the funeral, Maury shared with us a photo of the two of them with their favorite leading ladies -- Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance. Maury's on the left, on Lucy's lap, Tommy's on the right, on Viv's. The two Thompsons had come up with the premise for this 1965 episode of The Lucy Show entitled, "Lucy and the Monsters."
("Memories of Maury" includes material written by Tom Gilbert, with additional material and photos added by Tom Watson.)
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