Lucy & Bob --
On the Road to Laughter
One of our favorite Ball-Hope teamings is a seldom-seen Lucille Ball Comedy Hour special from 1964. The program was really a show-within-a-show, with Lucy appearing first as the president of a Hollywood Studio (which was not much of a stretch for the actress, considering she, by then, was president of Desilu). The fictional studio's board of directors (spearheaded by a tightfisted Gale Gordon) asks Madame President to sign "a big star like Bob Hope" to appear in the company's next production, and she sets off around the globe trying to sign the roving comedian.
Part Two, then, was the show in which Hope was signed to appear: a story in which Lucy and Bob portray Bonnie and Bill Barton, stars of America's top-rated television show. Off the set, alas, the twosome not only cannot stand each other, but (unbeknownst to anyone) are not really married. Trouble occurs when the couple's ratings start to slip, and, to boost the show's popularity, the ad agency suggests the couple have a baby.
The Lucille Ball Comedy Hour was filmed in March, 1964, and aired April 19, Sunday 8-9PM on CBS Television Network. Said Hope at the time, "I am really only in about half of this special, but I get talked about a lot in the rest -- and that's a perfect way to be a part of something without actually having to show up. I always said that the ideal role would open with a close-up of me looking through a knot-hole, and the rest of the movie would be what I see."
"In this program, Lucy and Gale Gordon finally corner me in the jungle entertaining troops, then we segue into the other story."
Hope reported that he originally was interested in the Bob-and-Bonnie story when it was a two-and-a-half-hour Broadway play, "Mr. and Mrs." (written by Sherwood Schwartz), but that he could not fit a movie version into his already-busy schedule. Meanwhile, Desilu Studios bought the play and boiled it down to the 35-minute television sketch.
For this, Hope and Lucy rehearsed three full days, just as she would have her regular half-hour television series. The sketch was then filmed before a live audience with three cameras recording the action. The following day, Hope returned to the studio to film the single jungle scene in which Madame President finds him.
The "wrap-around" story was true-to-life, not only because it depicted Lucy as the president of a major studio, but because it featured Bob as a world-traveler. Known in show-business circles as "Rapid Robert," Hope was famous for dashing from a movie set in one city to a benefit in another to a television special in yet a third locale. The day before Bob reported to Desilu for rehearsals, he was in Washington on behalf of the 1964 Easter Seals campaign. He had flown there after finishing a one-hour segment of his own Chrysler series. As soon as he finished his stint with Lucy, he was off to promote his latest movie.
"While I'm flying across the country," Hope quipped at the time, "Lucy will be talking about me. That's why it's a coveted role."
Lucy had her say in the matter: "All those scenes showing me trying to catch up with Bob is from real life. If the world only knew what I went through to get him on this stage to work with me in this project!"
For the record, Jess Oppenheimer, creator and longtime producer/head-writer of I Love Lucy, served as Executive Producer of The Lucille Ball Comedy Hour. Ed Feldman was Producer; Jack Ballard, Associate Producer. Jack Donohue directed. The script was by Richard Powell, based on the original play by Sherwood Schwartz, with addition material by Arthur Julian.
The cast, in addition to Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and Gale Gordon, included Jack Weston, Max Showalter, John Dehner, Bill Lanteau, Sid Gould, Eddie Ryder, Joseph Mell, Mary Emery, Ted Marlin, and Charles Field.
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Original materials © 2003 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.