Still in Love with Lucy

by Thomas Watson

Monday, February 4, 2002

Dear Fellow Lucy Fans,

Many thanks for your letters and e-mails the past few weeks. We are delighted you are enjoying the web site!

Included in last week's mail were a flurry of messages having to do with an article that appeared at year's end in the Chicago Tribune. I was born and bred in the Midwest, have family in the Chicago area, and have always found the people there to be very level headed. However, something must have gotten into the drinking water recently. Here is what the paper printed:

The year 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of a show that I have tried many, many times to like. I've watched all the famous ones, the ones about the grape-stomping and the conveyor belt at the candy factory, the ones in which Lucy and Ethel get into all manner of wacky scrapes and are forced to beg forgiveness from their much-put- upon spouses, Ricky and Fred, and I still don't get it. The show always strikes me as loud, coarse, obvious, unfunny and misogynistic. I'm not blaming Lucille Ball, any more than I could blame Imogene Coca for the ditsy roles she was forced to endure in 1950s television, but neither can I celebrate a series that turned women into shrieking, goggle-eyed clowns desperate for their husbands' approval. As the show hit the half-century mark, cultural writers were supposed to drag out all their positive adjectives to heap atop its bobbling red head, but I just couldn't do it. We deserved better than "I Love Lucy," and so did Lucille Ball.

-- Julia Keller

My head was still reeling -- (where is this lady coming from?) -- when the paper added insult to injury by printing this "letter to the editor" --

Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!

I too don't think "I Love Lucy" was ever funny, and I'm so happy to see someone with the guts to print it ("Overrated," Arts & Entertainment, Jan. 13). But here are few things I'll bet you didn't know.

The real reason "I Love Lucy" was popular was due to two things:

1. Desi Arnaz was a financial genius. Really! He and Lucy owned all the episodes of the show, not CBS.

2. That is what led to the shows popularity. In the late '50s, the FCC put a hold on all new TV station licenses for several years. Stations that were already approved could go on the air, but there weren't many of those. The moratorium was lifted about 1960. That coincided with the Ball/Arnaz divorce in which Ball got almost everything, including the Desilu studio and all the episodes of "I Love Lucy." All these TV stations that went on the air had virtually nothing to broadcast, and Lucille Ball made the most of it. She sold the show to them and some of them ran it four times a day. It's just overfamiliarity that has made that mess popular, not it's being funny, which it ain't!

Then the scripts for "I Love Lucy" were recycled in 1969 for "The Debbie Reynolds Show" on NBC. Lucy sold them to NBC. This show was so bad that it was canceled by Reynolds herself after about four weeks, but production continued to finish the season.

-- Garry Jaffe

Now this was so riddled with errors that Lucyfans had to respond. Tom Gilbert, Managing Editor of Electronic Media Magazine and co-author of "Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz" did so officially. He wrote:

Regarding Garry Jaffe's letter about his dislike of "I Love Lucy" ("He doesn't love Lucy," Feb. 3), as the author of a book about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz I'd like to point out that most of his facts are wrong.

While it is true that Ball and Arnaz's Desilu Productions originally owned the series, it was sold to CBS in 1956 (a year before the end of its run). Furthermore, upon their divorce in 1960, Ball and Arnaz split their financial empire evenly, with Ball buying Arnaz out of Desilu for $3 million two and a half years later. It was CBS Films (which later became Viacom), not Lucille Ball, that sold the series in syndication, but domestic exposure was mainly limited to CBS network reruns, including a daily run in CBS daytime, until 1967.

Also, any similarities between "I Love Lucy" and "The Debbie Reynolds Show" might be attributed to the fact that the late Jess Oppenheimer produced both series. Lucille Ball had nothing to do with that series, its scripts or its deal with NBC.

As you can see, when Lucy's involved there's never a dull moment!

Have a great week everybody!


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