Still in Love with Lucy

by Thomas Watson

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dear Fellow Lucyfans:

Danny Makes Room for Lucy

As you may have heard elsewhere, S'more Entertainment has announced it will release a new boxed set of DVDs covering season 6 of "Make Room for Daddy" (aka "The Danny Thomas Show"). This was 1958-59, and includes the "trade-off episode" featuring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (playing Lucy and Ricky Ricardo). The Arnazes appeared in this show in exchange for the appearance by Danny and his regular cast members on the "Lucy Makes Room for Daddy" special that same season. (That Lucy-Desi show, by the way, was included on the CBS/Paramount "I Love Lucy: Seasons 7, 8 & 9" DVD set issued earlier this year).

Also appearing in the 6th season of "Daddy" were such guest stars as Jack Benny, Tony Bennett, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Frankie Laine, and Annette Funicello.

The set will also include special interviews with cast members Marjorie Lord, Sid Melton, and Angela Cartwright.

Unlike the "Season 5" set of "Daddy" released 3 years ago by Questar, the Season 6 set will use the original broadcast film elements as source material, not the cut-down syndicated versions! Hooray!

S'more has not announced a release date as yet, but we will keep you in the loop as more information becomes known.


Interesting Reading: "Something on My Own"

Trivia Question: What famous performer won the TV Academy's first "Best Actress" Emmy Award?

Clues: She was known at the time as "The First Lady of Television"... Her weekly family situation-comedy was telecast by CBS every Monday night... and she was sponsored by General Foods/Sanka Coffee.

If you guessed Lucille Ball, you'd be wrong.

The lady in question was Gertrude Berg; the year was 1950, and the show was called "The Goldbergs," a TV adaptation of "The Rise of the Goldbergs," one of the most popular radio shows of all time. During the early 1930s, it was second only to "Amos 'n' Andy" in overall listenership.

Sadly, today Miss Berg and her shows are all but forgotten. Transcriptions of the radio show are not available; most of her early TV work was done "live," and whatever kinescope recordings survive are seldom seen anywhere.

Yet this was a lady who not only starred in her own series, but created, wrote, owned and produced it as well.

Now, however, Glenn D. Smith, Jr., a young professor of communications at Mississippi State University, is helping to correct history's oversight. He has written "Something on My Own: Gertrude Berg and American Broadcasting, 1929-1956." It's a great read if you like broadcasting history; it's a great story even if you don't!

So what happened to Miss Berg? Why did she fall from favor so swiftly? Certainly many elements played a part in this, but none so effectively as the famed Red Scare of the late 1940s/early '50s -- the same Red Scare that nearly ended "I Love Lucy" (and Lucille Ball's own career) in 1953. Lucy's story had a happy ending; Gertrude's did not...

No, Miss Berg herself was not accused of Communist Party membership, but her co-star Philip Loeb was. Gertrude knew he was innocent and backed him 100%. Loeb had worked hard over the years for liberal political causes and had helped organize various actor-related unions; he was an easy target for the Red-baiters. His being called a Communist made headlines -- and General Foods wanted no scandal. When they and CBS asked Berg to replace him on the show, she -- as producer and star -- refused, and they pulled the plug.

Ironically, that same spring, when Jess Oppenheimer, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball first fashioned their pilot for "I Love Lucy," they had General Foods in mind as the sponsor. GF had sponsored Lucy's "My Favorite Husband" radio series on CBS, and everyone assumed they'd be partnered in the TV venture as well... But General Foods passed, and "Lucy" went on to be sponsored by Philip Morris... When the Communist "witch hunters" pointed the finger at Lucy in 1953, the cigarette company stood firmly in Lucy's corner, and the false accusations went away... One wonders if General Foods had been the sponsor as originally intended, would they have done the same? (It's funny how things originally perceived as setbacks can later turn out to have been blessings in discguise!)

Berg went on to other successes -- mainly on Broadway -- and returned to TV in 1961 in a short-lived sitcom, "Mrs. G Goes to College," featuring Lucy's pal Mary Wickes... But none of her projects ever achieved the fame of "The Goldbergs."

"Something on My Own" is published by Syracuse University Press as part of its on-going "Television Series" -- which also includes Jess and Gregg Oppenheimer's "Laughs, Luck and Lucy" memoir. Both books are winners!


Save the Date: "Jack Benny Program" Lives Again

Fans of "old-time radio" -- particularly those living in and around Southern California -- will want to put a red ring around November 10. That's the day Gregg Oppenheimer will be recreating an episode of "The Jack Benny Program," with Benny impressionist Eddie Carroll starring as the Milwaukee Penny-pincher.

Comedian-impressionist Chuck McCann will appear as Don Wilson, with three original Benny cast members -- Beverly Washburn, Stuffy Singer, and Shirley Mitchell -- being featured in the cast. Also appearing will be Dena Dietrich, Tommy Cook, Gloria McMillan, John Stephenson, and Don King.

This special one-day-only 75th Anniversary recreation of "The Jack Benny Program" will be part of a special luncheon sponsored by SPERDVAC -- the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy. It will be held at the Sportsman's Lodge in Studio City, California, starting at 12 Noon. Tickets for the show (including lunch) are $25.

We will have more information about special event in the next few weeks, and you can also visit the SPERDVAC web site for updates:

Have a great week everybody!

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