Still in Love with Lucy

by Thomas Watson

Monday, November 11, 2002

Dear Fellow Lucy Fans,

Happy Birthday, Jess!

The rest of the world may think of November 11 as Veteran's Day... (or even Armistice Day)... but Lucyfans, like the original Desilu company, know it as Jess Oppenheimer's birthday...

Jess, of course, served as what Lucy called "the bossman." For five years (1951-56), he was the man in charge of I Love Lucy, functioning both as producer and head writer. Like many in show business, when his birthday happened to fall on a workday, Jess considered it just another day at the studio -- but Lucy always saw to it that such occasions were celebrated after the work was done. In 1953, for example, as soon as the company had finished the dress rehearsal for "Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined," she and Vivian presented him with a cake. Written in the icing were the words, "Happy Birthday to the Brains."

Jess was born in 1913 in San Francisco, and had a colorful career writing for various radio shows -- including the programs of Fred Astaire, Edgar Bergen, Jack Benny, and Fanny Brice -- before joining Lucy's My Favorite Husband in 1948. After retiring from I Love Lucy in 1956, he became a programming vice president at NBC Television, and later returned to the weekly situation-comedy fold with Angel on CBS and The Debbie Reynolds Show on NBC. He passed away December 27, 1988 -- a scant four months before Lucy herself. Alone, their work was remarkable... Together, it was magic.


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