Still in Love with Lucy

by Thomas Watson

Monday, February 3, 2003

Dear Fellow Lucy Fans,


No sooner had we posted last week's letter, mourning the passing of Dick Crenna and Roz Borden, than we heard that two additional people in the "extended Desilu family" had also passed away: actor Robert Rockwell and set decorator Art Parker.

Ironically, Rockwell, like Crenna, enjoyed his first great success as a co-star on Eve Arden's popular Our Miss Brooks television series. He portrayed the shy science teacher, Philip Boynton -- with whom Eve's Connie Brooks was smitten. Here's a photo from one of those early episodes:

Rockwell left the Brooks cast after four seasons and became one of the most employed character actors in series television. He appeared in over 350 shows over 50 years, and in the late 1950s even had a short-lived series of his own, a Western entitled The Man from Blackhawk.

On the "guest cast" circuit, Rockwell appeared opposite Bill Frawley in a 1959 episode of Desilu Playhouse, "Comeback." He also appeared with Lucy in the second episode of The Lucy Show, "Lucy Digs Up a Date," and in one of the fifth season episodes of Here's Lucy, "The Not-So-Popular Mechanics."

Rockwell was one of our special guests at our Loving Lucy'98 Convention, at which we paid tribute to actress Mary Jane Croft. Ms. Croft and Mr. Rockwell were longtime friends, not only from her two year stint on Our Miss Brooks (1952-54), but from countless other radio and television programs in which they both appeared.

Rockwell died Saturday, January 25, the day of Crenna's memorial service.

Art Parker, the set decorator on Here's Lucy, passed away December 15. He had lived for many years in Arizona, but happened to be in the Los Angeles area during the weekend of our 1999 Lucy Convention. We saluted Bob Carroll and Madelyn Davis that year, and Art wanted to attend. We spoke a few times over the phone that summer, and I playfully chided him for the elaborate sets he had created for Lucy Carter's home. Here, for example, is a photo of Lucy and guest Freddy Martin from "Lucy and Her All Nun Band" --

"Yes, I know," Art replied. "Lucy Carter was supposed to be a not-too-well-off mother of two, eking out a living as a secretary to her penny-pinching brother-in-law, and yet she lived in a beautiful San Fernando Valley home, with furnishings that looked a lot like those Lucille Ball herself had in her own home in Beverly Hills. It was not terribly believable, but by this point I do not think Lucille cared too much about things like that. I think she considered her studio set to be a second home, and she wanted to be surrounded by beautiful things."

"Of course, working for Lucy -- who owned her own production company -- could spoil a person for other work. Nearly every episode required a special set for at least one scene. When Bob and Madelyn wrote the 'Gone With the Wind' spoof, we had to recreate Tara! Lucy was very generous when it came to our spending her money -- and we often went over budget. As long as a set looked good in the show, she did not seem to care how much it cost. I know she could be real thrifty about other things, but not about the sets."


Turning to our "Lucy Mailbag," we received an e-message this past week from club member Mark Easley, who wanted to know:

"Did Lucy keep a vast memorabilia collection of her career, or just 'scrapbook' type of stuff? Did she have a movie poster of all her movies? Did she keep items from her sets around the house after the shows went off the air?"

To a certain degree, Lucy was something of a packrat. She kept a lot of mementos. Her scrapbooks, of course, are now famous. They had been started by her mother, DeDe, when Lucy was a teenager appearing in school plays back in Jamestown. DeDe kept them up-to-date for many years, and after Lucy became a Hollywood celebrity, the task was taken over by Lucy's secretaries. Many of the scrapbooks were HUGE in size -- designed to hold a full newspaper-page clipping. By the time of her death there were 30-some books!

Lucy did not have posters from her old movies... She had some of the smaller-size stills and lobby cards in her scrapbooks. When she moved into a bungalow/dressing room for Life with Lucy Gary asked Stu Shostak to get a couple of posters from her more recent films... I think the two were "Yours, Mine & Ours" and "Mame." These were nicely framed and hung on a wall behind a small dining table. She had a lot of framed stills from "Mame" in her home in Beverly Hills. All of her TV Guide covers were mounted and hung in her billiards room, along with a beautiful 18x24 inch portrait of Bill Frawley.

Lucy did not keep set-pieces from her TV shows -- most of those things were returned to the studio prop departments once a show was finished. But she did keep certain wardrobe items, especially those that she thought she might use again sometime. I remember being in her livingroom one evening in 1987 when she was planning an appearance on one of Bob Hope's "entertaining the troops" TV specials. She was supposed to appear in a sketch with Hope as a shotgun-totin' hillbilly. Her outfit required a pair of boots.

"Don't go away, I'll be right back," she said, dashing up the stairs. I could hear her rummaging around in her closet... I heard a few bangs and thuds as she went through various boxes... Finally, I heard an enthusiastic "Ah-ha! Found'em..." Lucy then came back down to the livingroom proudly waving an old pair of boots -- the ones, she then explained, that she had originally worn in "Wildcat" some 26 years early. Waste not, want not!


Have a great week everybody!


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