Stuart Shostak --
A Man for All Media
Stuart Shostak -- Lucille Ball's "go to" man for all things video -- has been a member of We Love Lucy since 1978. He is the owner and manager of Shokus Video, which specializes in television programs from the 1950s. Even so, he does not live in the past, but is usually the first on his block to embrace new technology. He assists clients with their web sites, and advises them on all the latest gadgets. "On the side," he is a stand-up comedian who has clocked hundreds of hours doing audience "warm-up" sessions before the tapings of major network television shows. He's even been a contestant -- and winner! -- on a big-money TV game show.
Stuart was introduced to We Love Lucy by longtime Lucy writer Bob Schiller in 1979. He immediately became a member, and has been an active participant in club activities ever since. He currently writes the "On the Ball" opinion pieces for this web site.
Stuart was a charter member of our Loving Lucy Convention team from its inception in 1995. Over the years he was responsible for assembling/editing all of the video materials presented at the conventions. He wrote, produced and hosted a number of our events, and supervised the video-taping of virtually all of them. For the 1997-99 conventions, he hosted panel discussions involving many of the casts and production personnel of the various Lucy shows. In 2000 and 2001 he created and hosted our "Lucyfans Are Fabulous" game shows.
Stuart hosts 1998 panel on "The Lucy Show" with producer Tommy
Thompson and actors Keith Andes, Jimmy Garrett and Ralph Hart.
Stuart welcomes Shirley Mitchell and Janet Waldo, celebrity team captains for his
"Lucyfans Are Fabulous" game show at the Loving Lucy 2001 convention.
Stuart has vivid memories of working as film archivist for Lucille Ball and her husband Gary Morton, a job that often took him to their home in Beverly Hills. Among his fondest recollections: watching I Love Lucy tapes in the Mortons' den -- with Lucy! Among his saddest memories: being with Lucy a few moments after she learned that Desi Sr. had cancer.
A few years ago, Stuart shared some other memories about his "life with Lucy" (literally and figuratively!) for our club magazine. We are pleased to repeat it here now:
When I was growing up in the 1960s, I was allowed to stay up until 9 o'clock on two nights, Fridays and Mondays. Fridays were allowed because there was no school the next day; Mondays were special because my family, like nearly every other, loved Lucille Ball-- and The Lucy Show did not come on in Los Angeles until 8:30PM. I faithfully watched, week after week, year after year, relishing the thought that maybe someday I would be able to meet the lady I admired so much. Once I turned 16 and got a driver's license, at least had a chance to be in the studio audience for a filming of Lucy's series (by then Here's Lucy), although even that was not easy. Her show was so popular that there was a year- long waiting list for tickets.
I had always wanted to work in television, and after finishing high school enrolled in classes first at UCLA and later at Cal State Northridge. During my senior year (1979-80), I was delighted to find myself enrolled in a Television Aesthetics class taught by the Great Redhead herself. Coincidentally, I was working on a Lucy-themed documentary for another class, so I had many reasons for paying close attention. Over the course of the 18-week semester, I literally had a "ball."
Lucy at Northridge. For story, click here.
Lucy's class turned out to be every fan's dream: for three hours every Monday night (naturally!) Lucy would screen episodes of her old programs and talk to us about how they were made. About halfway through the semester I got up enough courage to ask her to take a look at the rough-cut I had assembled of my Lucy documentary. The next day I received a call at home from Gary Morton. He said that both he and Lucy were very impressed with what I had done, and that he would speak to me about it at the next class. Lucy also got on the line and mentioned how much she enjoyed the tape, particularly an interview I had done with Bob Schiller, one of her writers. I do not recall what I said in response -- I think I was so stunned that I did not say much of anything (which, for those who know me, is hard to believe). But then again, how would you react to such a surprise phone call?
Gary was the guest lecturer at the following Monday's class, and he spent the first part of the evening talking about my project. Afterward, he asked me to walk with him and Lucy to their car, and we took an instant liking to each other. We discovered we both are fans of classic films -- and that we both had VCRs. (Again, this was 1979; home recorders were still new on the market.) We decided we would swap favorite tapes.
As the weeks went by, we became better friends. I was invited to sit inon the rehearsals and filmings of "Lucy Moves to NBC," a 90-minute special Lucy was preparing that winter. I was also allowed to go with Gary to the post-production facility in Hollywood to see the dailies and watch the show being edited together. What an education!
Within a year, I decided to start my own business, Shokus Video, and was able to save enough money to buy a telecine, a machine used to transfer 16 millimeter film to video tape. When I informed Gary of my plans, he was more than happy to help me get started. Lucy's 70th birthday was coming up, and he wanted to give Lucy something a little extra special. Remembering my documentary, Gary asked if my newly-purchased equipment could, in addition to transferring film to tape, also enhance the transfer with music and sound effects. I told him it could, and one afternoon after Lucy had gone to the beauty parlor, we met at their house. He took me to their in-home projection room (complete with two 35mm projectors, one 16mm projector, and several cabinets filled with favorite films). One cabinet was marked "Home Movies," from which Gary retrieved eight to ten cans of film. "Transfer these," he said, "then bring the tape over to my office. We will edit them down and add music. I think they'll make a great birthday present -- Lucy will love seeing these again." I did, we did, they did, and she did! Who says it's impossible to please a woman?
About this time, Lucy's longtime Public Relations Director, Howard McClay, passed away, and Gary needed someone to take charge of -- and inventory --the Mortons' huge film library. (It was so vast that it had to be stored in a large warehouse in West Hollywood.) The next six months were a Lucy-fan's utopia: I discovered that not only did Lucy and Gary own prints of nearly every episode of every Lucy show ever produced, but they owned original "as broadcast" prints, meaning the shows were complete with the original commercials. Once I completed the written inventory, Gary asked if I would transfer all the shows onto video tape. Would I? Imagine getting to sit through nearly 200 hours of Lucy performances -- and getting paid for it!
In the spring of l986, Lucy announced she was going back to work in weekly television, and Gary began assembling a staff. We discussed the possibility of me joining the company, and Lucy's only concern was that the work not interfere with my Shokus Video business, which was doing quite well. We agreed to a schedule that would allow me to do both, and I became Gary's personal assistant for Life With Lucy.
One of my assignments was to be Audience Supervisor. Getting an audience for a Lucille Ball show, of course, was a piece of cake. The job was finding room for everyone who wanted to attend. (When I was a teenager clamouring for tickets to Here's Lucy, I never dreamed that a decade later I'd be the fellow trying to fit everyone in!) Most weeks we had an "overflow" situation, and Lucy was nice enough to allow some of the extra folks to sit in on the afternoon dress rehearsals. One evening Gary had to attend a production meeting, and he asked if I could take Lucy home. As we pulled off the studio lot, I mustered the courage to ask something I had been thinking about for some time. "Lucy?" I began.
"Uh...uh...I was wondering if...if...uh..."
"What is it?"
"Well, I've read next week's script, and there's a part in it for a photographer, 30-ish, in one of the scenes..."
"Well, one of the things I wanted to do as a kid was become an actor, and I know the part has only one line, but...well...if I could audition for Bob and Madelyn (our producers) and they like it...I was wondering if I could play the part?"
There was a long silence. Finally, Lucy smiled and said, "I didn't know you were interested in acting. All these years you and Gary have been so chummy, talking about production and editing. Now you tell me you want to act. Why didn't you tell me sooner? We could have been just as chummy!"
What a relief! I was in such euphoria that I do not even remember getting Lucy home, or driving myself on to Northridge, but apparently we both arrived at our destinations in one piece. That following week I auditioned, was cast in the part, and spent three days rehearsing with Lucille Ball, Gale Gordon and the original I Love Lucy director, Marc Daniels. The memories will be etched in my mind for the rest of my life.
Before we did a run-through for the producers on Tuesday, Lucy pulled me aside and asked if I were happy. Happy? I was ecstatic! She asked if I was sure.
"You have only one line," she explained. "How can anyone be happy with just one line?"
I told her I was satisfied, but apparently she wasn't because she asked Marc to come up with some additional dialogue or bit of business I could do in my scene. (This is the type of person Lucy was: if you pulled your own weight and proved yourself, she liked you and would give you the world. Conversely, she could spot a lackard or phony a mile away.) Marc and the writers came up with something for me to do -- and I have ever since been the proud owner of a videotape of my acting debut made on a Lucille Ball show.
Even though the series did not last, I continued to work with Lucy and Gary on various other projects right up until her death in April, 1989. I still talk with Gary regularly, and have memories that will last the rest of my life. I am grateful to both of the Mortons for having faith in me, and for their constant willingness to give young people a chance to prove themselves in a very difficult business.
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Original material © 2003 Lucyfan Enterprises.
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