Long- reign­ing queen of slap­stick clowns

I Love Lucy 6pm, Fox Clas­sics

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Greg Cal­laghan

ALL Lu­cille Ball wanted to do was make peo­ple laugh. But she had to wait un­til she was 40 — af­ter more than 20 years in bit parts and sup­port­ing roles in Hol­ly­wood films of the 1930s and ’ 40s, when she be­came Queen of the Bs — be­fore she was able to put her comic tal­ents on full dis­play.

The much longed for per­fect role came up via her hus­band, Desi Ar­naz, a hand­some Cuban band­leader six years her ju­nior, who con­vinced her that they should do a com­edy pilot for the new medium of television. When CBS turned them down, Lucy and Desi raised the money for the show that, just months later, would be­come a gold­mine.

That’s be­cause I Love Lucy was an in­stant smash when it pre­miered in the US on Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 15, 1951, snar­ing rave re­views and win­ning mil­lions of fans who would drive it to the top of the Nielsen rat­ings for seven straight sea­sons. Ball be­came a comic leg­end, re­main­ing on the small screen for more than 22 years through two more suc­cess­ful, if less sat­is­fy­ing, se­ries: The Lucy Show ( 1962- 68) and Here’s Lucy ( 1968- 74), which starred her chil­dren, Lu­cie Ar­naz and Desi Ar­naz Jr.

If you grew up in Aus­tralia in the ’ 60s and ’ 70s you’ll no doubt re­call many of the clas­sic mo­ments from the orig­i­nal black and white se­ries: Lucy get­ting pro­gres­sively more smashed as she spoons the al­co­hol- laced Vi­ta­meataveg­emin into her mouth for a TV com­mer­cial; Lucy and Ethel in the choco­late fac­tory, des­per­ately try­ing to keep pace with the as­sem­bly line by stuff­ing chock­ies into their mouths, blouses and hats; Lucy fall­ing about in a wine vat af­ter get­ting into a fight with a grape stom­per.

Ball’s one- of- a- kind slap­stick has been end­lessly an­a­lysed through the years, par­tic­u­larly since her death in 1989. Suf­fice it to say she spent the 20 years be­fore I Love Lucy well, learn­ing from the great clowns of the sil­ver screen such as Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.

Watch tonight’s pre­mier episode of I Love Lucy — Lucy Thinks Ricky is Try­ing to Kill Her — and you may be a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed. That’s be­cause Ball didn’t fully in­habit her char­ac­ter, the daffy house­wife Lucy Ri­cardo, un­til about half­way through the first sea­son. To see Ball at the height of her pow­ers, search for ‘‘ Lu­cille Ball and William Holden’’, fol­lowed by ‘‘ I Love Lucy — Up in Smoke’’, on YouTube’s web­site. Watch her and see a comic ge­nius at work.

Star­ing at a gold­mine: Lu­cille Ball with Desi Ar­naz

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