Long- reigning queen of slapstick clowns
I Love Lucy 6pm, Fox Classics
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