Archive | March, 2017

Interview with the ILL Director of Photography

30 Mar

Cinematographer Karl Freund did an interview with Art Photography Magazine in 1953 (Vol. 4 No. 6-54) talking about working on ILL. I don’t think my paraphrasing would do him any justice so I thought I’d just post the whole thing for some fun behind the scenes info. You can read it below: 

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Today, many of the initial difficulties we’ve experienced have, to some extent, been solved, but we still remain in the infancy of a fascinating new entertainment medium. There are formidable problems ahead, all of which will be conquered in due time. As for myself, I have enormously enjoyed being a part of the team which has already overcome some of the preliminary hurdles.

The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz show was a challenge from the start. It was decided that, for the first time, TV cameras would be replaced with three motion picture cameras to allow more flexibility in editing and to improve the photographic quality over kinescope recording.

This, I felt, was a legitimate approach to the situation. I expected very little variation from the ritual of photographing regular motion pictures — but I had not taken into consideration the unique problems involved. I was soon to be faced with them.

First of all, a live show requires an audience. This necessitated a regular studio sound stage equipped with bleachers to hold some 300 people. Above the stage a series of directional microphones and loud speakers had to be installed.

To give the audience a clear view of the program, and to allow the cameras total mobility without interference from floor cables, the lights for the sets had to be placed above the stage.

It became obvious almost at once that the overhead light placement was hardly flattering to the photographing of the performers. While the print value seemed up to par when projected in a studio projection room, they showed too much contrast when viewed over a closed TV circuit. Thus, we were faced with the fact that the greatest difference between standard motion pictures technique and TV films is the subject lighting contrast, which is required.

The immediate question was what method we should use to obtain the desired compression in the positive print. The solution was fairly simple.

After careful survey, we selected a method that would involve no departure from standard practice in processing laboratory operations. That is, in exposing the original negative, use a subject lighting contrast considerable lower than that normally used for conventional black and white motion picture photography and process both the negative and print in the normal way.

It requires four days to line up each weekly show of “I Love Lucy” and “Our Miss Brooks.” Two of these days are for rehearsals. At the end of the second day the cameraman sees a run-through during which he can make notes and sketches of positions to be covered by the cameras and instructs the electrical crew as to where lights are to be placed. The last two days are occupied by rehearsals with cameras.

Since a show with audience participation must go on at a specified time, this schedule must be religiously adhered to by everyone concerned, including the cast. An hour and a half is the actual shooting time.

To film each show we use three BNC Mitchell cameras with T-stop calibrated lenses on dollies. The middle camera usually covers the long shot using 28mm. to 50mm. lenses. The two close-up cameras, 75 to 90 degrees apart from the center camera, are equipped with 3″ to 4″ lenses, depending on the requirements for coverage.

The only floor lights used are mounted on the bottom of each camera dolly and above each lens. They are controlled by dimmers.

There is a crew of four men to each camera: the cameraman, his assistant, a “grip” and a “cable man.” Unlike TV, where one man generally handles the camera movements and views the results immediately, this technique requires absolute coordination between members of the crew.

Every movement of each dolly is marked on the floor for every scene. And since all the movements of the camera are cued from the monitor box, the entire crew works from an intercom system.

As for myself, I utilize a two-circuit intercom. This allows me to talk separately to the monitor booth and the camera crew on one; the electricians handling the dimmers and the switchboard on the other.

Retakes, a standard procedure on the Hollywood scene, are not desirable in making TV films with audience participation. Dubbed-in laughs are artificial and, consequently, used only in emergencies. Close-ups, another routine step in standard film-making, were discarded since such glamour treatment stood out like a sore thumb.

The public acceptance of “I Love Lucy” and “Our Miss Brooks” has been a source of great inspiration for me. The challenge has been a real one — one I have found both stimulating and exciting.

We still have some way to go before TV viewers will have the opportunity of seeing films with the quality which can be favorably compared with those to which we have been accustomed in our theatres.

As I watch television films on my own set I am continually aware that I do not have a complete control of the end results. For there is an engineer in every television station control booth who can change the screen image according to his instructions and depending upon the condition of his equipment. And there are the TV viewers who are their own “engineers.”

I believe that the time is not too distant when the only engineers will be the technicians who actually create the film that is transmitted. Only when that day arrives will we really have film quality comparable to motion picture standards as we know them today.

 

S1E12: The Adagio

27 Mar

Aired: Dec 31, 1951

The Plot: Lucy tries to get a part for Ricky’s new Apache act so she hires a romantic dance teacher.

Let’s Get Into It: In the palm springs episode when the gang is all picking on each other over their annoying habits, Ricky taps his fingers, Lucy stirs her coffee and Fred jingles his keys, we the audience don’t have much evidence of seeing those annoying things but Ethel’s bad habit is eating too loud and boy oh boy do we see that from the start of the series. Ricky tells everyone he’s starting a French Apache act so of course, Lucy wants a starring role. Ricky has a clever bit telling Lucy to come right out and ask for a part instead of going through all the theatrics and when she does, replying with a very simple, “No.”

Well, apparently Fred wants in too. He even lets Ethel buy a new hat if she convinces Lucy to let him be her partner. And for cheapskate Fred, that’s a big deal! So Ethel tells Lucy that Fred will be her partner/teacher and for a second she honestly thinks Ethel managed to get Fred Astaire! Like all this time Astaire and Ethel are old pals and she just called him up for a favor? Ha.

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Nope, just Fred but Lucy stomps all over his feet. Just then Ethel rushes in because she found a better partner and Fred admits he’s out. Does that mean Ethel still gets her hat? I hope she bought one anyway! Ethel, in an amazing coincidence, tells Lucy that the owner of the French Laundry has a nephew from Paris who just got to NYC and he is an Apache dancer! Ethel is such a good friend.She evens warns Lucy that Ricky is coming home when she is secretly dancing with said Apache dancer, Jean Valijean Raymand.

Lucy hides JVR in the closet because she doesn’t want him to know she’s rehearsing for his show. How Ricky doesn’t see JVR’s arm sticking out the closet I’ll never know but it was a funny bit. JVR assumes being hidden from the husband means they’re in love. That’s all it takes for the French.

That night, JVR climbs up Fred’s ladder to the 4th floor and tries to run away with Lucy. Oblivious Ricky talks about someday moving to the country. Lucy’s mind must have been very preoccupied and not listening otherwise in season 6 she wouldn’t have had to wheedle him so much to move and could’ve just reminded him, “hey remember that time the French guy was hanging off the side of our fourth floor window and you said you wanted to move to Westchester?” JVR almost falls to his death before Ricky notices and I love when he says “there’s a man out here” like she didn’t know! JVR says to him to watch out for Lucy’s stupid husband. Um who did JVR think he was talking to?? Did he really not know/assume that this man, in Lucy’s bedroom, wearing a robe was Lucy’s husband? Dumb dumb. (Or as Ricky calls him, gigolo!) So the boys do the only sane thing, challenge the other to a duel. Well JVR chickens out not realizing Ricky would take him up on it since he’s not a ‘regular’ American! So JVR tells him he’s not really in love with Lucy- he has a wife and 5 kids. Okay, so what was your plan after/if Lucy agreed to run away with you hmm Raymand?

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Well of course Ricky still wants to teach Lucy a lesson so they shoot off the guns in the bedroom. WHA? they point them up and bang. Did they just shoot a whole in the roof? And has it been established that they live on the top floor? So JVR wins the “duel” and comes out to collect Lucy’s hand and she is led to believe that Ricky is dead. I’m not a big practical joker anyway but the joke that her husband is dead? Too far! Lucy is lovey dovey since she’s not a widow but when they’re laying in bed (next to each other, in twin beds that are pushed together!) she lets him have it for that dirty dirty trick!

Notes: 

Lucy and her stylist hadn’t pinned down her iconic bun hairstyle yet and she plays around with her hair in the early eps. In the opening scene, I think it’s kind of matronly but it’s cute when she first meets Jean Valijean Raymond. Ethel looks adorable, however.

Familiar Faces:

JVR is played by Shepard Menken who’s also in Lucy Becomes a Sculptress, Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined, and Paris at Last.  

 

 

Oh, William Frawley

23 Mar

Bill, Bill, Bill…

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William Clement Frawley was born a solid 100 years before me, on Feb 26, 1887. He was born to Roman Catholic parents in Burlington, Iowa. When he got older, he moved to Chicago and against his mother’s wished took a part in a singing comedy. Frawley eventually made the jump to full-time vaudevillian and moved to San Francisco. In 1933, he moved again, this time to Hollywood and signed with Paramount as a character actor.

By the time casting for ILL began, parts for Frawley were getting to be fewer and fewer and he jumped at his chance for TV. He called his old acquaintance Lucille Ball and asked if there was a spot for him. Ball and Arnaz liked him for Fred Mertz but the studio was against him due to his long reputation as being a drunk. Arnaz straight out told Frawley that if his alcoholism in any way, ever, got in the way of making this show, he would be written off. Frawley was a total pro but if you watch him closely you can see his hands shaking in some scenes- due to his withdrawal.

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Everyone knows Frawley and Vivian Vance did not get along and Frawley would sometmes wear ear muffs behind the scenes when a scene called for Vance to sing. He was on board for the Mertzes spin off idea for the money, but Vance was the hold out and the show never went forward.

Frawley was only married once. To Edna Broedt Frawley from 1914 to 1927 however they separated in 1921. He remained a bachelor for the rest of his life. He suffered from prostate cancer but on March 3rd, 1966 he was rushed to the hospital after collapsing due to a heart attack, where he was pronounced dead.

Upon hearing of  his passing, Arnaz took out a full page spread in a newspaper bidding his friend “Buenas Noches, Amigo!” Vance was at a restaurant when she heard the news and proclaimed, “champagne for everyone!”

 

S1E11: Drafted

20 Mar

Aired Dec 24, 1951

Plot: Lucy finds a letter from Fort Dix and assumes the boys have been drafted, causing the girls to cry and knit. The boys see the girls cry and knit and assumes they’re pregnant.

Let’s Get Into It: Ethel brings Lucy her mail and sees Ricky got a letter from the War Dept telling him to report to Fort Dix. They immediately assume he’s been drafted (the Korean War was going on at this time.) To take their minds of things, they go hat shopping, cuz what else are you gonna do?

Ricky comes in with Fred and sees the letter, explaining that he’s going to perform a show there for the troops. Arnaz in real life was part of the USO in 1943. Fred has an old war-style vaudeville act that he thinks would be great and so Ricky gets him in on the act. But he warns not to tell Ethel who will tell Lucy who will want to be in the show.

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Is this the first time we see the Mertzes apartment? The girls are crying about the boys going off to war. Ethel caught Fred drilling/rehearsing with Ricky and thinks he enlisted.  She honestly thinks her husband signed up to go to war and didn’t tell his wife?? Instead of asking her husband what the H-E double hockey sticks, she cries and knits him socks. Meanwhile the boys see their wives acting this way and think they must (both) be pregnant. So, as much as the Mertzes fight, they do… how do I put this politely… do the dirty? I mean, Fred knows how babies are made, right? They decide to throw a surprise baby shower while the girls plan to throw a surprise ‘you’re going off to war’ party.

Now, this party: when they invite their friends over, what exactly to they tell them? Do the boys and girls call the same guests, so the party goers know it’s 2 parties in 1 or did they happen to have 2 separate guest lists? And did Ricky and Fred tell them it’s a baby shower so now all their friends think they’re pregnant? Did Lucy and Ethel tell them the boys are reporting to Fort Dix and have to come back with a big old “never mind?”  Who knows how the invitations read, but friends show up and are unceremoniously hidden in the closet.

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The boys eventually mime to the girls they think they’re about to be parents and you’ll hear Ricky hum a few bars of “There’s a Brand New Baby at Our House.”  Well the truth comes out for both sides and they all laugh at their mix up until they FINALLY remember their friends they shoved in the closet that now are so contorted they have to be peeled apart!

Notes:

Desi, along with Eddie Maxwell, wrote the song “There’s a Brand New Baby at Our House” when baby Lucie was born. Maxwell’s wife is Eve Whitney, The Charm School teacher.

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Since this aired on Christmas Eve, there’s a little Christmas tag scene at the end of the episode. They’ll reuse this scene for future Christmases and even reuse the premise for the Christmas special they filmed in a later season. Here, the gang is all dressed up in Santa suits and decorating the tree. Ricky sings for them “Cascabeles” which Ethel recognizes as Jingle Bells and they all sing. Ricky knows the English words—after all it’s his and Lucy’s song! They dance around the Christmas tree and when they come back around suddenly there’s 5 Santas. They pull off each other’s beards but 1 guy’s doesn’t come off. The Real Santa then disappears! The four turn to the camera and puzzled, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Familiar Faces: 

Hazel Pierce, Ball’s stand in, is a party goer.

 

 

ILL Trivia

16 Mar

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  • When the Network first reached out, they initially wanted a show more closely parallel to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s real life where the characters were both Hollywood stars. Lucy and Desi knew this plot line wouldn’t be relatable and the show became what it was, about a moderately successful orchestra leader and his housewife.
  • Originally, they were going to be named Lucy and Larry Lopez but no one liked the alliteration. Plus Lucy thought the letters A and R were good luck and they came up with the name Ricardo.
  • When first debating whether or not to take on this TV show, Lucy maintains that she had a dream in which her dear departed friend Carole Lombard came to her and said, “ Take a chance, honey. Give it a whirl.”
  • The Ricardo’s address was 623 E 68th St in Manhattan. However that maps them in the East River.
  • When the first episode aired, The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub, all of the cast and crew met at Lucy and Desi’s ranch to watch it together. They were nervous for it would go over with their audience until Vance’s husband, Phil Ober (the only one who hadn’t heard the jokes while rehearsing and filming) started laughing.
  • The show was a hit and never got lower in the ratings then the #3 spot. It was even the first show in history to end its run at the at #1. (Later The Andy Griffith Show and Seinfeld would share this same accomplishment.)
  • The cast had a tradition throughout filming the show that whenever someone would get a spontaneous laugh from the audience, they would be given a silver dollar. They even kept a chart on who was given a coin and how many.

S1E10: Lucy is Jealous of Girl Singer

13 Mar

Aired Dec 17, 1951

Plot: After reading a planted piece about Ricky is the newspaper, Lucy is convinced Ricky is having an affair with the new dancer.

Let’s Get Into It: Ethel, almost too cavalierly, comes into the Ricardo’s with a newspaper under her arm to show Lucy a blurb in the paper about a bandleader with the initials RR playing cat and mouse with his new girl dancer. Lucy initially recognizes it as a publicity stunt but not a second after Ethel leaves, does she go into their bedroom and starts attacking Ricky with that newspaper.  Ricky says he’s faithful as an old dog and Lucy sarcastically agrees “Yeah, old Rover.” Huh? Is that a reference to something I don’t get?? But then Ricky kisses her to explain how he feels and she’s so smitten she asks “what were we talking about?” Now that, I get!

I always wondered how the Ball-Arnaz’s felt about these such story lines since Desi was rumored to be a philanderer.

The band, back at the club, is good for a solid joke, sleeping while playing. We see the rehearsal during which Ricky tears the train of the new dancer, Rosemary’s dress and he tells her to put it in his jacket and he’ll take it home for his wife to sew. Doesn’t he have some kind of in house tailor? He makes Lucy sew her costume in The Diet and now this?

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So that night, Lucy makes her husband his favorite dinner, arroz con pollo. Is she wearing her pajamas? Ricky tries to make Lucy feel as bad as he can and tells her he was so upset about her accusations this morning that he didn’t go to rehearsal and instead brooded in the park. Well of course just then, Luce finds Rosemary’s torn black lace blue jeans in Ricky’s pocket. He hems and haws knowing he’s caught in a lie and now he just looks even more guilty. Lucy has a smart retort, “You’ll have to speak louder than that!”

 

Ricky tells her what happened and invites her to Tropicana to see for herself. Ethel of course is listening at the door and when Ricky swings it open and she falls to the ground. Ricky steps right over her.

Ethel points out to Lucy what we are all thinking. Of course Ricky isn’t going to be hitting on Rosemary in front of Lucy’s face. So they decide to sneak into the club when Ricky doesn’t know they’re there. But still, do they think he’s going to be cheating right there on the dance floor in front of the whole band? I mean, I would think they’d be off is some dark corner backstage. Like in the “cleaning men only room.” That was a fun visual gag.

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So Lucy disguises herself as another showgirl so she can be up close and personal on the stage.  Think she’s wearing the same wig as The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub? And Ricky and Rosemary preform the Jezebel number, and holy smokes, Rosemary is gorgeous. Let’s talk about the title of this episode. It’s called Lucy is Jealous of Girl Singer. Never once does Rosemary sing. The cast at the reading realized this and changed their scripts to Dancer but it never officially changed over.  And there’s no explanation for why it’s not Lucy is jealous of A girl dancer.

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So Lucy barely in disguise joins the chorus line and now it’s evident she did NOT rehearse. She’s all over the place and to emphasize just how bad of a dancer, she is scratching her back mid performance and runs off stage crashing into who knows what. She runs home, takes off her costume and jumps into bed, what like Ricky wouldn’t  know where she was all night? He does of course and comes out of the closet wearing her terrible wig. They kiss and make up and boy do they kiss. The original kiss was a bit too risqué after the first broadcast and got cut down in syndication.

Notes:

William Frawley does not appear in this episode.

This was another rerun during the 2nd season with a new opening scene where Fred and Ethel read a different publicity article which reminds them of this whole ordeal.

 

Vivian Vance

9 Mar

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Vivian Roberta Jones  was born July 26, 1909 in Cherryvale, Kansas. She and her family soon moved to Independence, Kansas and she went to Independence High School where she developed a love of acting. Her mom wasn’t thrilled about this so Viv rebelled, changed her last name to Vance and moved to Albuquerque, NM to become an actress performing at the  Albuquerque Little Theater- something Viv and Ethel have in common! Eventually graduating up to Broadway and Hollywood.

ILL director Marc Daniels suggested Vance to play the part of Ethel but we all know Ball was lobbying for her friends Bea Benaderet or Barbara Pepper. When those gals didn’t work out, the crew went to the La Jolla Playhouse to see Vance in action. Arnaz was convinced and Vance got the part.(Pepper would be seen as bit players throughout the run of the series.)

Ethel was supposed to be much older than Lucy but Vance was only older than Ball by a couple years. She was dressed as much dowdier in response which Vance didn’t love. She also ‘joked’ that it was in her contract to stay 10 lbs heavier than Ball. In addition, her love counterpart, William Frawley was 22 years older than Vance and she hated that he was old enough to play her father. Rumor has it that Frawley heard Vance complaining about him which was the root of their notorious contention. Some say it was just hate at first sight. Vance and Frawley were offered a spinoff show but declined simply because of how much they detested each other.

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Whether or not Vance was contractually obligated to be homelier than Ball, the two remained life long friends, playing her BFF on Here’s Lucy and The Lucy Show.

Vance, who honestly was beauty and a talent, was married four times. First to Joseph Shearer Danneck Jr from 10/6/28-4/20-1931. George Koch 1/6/33-7/11/1910. Philip Ober (who guest starred on an ep of ILL) from 8/12/1941-4/24/1959 and finally to John Dodds 1/16/1961 till her death in 1979.

In her later years, Vance suffered from poor health. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a stroke. Ultimately her cause of death was bone cancer and she passed on August 17, 1979.

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During her lifetime, Vance was the first person to win the Emmy for the Best Supporting Actress in 1954 for her role on ILL, which was donated to the Albuquerque Little Theater after her death.