Head Writer: Jess Oppenheimer

4 May

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He was born Jessurun James Oppenheimer on November 11, 1913. He attended Stanford University and during his junior year visited the radio station KFRC in San Francisco and would spend as much time there as he could. He would later perform on the air; his first broadcast on the program Blue Monday Jamboree in a comedy sketch he’s written himself. Oppenheimer moved to Hollywood in 1936 and got hired as a writer on Fred Astaire’s radio show and later Jack Benny’s.

In 1942, Oppenheimer met Estelle Weiss and the two married on August 5th, 1947. Together they had a daughter, Joanne and son Greg.

When WWII broke out, Oppenheimer joined the US Coast Guard and was part of the Public Relations Dept. His desk neighbor was Ray Stark, the son-in-law of Fanny Brice who hired Oppenheimer to write for The Baby Snooks Show starring Brice.

Soon after Snooks was cancelled, Oppenhemier was asked by CBS Radio to write for a new show called My Favorite Husband. It was Oppenheimer that decided to change the direction of the show and the wife to be less of a sophisticated socialite and more of a scheming middle class housewife. The show became a huge hit!

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When Ball was approached by CBS to convert MFH to a TV show, Ball insisted the writers come with her. He stayed on as producer and head writer for 5 of the 6 seasons of ILL, leaving in 1956 to take an exec position at NBC. Aside from his television expertise, he was an avid inventor including the in-the-lens teleprompter.

Oppenheimer died on December 27, 1988 from heart failure following complications from intestinal surgery. His memoir Laughs, Luck… and Lucy: How I came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time was completed posthumously by his son, Greg.


My Favorite Husband

27 Apr

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The radio program ILL was based on, MFH was- to take it even further back- based on the novels Mr. and Mrs. Cugat, the Record of a Happy Marriage and Outside Eden  written by Isabel Scott Rorick. MFH originally aired as a one off on CBS Radio July 5th, 1948, to fill air time before the new show Our Miss Brooks  was set to premiere. That “pilot” starred Lucille Ball and Lee Bowman as Liz and George Cugat. It received such positive feedback that CBS Radio decided to order a full series.

Bowman was unable to to do the series so Richard Denning took over as the husband and the last name was changed to Cooper to distance the couple from Xavier Cugat.  Gale Gordon got hired to play George’s boss and Bea Benederet played his wife, Iris. Bob LeMond, who was the narrator of the lost pilot ep of ILL, was the announcer on the show. The show was originally written by the same writers as Ozzie and Harriet but after about 10 episodes it was taken over by Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh, who of course we know later would write ILL.

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This show about a happily married, middle class couple aired 124 episodes from July, 1948 to the last one on March 31st, 1951.

CBS ended up turning MFH into it’s own TV show in 1953 starring Vanessa Brown and Barry Nelson and more closely mirrored the  early radio version of the couple, a well to-do bank exec and his social butterfly wife. It lasted two and a half seasons.

Photo Gallery: Behind the Scenes

20 Apr

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A studio audience awaits to be let into a taping of the show.

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Was the most famous Redhead a Red?

13 Apr

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While there were a few controversial things about ILL, her pregnancy, her latin husband, for me- it’s her being spanked…) the biggest scandal was Ball’s Communism connection! Was Lucille Ball a Communist??

In 1936, Ball signed a certificate that stated, “I am registered as affiliated with the Communist Party.” She was appointed to the State Central Committee of the Communist Party of California and apparently held a new members class at her home.

The House Un-American Activities Commitee (HUAC) was formed in 1938 to investigate any disloyal Americans with Nazi, Fascist or Communist ties.  In 1947, the committee got together to look into Hollywood and it’s influence and the Hollywood Ten were blacklisted. It shook up Hollywood.  Some, in response, went underground, fled the US or wrote under a pseudonym. Studios would go on the defense and make anti-communism propaganda. Hundreds of stars were questioned by HUAC and Ball was on the list.

In 1953, Ball met with HUAC investigator William A. Wheeler and gave a sealed testimony swearing that she never voted for the party and only registered Communist in ’36 to appease her Socialist Grandfather.

Her husband, known for his patriotism stood by her side. Before the taping of “The Girls Go into Business,” Desi Arnaz explained to the audience about Lucy and her grandfather. The story corroborated by Lucy’s mother and brother. Furthermore, in 1944, she was shown in support for FDR and in 1952 claims she voted for Republican nominee Eisenhower.

Ball was ultimately cleared by HUAC but people still question her today. Was Lucy a Red? As friend of the show Hedda Hopper said,  “The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that is not legitimate.”

10 Lowest Rated

6 Apr

Well, we’ve talked about the highest rated episodes before so let’s take a look at the lower rated ones. Hey, they can’t be all winners!

Again I’ll look to IMDb at the last ten on their ratings page but I did want to add a few that stick out to me for all the wrong reasons. I’m giving the pilot a pass because a) they’re notoriously flawed and b) it wasn’t aired in the usual manner as the rest of the eps.

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#1 Lucy Goes to Scotland (S5E17)
I’m not sure how I feel about this being the lowest! It’s a little farcical but it’s also the only episode they managed to colorize. I’ll find myself humming “I’m in Love with a Dragon’s Dinner” from time to time.

#2 Lucy Plays Cupid (S1E15)
Any ep where Lucy gets spanked always gets a point taken away by me. But it’s fun to see the Ethel-that-could-have-been, Bea Benaderet and the fire in her furnace.

#3 The Young Fans (S1E20)
Richard Crenna’s very first credited role! But I agree it’s not a strong episode. Two teen neighbor kids fall for Ricky and Lucy respectively. It does border on the creepy side.

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#4 The Benefit (S1E13)
What’s so wrong with this one? I adore the act Ricky and Lucy do and her ruining all his jokes. Tap tap tap!

#5 The Adagio (S1E12)
I was honestly surprised to see so many season 1 episodes on this list. I think season 1 has some winning, iconic eps. I guess it was very hit and miss. In this one, Lucy gets a little too close to her dance teacher. It’s nothing too egregious but it’s also not the most memorable.

#6 Drafted (S1E11)
The girls think the boys have been drafted. The boys think the girls are pregnant. There are questions I have about this ep.

#7 The Audition (S1E6)
Alright now you’ve really done it. I guess since this is like the pilot and people didn’t like the pilot, and A=B and B=C but I’ll stand by this. Ball is fantastic in it.

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#8 The Operetta (S2E5)
Okay, I  am and have always been aware that I love this episode more than most. But darn it, I love this episode. I like musicals though and I think I’m seeing a common thread here.  No one can argue Vance’s talent after seeing her as Lily of the Valley!

#9 Cuban Pals (S1E28)
Again, it’s the musical numbers that lure me in. The song “Lady in Red” is great and Desi has a flub in the episode that makes for a real genuine moment.

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And I’m counting both as #10
Tennessee Ernie Visits & Tennessee Ernie Hangs on (S3E28 & 29) I might even add Tennessee Bound in for good measure. Ernie Ford is a long time friend to Ball but he is a bit… grating. Although Lucy makes a great “wicked city woman.”

And to follow up with my stinkers:

#11 Lucy Cries Wolf (S4E3)
This one is such a bummer to me! I can barely watch it. Yes, Lucy is a brat. I get that. But the idea that she was really  tied up by strange criminals is too disturbing to me to be a gag. Pass.

#14 The Courtroom (S2E7)
When the Ricardos and Mertzes fight it’s either great (Breaking the Lease) or it’s hard to watch. This one is the latter. The Ricardos try and do a good thing and it turns into a total disaster.  Redecorating is the episode right after this and it’s in the similar vein. Not the best, in my opinion.

Agree? Disagree?? What do you think?


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!


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.