Tag Archives: lucille ball

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.

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.”

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.

Is a Biopic in the Works?

16 Feb

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Rumor has it Aaron Sorkin is set to write an authorized biopic of Lucille Ball’s marriage to Desi Arnaz  starring Cate Blanchett. Lucie and Desi Jr are going to produce with Escape Artists on behalf on Sony.

No word on when it’ll come out or who will play Desi.

 

The One and Only Lucille Ball

12 Jan

In middle school (7th or 8th grade) I had to do a biography on someone- didn’t matter who- so of course I picked the fabulous Ms. Ball. It was a long book; I forgot a good chunk of it. I’m not going to rewrite her bio. But I did want to shine a light on her life away from Lucy Ricardo.

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She was born Lucille Desiree Ball on Aug 6th 1911 in  (yes) Jamestown,NY. Her mother sent her off to the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts as a way to split Ball up from her ne’er-do-well boyfriend! Ball turned that opportunity into a modelling career that was sidelined when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

She eventually made the move to Hollywood to start her acting career, got bit parts and signed with MGM. She was “Queen of the B’s” for a while until she was cast as Liz Cooper in My Favorite Husband, which we alllll know became our favorite show ILL.

Ball met Desi in 1940 while working on a Broadway show Too Many Girls.  They’re first meeting was not love at first sight. Lucy was in costume, wearing raggamuffin clothes and had a black eye. It wasn’t until the next day that they started to click and they married on November 30th 1940. (As a gal that’s dated a couple guys younger than her- and always gets flack for it- I want to point out that Desi was 6 years younger than Lucy!)

It’s no secret that their marriage was a rocky one. Lucy first filed for divorce in 1944 but the couple reconciled. Their first child, Lucie Desiree Arnaz was borth July 17 1951. Only months before the first episode of ILL would air and thirty-six years to the day before yours truly was born. (July 17 is also the day Disneyland would open for the first time in 1955!)

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Second child, and widely anticipated-thanks to the show, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV was born on Jan 19th 1953. Just a couple months after the airing of the very last Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, the couple divorced on May 4th 1960. Lucy and Desi remained friends and worked together at their company Desilu productions until Desi resigned in 1962. Ball bought him out and became head of the studio and one of the most powerful women in Hollywood.

Ball remarried on November 19th 1961 to Gary Morton, to whom she was with until her death April 26th, 1989.

 

ILL in the Beginning

5 Jan

America first watched ILL on Oct 15th, 1951. A Monday night on CBS. (Can we all agree that the CBS Monday night line up has fallen farrrr from the comedy tree?) So in keeping with tradition, I’m going to be watching an episode every Monday from the beginning all through the 180 episodes, to the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Follow along!

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Before we get into Ep 1, let’s look at the show as a whole & it’s background. ILL started as the radio program “My Favorite Husband” which I’m sure I’ll reference much during the first season as most of the plot lines were borrowed from that. Lucille Ball played Liz opposite Richard Denning as George Cooper. Originally they were the Cugat’s but the last name was changed to avoid confusion with Xavier Cugat.

CBS asked Ball to expand her show to TV and Ball demanded that her husband Desi Arnaz take Denning’s place. CBS didn’t think America would buy or want to watch a white woman and a Cuban husband so the Arnaz-Balls took their show on the road as a vaudeville act and proved CBS wrong. The exec’s eventually gave in to Ball’s request. A little foreshadowing of the kind of woman Ball was!

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There’s so much behind the scenes production stuff that went into creating the show that I don’t know if is interesting to anyone else but goes into the way the makers of this show changed TV forever. They brought in an audience because it made Ball a better performer. Which meant a live laugh track.  They pioneered the three camera format. They shot on film even though it was more expensive and Ball and Arnaz took pay cuts to pay for it, in exchange for producer credit and part ownership.

The radio program turned into a pilot which was ultimately tweaked and with that, the parts of the Mertzes were created. Ball lobbied for old friends Gale Gordon and Bea Benarderet to play Fred and Ethel but their schedules didn’t work out for a permanent role; Gordon would go on to play bit parts throughout the series and Benarderet was the one hit wonder Mrs. Lewis. Frawley was finally brought on as Mr. Mertz and oh brother, I’ll get into that later! Vivian Vance was cast as his wife- and again there’s a story there we’ll talk about in the future.

So with the MFH writers, Bob Carroll Jr and Madelyn Pugh (later Davis) on board, the Mertzes cast and CBS agreeing that a real life couple could be accepted as a TV couple, I Love Lucy was born.