Tag Archives: my favorite husband

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.

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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.

S1E7: The Seance

20 Feb

Aired Nov 26, 1951

Plot: Lucy, suddenly superstitious, meddles in Ricky’s career when she tells theater producer Mr. Merriweather “no” because Ricky’s horoscope told her to. To make it up to everyone, Lucy holds a seance to contact’s Merriweather’s dear departed, Tilly.

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Let’s Get Into It: I guess Ethel’s tarot card reading from episode 4 convinces Lucy in the supernatural because now she is all about horoscopes and palm readings and numerology. She is a 3. Ricky is a 5 and Ethel is a 7. Whatever that means. At one point Ricky tells Lucy to “nip it in the 3” and Lucy’s reaction is “Watch your language!” Is he saying a bad word or saying to nip it in the Lucy?? Also maybe suggestive (for a 1950’s show) Ricky asks Lucy if she likes the way he “vibrates!” There’s also a Hers and Hers joke thrown in.

Lucy thinks she’s talking to Ricky’s barber and tells him “no no no” because Ricky’s horoscope says Gemini’s should stay in bed all day.Well she’s really talking to Ricky’s potential employer, Mr. Merriweather. Ricky marches Lucy straight over to Merriweather’s office to explain and lucky for them, Merriweather is all about horoscopes too. He’s a 7. “We’re all odd, aren’t we?”

So to schmooze him, Lucy invites him over for a seance so he can talk to Tilly. Ethel has more of that costume money and dressed up as the medium. Ricky and Lucy both have the same idea to fake the Tilly voice. Fred agrees to Rick’s plan, pretends to have a headache and waits downstairs for Ricky’s cue when it’s time to fake his voice, but it takes him too long and Lucy beats him to it. She sneezes and burns herself on the fireplace and convinces eager Mr. Merriweather that she has a cold and I guess is in Hell. They have a nice, deceiving chat and then he wants to contact Mrs. Merriweather! Fred arrives just in time and does that voice to remind Merriweather of his terrible memories with his wife. Ha!

Since Lucy doesn’t know about Fred and Fred doesn’t know about Lucy, they’re convinced Ethel really was talking to a ghost. They start looking for one. Like under chairs and stuff. Ricky comes in after walking Merriweather out when he gets the info. Yes, Mrs. Merriweather is his wife but he is convinced Ethel is the real deal because Tilly’s voice sounded just like what he imagined it would be if Tilly could talk. Tilly, as it turns out, was his cocker spaniel!

Notes:

Starting with this episode one side of the Ricardo’s sofa was padded to make Desi appear taller when sitting next to Lucy.

 

Ricky is a Gemini. Ethel is a Leo (as is Viv in real life) and Lucy is a Taurus– in this episode. A later episode quotes Lucy’s birthday as Ball’s real birthday, Aug. 6th.

 

When Ball went on maternity leave, this was one of the episodes that re-ran with a new opening scene. Ricky comes home to Ethel babysitting because Lucy is at the library. She is trying to find the best name for the baby according to numerology. She almost named the baby Xavier! No child of Ricky’s will be named after Cugat!

MFH Connection: Based on the episode “Numerology.”

Familiar Faces:

Mr. Merriweather is played by Jay Novello, and old My Favorite Husband player who is also Mr. Beecher in The Sublease and Mario in Visitor From Italy.

 

S1E6: The Audition

13 Feb

Aired Nov 19, 1951

The Plot: Lucy fills in as a clown in Ricky’s club act

Let’s Get Into It: I’m sure I’ll talk about this further in depth someday but people always assumed Lucille was such a natural comedienne because physical comedy looked like it came so naturally to her. In reality she worked very hard. But opening scenes like this one, where Lucy puts on Ricky’s Congo drum and immediately falls to the floor is so simple and yet so funny.  It’s a testament to her talent that it looks so easy.

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We get a peek inside the Ricardo’s bathroom! This is the first time  we see this set and I can only think of one other time we come back here. Lucy is trying to convince Ricky to put her in his act and this is such a cute scene for these two. We get to see them set up the entire premise of the show but they are being silly and lovey with each other. Lucy is making faces in the mirror as Ricky shaves and Ricky is cracking jokes. Very endearing.

To prove how good of an addition she would be, Lucy dons a lampshade and a fur shall. Why the lampshade? What does it add to her “costume?” And what exactly is her costume? Well the lampshade doesn’t convince Ricky and it’s still a no.

We see Ricky at rehearsal and Boffo the clown bites it on his bike act. His breaks supposedly lock up but both times the actor just jumps off the bicycle. Instead of taking him all the way home to Staten Island, Fred who’s at rehearsal for some reason, takes him back to the Ricardo’s apartment where Lucy comes home and finds him. He tests out his bike again and flies right through the kitchen door! How much is that gonna cost?

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So Lucy takes his spot and gets to be in the show- not that Ricky approved this, of course. She puts on the weirdest voice but her whole act is hilarious and iconic. Ricky, for his part, plays right along and their banter is fun. Are they making sex jokes? Ricky asks to see her credentials and if she has any experience and her reactions are perfectly hysterical!

Ricky’s show was so important because it was an audition for a TV show (hence the title) but Lucy is so funny, she’s the one offered the contract to which Ricky is less than thrilled. He comes home (notice the door is still broken) and gives Lucy the same speech from the morning. He wants her to clean the house and cook for him and bring him slippers and be a mother to his children. With that, Lucy tells Ricky she has a surprise for him. Ricky’s face lights up before Lucy tells him she’s baked him his favorite pie! Ha.

Notes:

Ethel is not in this episode. This episode is a remake of the pilot when the Mertzes weren’t characters, instead the sidekicks being Jerry the Agent and Boffo the clown. Jerry’s part just got rewritten for Fred and Ethel got left out.

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An audience goer snuck in a camera and captured some color footage of the crew filming. It’s super weird to me to see the Tropicana in full color. Which I guess is pink!

MFH Connection: Based on the broadcast titled “The Wills.”

Familiar Faces:

The Network Execs there to review the show are Jess Oppenheimer on the left, CBS exec Hal Hildon on the right, and in the middle is the man who greenlighted Lucy and Desi’s real life audition, Harry Ackerman. (Oppenheimer’s voice is also heard in Lucy Does a TV Commercial and an extra in The Tour.)

Bennett Green plays a stagehand in this episode. He is Desi’s stand in. He has a lot of background parts in 21 episodes.

 

S1E4: Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her

30 Jan

Aired Nov 5, 1951

Plot: When Lucy reads a murder mystery and Ethel tells reads her her fortune, Lucy becomes convinced Ricky is trying to off her.

Let’s Get Into It: This was the first filmed episode of ILL but due to “post-production technical difficulties” it was aired forth.

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It opens with Lucy reading The Mockingbird Mystery and she’s so engrossed in her book she doesn’t even notice she’s dipping in her chips in cold cream.  Ricky and Lucy get ready for bed and in this era married couples slept in twin beds (on TV) but in these episodes they were pushed together! This was before Little Ricky made his appearance and before it was undeniable that Ricky and Lucy were having S.E.X and the network made them push the beds apart.

The next morning, Lucy is still reading her flying book when Ethel comes in. Ethel’s hair isn’t in it’s usual style here and I think she looks really great. She tells Lucy she learned to read tarot cards and Lucy’s response is that she doesn’t believe in that stuff. Well, she will 3 episodes later… Ethel can barely look at the cards, they’re so scary! They say Lucy is going to die. Lucy then overhears Ricky talking to her agent about “getting rid of her” and getting a gun, not realizing he is talking about his nightclub act and is convinced Ricky is going to kill her.  Which last night, when Ricky was mocking murdering his wife (like he suggests the husband does in her book, Ricky already said a gun was “too noisy” so Lucy has nothing to fear there. lol)

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Ricky writes down a list of the dog’s names and every time the names are read back Helen’s and Ann’s switch order. Hm… Plus is there a gay joke in ILL? One of Ricky’s potential future partners is Theodore?? Progressive Ricky.

This episode really does feel like the “pilot” since it sets up Ethel as the landlord and Jerry as Ricky’s agent. Plus you can tell this show is shot more like a play; when Lucy is running from Ricky, you can see her unclip the frying pan so that it “falls.” Plus Desi, not as familiar with being on camera, has a couple of goofs. When he walks over to answer the phone, he walks too fast and a camera is unable to move out of view. You can see it on the right side of  your screen. Later he stand up to fast causing the camera to cut off half his face and jumps up to adjust.

Ricky confides in Fred that he is worried about Lucy and Fred’s answer is to drug her! Wha? Fred ‘occasionally’ just drugs his wife? Not cool. This was such a different time! So Fred hands Ricky a sedative that Lucy sees him put in her drink.

Let’s break down this scene. Lucy doesn’t just straight out ask Rick, hey whaddya doing? Communication isn’t their strong suit. So she sets both drinks on the table and asks him to dance. When they do the camera swings too far and you can see the bedroom on the left side of the shot. Then Lucy switched the glasses and Ricky secretly switches them back. What do you think Ricky was thinking when he either saw or assumed Lucy switched the drinks? Did he think she knew there was a sedative in there and just didn’t want to go to sleep? Or did he know that she thought he was trying to murder her and what? I don’t even know what he was thinking! Well he switches them back and so she supposedly drinks from the poisoned cup but watch closely and you’ll see Ricky actually picks up that glass.

Lucy isn’t taking this lying down so she and Ethel run over to the club to confront Ricky. She finds out the list of girls (and Theodore) are actually dogs but listen closely and you’ll hear the trainer call one of them “Yorky.” Also keep your eyes on Ethel. Lucy yawns, now that the sleeping pill is kicking in, but Vance in reaction to seeing Lucy, yawns as well! She’s the cutest.

MFH Connection: Based on the MFH episode titled “The Wills.”

Familiar Faces:
Jerry the Agent (Jerry Hausner) becomes a semi-recurring character but he also is responsible for the crying Little Ricky Voice. When he’s not crying, he remains Jerry except for in Lucy Does a TV Commercial, suddenly his name is Joe.

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.