Tag Archives: the beginning

Bob Carroll Jr.- Man, I Love This Guy’s Look

10 Aug

He was born Robert Gordon Carroll on August 12, 1918 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. During his childhood, his family moved to Florida, California and then back to Florida, where Carroll went to Petersburg Junior College. 1940, while recovering from a hip injury, Carroll heard about a radio sponsored script writing contest, and with nothing else to go, he gave it a shot and won!

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He moved to California and his brother-in-law helped him get a job at the front desk of CBS Radio where he worked his way up the ladder to the publicity department, and from there to writer. There he met and partnered with Madelyn Pugh. The team was writing on the Steve Allen radio show when they set their sights on the opportunity to write for the new Lucille Ball program. They paid Allen to write his own show that week and submitted a script for My Favorite Husband. They got hired on under Jess Oppenheimer and wrote there for 2 ½ years. When Ball took her show on the road to convince CBS to hire Desi, Carroll and Pugh helped develop that vaudeville act, and the duo would stay on with them when it came time to produce ILL.

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Carroll, along with his partner, wrote for many other Ball shows as well as other series such as The Paul Lynde Show, Alice and The Mothers-in-Law. Not much is documented about his private life. He was married and divorced twice and had 1 daughter, Christina.

Carroll died on January 27, 2007.

Miss Madelyn Pugh

8 Jun

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Madelyn Pugh was born on March 15, 1921 in Indianapolis, Indiana. She started writing for her high school’s newspaper with classmate Kurt Vonnegut. She later graduated from Indiana University with a major in journalism.

She moved to California and started writing for NBC and then CBS where she met Bob Carroll Jr. where they began the start of their 50-year partnership. Pugh was often the only female writer on staff and credited the war effort for a lot of her opportunities as there were less male writers available. Pugh and Carroll submitted a spec script for My Favorite Husband and soon started writing it under Jess Oppenheimer. When MFH turned into I Love Lucy, Ball and Oppenheimer brought Pugh and Carroll on staff. The team continued their loyal friendship with Ball, going on to write The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, and Life with Lucy.

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Pugh married Quinn Martin on December 24, 1955 and had 1 son, Michael. Martin and Pugh divorced on November 21, 1960. She later met Dr. Richard Davis and married on May 30th, 1964 until his death. Pugh would then be credited as Madelyn Davis.

Pugh died at the age of 90, on April 20, 2011.

 

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.

The Lost Pilot Episode

23 Feb

The pilot of ILL was filmed on March 2nd, 1951 but wasn’t aired until April 30th, 1990. It wasn’t meant to be in the regular broadcast rotation and it got “lost.” Pepito the clown’s wife notified CBS that she had a copy that was given to the now late performer by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. The copy’s original titles and first few seconds were either damaged or missing but were reconstructed and the original announcer, Bob LeMond re-recorded his narration after 50 years.

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The pilot is really just the rough draft of episode 6- The Audion. There’s a lot of overlap so I wont go over the plot much but I will look at the major differences. This pilot episode opens, like mentioned, with narration unlike any other episode. It introduces who Ricky and Lucy are and pans over their apartment building. Then we see this giant hand open the window so it was really like a dollhouse but people live inside. Kinda funny, kinda strange.

Their bedroom set (which is common for pilots) is totally different from the rest of the show. And Lucy is wearing a size 5XL in pajamas it looks like. In reality, Lucille Ball was pregnant with Lucie while shooting the pilot.

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The conversation about Lucy asking for a part in his TV audition is almost word for word as in episode 6. Lucy even puts on another lampshade, although this one is huge and upside down.

Jerry comes over to talk to Ricky about the show. The pilot originally had side characters as Jerry and  Pepito who later were replaced by Fred and Ethel. I’m SO glad they brought in a friend for Lucy. She needs someone to bounce her crazy schemes and play off of. Other than Ricky, she only interacts with Pepito and it’s not enough!

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Also I’m so glad they nixed Pepito. His act is… not good. That baby cry thing? Ooof it’s awful! He is the weirdest clown ever. And when he crashes his bike, it looks like he jumps off the back and the bike just splits suddenly into two pieces and then he slowly lays down.

I would never go see Pepito’s act but I’m starting to get the appeal of Desi Arnaz. He plays the congo so passionately, it’s like when someone is so passionate about something they get you to like it. Does that make sense? Watch when they first show Ricky in the club. He doesn’t like playing with his wedding ring on and he forgot to take it off before they started filming. He quickly slips the ring off and puts it in his pocket without missing a beat.

Skipping around, I have always liked the Cuban Cabby song. Does he sing that again later in the series?

Back at the Ricardo’s apartment, Pepito is resting and somehow the bike is back together. He sees if he can ride it around the apartment and Lucy moves a piece of furniture right in his path which is enough to completely lose his balance and go flying through wall. So Lucy takes his spot in the audition.

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Pay attention to Ricky when he asks Lucy if she can play that “thin.”  He tries so hard not to laugh at her response of “What thin?” and even breaks a little and stumbles over his next line.

And the episode finishes with the same great pie line!

 

 

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.