Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Will Always Love Lucy: Happy 100th Birthday!

One hundred years ago today, the world had no idea what just hit it.  On August 6, 1911, one of the world's most famous human beings, Lucille Desiree Ball, was born.  We know her simply as Lucy, and generations of people the world over - many born after her death - continue to marvel at her beauty and even more at her comic genius. 

I dare say just about anyone can name a favorite episode of her iconic television series, I Love Lucy.  Mine is the one where Ricky and Fred challenge Lucy and Ethel to run their households as if it were the 1800's.  Lucy can't fathom that one little yeast cake can make bread dough rise, so she dumps SEVERAL yeast cakes into her dough.  A giant loaf of bread explodes out of the oven and pins her to the cupboard and floor, while Ethel literally takes a saw to the loaf to save a flailing Lucy.   Or maybe it is the grape stomping episode...or the chocolate factory...or the Vitameatavegamin episode...or when she meets Harpo Marx...John Wayne...Bill Holden...

I only got to see I Love Lucy in reruns, and I have the complete series on DVD.  And like a lot of people, I stop clicking through the channels whenever I see it on cable.  In short, ever since I can remember I have literally loved Lucy.

Of course, having seen the show enough, I knew she had red hair and that she had no singing or acting skill whatsoever.  Ricky made sure we knew that in just about every episode.  So imagine my surprise when I was just 8 years old and my grandmother took me to the movies to see Mame.   She didn't have red hair (it was brown) but she could sing, dance, cry, get mad and be funny.  Years later, I would recognize, to my disappointment, that it wasn't exactly Lucy's crowning achievement.  And getting to see Angela Lansbury really perform the role live, sealed the deal.  I still can't get over the fact that Lucy was really a brunette!  Still, even knowing all of that, I love Lucy as much as ever.

Lucy starred on Broadway in just one show, Wildcat.  The show was a success with Ball as the attraction.  The show itself garnered mediocre reviews, but played to full houses until she began missing performances due to illness.  Eventually, she had to withdraw, and the show closed after only 171 performances.  By all accounts, Lucy was crushed that she let down her fans.  Still, she managed to make "Hey, Look Me Over!" a song from the Coleman-Leigh score into a standard.  She performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show, and several times in her later TV series, Here's Lucy.  Click HERE to view this performance, also featuring Ed Sullivan and Paula Stewart.  (See note below.)

One can only imagine what Lucy would think of the state of television and Broadway today.  But it is nearly impossible to think about what life would be like without that wacky redhead to keep us laughing!

(Note: Video images of Ms. Ball are strictly monitored, and most found on YouTube and similar sites have embedding disabled.  The photo images of Ms. Ball are under the supervision of the Arnaz-Ball Estate and are here used to celebrate the life and career of Lucille Ball.  This blog holds no copyright to these images and respectfully appreciates that they have been allowed to be included in this tribute to the late actress.)

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