15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘I Love Lucy’
It’s a remarkable feat for a show that debuted before most people even owned a TV to remain one of the most popular sitcoms today. But I Love Lucy still manages to pull numbers, which seems fitting for a show that broke ground and introduced a number of TV firsts. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz left a giant mark on television by portraying the first interracial on-screen couple on the first-ever show to feature an ensemble cast.
And that’s just the start of it. Read on about the making of the show that gave us one of the funniest fictional commercials ever recorded and set pieces so real that they almost caused total disaster…
The ‘Lucy’s Italian Movie’ Episode Was a Mission to Film
The one where Lucy gets into a juicy fight with a grape presser proved challenging to shoot. Not only was it hard finding a vineyard to donate a vat full of grapes, but the folks who eventually agreed insisted that the show add to the script that foot-pressing was considered an outdated method in Italian winemaking. And even though the show was filmed in black and white, the filmmakers went for realism and had to test a bunch of different dyes to prevent any skin damage.
Meanwhile, Teresa Tirelli, the local extra who got fruity with Ball in that vat, spoke zero English and apparently didn’t understand that the fight had to be A) fake and B) from the waist up. At one point, Tirelli was holding Ball’s head submerged in all those grapes for so long that the actress almost drowned. Knowing this, you can actually see the panic in Ball’s face as the hilarious sequence escalates.
A YouTuber Colorized the Show Better Than CBS
When CBS decided to start colorizing some I Love Lucy episodes in 2013, they ended up royally screwing up Lucy’s hair, making it seem like she dipped her head in a bag of orange cotton candy.
It took a YouTuber named Zach Smothers of Pop-colorture.com to show the network and the world what working with a realistic color palette could do for your show (which here means not making your main character look like a bootleg Ronald McDonald).
CBS Didn’t Think Lucy and Desi Would Work on Television
CBS first approached Ball with the idea of adapting her radio show, My Favorite Husband, for television. Ball liked the idea and wanted her husband to play her TV hubby, but the network refused, arguing that viewers wouldn’t buy an all-American Lucy being married to a Cuban. Ball was flabbergasted, reportedly saying, “Okay. But, see, I am married to a Cuban.” The couple staged a vaudeville show to disprove CBS’ idiotic theory, with the audience eating it all up. That, in a nutshell, is how I Love Lucy became the first show to feature an interracial married couple on television.
The Dark Fan Theory About Lucy Ricardo’s Past
A fan theory exists arguing that Lucy’s father was a mob boss in Jamestown, New York, causing Lucy to flee her hometown, change her name and join the Witness Protection Program. This, supposedly, is why Lucy never, ever mentions her father, refers to her maiden name as McGillicuddy (her mother’s maiden name), frequently concocts diabolical plans like stealing customers from a meat vendor or staging a fake murder to get rid of a tenant and explains why Ricky doesn’t want her to be on his show.
The Show Once Had a Comic Strip
From 1954 up to 1962, Dell Comics published 35 issues of an I Love Lucy comic book with an additional two four-color prints. It was also the first time Lucy would be featured sporting that reddish head of hair.
The Network Was Livid When Ball Got Pregnant
In his book, Laughs, Luck... and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time, producer Jess Oppenheimer said that the show’s network and sponsors saw Ball’s pregnancy as a “complete disaster.” They threatened to cancel the show, arguing, “You cannot show a pregnant woman on television!” Oppenheimer and Arnaz didn’t budge, banking on the fact that they were one of the top shows in the U.S. at the time. CBS eventually caved but told the producers they were not allowed to use the word “pregnancy” — only “expecting” or “with child.” It also helped sway folks’ opinions when the producers proposed that three clergymen come to the set to “bless” the pregnancy scripts.
The Show Pioneered the Three-Camera Sitcom
Not only was I Love Lucy the first show to be filmed in front of a live studio audience, but it also ushered in using the multiple-cam setup for television productions. At the time, no cinematographer thought such a setup could work, and even the show’s veteran cinematographer, Karl Freund (who worked on Metropolis, Dracula and The Mummy), was skeptical at first. Arnaz, however, believed it could be done and, of course, was proven right.
Before the show settled on three cameras, the first season was shot using four. “We began I Love Lucy using four cameras because they wanted to do the entire first half of the show without stopping,” Season One’s director Marc Daniels remembered. “We had four Fearless dollies, four dolly grips, four camera assistants, two booms, two dolly grips for the booms and a few cable men. You can imagine what that floor looked like.”
The Mertzes Didn’t Get Along Off-Camera
William Frawley and Vivian Vance (who played Fred and Ethel Mertz) did not have the best real-life relationship, with Frawley reportedly once calling his on-screen partner a “miserable c**t.” Vance also made it known that she loathed Frawley and prayed “there wouldn’t be a scene where we had to be in bed together.” She also had a problem with their age difference (when the show premiered, he was 64 and she was 42), which, according to Oppenheimer’s son, led to Frawley insisting his character insult Ethel on a regular basis.
According to Audrey Kupferberg, a film historian and co-writer of Meet the Mertzes: The Life Stories of I Love Lucy’s Other Couple, the film Being the Ricardos gave a softened portrayal of Frawley, especially his drinking. “I thought J.K. Simmons, who’s a really good actor, his character was just not like Frawley was,” Kupferberg told Page Six. “They really warmed him up. The idea that he took a drink or two. He was really a very, very bad alcoholic. He drank all day. He would go across the street. He would go to a place called Nickodell. He would drink there, and then after work, he would drink more. He was also really cheap, and when Nickodell raised the price of their beer by 10 cents a glass, he stopped going there and went to Musso and Frank.”
She added that Frawley “was a woman-hater, known throughout Hollywood for very bad language and just antisocial behavior.”
The Show Accidentally Invented Reruns
When Ball was given maternity leave, CBS decided to air episodes from its first season in the show’s usual slots. Little did they know that those repeat episodes would attract the same kind of numbers as the originals did, and the rerun was born.
Who Really Composed the Theme Song?
The show and the Library of Congress both credit CBS’ music director at the time, Eliot Daniel, as the composer of the iconic theme song. The New York Library, however, claims that the theme’s true composer is the Cuban pianist Marco Rizo, Dezi Arnaz’s childhood friend who also composed the background music for the entire series. In an interview, Rizo explained that Arnaz indeed approached him to write the theme song and that it was a collaboration between himself, Arnaz and Daniel. He further said that he added the Cuban rhythm and percussion to the song. When asked why he didn’t get credit, he explained that CBS wanted their own music director to take over the band at the time.
Rizo, of course, can be seen in every band scene playing the piano.
The Memo About Ball’s Pregnancy
Ball and Arnaz’s press agents drew up a memo titled “Various Aspects of the Ricardo Baby in the I Love Lucy Publicity and Promotional Campaign” to plan the merging of the birth of the couple’s second child with that of Little Ricky on the show. The memo stated that the stunt should be kept top secret until after the baby was born, and it included a special section called “The Secret Gimmick About the Baby’s Sex,” which explained that “the Ricardo baby will be a boy regardless of the sex of the actual Arnaz baby. Of course, if the Arnaz baby does happen to be a boy, then all writers and editors can assume that the producers of I Love Lucy are clairvoyant and possessed of sheer genius. If it happens to be a girl, the story (and the truth) is that Desi was so set on having a boy … that he went ahead and filmed the Ricardo baby as if it were, regardless.”
Arnaz Was Big on Authenticity
Arnaz was at the show’s helm, with many filmmaking innovations coming from his creative mind. He was also a stickler for realism and wanted things to be as authentic as possible. For the scene where Lucy uses a buttload of yeast only to create a monstrous loaf of bread, Arnaz instructed his assistant director to find a baker who would actually bake them the 9-footer. The colossal turd-looking bread ended up weighing 300 pounds.
‘I Love Lucy’ Was Filmed Like a Broadway Show
William Asher, who came on board to direct episodes for the show in 1952, said that rehearsals and an absolute focus on precision were needed to film every episode in around 30 minutes. “We had stops for Lucy’s big costume changes, but that was all,” he once explained. “I had a pretty strict rule on that. We didn’t stop for anything. We played it like a Broadway show. If an actor made a mistake or forgot a line or something like that, it was up to the other actor to get him out of it.”
Asher, however, did recall the show once coming to a complete stop following a line placement that went wrong. “Lucy always had one moment where she’d get stuck,” he remembered. “We’d put that line of dialogue on the back of a lamp or something where we knew she’d be working. Once, right in the middle of a scene, she suddenly stopped. And she was the only one in the scene, alone in the living room. I waited and waited. She just was staring at something. Finally, I yelled ‘cut’ and ran down to the set and saw she was staring at the back of a lamp where we’d put her line. She said the line didn’t seem right to her. It turned out that the lamp we were using in that show broke after dress rehearsal, and the crew brought in another lamp that had a line from a previous show from the year before on it. We explained it to the audience and replaced it with the right line, and went on. It was the only time we stopped.”
The Original Opening Was Wildly Different
Before the famous “Heart Satin” theme would become the famous opener of the show, the first episodes saw an animated opening with the Ricardos sliding down a pack of Philip Morris cigarettes, the show’s biggest sponsor. In fact, Ball and Arnaz did a bunch of commercials for the brand as their on-screen characters.
The Candy Factory Episode Almost Ended in Disaster
Ball famously did a lot of physical comedy on her shows, which naturally meant that there were some injuries along the way. In the famous “Job Switching” episode, Ball ended up almost breaking her nose because she insisted Amanda Milligan (a real-life candy dipper, mind you) slap her in the face with a handful of melted chocolate. You know, for comedy.
Ball was sure she’d broken her nose but refrained from yelling “Cut!” because she knew it was a good take, and she was sure as shit not doing another take. As for Milligan’s time acting on a TV show? “I’ve never been so bored in my life,” she said.