Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lucille Ball: A Cultural Phenomenon

My friend Frank teaches an “I Love Lucy” class at the local community college. I have not taken the course (shame on me), but when you can earn college credits while studying about Lucille Ball, you know she’s achieved a rare cultural status.

All these years after her success, people love her. I’m currently watching the first season of “I Love Lucy” while walking on the treadmill at night, and for all of the episodes I have seen, I’m discovering several that are unfamiliar to me.

In honor of Lucy’s 100th birthday today, True Classics is hosting a blogathon. Please check their site for the many entries saluting this great lady.

What I want to share are a few thoughts from several years ago when we were in Los Angeles. We were joined by several friends and took one of the star homes tours just for kicks. We even joked about climbing over Richard Widmark’s wall to get an orange – or was it a grapefruit? – which in itself reflects the enduring popularity of that particular “I Lucy Lucy” episode.

During the tour, we drove by Lucy’s former home (below), and the guide said her home is the most popular among his fans.

However, the most amusing stories came several days later when we took the Paramount Studios tour. Paramount now includes the RKO studio which was located on adjoining property and later was Desilu. As we walked through the complex, we passed Lucy’s office, and then the tour guide pointed out the below piece of land right outside of her office windows.

According to the guide, Lucy was under fire from people who felt that, as a mother, she should be spending more time with her children. So she had this area created to resemble her home’s backyard. Then she would stage publicity photos of her playing with her kids in this area, and a press release would talk about how much time she spent with her kids at home!

Off to the left, you can see a two-story brick building front with an overhang above the front door. That front apparently looks just like the front of her parents’ home in New York, and she would stage photos of her “visiting” her parents back home.

I have no idea if these stories are true, but they are intriguing on several levels. First, she was criticized as a working mom so she had to conform to the ideals of motherhood at the time to prove she was a good mother, which is a sad reflection on working women in the 1960s. Second, I find them very funny because it sounds like something that Lucy and Ethel would dream up.

People forget how much influence Lucy had after “I Love Lucy.” When she began to run Desilu and started “The Lucy Show,” she wielded power as both a top performer and a businesswoman. I’ve read unflattering portraits of her from this period, but she was doing something few women did and should be considered a trailblazer.

I’ll always be a Lucy fan, and on her 100th birthday, I raise a glass of Vitameatavegamin to toast her career, her success and her influence that we still feel today.

Please read some of the excellent blog posts at True Classics.


  1. I raise a glass of Vitameatavegamin to toast her career, her success and her influence that we still feel today.

    It's so tasty, too! Tastes just like candy! (Grimace)

    Thanks for the pictures!

  2. You are welcome. Perhaps I shouldn't be drinking a glass ... a few tablespoons should be plenty!

  3. Lucy also tried to emulate the acting workshops that Lela Rogers ran at RKO and helped Lucy so much in her career. She gave a lot. It's a shame that expectations can make you feel that it is never enough.

    Very interesting stuff. And, yes, it was a grapefruit.

  4. You're so lucky! I wish I could go on that tour! Thanks for sharing those pics and your thoughts about it!

  5. I'll raise a glass of Vita-you-know-what to Lucy as well. Happy 100th, Lucy!

  6. I imagine Lucy had to endure the tired old stereotype of a working woman with children. She sure came up with a creative way to deal with it -- I like to think it's all true. Her children adored her, so I doubt her career was any problem for them! I remember that Donna Reed also had a large family, and got some criticism about a mother having a successful TV show about being a mother. You notice no one ever says that about the male actors with kids. Same old story.

    "Do you pop out at parties...are you unpoopular?" Genius writing and acting. Oh, and by the way, it was a grapefruit!

    Loved your contribution to Lucy's Day!

  7. I had the same reaction you did to the stories of Lucy doing staged family photo ops - sounds exactly like a Lucy and Ethel scheme.

    I've been enjoying the "I Love Lucy" marathons and her day on TCM. Watched some, recorded some. One I saw for the first time was "Dance, Girl, Dance" - Lucy gave it everything she had, and she was great as a hard-hearted Gypsy Rose Lee type.

    Now for a tumbler of Vitameatavegamin, straight, no chaser...

    (Great post!)

  8. I LOVE Lucy! I loved the post, too. As a working mom, I feel that the stereotypes have not changed all that much. Not only are moms expected to contribute to family income, but we're also expected to produce those picture perfect moments as well.

    Lucy's antics and can do attitude have gotten me through more than one rough time. I think that is part of her enduring charm. She was trapped by conventions of her time, much as many of us feel trapped by a family illness or a downturn in the job market. Her pluck and courage and a healthy dose of laughter always saved the day for her, and serves as a way for us to do the same.

    Thanks for posting. I always love reading what you and the others put here. As for me...I'm heading off to find a grapefruit and some Vitameatavegimin!

  9. Cheers! to a wonderful story and pictures.. I would have loved to have gone on a, "star homes tour", to visit Lucy's home.

    I was lucky enough to watch many "new to me" Lucy films, on TCM today.

  10. Thank you for all of the comments! And I appreciate the clarification on the grapefruit. If anyone ever takes the Paramount Studios tour, let me know if the same stories are told. I wish I had the time to see the movies on TCM ... life just gets in the way of all my moviewatching.

  11. I love the personal touch of this post--I have always wanted to go on the studio tour and to see Lucy's old home, but for now I'll have to live vicariously through your experiences. But I'll decline joining you in a Vitameatavegamin toast, because I don't want to start staggering around and slurring my words--at least not this early in the day.

    Thank you very much for participating in the blogathon--this was such a wonderful read!