Posted by medusamorlock on August 5, 2011
This coming Saturday — tomorrow, August 6th – marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of show business’ forever and always top funny lady Lucille Ball, and also a day of Lucille Ball on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. It would be more than appropriate for anyone to celebrate this significant milestone, but I especially love Lucy. My mother used to say that when I was a kid everytime she would come into a room I’d be watching I Love Lucy on TV, and I used to talk about it all the time. Still do even today — watch and talk about it!
It’s probably a safe bet to say that these days Lucy is considered more a TV star than a movie star, but maybe not around TCM, though. Lucille Ball was a very successful movie star for years before she defined TV comedy in her own image, and she was very much a Hollywood fixture and powerhouse on many levels for her entire life. In honor of her centennial, I’d like to celebrate her hilarious collaborations with the Hollywood stars who guest-starred on I Love Lucy. Considering the long run of Lucy’s first series, the actual number of celebrities who dropped in on the Ricardos isn’t huge, but when they did it was comedy mayhem.
Most of my favorite examples come from the episodes when Lucy, Ricky (Desi Arnaz), Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel (Vivian Vance) went to Hollywood when entertainer Ricky had been signed by MGM to star in a Don Juan movie (which never gets made). Lucy Ricardo was utterly starstruck and completely dedicated to seeing as many film stars as she could while on the West Coast, and the episodes in this story arc were genuinely charming and the stars who came onboard for them came across extremely well. The writers chose to use a real studio and references to Hollywood locations in the storylines, as well as real MGM exec Dore Schary as a character (played not by Schary but by actor Phil Ober, Vivian Vance’s then-husband), a quick glimpse of Eve Arden, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper playing herself, fashion designer Don Loper with real actor wives like Sheila MacRae (Mrs. Gordon MacRae), Jeanne Martin (Mrs. Dean Martin), Mona Carlson (Mrs. Richard Carlson), and Brenda Marshall (Mrs. William Holden) in the “The Fashion Show” episode. Other Hollywood names peppered the scripts, and the featured guest movie star’s dialogue plugged their latest films as they played opposite Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo.
In no particular order — though the first one is probably #1 in everybody’s book:
William Holden in “L.A., At Last”: The Ricardos and the Mertzes arrive in Hollywood and Lucy begins her star-watching with a Brown Derby sighting of Eve Arden and a closer encounter with William Holden. Holden is superb in this episode filmed at the beginning of December 1954 and aired two months later. His appearance was a huge win for I Love Lucy – Oscar-winner for 1953′s Stalag 13, Oscar-nom for Sunset Blvd., a big hit in Born Yesterday and so many other terrific films — and he and Lucy had appeared together onscreen in 1948′s Miss Grant Takes Richmond. He’s absolutely hilarious in this episode in two classic sequences, among the very funniest in all of ILL. First up is the Brown Derby scene, and then Bill Holden visits Lucy at the Ricardo’s Hollywood hotel room.
In case WordPress is having trouble displaying YouTube videos — which is possible — here are the direct links to the two clips:
Cornel Wilde in “The Star Upstairs”: In Hollywood, Lucy worms it out of bellhop Bobby (played by a hilarious Bobby Jellison) that Cornel Wilde is staying in the room above theirs. She’s determined to get to him, and manages to sneak into his room — twice! — and eventually gets trapped on his balcony. This episode has everything — the threat of a naked Cornel Wilde in the bathtub, fake ventriloquism, Lucy hanging by a rope — and Cornel is pretty funny, too. He was at the top of his movie stardom when this episode was filmed in March 1955 and broadcast six weeks later. Just two years previously he co-starred in C.B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, and though most remember him as an adventure hero, he had received an Academy Award nomination for his 1945 starring role as Chopin in A Song to Remember. (He also made another sitcom guest appearance 2 years later on Father Knows Best!) You can watch the whole episode here.
John Wayne in “”Lucy and John Wayne”: Another great Hollywood adventure; this one’s the part two of Lucy’s fifth season opening episode when she and Ethel steal John Wayne’s footprints from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and now they’re conspiring how to return them. The duo – ”a middle-aged dishwater blonde and a wild-eyed frowsy redhead” — find themselves front page news. Wayne is very amusing and quite natural, and William Frawley is extra cute when he meets the star, too. Of course, the fun doesn’t end there! You can watch the whole episode here.
Here’s a terrific clip from the episode when Lucy sneaks into Wayne’s dressing room; it’s absolutely wonderful, and like the Cornel Wilde episode, plays on the possibility of seeing a star naked — extra funny! — and hearing a dirty joke. Pretty sophisticated, actually, and completely hilarious!
Harpo Marx in “Harpo Marx”: In Hollywood, Lucy promises visiting friend Carolyn Appleby some celebrities, then dresses up and fools her nearsighted pal. However, the real Harpo Marx shows up and they have a celebrated encounter, a re-creation of Harpo’s famous mirror scene from the Marx Bros. movie Duck Soup. Allegedly Harpo was the one Marx that she really liked a lot — she had co-starred in 1938′s Room Service with the fellas — and it shows. Genuinely sweet and funny sequence! You can watch the whole episode here.
Here’s a clip from Lucille Ball guesting on The Dick Cavett Show in 1974 and describing filming the sequence, and it’s fascinating. (Turn the audio up, it’s low.)
Van Johnson in “Dancing Star”: In Hollywood, Lucy wants to show off to her New York friend and ends up doing a nightclub routine with star Van Johnson. Their musical duet of “How About You?” (by Burton Lane and Ralph Freed, brother of the famous MGM creative genius Arthur Freed) is completely charming, especially when Lucy gets stage fright and nearly becomes unglued. Lucy and Van had appeared together on the big screen in the 1946 musical Easy to Wed, and would later team again in 1968′s Yours, Mine and Ours; they have great chemistry in this episode. You can watch the whole episode here.
This is the scene that everybody loves from the episode! The Direct Link is Here.
Richard Widmark in “The Tour”: Still in Hollywood, Lucy and Ethel go on a bus tour of movie star homes and Lucy ends up in Richard Widmark’s backyard. Widmark isn’t so much the lure here, but veteran character actor Benny Rubin as the bus driver is especially hilarious, and actually the bus scenes are the highlights of the episode. There’s really funny stuff with Lucy and Ethel disrupting the tour and talking about movie stars. (You’ll also recognize Barbara Pepper — Mrs. Ziffel on Green Acres — as one of the other passengers.) It’s not that Widmark isn’t pleasant enough, but he’s not exactly funny, and the whole “big game hunter” hobby with trophy heads of magnificent dead animals on his den wall hasn’t aged well at all. Lucy has some fun with a bear rug, but it’s just not cool anymore to brag about shooting animals, and definitely not cool to pull out an elephant gun. Yikes and ick! Really puts a damper on the fun, though Widmark tries to be amusing (playing against his frequent onscreen image as a creepy villain, such as in Kiss of Death and other noir classics) as he shows Ricky around. Widmark was a good “get” as a guest yet doesn’t come across as charmingly as Lucy’s other Hollywood catches, but I’ll blame that on the taxidermy. You can watch the whole episode here.
Rock Hudson in “Lucy in Palm Springs”: In Hollywood, the Ricardos and the Mertzes are getting on each other’s nerves — wives against husbands — so the girls head off to sunny Palm Springs to get away from their husbands. Ricky arranges for a strapping Rock Hudson to show up and help Lucy and Ethel get back together with Ricky and Fred. The episode filmed in March of 1955 and aired about five weeks later; Rock’s hit Magnificent Obsession opposite Jane Wyman would come out in the summer. The 29-year-old Hudson is breezy and charming, with a very funny scene with the girls that wins theirs hearts. You can watch the whole episode here.
George Reeves in “Lucy Meets Superman”: From I Love Lucy’s sixth season, this episode captures George Reeves in top form — and so completely charming and hilarious — in his title role as Superman in the popular series. Of course we all know that his great work as the Man of Steel put the kibosh on his serious movie career — watch the fascinating film Hollywoodland (with Ben Affleck a terrific Reeves) for an account of this — but boy, this one-time Tarleton twin in Gone With The Wind had charm and talent! This episode was filmed in November of 1956 and aired in mid-January, and it’s sad and shocking to remember that Reeves would be mysteriously dead just two-and-a-half years later at the age of 45. Here’s the climax of the show, and it’s both hilarious and heartfelt.
I Love Lucy had a few other celebrity guest stars like Bob Hope and Orson Welles (who used Lucy in a magic act); their episodes are also good. Lucy and Desi’s follow-up thirteen-episode series The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour was full of stars like Fred MacMurray, Betty Grable, Ernie Kovacs, Fernando Lamas, Maurice Chevalier, Red Skelton, Tallulah Bankhead and many others. These episodes haven’t been as exposed as the original I Love Lucy episodes, but they’re showing up on the net and I believe on DVD so check them out if your favorites made an appearance.
The Hallmark Channel is running an I Love Lucy marathon tomorrow and Sunday — kind of a so-so-marathon because they are repeating long blocks of the same episodes over the two days but they are playing the whole arc of Hollywood and European episodes – and TCM is running Lucille Ball movies all day tomorrow, so you will have a good chance to salute Lucy on her 100th Birthday as you see fit. I’m going to try to catch everything all day! Why? Because I Love Lucy, what else!
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