Book review: Love, Lucy by Lucille Ball

Ginger Rogers’ mother Lela became a stage mom to Lucy and many other aspiring actresses.

The book Love, Lucy by Lucille Ball I actually read last summer, on a transcontinental flight from Newark to San Diego. I meant to write about it then, but forgot. Now it’s nearly thirty years since Lucy died, so I guess it’s time.

If you don’t know, Lucy was the star of the most popular situation comedy in the US in the 1950s, I Love Lucy. She had successful programs in the 1960s as well, The Lucy Show/Here’s Lucy.

The existence of the book is a tale of its own. After Lucy died on April 26, 1989, her children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., were tasked with wading through artifacts. Lucie came across a 300-page manuscript written by her mother c. 1964.

Most people, including Lucy’s closest friends, didn’t know about the existence of this work at all. Perhaps she didn’t want to share it because her portrayals would hurt her then-ex-husband Desi Arnaz. But he had died in 1986, so the book was published in 1996 and became a best-seller.

The details were astonishingly precise, starting with her birth on August 6, 1911, in her grandparents’ apartment in Jamestown, NY, in the southwest corner of the state. She had many challenges growing up, including her father dying at age 28 when she was not quite four.

She was raised by an extended family, including her beloved grandfather, who everyone called Daddy. Later, there was an what she thought was a legal injustice borne by Daddy which affected Lucy’s viewpoint throughout his life.

Lucy took almost any job in New York City: showgirl, extra in Broadway and road shows, modeling coats and dresses, posing for illustrators. It was as a “Chesterfield (cigarette) girl” that first got her to Hollywood.

Ginger Rogers’ mother Lela became a stage mom to Lucy and many other aspiring actresses. “Lela was the first person to see me as a clown with glamour.”

Many more tales were shared before she met this Cuban musician and band leader named Desi. They fell hard for each other, and married rather quickly after they met.

Keeping their marriage together, though, was challenging, as they were both on the road separately a lot. I Love Lucy, in part, was born from addressing that need.

If Lucille Ball, or her TV roles are interesting to you, or if you’re just trying how one young woman worked hard to make it in show biz, I highly recommend Love, Lucy.


Ken Levine: The History of Sitcoms podcast.

What’s My Line? game show (1954), Lucille Ball as mystery guest.

Lucy-Desi Museum

The radio show My Favorite Husband morphed into the TV show I Love Lucy.

Lucile Ball's monogrammed 1972 Mercedes-Benz
Lucile Ball’s monogrammed 1972 Mercedes-Benz

Lucy-Desi Museum, Jamestown, NY: July 12, 2016

A stop in Jamestown was a last-minute addition to the itinerary when we decided that we should see a state park on the return trip, rather on the way out.

We knew that Jamestown was the birthplace of actress Lucille Ball, back on August 6, 1911. There’s something about a small town that needs to embrace its stars the way that New York City or Los Angeles simply cannot. Her childhood home is in nearby Celeron, on what was 8th Street, but is now Lucy Lane. Those homes are privately owned.

But in downtown Jamestown is the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum on West Third Street, where you can find out about the early years of Lucy, from her grade school piano to costumes and gowns from her wardrobe, and some paintings and photos that once hung in her Beverly Hills home.

You also get the background about her future first husband, the Cuban-born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha, III (1917-1986), whose father was the youngest mayor of Santiago, and his mother’s father an executive at Bacardi Rum. The family fortune was seized during the Batista revolution of 1933, and the family eventually fled to Miami, FL.

I was particularly interested in learning about a radio show called My Favorite Husband, starring Ball and Richard Denning, who played the characters of Liz and George Cugat, as a happily married couple. “Beginning with the 26th episode on January 7, 1949, confusion with bandleader Xavier Cugat prompted a name change Cooper.” Apparently, coincidentally, Desi Arnaz had played guitar for Cugat.

My Favorite Husband morphed into the TV show I Love Lucy, with Desi as Ricky Ricardo, a struggling orchestra leader, and Lucy as Lucy (nee McGillicuddy), a housewife with show business fantasies but no real talent. It would be difficult to overstate the significance of this television show on the medium.
Lucy Desi set
Adjacent to the Luci-Desi Museum, and at no additional charge, is the Desilu Studios, which has costumes and prop. But most impressively, it has replicas of both the Ricardos’ New York City apartment of the first six seasons, and the Hollywood Hotel suite of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (shown), thirteen hour-long episodes which aired from 1957 to 1960.

“On March 2, Desi’s birthday, 1960, the day after the last hour-long episode was filmed, Lucille Ball filed for divorce from Desi Arnaz.” But they managed to maintain a friendship until he died of cancer. She died in 1989

Desilu Studios would produce Lucy’s subsequent programs, plus Dick Van Dyke Show, Mission: Impossible and Star Trek.

Even though she was largely unfamiliar with I Love Lucy, The Daughter was captivated with the actress and wanted an Andy Warhol-designed cup as a souvenir. We were so fond of the site that we recommended the Lucy-Desi Museum for some family members at the family reunion.

We did NOT see the Scary Lucy statue that was not too far away but agree that the new rendering is much more suitable.

Lucy TV Guide

All photos c 2016 by Lydia P. Green

Who starred with whom, and where?

The IMDB has an advanced search function.

There is this list of the five best television series of all time, compiled by ABC News and People Magazine, and conveniently broadcast on ABC in the past couple of weeks. Interestingly, all were comedies, none of them were broadcast on ABC, and the latter four would probably be canceled quickly these days because the early ratings were not particularly good. The list included:
I LOVE LUCY (CBS)
SEINFELD (NBC)
MASH (CBS)
ALL IN THE FAMILY (CBS)
CHEERS (NBC)

I read about it on Ken Levine’s blog. He (pictured) mentioned this because he was a writer for two of the shows, MASH and Cheers, which I suppose I’d consider for my list as well. I’d also pick Lucy, if only because it was seminal in the development of the TV rerun. All in the Family, which I did enjoy at the time, did not age well, though. And Seinfeld I liked for a few seasons, but grew tired of it, about the time the character Susan died from licking an envelope. There are plenty of dramatic shows (Twilight Zone, Hill Street Blues, among others) I’d put on the list, but if I were limiting it just to comedies, certainly the Dick Van Dyke Show would be on the roster.

What was most interesting to me, though, is that someone asked Levine: “Other than you and David [Isaacs, Levine’s writing partner], is there anyone else associated with 2 or more of the top 5? Probably not. You are in a very special group.” Levine named some writers. He also noted that “George Wendt and Shelley Long [of Cheers] both did guest stints on MASH.” In the comments section, a guy noted that the IMDB has an advanced search function – go to Collaborations and Overlaps – so that one can discover, e.g., that there are 16 people with credits on both The Dick Van Dyke Show and MASH, starting with Jamie Farr and Bernard Fox. Or that five people were affiliated with both the Van Dyke program and Cheers, including Ann Morgan Guilbert and Sheldon Leonard.

One can also put in Dick Van Dyke and Ted Danson to discover that Van Dyke appeared on Danson’s show Becker, as Becker’s father, and Danson was a guest on Van Dyke’s Diagnosis: Murder, as himself, both in 1999. I will definitely make more use of this feature.
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Ken Levine’s thoughts on the GQ CHEERS article.