Monday, August 8, 2011
Happy 100th Birthday Lucy Ball!
It was June 1972 and there I was the sole Canadian on the Television Critics Tour in Los Angeles.
Canadian scribes were banned in those days when the U.S. networks ran the show but I sneaked under the line year after year much to the chagrin of the big Toronto newspapers.
Being from the lowly Hamilton Spectator in those days carried perks --Hamilton was then considered part of the Buffalo stations' adverizing territory and the three Buffalo affiliates got me on.
And every night in those days the networks would send critics out to special events. One night I saw that dinner with Lucy Ball and her husband Gary Morton was on the agenda and so I signed up.
Only one other scribe did so --mammoth Kay Gardella from the New York Daily News and we had a grand catered affair in Lucy's gazebo. You see by then Lucy's series was faltering and critics were more interested in younger, prettier stars.
It was all so surreal --we weren't allowed in the house and at one point Lucy's next door neighbor looked over the fence --that would be a guy named Jimmy Stewart.
I startled Lucy by telling her I wanted her to be Lucille --the first female head of a major studio (Desilu) and she obliged by analyzing the industry in a brilliant critique that must have lasted a half hour.
Here was the woman who had green lighted Star Trek because she just had a hunch about the show and she did the same with Mission:Impossible.
But she was certainly a control freak. My old pal Ann Sothern told me she had turned down the opportunity to join The Lucy Show as Vivian Vance's replacement because Ball had become too much of a control freak.
And that night Lucy's daughter Lucie Arnaz was starring in Anne Get Your Gun in summer stock in Atlantic City and was supposed to [phone at a pre-arranged time. When she didn't Lucy went ballistic and then started worrying something had happened.
It had --Arnaz's shows had started late because the curtain wouldn't come down, that's all. When she finally phoned Lucy blasted her.
The master class lasted a few hours. Lucy answered every question quite brilliantly. She analyzed the other comedies coming up on the schedule --I remember on another occasion she particularly loathed Maude which she considered too adult.
Lucy wisely retired from the weekly grind in 1974--she was 63 and her latest movie, a bad musical version of Mame had bombed at the box office.
And she was very wrong to attempt a comeback in 1986 with Here's Lucy. I attended a taping one night --John Ritter was the co-star --and when Lucy attempted a pratfall the audience stood up in horror she'd hurt herself.
This week on TCM I watched some of her great movie highlights --Lucy had always pretended she wasn't much of a movie star but she was.
I caught her in Best Foot Forward and The Big Street with Henry Fonda where her great beauty was on full display.
Hard to believe she's now 100. I think she'd be delighted she's remembered so fondly by fans.