As a child I watched hours of I Love Lucy reruns. That crazy redhead fascinated me. She wasn’t afraid to dream big or to do whatever might pop into her head to make those dreams come true. She was like a Pied Piper. Her antics, no matter how ridiculous, simply endeared her to us.
Before her illustrious television career, Lucy lit up the big screen with a variety of characters. She worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Jack Palance, John Agar, and Eddie Albert.
I am always amazed at how young and beautiful she was in her movies. As one who started my love for Lucy with her TV costumes and craziness, I always find my jaw dropping at the incredible softness of her features. She could be expressive and subtle at the same time—very real. She began acting at a young age. If you look up her IMDb.com profile, you’ll find several short films scattered among dozens of pictures in which she appeared un-credited.
Her role in the 1937 movie, Stage Door, is small, but pivotal. In an ensemble of big stars, her character is luminous and spiteful—not what I expected. It caught my attention. She was good.
She is better known for her portrayal of the outrageous aunt in the 1974 Mame, and as the overstressed mom in the 1968 film, Yours, Mine and Ours.
She paired her flair for funny with another master of comedy, Bob Hope, in films like Fancy Pants, Sorrowful Jones, Facts of Life, Mr. and Mrs., and Critic’s Choice. Though Hope and Ball were both artists in slapstick, most of these films use it sparingly, instead concentrating on the tangible tension and chemistry these two could create.
My personal favorite Lucy film is The Long, Long Trailer. She plays a newly-wed, along with her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, taking their honeymoon to the road in an oversized vacation trailer. Just thinking about the “making dinner,” “backing in,” and “getting stuck in the mud” scenes make me smile. I dare you to watch this movie and not laugh at loud.
One thing that made Lucy remarkable was a talent that few actors ever capture. While most TV shows consider a married couple “the kiss of death,” that’s where Lucy and Desi started their show. Lucy managed to play a wife, mother, and best friend every week, while keeping it interesting, realistic, and hilarious. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo enjoyed (or survived) one adventure after another with their best friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz.
Ricky’s music career took them all over the world, meeting all sorts of movie stars, like Harpo Marx, John Wayne, Charles Boyer, Orson Welles, Hedda Hopper, and William Holden. I adore the episode with Bill Holden. Lucy has a teeny bit of trouble lighting a cigarette in that one. A great deterrent to smoking!
Lucy and Ethel conspired, as BFFs do, in all sorts of schemes. They built a barbecue pit together, stomped grapes together for wine, and worked at a chocolate factory together. Ethel was there for Lucy when she made the Vitameatavegamin commercial—getting sloshed in the process.
As a kid, I laughed and laughed at all of this. I wanted to be like her—even though she ALWAYS got into trouble. She indeed had a “lot of ‘splaining to do.” We all not only accepted her nervous and sometimes tearful explanations, but we craved more. That’s why we all loved Lucy.
Happy 100th Birthday!
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!