August 6 is the 103rd birthday of the great Lucille Ball (Lucy was born in Jamestown, New York on August 6, 1911). Who doesn't love Lucy? A brilliantly talented comedienne, we followed and laughed at Lucy's crazy adventures through 179 episodes of her classic TV show I Love Lucy.
Originally airing in 1951, the show has been generating laughs around the world for over six decades. I Love Lucy has reputedly been seen by more people than any television series in history. Almost everyone has their particular favorite episode of the show. Let's take a look at six of the greatest episodes of I Love Lucy and their "inside stories".
1. “Lucy Thinks Ricky is Trying to Murder Her"
This was actually the first episode filmed of I Love Lucy, although it aired fourth. Filmed on September 8, 1951, the show ran into a few post production snags and “The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub,” the second episode filmed, aired first- on October 15, 1951. This episode was based on a episode of Lucy's radio show she had done previous to I Love Lucy called “My Favorite Husband" (that episode was called “The Wills”).
A terrible backstage incident occurred during rehearsals of this episode, an unfortunate one which set the tone for the the next six years of filming the show. During rehearsals, Lucy and actress Vivian Vance (who had been hired to play Lucy's neighbor and best friend Ethel Mertz) were confiding in each other and engaging in some backstage girl talk. Vivian confided to Lucy about actor William Frawley, who was playing her husband in the show, Fred Mertz.
“No one will ever believe i'm actually married to that old goat,” she told Lucy. Vivian was surprised a man so much older- Frawley was 24 years her senior- had been cast as her mate.
Unfortunately, Frawley was hovering nearby and heard the crack. He never forgave Vance for her comment and the two spent all the future episodes of the show hating each other with a passion. The rift between Frawley and Vance never healed, even after the show ended in 1957. She regularly referred to him as "that old goat,” while he referred to her as "that miserable (expletive deleted).”
It is perhaps an urban legend, but after she heard the news of Frawley's death in 1966, Vance, sitting in a restaurant, cheerily said "champagne for the house!"
2. “Lucy does a TV Commercial" (the Vitameatavegamin episode)
Lucy was, unquestionably, an unbelievably great and talented comedienne. But one thing she was not: an ad-libber or an improviser. Lucy liked to follow a script. No cue cards were allowed on the I Love Lucy set.
Before her big scene, where she plugs the product “Vitameatavegamin" on live TV, she was extremely nervous. So, for one of the rare times, Lucy had script clerk Maury Thompson standing in front of her podium, holding cue cards with Lucy's lines all written out on them- just in case. But Lucy, pro that she was, didn't flub or forget a line. She didn't miss one single line- not one syllable. Every “Vitameatavegamin" line was delivered letter perfect, with not one ad-lib. (Lucy is actually drinking an apple-based gel during the scenes, by the way.)
3. ”Lucy Meets Superman"
What guest star was never billed on I Love Lucy? At the end of every episode of the show, that episode's guest stars were verbally called off. In 1957, the show's final season, George Reeves guested on the show in a wonderful episode, playing his TV character Superman.
Lucy, however, wouldn't allow George to get billed as a guest star. The reason for this was that Lucy had two children who loved the Superman TV show, and she didn't want to disillusion them (or the millions of other kids who watched the show).
4. “Job Switching" (The candy factory episode)
Lucy gets a job dipping chocolates on a factory conveyer belt in one of I Love Lucy's funniest episodes. A sour-faced lady who actually worked in the candy factory named Amanda Milligan was placed next to Lucy in the chocolate-dipping scene. Lucy's husband and co-star Desi Arnaz had actually spotted Amanda in the chocolate factory and thought her deadpan demeanor would be perfect to contrast with Lucy's slapstick comedy and rubber face. (Amanda had never seen I Love Lucy; she liked watching wrestling on Monday night.)
Lucy was a bit worried during rehearsals because Amanda would not hit her in the face. But during the actual shooting of the scene, Amanda hauled off and socked Lucy across the head. In severe pain and with her ears ringing, Lucy refused to call "cut" and finished the scene. (She didn't want to film another take!)
After the episode was finished, Lucy went up to Amanda, who had been dipping chocolates 8 hours a day for the past 30 years. When Lucy asked how she liked being in show business, Amanda answered: "i've never been so bored in my life.”
5. “Lucy's Italian Movie"
It was hard to find a vineyard that would donate grapes to be stomped by her in Lucy's classic grape-stomping episode. One was finally found, with a very tough lady grape-crusher named Teresa Terelli.
Teresa spoke no English and was told to playfully wrestle around with Lucy in the grape vat. Unfortunately, something was lost in translation, as Teresa started beating the crap out of Lucy during the scene. She actually held Lucy's head under the grape mush until Lucy almost drowned!
6. “Lucy and Harpo Marx"
Lucy had actually done a movie (Room Service) with Harpo (and the Marx Brothers) in 1938. They had filmed the movie at RKO studios, which, ironically enough, was now owned by Lucy- they filmed I Love Lucy there. Harpo had suffered a recent heart attack and was warned by doctors not to do the episode. But, luckily for us, Harpo refused, and went on to appear in this delightful episode.
The classic "mirror routine" between Lucy and Harpo had to be filmed for several hours. Harpo and Lucy, both gifted at physical comedy, kept screwing up takes. Lucy, a well-known perfectionist, had wanted to rehearse long and hard- over and over. Harpo, a very easy-going fellow, had a laid-back attitude, he figured he knew the routine and was an old pro, so why all the rehearsal?
Because it took so long to film, the studio audience eventually had to leave. The Lucy-Harpo "mirror routine" became a rare scene of I Love Lucy that was filmed without a live audience. After the crowd left, Lucy and Harpo did take after take and the best shots were later spliced together, as one long scene, by the film editor. (After filming was over, Harpo stayed and played his harp for the cast and crew while Vivian Vance sang.)