“I Love Lucy” was not only the most popular show on television at one time, it was a groundbreaking one which influences the industry to this day. Other shows had filmed in front of live audiences, who attempted to peer through lights, cameras and technical people to see the stage. Others had shot using three cameras. But “Lucy” found a way to make it all practical. And sitcoms are taped before a studio audience even today because of it.
This was revolutionary to the people who covered TV. They didn’t quite know what to make of it. Let’s pass on a few columns from the time around the show’s debut The first show was filmed September 8, 1951 but it was the second one a week later that was the debut of the series.
By ERSKINE JOHNSON
HOLLYWOOD, Sept. 27 (NEA)—A movie queen emoting on a studio sound stage with a built-in audience is the latest “Well, I’ll be darned” eye-opener in today’s fast-changing Hollywood scene.
The movie queen is Lucille Ball and workmen knocked a hole through a thick studio wall (built to keep people out) so Lucille’s audience could by-pass the studio gateman and get in.
There’s no standing around on the set with the usual head wobbling for Lucille’s audience.
After knocking that hole through the studio wall, the workmen built a series of raised platforms and installed 300 plush seats right on the sound stage floor behind the cameras.
Darned if they didn’t build a fancy theater-like lobby, too, complete with rest rooms, thick red carpet and uniformed ushers. No boxoffice, though, because admission is free. No popcorn machine, either.
The movie studio with the hole in the wall so the eager public can get in free to watch a star emote is General Service, and the big sound stage with the 800 plush new seats has a long and glittering history of “No Admittance — Public Keep Out” movie making.
Blame or hail television for this first mass studio gate crashing stunt since the early days of Hollywood when Carl Laemmle erected bleachers on his outdoor sets and charged the public 25 cents a head to watch the filming of Universal’s old silent dramas.
Lucielle’s sound stage audience will be watching her make a weekly half hour television movie, “I Love Lucy,” a comedy series in which she co-stars with husband Desi Arnaz, supported by movie veteran William Frawley and Broadway-import Vivian Vance.
The first film will be seen on coast-to-coast CBS-TV October 15 with a cigaret company paying all the bills.
Filming of “I Love Lucy” is as precedent-shattering as the hole in the studio wall.
As Desi, who put the idea together (Lucille claims she “didn’t have anything to do with it. Desi deserves the credit. I was home having a baby”) sees it:
“We’re putting a stage show on film for television.”
All three techniques are represented in the setup. The director, Marc Daniel, is from the New York stage and TV. Cameraman Karl Freund is a movie veteran who tensed several of Lucille’s films at M-G-M.
If you want to be confused, here’s the way it works:
The show is rehearsed like a play on a bare stage with chalk marks on the floor indicating walls and furniture. Then it’s rehearsed on the set in front of three movie cameras just like a movie.
Then they let the audience in and they shoot the scenes with all three cameras and the sound track picking up the audience laughter. Then the audience goes home and Lucille and Desi and the cast run through their lines again while the cameras move in for closeups which will be cut in with the long and medium shots.
Lucille, Desi and Producer Jess Oppenheimer insisted on an audience for their movie making on the theory that a movie for television is not like a regular movie.
“People alone at home like to feel that they are part of the audience in the TV theater. They want to hear an audience reaction.”
Claims Producer Oppenheimer:
“An audience dictates to an actor what to do. He has to stop and acknowledge the audience’s reaction. Hollywood takes care of the problem with previews before a film is released.
“We don’t have time to preview our films. So instead of taking our pictures to an audience, we’ve brought our audience to the picture.”
“Great idea, isn’t it?” said Lucille, who was wearing slacks and her hair tucked under a bandana for an eight-hour session of rehearsing.
I confessed I was a little confused.
“You won’t be when you see the first picture,” she assured me. “We’re just putting a stage show on film for television.”
But I’m still confused.
“I Love Lucy,” too, but is it a play, a movie or a television show?
TV Is Keeping Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Together
By BOB THOMAS
HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 9 (AP)—Television’s boosters keep talking about how the new medium is bringing the family back together. Here’s one pair it has done that for—Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
The redhead and the Latin have been married 11 years and a sizable amount of that time has been spent apart. During the war years, Desi was here and there in the Army. When peace came, he organized a band and was touring the country as much as six months out of each year. Meanwhile, his spouse was largely confined to picture-making in Hollywood.
“We saw each other coming and going, and that was about all,” Lucille remarked.
But now they have solved the problem of Desi’s travels. Together they have formed the
Desilu Company (from their first names, as if you didn’t_know). He is prexy and she is vice prez and the whole enterprise is very cozy. Purpose of the company is to produce a TV show called “I Love Lucy,” and that’s what keeping them home together.
“It’s a full-time job for both of us,” Lucille declared. “Starting at noon, we work every week day plus two nights a week. We have Saturday and Sunday off and that’s all.”
The new show is an unusual operation. Some TV shows are telecast directly with an audience and others are filmed. But the Ball-Arnaz program is filmed with an audience. Here's how it works:
The actors and technicians rehearse all day Monday through Thursday at a Hollywood film studio. On Thursday night an audience is brought into the studio for a dress rehearsal. More rehearsals follow on Friday and the show is filmed by three cameras before an audience that night.
“Thus we can get the technical perfection of being able to cut the film before it is televised,” explained Desi. “But we also have the advantage of playing before an audience, so we can get a reaction to the comedy.”
“I Love Lucy” has already been sold for 39 weeks to a cigarette sponsor and will debut soon on CBS in the Monday time slot following Arthur Godfrey.
Naturally, such a tight schedule precludes any film activity right now for Lucille, but. she is shedding no tears over that.
“I’ll have three months every summer to do pictures,” she said. “I could do two in that time, but I only want to do one a year anyway.
“Actually, I don’t miss doing pictures at all. On the TV show I’m doing the things I like to do. It’s a combination of everything I have learned in the movies, radio, stage and vaudeville. Sometimes I would do a whole picture just because of one little scene which I wanted to do. On this show I get that kind of scene every week.”
The Arnaz family now has another reason for sticking close to home. The name is Lucie Desiree Arnaz, age 11 weeks.
Lucille and Desi Happy At Their TV Playhouse
By GENE HANDSAKER
HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 11 (AP) — “Every ham likes an audience,” said Lucille Ball, “and we’re hams.”
The tall redhead was explaining her unique TV setup of herself and her husband, Desi Arnaz. They’re leased two adjoining sound stages. One contains the dressing rooms. The other houses the sets—dining room, living room, kitchen—and bleachers for 300 spectators.
There, each Friday evening, a half hour domestic comedy in a series called “I Love Lucy” is put on film for television. A sign over the lobby where the audience is admitted says “Desilu Playhouse.” Desilu was compounded from the owner-stars’ first names.
During business discussions, Desi may wear a hat labeled “Pres.,” while Lucy wears one lettered “Veepee”—their respective ranks in Desilu Productions, Inc. During rehearsals they sometimes switch to headgear reading “Boy Actor” and “Girl Actor.”
* * *
“THIS COVERS MORE people in one night than a picture does in two years,” Lucy said of the new medium. “Another reason I went into television is, in every script I get things I wait a year or two to get in pictures. Natural, married-couple stuff, mostly. On the screen I’ve had that only occasionally.”
The natural married-couple stuff, in a scene I saw rehearsed, showed Lucy lousing up her hubby’s poker game with his pals.
Miss Ball said she’ll branch out into comedy dance routines in the series and added: “I like not playing myself. Playing Lucille Ball is very boring. I always have to look good. Being glamorous can be very monotonous.”
Their approach to TV, she pointed out, combines all mediums. “It’s television, films, radio, theatre, and personal appearances all in one.
* * *
“BUT IT’S harder than movies. We learn a new script in three days. Any trouper who doesn’t want to work harder than he ever has in his life shouldn’t go into television.”
Desi, Cuban-born bandleader and one-time Broadway actor, has been married to Lucy nearly 11 years. But their separate movies and his band tours have kept them apart frequently. “This television show is wonderful,” he said. “It gives us our first chance to be together.”
If you’re wondering how critics responded, most of them liked the show. The New York Times panned the second half as being low comedy that was a little too low. But here’s one review from the United Press. The writer, or maybe an editor, had a little trouble with Desi Arnaz’s name.
Video Can’t Hurt
Lucille Launches TV Career as Witch
By VIRGINIA MacPHERSON
HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 18—(U.P.) Lucille Ball’s one movie queen who isn't worrying how she’ll photograph on TV. This week she came out looking like a Halloween witch.
There's just one difference: With Lucy it’s on purpose.
She and her spouse, Dessi Arnaz, kicked off their CBS-TV show, “I Love Lucy” Monday night and what the carrot-topped cutie did to her puss was enough to make every “cheesecake” photographer in the racket flip his lid.
She stuck black patches over choppers and flashed a toothless grin at her goggle-eyed audience . . . she flopped a black wig over her orange-colored curls and stalked the stage, pig-tails flying . . . she camouflaged the famous Ball curves in a shapeless gunnysack and stared cross-eyed at the camera.
She did everything, in fact, but worry about her looks. And the laughs rippled forth a mile a minute. Everybody was surprised but Lucy.
“I started out as a comedienne,” she shrugs. “But nobody ever let me get laughs. All I did, picture after picture, was look glamorous.
"Now I let Desi handle the glamour. He's pretty enough.”
She’s right there. But he’s more’n pretty. He’s also smart, as president of Dessilu Productions he bagged a sponsor for $1,500,000 a year.
“This is something we’ve been dreaming about for years,” he explained. “And working on for the past three. We even took a vaudeville tour last year to break in our act. Now we’re in business.”
At $30,000 a week you could even call it big business. For that, every Monday night, Desi and Lucy will cavort through the trials of young married life.
“It’s a cinch,” Desi says. “All we do is remember what happened to us and write a story around it."
“Now honey,” Lucy interrupted. “You know we can’t put THAT on the screen!”
The best part of the show, as far as Dessi and Lucy are concerned, is the hours.
“We’ve been trying to get together for 10 years,” Lucy said. “But I’d always be making a movie and Desi’d always be playing a nightclub tour. Even when he was in town he'd be getting home just as I was leaving for the studio.
“He always saw me as my most unglamorous self. What else . . . at 6 a. m.?
“Now we work together . . . we have a 3-month-old daughter . . . Saturday and Sundays off . . . and it looks like we’re gonna have a sane home life for a change—or at least as sane as it can be with us.”
MacPherson’s column obliquely reveals something that readers probably took as a joke. You couldn’t have put Lucy and Desi’s real life on television. Well, today you could, considering the reality trash that some people are fascinated with. “I Love Lucy” was an attempt by Lucille Ball to stabilise her home life and save her marriage. Instead, she won a default divorce on May 4, 1960; Lucy claimed she knew it was over for good five years before because Desi loved boozing and womanising too much. Considering that and the tremendous pressure to keep not only their show, but their studio/production company a success, it’s amazing that Lucy and Desi continued to bring viewers quality entertainment until the very end. Quality entertainment is the reason everybody loves Lucy.