50 years ago today, Here’s Lucy debuted on CBS. Here’s the first part of the Here’s Lucy story.
The theme music echoed in living rooms across the country, accompanied by the booming male voiceover announcer.
The vivid colors on countless TV sets were ignited and highlighted by the blue curtain and the vibrant red hair that adorned an animated, wide-eyed, and tuxedoed female doll. All the flair was there, and it was the weekly start of something good.
For the next 30-minutes something exciting and uplifting was going to transpire; something entertaining and funny; something special was in the air, and on the air. That something wonderful was and remains Here's Lucy.
Initially sandwiched between Gunsmoke and The Doris Day Show on Monday nights at 9 PM, Here's Lucy originally aired from September 23, 1968 to March 18, 1974. The series was the third in a long line of weekly sitcom hits that former movie-star-turned-TV-legend Lucille Ball brought to life in the vivacious way that was her trademark.
The small-screen franchise began as I Love Lucy (CBS, 1951-1957), continued with The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (CBS, 1957 to 1960) and The Lucy Show (CBS, 1962-1968), and then post-Here's Lucy, ended with the short-lived Life With Lucy (ABC, 1986).
I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour focused on the wedded bliss and blitz of the delightfully-devious and dynamic housewife Lucy Ricardo and her charismatic Latin husband/band leader Ricky Ricardo, played by real-life spouses Ball and Desi Arnaz.
On The Lucy Show, Ball was the scatter-brained-but-lovable banking secretary-widow Lucy Carmichael to the cantankerous, penny-pinching Theodore Mooney played by Gale Gordon.
On Here's Lucy, Ball portrayed the also-widowed and slightly-ditzy and newly-named secretary Lucy Carter, who worked for the Unique Employment Agency, owned and operated by Gordon, now playing Ball's harried brother-in-law/employer Harrison Carter.
Gordon would return as grandfather-in-law Curtis McGibbon opposite Ball's grandmother Lucy Barker on Life With Lucy, but many moons before that, he had made a few guest-appearances on I Love Lucy. It was on that show he was rumored to be Ball's first choice to play neighbor Fred Mertz, before William Frawley was cast as the curmudgeon husband to Vivian Vance's Ethel Mertz, Ball's on-screen best-friend.
Vance would later co-star with Ball in a similar capacity as Vivian Bagley on the first three years of The Lucy Show, but only make a few special guest-star appearances as Vivian Jones (her real name) on Here's Lucy.
Also along for the Here's Lucy ride in some capacity were Ball series stalwarts Carole Cook, Mary Wickes, Doris Singleton, Vanda Barra and real-life husband Sid Gould, who was cousin to Gary Morton, Ball's second-real life husband (who served as the show's executive producer).
Mary Jane Croft had guest-starred on I Love Lucy, and would make regular appearances on The Lucy Show as the snooty Audrey Simmons and later Mary Jane Lewis (her real-life married name courtesy of husband Elliot Lewis). On Here's Lucy Croft played Mary Jane Lewis, Lucy's daffy, but loyal pal.
Like I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, and later Life With Lucy, Here's Lucy featured a plethora of A-list special guest stars, everyone from Jack Benny, Helen Hayes, and Vincent Price, to Shelley Winters, and Eva Gabor. Top musical-variety performers also appeared on the show including Sammy Davis, Jr., Liberace, and Ginger Rogers, among many others.
The various Lucy formats changed over the years, but the heart and soul of Ball's comedic genius was the uncommon thread throughout each of her shows, which ultimately began on radio with My Favorite Husband, the precursor to I Love Lucy.
But when it came to Here's Lucy, it was more like My Favorite Children. In updating the format of The Lucy Show, Ball requested the on-screen presence of her and Desi's real-life then-mid-teen children: Lucie Arnaz, 16, and Desi Arnaz, Jr., 15.
Both offspring had made periodic minor guest-appearances on The Lucy Show, for which Desi, Sr. had produced the first few episodes. In absence of Vance's regular presence on Here's Lucy, Lucie and Desi, Jr. stepped up to the plate with major league sibling characters Kim and Craig Carter.
Entertainment historian Robert S. Ray serves on the Board of Directors for the Classic TV Preservation Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the positive social influence of classic TV shows. "In most ways," Ray says, "Here's Lucy was better structured than The Lucy Show, at least in comparison with The Lucy Show's later seasons.
"The first years of The Lucy Show, with Vivian Vance as Lucy's cohort in comedy, was almost on a par with I Love Lucy. But by season four, the Lucy character had no family and no one to play off of on a regular basis, other than her bombastic boss Mr. Mooney, performed so wonderfully by Gale Gordon."
With the transformation of The Lucy Show into Here's Lucy, and after Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced and she sold their Desilu studio to Gulf-Western/Paramount in 1967, the creative changes made served as "an improvement to the Lucy character," says Ray.
"Lucy Carter, unlike Lucy Carmichael in the later seasons of The Lucy Show, was no longer a woman without a family. She had two teenage children, and Gale Gordon, while still her boss, was now also a relative [if by marriage, as her deceased husband was Harry's brother], which added to the plausibility of why he kept her on as an employee."
In the process, Lucie and Desi, Jr.'s presence as Kim and Craig became the show's crowning glory. Or as Ray says, "the apples didn't fall far from the tree," even if a few developments threatened to uproot that blossoming forest throughout its harvest.
In the summer of 1971, production for Here's Lucy relocated from the Paramount lot in Hollywood to Universal Studios in Universal City. Wanda Clark was Ball's trusted secretary from The Lucy Show, through Here's Lucy, Life With Lucy, and until Ball's demise in 1989 from an abdominal aortic aneurysm (brought on and exacerbated by her heavy smoking).
At Ball's request, Clark even played a secretary in one episode of the show ("Lucy Protects Her Job," 12-22-69).
"We did the first few seasons of Here's Lucy on the Desilu lot as paying tenants," says Clark. "And we soon found out renters were different than owners."
Attorney Bernie Weitzman, then head of Desilu Business Affairs, "was very much a part of the decision to move to Universal," Clark explains. "At the time, he was working for Universal, and urged Lucy to make the move. And she was always happy she did, too."
Years before, Desi Arnaz, Sr. had hired Weitzman away from CBS when negotiating deals for I Love Lucy. "Desi liked the way Bernie did business and Bernie was with Desilu until Lucy sold the studio," Clark says.
"Of course Gulf-Western had promised Lucy they would keep her people working when they bought the studio but Bernie could see the writing on the wall and found other employment with Lorimar Studios, and other places instead of waiting to be let go. He was a great guy and apparently a good lawyer."
While the foundation of Here's Lucy remained steady, in 1972, the show's infrastructure faced another challenge: Ball had suffered a leg fracture while skiing. Initially fearing this incident would end Here's Lucy before its time, Ball persevered and, trouper that she was performed much of the 1972-73 season in a cast.
In fact, Ball's broken limb would go on to strengthen Here's Lucy in a number of ways. Robert S. Ray explains:
"Gale Gordon's Uncle Harry was now softened a bit. He stopped screaming at Lucy so much and became more of an 'Ethel/Viv' companion to her, something that was needed ever since Vivian Vance left The Lucy Show years earlier.
"Others in the cast, including the show's strong stock company of supporting characters, such as Mary Jane Croft and Vanda Barra, became more than straight-people to Lucy. They were given more to do than simply say, 'Hi Lucy. What's up?"
"More importantly," Ray continues, "Lucie Arnaz was given more of the comedy to perform, allowing her to fully develop as a major talent. Some of Lucie's best moments, in particular, are from those later seasons."
With both Lucie and Desi, Jr.'s early performances, the kids in fact proved all right. Throughout the entirety of Here's Lucy, they rose to the occasion with their artistic gifts and just as much style, talent, verve and enthusiasm as their iconic mom and dad had previously done so on any show.
With her long and limber legs, natural beauty and comedic chops, with his deep brown eyes and matching touseled hair, Lucie and Desi, Jr. were simply adorable. And having a mastery over various vocal and physical movements, and literally being born into the performing arts, certainly didn't hurt.
"I had always thought that I was a part of I Love Lucy," Desi, Jr. says, "as I was born on the same day as Little Ricky."
He's referring to the Ricardo's on-screen son, played by Keith Thibodeaux, who remains a close friend to the Arnaz family, and whose alter ego made TV history as the first baby born in a weekly sitcom. TV Guide even ran a cover story about the episode, "Lucy Goes to the Hospital," which aired January 19, 1953, the actual date of Desi, Jr.'s birth (coordinated by a planned cesarean).
In several I Love Lucy episodes before the "Hospital" segment, however, Ball was seen as pregnant which is exactly what she was in real life with Desi, Jr. "That was my first job as an actor," he muses. "I like to call it 'fetal performing,' as I was in my Mom's stomach."
While Desi, Jr. had made an actual visible cameo appearance on I Love Lucy (in "The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue," originally airing May 6, 1957), he performed with an even more noticeable presence on The Lucy Show.
He played Billy Simmons, the on-screen friend to that sitcom's Jimmy Garrett and Candy Moore, who played Ball's children, Jerry and Chris Carmichael, and Ralph Hart, who portrayed Sherman Bagley, son of Vance's Vivian Bagley.
Although Lucie Arnaz did not appear in the "Statue" segment (contrary to previous false reports), she also performed on The Lucy Show, as Cynthia, another friend to Moore's Chris Carmichael. "I pulled my hair back into a pony tail with my little chopped-off bangs," Lucie recalls, "and I played a soda-jerk, as they called them in those days.
"And I thought, 'That's really a grown-up thing for me to do. I look really grown-up.' And if you watch the show, you'll laugh hysterically because I was only 11 years old and had buck teeth. But Mom gave me a shot, and I learned how to catch those sodas as they came running down the counter, and put them on a tray, served them, said my lines right, and I didn't fall down."
"Those spots were fun," Lucie continues, and she was excited when her mother recruited her to portray Cynthia. But she was still wet behind the ears, and preparing for bigger fish to fry.
Lucie would always perform shows in her backyard in Beverly Hills, where she operated a small theater group. She was headed toward doing live theater, wanted to be on the stage, and grew up listening to soundtracks and Broadway cast albums.
"I just knew I wanted to be in musical theater," she says. "So, those little bit parts on The Lucy Show were good training for me. They were filmed in front of a live audience, like theater. And I had to memorize lines and see if I could perform in front of an audience and not choke."
While attending Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, Lucie invested herself in that facility's theater department. "I wanted to learn more about the stage," she says.
She, and her brother, however, would also soon learn more about television. It was around Lucie's sophomore year that her mother decided to transform The Lucy Show into Here's Lucy.
"She had completed six seasons of The Lucy Show," Lucie recalls, "and that's all you needed for syndication. And it's suggested that sometimes it's better to begin a brand new show, and you can have syndication for that show, as well, as opposed to having 12 years of one show. They don't do that so much now, but in those days they did."
But when Ball offered Lucie and Desi, Jr. regular roles on Here's Lucy, they were initially hesitant to comply. For one, Desi, Jr. had found success with the rock group, Dino, Desi & Billy, which featured Billy Hinsche and Dino Martin, son of Dean Martin (a good friend to Ball who guest-starred on The Lucy Show episode, "Lucille Ball Dates Dean Martin," 2-14-66).
"We were doing extremely well," Desi, Jr. says of his involvement with the early '60s musical trio, which was one of the first boy-bands in history. "But we were coming to the end of that because we all wanted to go to college, with only two years left in high school," which was Beverly High for him, while Lucie was attending Immaculate Heart.
"I had tunnel vision," Lucie says on her Immaculate theatrical conception. She wanted to graduate high school and attend a university such as Northwestern, where she could study theater. "That was my plan. So, when Mom asked me to do Here's Lucy, I immediately said, 'no, no, no, no!"
Lucie feared backlash from the industry. Both she and her brother had no desire to be perceived as privileged. "I didn't want anyone to think I was cast on the show because my mother was the star," Lucie says, "which would have been the absolute God's honest truth." So she told her mother forthrightly, "I don't want to go down that road. I want to learn how to be really good before I get big jobs."
To which Ball replied, "Well, you can learn a lot on the new show."
"She tried to talk me into it," recalls Lucie who, along with Desi, Jr. ultimately agreed to do the series. But not before they requested a special promise from their mom:
If after one year, or even just two episodes, if the industry-buzz was not promising; if all they heard were comments like, "The kids are cute…but what are they there for?" or "They're not ready" or "They should have hired real actors," then they wanted to be written out of the show.
Lucie, in particular, told Ball, "You would have to find a way to send Kim away to school or something. I won't want to continue in the part. I would want to go back and learn my craft."
In the end, Ball agreed to her children's terms, and Lucie and Desi, Jr. went on to perform winningly on Here's Lucy. "I guess we were okay enough for that first season," Lucie says modestly, "where we didn't look like we shouldn't have been there. And then I think we gradually got better and better and learned how to do more."
That meant riding horses, as in "Lucy and Wayne Newton" (2-16-70), which was the second segment featuring the famed singer, who had first appeared in "Lucy Sells Craig to Wayne Newton" (11-25-68).
In "Lucy Sells Craig," Lucy persuades Newton to hire her son as his drummer. In "Wayne Newton," Lucy, Harry, Kim and Craig vacation in Las Vegas, where they return a lost horse to Newton's ranch. The star then positions them as hired hands so they can afford to attend a few live stage shows in Vegas.
As a result, Lucy and Harry are saddled with the more menial ranch chores, while Kim and Craig join Newton in more high-end work with elegant equestrian presentations.
In preparation for those regal-riding moments, Lucie and Desi dedicated themselves to three weeks of arduous lessons at the Randall Ranch, a facility in the San Fernando Valley, some distance from the Here's Lucy set.
As Lucie recalls, they would "drive two-hours in rush-hour traffic all the way up to this mountain where we get on with this horse dressage and learn from scratch how to ride so that we could do that show with Wayne Newton. I mean stuff like that just blows my mind."
In one sense, there was horsing around on Here's Lucy, in general, because working on a TV sitcom beats working in the stables any day. But in another very real and professional sense, appearing on the series, as on any television show, especially for episodes that involve honing a new skill or dexterity in any unfamiliar arena, required a great deal of stamina and dedication.
Fortunately, in the end, Lucie and Desi delivered the goods. Their natural born talent, combined with their newly-acquired expertise, paid off.
And while both Lucie and Desi hoofed it with panache in "Lucy and Wayne Newton," there were several other episodes, musically-geared and otherwise, in which everyone involved put their best foot forward.
Lucie is frequently asked to choose her favorite episodes of the show, but always finds it difficult to do so. "I never have an answer to any question like that about any topic on the planet," she says. "I don't know what that is about me in that respect, but I refuse to pick favorites in any category. I just can't; not my favorite songs…or my favorite color or any favorite anything."
In the entire cache of Here's Lucy, Lucie has "lots and lots of favorite episodes. But I would have to sit down with a list of the shows in front of me and go, 'Oh, my god…I love that one, this one…and 'Oh, and remember that?!'"
Such selections would be made for "all different reasons," she says, "which is true of I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and every other show I have ever seen in my life," Lucie adds, whether or not she appeared in them.
But she fondly gravitates towards Here's Lucy episodes that made her "work the hardest" or the musical-oriented adventures, like the Wayne Newton segment, or "My Fair Buzzi," featuring guest-star Ruth Buzzi.
In the "Fair" episode, which originally aired December 11, 1972, Buzzi, of Laugh-In fame, plays Kim's actress-friend Annie, to whom Kim and Lucy give a make-over to help with an upcoming audition. But the director, portrayed by Hal England, rejects the new look, and all three ladies, along with Uncle Harry, are eventually cast in a 1920s-styled speakeasy show.
It's in a dance number in this show-within-a-show, that Lucie showcases her tap-dancing skills with the song, "Nagasaki," which she performed with two female dancers. "We jumped and danced on a bar, slid down a fire pole…the entire time not missing a step," she recalls. "I did not grow up as a dancer. So, just learning to do all of that in one take, in front of the audience that one night was…just the best…feeling…ever."
Other memorable episodes for Lucie are "Lucy and Donny Osmond" (11-20-72). Here, Lucy and Kim attend an Osmond concert with Cousin Patricia (Eve Plumb on loan from The Brady Bunch), who has a crush on the teen-rock star. Unbeknownst to Kim, however, Donny becomes enamored with her.
Subsequently, he volunteers to perform at Kim's charity event. Once learning the truth, Kim feels obligated to clear the air, and she and Osmond then perform a rousing duet of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" at her event.
Lucie says "it was a blast" working on the "Osmond" segment, behind-the-scenes of which Donny had a crush on her in real life. "And the funny thing is," she laughs, "I had a crush on his older brother Alan Osmond."
For Part 2 of our tribute to Here's Lucy, click here.