Michael Stern, known throughout the industry as “Lucy’s Number 1 Fan,” was one of Ball’s dearest friends, and remains close to Lucie and Desi, Jr. In his best-selling book, I Had A Ball, Stern recounts meeting the famous redhead on July 12, 1973, which he calls his “12 ½ birthday.” That’s the day he attended a filming of the episode, “Lucy, The Peacemaker” (airdate 9–24–73) with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.
Other episodes Stern was present for include: “Lucy’s Punctured Romance” (2–7–72), with Bob Cummings; “Lucy Gives Eddie Albert the old Song and Dance (9–15–73), featuring the Green Acres star; “Lucy and Phil Harris Strike Up The Band” (2–25–74), and “Lucy and Donny Osmond.”
And as Stern recalls, Alan Osmond, and all of the older Osmond brothers, were seated in the front row for that episode’s filming. But their sister, Marie, unfortunately, did not join them. “She was recording ‘Paper Roses,’” Stern says of the song that became her first hit single.
While Eve Plumb had also made a guest appearance in “Lucy and Donny Osmond,” Desi, Jr. had portrayed himself in The Brady Bunch episode, “The Possible Dream” (2–27–70) in which Maureen McCormick’s Marcia, older sister to Plumb’s Jan, would have a crush on Desi.
Only a few weeks before, Desi as Craig Carter was crushing on Ann-Margret during her guest appearance in the Here’s Lucy episode, “Lucy and Ann-Margret,” which premiered February 2, 1970. In this adventure, a career-minded Craig decides to pursue songwriting, instead of the medical field, much to his mother’s dismay.
As life can only happen on any Lucy show, he soon finds himself enamored with and performing alongside Ann-Margret in her home and another time on her TV special.
Before Here’s Lucy, Dino, Desi & Billy had appeared with the actress-dancer-singer in the 1966 feature film, Murderer’s Row, which was part of the Matt Helm movie series starring Dean Martin.
Desi recalls, “We did one of our singles at a disco with Ann-Margret and Dean dancing in front of us. And that was kind of a big deal because it was our first movie as a rock-n-roll group.
“Back in the day, bands would make movie appearances like that” [i.e. The Beach Boys and other musical acts like Stevie Wonder were seen in the Beach Party films directed by William Asher producer of Bewitched, who had helmed episodes of I Love Lucy].
Desi was only 13 when he met Ann-Margret on Murderer’s Row, and 16 by the time they reconnected on Here’s Lucy. “But she was always wonderful,” he says, and that her guest-appearance on Here’s Lucy was the result of a co-agreement with Ball. “Mom did the [real] Ann-Margret special [from 1969], and Ann-Margret would do our show.”
Desi had also helped to write the Ann-Margret episode, but the songs that Craig Carter created in the segment, including “Touch Me, Magic,” were in reality composed by Steve March Torme, son of Mel “The Christmas Song” Torme.
Recalls Desi: “Performing the kind of crush-sequence that Craig had on Ann-Margret…in the scene where he goes to the rehearsal in her home…kind of puppy love stuff…and actually doing the song with her…supposedly only her TV special [within the episode]…was incredible.
“And it was a great song. It wasn’t just a good song. It was a great song. Billy Strange did the arrangement…and we got to sing and dance. It was pretty amazing.”
During the second performance sequence of the episode, Desi dazzled with a guitar solo in glitzy black jumpsuit reminiscent of a certain “King of Rock-n-Roll.” “I call it my Elvis impersonation,” he smiles. “It was kind of a take-off on Viva Las Vegas,” the 1964 film Ann-Margret did with Presley.
And the guitar Desi utilized in the Here’s Lucy episode belonged to Jimmy Burton, Presley’s guitarist who according to Desi, “played on everything Elvis ever did. And Jimmy actually played the guitar part for me…the guitar-syncing,” he adds with another grin.
A few months later, Desi performed on Here’s Lucy with a more familiar instrument, the drums, which he had played with Dino and Billy in their band. In the “Drum Contest” (10–5–70), famed drummer Buddy Rich, portraying himself, inspires Craig to enter a drumming contest.
It all seemed to be the natural progression of things, as playing the drums on-screen and off, either with Dino, Desi & Billy, or with Rich, allowed Desi, Jr. to follow in the famous footsteps of his father, Desi, Sr., who was known for his remarkable skills with the conga drum.
Further, into this mix, both Desi, Jr. and his sister Lucie had known Rich prior to his gig on Here’s Lucy, and were friends with the drummer’s daughter Cathy before and after his appearance on the show.
“Buddy was my idol,” Desi says. “He was the greatest drummer in the world. He had a technique of playing the drums called ‘finger and wrist control,’ where you bounce your sticks with the fingers and your wrists. He didn’t have to move his arms that much, and didn’t have to work very hard because he had really fast wrists.”
“It was a kind of classical jazz style” that Desi had learned from having taken drum lessons for approximately 15 years from Bill Wilson, a percussionist from the Long Beach Philharmonic Orchestra. “Bill was a great teacher and a great drummer,” Desi says.
But when Desi performed as Craig with Rich as himself on Here’s Lucy, the real-reel worlds blurred. “We had drum challenges,” Desi recalls, “where we challenged each other in solos. Buddy would do his solo and then I would do mine, and I would do whatever he did but it wasn’t as easy for me because I was using more of my arms.
“And I remember Buddy asking, in one of his great comments as my mentor on the show, ‘Why are you working so hard?’
“It was all about relaxing,” Desi says, “…and not getting tense in order to play incredible solos at an incredible speed, which he did. He was the fastest drummer and I always respected someone who played fast, trying to see how fast you can go with a double stroke roll, how fast your feet, hands, or wrists can go when you play.
“Rock-n-roll music isn’t like that. But Jazz music is. You can do all sorts of things fast, like fast breaks.
“The reason why Buddy was the world’s greatest drummer,” Desi continues, “was because he could play fast and not get tired. When playing the drums, sometimes you’re doing so for two and a half to three hours at a time, and it’s a real physical work-out. It’s like dancing. You have to pace yourself.”
For Desi, Buddy Rich and Ann-Margret appearing on Here’s Lucy proved to be two of his “greatest inspirations,” with the latter being “an inspiration in a different way,” he clarifies with another smile.
The esteemed Here’s Lucy guest-list then continued to expand with stars such as Lawrence Welk, and the return of Vivian Vance, the latter two of whom appeared together in “Lucy and Lawrence Welk” (1–19–70).
Here, Lucy’s good friend Viv, now visually-impaired without new glasses, pays a visit. Chaos ensues when Lucy tells Viv that she is friends with the “bubble-making” bandleader and TV personality Welk, which is not the case at all. With help from Mary Jane and a Welk wax dummy, Lucy then attempts to fool Viv, while Kim and Craig coordinate a meeting with the real deal.
Vance is always a welcome presence on any of Ball’s shows, and makes the second of her three Here’s Lucy appearances with this episode, following “Lucy The Matchmaker” (12–6–78) and before “Lucy Goes Hawaiian,” Parts 1 (2–15–71) and 2 (2–22–71), the latter in which Desi Jr. offers an impression of famed island songbird Don Ho. “That was a lot of fun,” he says.
Welk, meanwhile, is in on the joke during his Here’s Lucy appearance; game for all the ribbing of his “square” image, while his renowned catch-phrase, “Wunnerful! Wunnerful!”, is spoken several times through the episode.
From a writing perspective, “Lucy and Lawrence Welk” is what Robert S. Ray affectionately refers to as “a shameless reworking” of a classic I Love Lucy episode. In “Lucy and Harpo Marx” (5–9–55), Lucy Ricardo and Harpo Marx recreate the classic glass-less mirror routine from the Marx Brothers’ 1933 film Duck Soup.
Although that scene is not mirrored in “Lucy and Lawrence Welk,” Vance ultimately replaces Caroline Appleby as the woman from the Love edition who loses her glasses and is unable to tell that it’s Lucy wearing a mask at first, before the real celebrity surfaces.
Another I Love Lucy adventure, “The Handcuffs” (10–6–52), inspired what is considered one of Here’s Lucy’s best episodes featuring what is arguably the show’s most prestigious guest stars. In “Lucy Meets the Burtons,” premiering September 14, 1970, Lucy Carter intermingles with then-married movie icons Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
In the original Love segment, Ricky and Lucy Ricardo are handcuffed together by accident — courtesy of guess who? But when Ricky has to go on live TV and sing before they can get separated, Lucy devises a scheme whereby he stands in front of a curtain and her free arm doubles for his handcuffed left arm. “The humor stems from a few ‘inappropriate’ gestures by Lucy’s hand over which Ricky has no control,” Ray says.
In the Here’s Lucy’s clever reworking of the idea, Lucy Carter’s left hand, wearing the notorious ring, doubles for Taylor’s, who says things like, “No, I don’t know her!” and other subsequent gags that are equally amusing.
Gale Gordon remembered the episode in his conversation with author Dina-Marie Kulzer (today known as Dina DiMambo) for her book Television Series Regulars of the Fifties and Sixties in Interview (McFarlund, 1992).
“Lucy and I were both thrilled to work with someone of [Richard’s] caliber. He was utterly charming and delightful, and so was Liz Taylor. I had admired Richard Burton for years before I had ever worked with him. He was a great actor. It was a joy to get to know him as a person.”
According to Wanda Clark, “Elizabeth and Richard had just returned from a vacation, and Elizabeth was quite tanned, and Lucy’s hand from behind-the-curtain was not very tanned at all, which I think just added to the fun.”
The “Burtons” episode was “a special event” for many reasons, she adds. For one, “it was the first and only time there would be an invited audience.”
It also featured on-screen cameos of many entertainment critics portraying themselves in a party scene — those like Rona Barrett, Jim Bacon, and Cecil Smith, who not only covered television for the Los Angeles Times but who was married to Cleo Smith, Ball’s cousin and one of Here’s Lucy’s producers.
To celebrate it all, Clark says, “There was a very big party on the stage after the show.”
Certainly, it was always a party when Carol Burnett would show up on Here’s Lucy. Burnett had performed in several episodes of The Lucy Show in between her regular co-starring stint on The Garry Moore Show (CBS, 1958–67), and then resurfaced in three segments of Here’s Lucy while starring in The Carol Burnett Show (CBS, 1967–1978).
Burnett’s activity on Here’s Lucy included: “Lucy and Carol Burnett” (1–27–69), “Lucy Competes with Carol Burnett” (3–2–70), and yet another episode titled “Lucy and Carol Burnett” (2–8–71). Each time, her diverse skills were on full display, in tandem with Ball’s pristine comedic and musical moments.
“Carol and Lucy were simpatico,” says Michael Stern. “They worked together like coffee and cream.”
Thomas Watson, publicist for Lucille Ball Productions from 1986 to 1989, was another of Ball’s close confidants. He says Ball respected the fact that Burnett “had such a wide range of talent; that she could do heavy drama as well as wacky comedy. Lucy enjoyed and admired the way Carol grew and developed as a performer through the years.”
“And during their friendship,” Watson says, and as Burnett has shared many times, “Lucy would always send Carol flowers on her birthday, which was April 26th. And we had a standing order to do so every year, and of course, our orders would go out a few weeks early.”
Consequently, on Burnett’s birthday in 1989, she received flowers. But as Watson relays, “That also just so happened to be the day that Lucy died.”
It was a poignant, ironic moment that bespoke the mutual admiration between the two stars, which Lucie Arnaz confirms. “Mom loved Carol dearly,” she says.
Lucie also acknowledges her mother’s affection for Gale Gordon. “She just adored him. He was one of the sweetest men ever.”
Beyond the special guest stars on Here’s Lucy, Gordon’s significant contribution to the series cannot go unmentioned. Desi, Jr. calls the veteran performer “the greatest person to work with. And I really felt like he was my uncle. He couldn’t have been nicer, and he was incredibly funny.
“And he was also very low-key and the exact opposite of his Uncle Harry character, who was very obstinate and who was always upset about something. But Gale Gordon was never upset about anything.”
“He was extremely down to earth,” Desi continues of Gordon, who lived in Borrego Springs, California. “Gale would commute back and forth to do the show in Los Angeles,” adds Desi, who presently resides in Boulder, Colorado. “He was a very private and extraordinary human being.
“And he and Mom had worked together for so many years, even on the I Love Lucy show [in which Gordon played Mr. Littlefield, Ricky’s boss, in two episodes]. They were very close and they worked extremely well together. And they handled the bulk of the show, except in the episodes that focused on Kim and Craig.”
But then Desi, Jr. left Here’s Lucy after 2 ½ years, which ultimately transpired due to the positive response of his performance in “Lucy and Ann-Margret.”
Shortly after that episode aired, Desi was offered a role in the 1971 feature film Red Sky at Morning, starring Richard Thomas, pre-The Waltons, Catherine Burns, Richard Crenna (who had worked with Gale Gordon on Our Miss Brooks, CBS, 1952–1956), Clair Bloom, and Strother Martin, among others.
Desi had signed on with Here’s Lucy for only three years, and “never planned to do the show for more than that,” he says. “You do a show every year, and you get picked up or you don’t. But the fact that I had signed for even just those three years, and not just 22 episodes, that was a pretty amazing deal.”
Desi did return to the series for one more episode (“Lucy and Joe Namath,” 10–9–60), but after Morning, his “entire life changed.”
He traveled the world, and worked non-stop until he was approximately 20 years old, appearing in TV-movies like the acclaimed ABC’s Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones (1972); Marco (1973), a musical about Marco Polo, co-starring Zero Mostel and Jack Westen, and filmed in Japan; Billy Two Hats (1974), directed by Norman Jewison, and which took Desi to Israel (“an incredible experience”).
Other TV-movies followed, all for ABC: Having Babies, from 1976, and co-starring Linda Purl, who became Desi’s first wife (and which was one of three pilots that led to the weekly series Julie Farr, M.D. starring Susan Sullivan); She Lives with Season Hubley, and The Voyage of Yes, about a young man who sailed around the world.
“I kept working, getting offers, and auditioning for various parts,” Desi says. “And it just wasn’t comedy, but drama, action, and musicals.”
All the while, he was attending the California Institute of the Arts, and “in relationships with people who were doing pretty amazing things, too,” including Liza Minnelli.
“She was working,” he says, “and I was traveling everywhere with her during her concerts and shows in Paris, London, Vegas, and all over the United States. When we were together Liza won the Academy Award for Cabaret , and that was another extraordinary experience for me at that young an age.”
Throughout it all, his mother was thrilled with his success, and his sister’s presence on Here’s Lucy was increasing. “Mom was happy for me that I was busy at such an early age,” Desi says, “and she and Lucie were happy doing Here’s Lucy.”
The mother and daughter act was indeed becoming more of a winning on-screen sidekick combination, as Ball’s original pairing had been with Vivian Vance on I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show.
“In any show, there always needs to be a sidekick,” Lucie says. “Someone for the lead character to talk to, whether it’s Ethel on I Love Lucy or [Valerie Harper’s] Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Every single show has sidekicks, and Here’s Lucy was not any different.”
Lucie consistently stepped up to the comedic plate and made frequent home runs, so much so that two episodes of Here’s Lucy served as pilots for a potential spin-off series.
In “Kim Moves Out,” from January 24, 1972, and featuring guest star Tim Matheson (who appeared with Ball in the 1968 feature, Yours, Mine, and Ours), Kim moves into her own place (a fashionable loft above the garage), but momma Lucy still does the cooking and the cleaning — and the snooping.
In “Kim Finally Cuts You-Know-Who’s Apron Strings,” from February 21, 1972, Kim moves again, this time into an actual apartment, managed by Lucy’s brother Herb Hinkley, played by Alan Oppenheimer. And her friends include Sue Ann Ditbenner, portrayed by Susan Tolsky (formerly of TV’s Here Come the Brides).
Neither pilot sold, but Lucie’s honed talent continued to shine. And while Ball had never perceived herself as naturally funny, she always viewed her daughter as just the opposite.
“That’s kind of true,” Lucie agrees. “I’m more like my father in that way. He was very funny in person, and in meetings and with people. He was always saying something amusing and finding something funny in the structure of what you just said.
“For a man who was conquering a second language, he was amazingly savvy at making jokes and putting people at ease and telling funny stories. Whereas Mom was always good at relaying something that happened to her during the day and making you see the entire scenario.”
For Ball, if it wasn’t on the page, it wasn’t on the stage, and “improvisaton” and “improv” were dirty words.
“Oh, God,” Lucie asserts, “Mom would run screaming if anyone used the word ‘improv.’ There was no improvisation on our show. Instead, it was like, ‘Write it down for me. Tell me exactly how it’s supposed to go. Then let me cook with it. It’s a great recipe, now let me cook with it.’”
“Lots of people follow recipes and the food doesn’t taste good,” continues Lucie. “And then some people can read a recipe and say, I get it. I know how that’s supposed to go. And I know how to serve it up. And Mom could read what they gave her to do in a script and turn it into gold.”
Theresa Price was another secretary in the Desilu fold, employed from the time of The Lucy Show through Here’s Lucy. Price was dedicated to her work, the show, producers including Oscar Katz and Gary Morton, and of course, Ball.
“Everything about the show was exciting,” Price says. “Watching the rehearsals was exciting. Anything that was said or done on the show was exciting. And Lucy was fantastic; a perfectionist, who added to that excitement because she loved her work so much. And you can’t beat that.”
According to what Gale Gordon told Dina-Marie Kulzer (Di Mambro), Ball was indeed a fearless purest when it came to performing. “Lucille would never allow anyone to double for her,” he said. “If she had to learn how to ice skate, she’d ice skate. If she had to go down a staircase on skis then that’s what she’d do.
“She wouldn’t allow a double to do it because the cameras were very close. She thought it would look ridiculous to use a double. None of us ever had doubles to do stunts for us. If I fell in the mud or got stuck in a hunk of cement or fell down a trap door then that’s what I did.”
“Lucille didn’t care about messing herself up,” he continued. “A lot of stars of her stature wouldn’t do physical comedy because they were afraid they’d get their hair messed up or they’d look bad. I remember once she fell into a vat of green dye. She came out with not only her hair green but everything was green!
“It was tremendously funny to see [that], but it took hours to get her cleaned up and her make-up put on do the rest of the show. But things like that were important because they looked real. And this is very important when you’re doing comedy. You’ve got to believe it happened and it has to be real.”
“The secret of comedy,” Gordon said, “if I may be so bold as to make a statement like this, is that for comedy to be good it has to be played straight. And again, the greatest example of this is Lucy Ball. No matter how wild the shows were that we did, no matter how bizarre the situations were, they were never played as if they were funny.
“They were played like serious incidents of ordinary everyday life. And that’s why they are funny and are still considered classic comedies.”
“What’s wrong with most of the comedies nowadays,” he explained, “is that the actors know they’re funny or think they are. That takes away from the comedy right away. The ones who play comedy straight are the great ones — the ones people love to watch.”
And viewers certainly loved to watch Here’s Lucy, in which Ball relied on what Lucie Arnaz describes today as “those wonderful things that her writers wrote for her to do. The scripts were so brilliantly conceived and specifically written, right down to where the fly was going to land and on whose shoulder.
“I have those scripts, and I can tell you that they were just genius, and Mom never received an award [at any time] where she didn’t acknowledge that.”
And there were many opportunities to do so. Ball was nominated several times for an Emmy, winning four in total: two for her work on I Love Lucy and two for The Lucy Show. Then, in 1989, shortly after her passing, Ball was posthumously voted the Governor’s Award by the Television Academy.
In 2007, and on their mother’s behalf, Lucie and Desi, Jr. accepted the Legacy of Laughter award posthumously presented to Ball at the TV Land Awards.
In the time since Here’s Lucy, Ball’s children have certainly accomplished a great deal in their own lives and careers.
Desi, Jr. owns and operates the Boulder Theatre, which houses the heralded Boulder City Ballet Company that he founded with his late wife, Amy Laura Bargiel (who died of cancer in 2015). And besides his long list of classic TV-movies, Desi, Jr. went on to star in the sci-fi/TV cult classic Automan (ABC, 1983–1984), and in feature films like The Mambo Kings (1992), in which he had the opportunity to play his father.
Although the two potential Kim Carter spin-offs did not pan out, Lucie starred in The Lucie Arnaz Show in the mid-1980s, and the acclaimed drama Sons & Daughters of the early 1990s, both shows on CBS.
Lucie’s TV-movies include: Who Killed The Black Dahlia? (1975), Washington Mistress (1982); Who Gets The Friends? (1988), and The Mating Season (1980), in which she performed opposite Laurence Luckinbill.
Lucie fell in love and wed Luckinbill while performing in the stage edition of They’re Playing Our Song (for which she received the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle, Theatre World, and Outer Critic Circle Awards).
Countless other live theatre productions followed, as did big-screen musical hits such as The Jazz Singer (1980) with Neil Diamond.
Happily married to Luckinbill for nearly 40 years, Lucie continues to sing and dance in well-received live stage shows that tour the country, as music remains a constant a driving force in her life and career as it was before and during Here’s Lucy.
“The show was unique because of all the musical episodes we did,” says Lucie. “That was very unusual for a TV sitcom in those days. We were the first Glee.”
She says it presented the “100% professionalism” that defined each of her mother’s shows. “And I’d also like to think it may have been interesting for people to see Mom [performing] with her own children, too.”
Michael Stern can vouch for that. “In watching Here’s Lucy, which was from my generation,” he says, “I always felt like Kim and Craig were my brother and sister, and Uncle Harry was my uncle, and Lucy was my mother. I could see myself as being part of that family…a musical family.”
“Music was one of the main reasons why Here’s Lucy worked,” adds Desi, Jr. “It was a show with a lot of music and a great deal of extraordinary dancing and singing.”
Expanding on that note, and Gale Gordon’s theory of television comedy, Robert S. Ray says: “Here’s Lucy was a bright, colorful half-hour of old-fashioned timeless comedy and music done on 35mm film, at a time when TV comedy was turning into cheaper videotape and also turning more controversial, more topical and hence, more dated today.
“In the 21st century, shows such as All in the Family and Maude, though of undeniable high quality, seem like time capsules of the 1970s.”
Suffice it to say, Here’s Lucy, with little evocation of its era, remains ageless.
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Originally published at www.emmys.com.