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Classic TV Revisited: I Love Lucy



As far as funny wholesome sitcoms go, I Love Lucy, which starred Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, was the forerunner and perhaps the best loved of them all – and boy was it funny.

Pioneer US comedy about a dizzy New York housewife, her fiery bandleader husband and her long-suffering neighbours.

Why was it so good?
The zany, motor mouth antics of goofy redhead Lucille Ball. The series ran in America from 1951 to 1961. Often repeated, it was one of the first big global TV successes.

How did it begin?
Ambitious actress Lucille Ball made more than 80 films – including Ziegfeld Follies – before she shot to international fame in I Love Lucy with husband Desi Arnaz in 1951. Cuban-born bandleader Desi, whom she wed in 1940 after they met on the set of Too Many Girls, urged her to try TV. Although worried about Desi’s Spanish accent, bosses at US TV station CBS decided to take a gamble on the couple.

What was it about?
It grew from Lucille Ball’s US radio show My Favourite Husband. In it rubber-faced Lucille was Lucy Ricardo, while her real-life husband Desi Arnaz was Ricky Ricardo. Shot on film in front of a studio audience, it was an instant hit with US viewers. It explored universal themes such as the tensions of married life, the clash between career and home and the meaning of friendship and loyalty.

Didn’t it make Lucille Ball very rich?
US TV chiefs decided to risk running the show for one series, but cleverly Lucille took a wage cut in return for full ownership rights. She and husband Desi Arnaz made it with their company Desilu Productions and scooped a fortune as it ran for 10 years and was syndicated worldwide. She sold the company for $17m (£12m) in 1967 after buying out Desi’s share of the business.

Was Lucille Ball like Lucy?
Far from it – behind the goofy housewife image she was a hard-headed businesswoman. Her image as a caring mother has also taken a knock. Her daughter Lucie says living with Lucille and Desi Arnaz wasn’t comical. She says she was often in the middle of physical and verbal abuse. She adds her mother once feared she’d killed Desi when she knocked him out.

Why did it end?
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s divorce in 1961 finally put paid to it. However, the show is still being repeated around the world and it’s estimated that it’s always been on air somewhere since it began in 1951. Ball couldn’t top the series, although she tried with The Lucy Show which she co-produced with second husband Gary Morton, and Here’s Lucy, which ran until 1972.

What happened to Lucille Ball?
Her company Desilu Productions went on to make the original Star Trek and Mission: Impossible before she sold it. She died aged 77 of heart disease in 1989, but her fans have never forgotten her.

Distinguishing features:
Red hair, slapstick, Desi Arnaz’s broad Spanish accent.

Do say:
Lucille Ball was US TV’s comedy queen of the ’50s and ’60s.

Don’t say:
What’s this old hat, black and white programme which is totally unfunny?