Posts Tagged ‘I Love Lucy’

Network execs didn’t think that audiences would believe a marriage between an all-American girl and a Latin man . . . but they did.

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Years later, the Queen of Comedy became the first woman to run a major television production studio. You celebrate your President’s Day; I’ll celebrate mine.


Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets thoroughly plastered with Thelma Ritter. Now that third part . . .

Hardly a family secret is my lifelong obsession with (and ability to recite) I Love Lucy. A true peach of a friend bought me the complete series on DVD a few years back, but I don’t have the heart to tell relatives such things when they call to let me know of an upcoming marathon. As a kid I had my Lucy lines down cold, fully prepared for any “How does that line go?” emergency that could come up at any moment . . . any moment! Through the years I packed over six seasons of scripts into that child brain of mine, so I never thought to ask for clarification on the lines I didn’t understand. I’m fairly confident that my “Rosebud” will turn out to be “Circle 7-2099,” but hopefully those around me will think it something highly mysterious and wonderfully inexplicable. It certainly was to me, until I learned that it was nothing more than Lucy and Ricky’s phone number.

Setting the scene for Rock Hudson and Doris Day’s Pillow Talk are the days before everyone had personal landlines, and the seeds of Apple were years from being scattered throughout the iWorld. In their first of three movies together, Mr. Hudson and Miss Day share a party phone line — our handsome Hudson plays the “party” half of the duo as a bachelor who clogs up the line with his turnstilesque dating life. Dainty Day is the cranky second party who needs the phone for business calls. She gets snippy; he likes it . . . very few surprises to give away in this one, but I must say that in the luminous color of 1959 film, together they are a quite pretty picture.

We’re all entitled to our opinions, yes, but if I came across a friend who did not enjoy Thelma Ritter, I fear I may stop acquaintanceship. As Alma, Doris Day’s boozy housekeeper, Miss Ritter is far more entertaining to me than the gorgeous main characters. When she first enters the movie by pouring herself off an elevator, she barks at the poor elevator man, “Must you zoom up so fast? What are ya, jet-propelled or something?” Stumbling into the apartment, Alma fixes herself a drink, takes off her hat, and readjusts the ice pack that’s been keeping her steady all morning. Priceless, that one. When we finally make it to the “boy loses girl” part of the formula, Rock Hudson decides to pump Alma for information and advice on how win back his irresistible Doris Day. He invites Alma for a drink, and her fabricated hesitation lasts for a mere second or two . . . “I might have one just to be sociable.” The scene that follows is the strongest selling point I have for this film; maybe she doesn’t exactly drink him under the table, but he definitely collapses on top of it.

Perhaps you could do better, but this is a good one for a sunny Sunday afternoon, preferably with a sociable mimosa or two.


Academy Award for Pillow Talk (1960):
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (written directly for the screen)

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“She never missed sending me flowers on my birthday.” — Carol Burnett

The beauty of writing a blog is having complete control over the rules you set up for yourself. And that psychological satisfaction we silly humans get from breaking rules is that much sweeter when the rules we break are our own. On this, her 100th birthday, I’ll visit the world of classic television for a moment and pay respect to the woman who first introduced me to the black-and-white world of exceptional talent (and live audiences). Like so many of us, I learned the rules of rule-breaking from the master, Lucille Ball.

A VHS tape with I LOVE LUCY written in blue, capital letters provided my first glimpse of the generation into which I should have been born. Yes, it was a generation that believed only beautiful women sold tickets and funny women did not, but fortunately there were actresses like Lucille Ball who paid no attention to such rubbish. By the time I was seven years old, I knew the entire Vitameatavegamin scene word for word, breath for breath. On the occasional warm day in the Bay Area, I still walk around and slur “Oh I feel fine but’cha know, it’s HOT in here!” Mostly it’s met with blank stares, but one day someone will get it and laugh . . .

“Here are I am with all this talent bottled up inside of me, and you’re always sitting on the cork.” Before sliding down in front of the piano, Vivian Vance stands before Desi Arnaz and William Frawley to introduce “Petunia Ricardo.” With fairy wand in hand, four-time Emmy winner Lucille Ball bursts out in her ballerina outfit, determined to break into her husband’s nightclub act. The ballet class scene that follows (with savvy Mary Wickes as a French dance instructor) was unlike anything I’d seen in all my seven years, and immediately I committed it to mental and muscle memory. Suddenly my childhood worship of Oz and its witches had house-dropping competition.

Reacting to Lucille Ball with laughter and applause wasn’t enough for me. The rest of audience, both in the studio and the living room, was clapping and giggling with one another, so I couldn’t just fall in line — imitation was how I showed my love and respect, and few deserve it more than Lucille Ball.

Happy birthday, Lucy!

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Eavesdroppers the world over would pay top dollar to live in my San Francisco apartment. I can hear what my neighbors are sizzling for dinner, the fights they have with their boyfriends, and certainly which of the many ear-piercing Hollywood blockbusters are booming on their TVs. When I finally received Gaslight this week, a movie that took quite some time to come out on DVD, my “Ingrid Bergman” mood was in full form — I poured myself a glass of red, tipped up my nose and chin slightly (a significant gesture of my Bergman mood), and settled in for the familiar and soothing sound of her voice. Then suddenly, as if the car had burst from their screen and crashed through my window, the heavy gas and screeching breaks of some recent movie’s car chase hastily drowned out Gaslight’s opening credits. I went from Bergman to bitter in a matter of seconds and stood up to postpone the experience. As I moved towards the TV, I caught a glimpse of her face in her first Oscar-winning role — she told me to sit back down.

Returning to the London house in which her aunt was murdered years ago, Miss Bergman’s Paula Alquist slowly begins to lose her mind. She becomes forgetful and delusional, as gas levels seem to go up and down on their own, pictures disappear off the wall, and strange noises from the attic all distract from her sanity. I know the feeling, but luckily Paula didn’t have San Francisco, car chase-obsessed neighbors to deal with as well! Teasing me throughout the film is that all of these occurrences may be at the hand of Paula’s husband, played by Charles Boyer. Another actor I first met via I Love Lucy, Mr. Boyer always puts a smile on my face, sometimes to the detriment of his role. But that bewitching face and delicious accent makes for a charmingly chilling performance, and he had no trouble giving me a scare or two. 

Helping him along, of course, were Ingrid Bergman’s powerfully subtle reactions, as she slips slowly into what she assumes is mental illness. I loved them together, and the final scene between Miss Bergman and Mr. Boyer is remarkable. This is when I really saw that Oscar fluttering into her hand, and it was surely worth sitting through two or three of the film’s slower moments. The roaring special effects that so hypnotized my neighbors distracted me just long enough to overlook Miss Angela Lansbury’s name on those opening credits. If you can get beyond only seeing her in the autumn of her life, as most of know her, the 17-year-old Miss Lansbury is a trampy treasure in Gaslight, earning her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Pick this one up if you come across it . . . it’s a bit of a gem!

Academy Awards for Gaslight (1945): Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White

Add it to your queue.

During the second season of the television show Soap (1978), Chester Tate, played by Robert Mandan, surprises everyone by waking up after undergoing an experimental brain operation. To test his memory, Chester’s doctor asks him if can remember who he is, aided with a mirror that his wife puts in front of him. “Oh my god — I’m Gunga Din,” he blurts out, examining his turban-like bandaging. When the doctor tells his patient that he is, in fact, not Gunga Din, Chester turns his chin up to the mirror and confirms, “Then I’m Gloria Swanson.” Around the age of five or six years old, this was my first exposure to the madness that is the character of Norma Desmond and the masterpiece that is Sunset Boulevard.

While some films may take a few minutes to get off the runway, the opening of Sunset Boulevard — a title that I, for some reason, refuse to abbreviate with a “Blvd.” — had no trouble hooking me in the first two minutes. It’s in these couple of minutes that we see a dead body floating facedown in the pool of an old Hollywood mansion. But it wasn’t the body that strapped me to my chair; it was the angle of the magnificent shot. I’m guessing it was tricky and clever (a lovely combo) for the 1950s — the camera appears to be filming from the bottom of the pool, causing the audience to look up at the body and the blurred people standing around the pool’s edge. With William Holden’s voiceover to guide us, he takes us back about six months to let us in on how and why that body finally got the pool it always wanted.

If you’re sure that your knowledge of this remarkable film is limited to knowing only that it exists, there’s a good chance you know more than you think. Frequently called upon throughout my life to perform parts of movies for others, I grew increasingly frustrated when people misquoted movie lines. As I’ve aged (maybe not “matured,” but aged), I’ve come to realize that the frustration had more to do with my being asked to perform — let me quote the movie lines when I’m good and ready, would ya please? That said, if this blog does nothing else for the world, I hope it lends a hand with correcting an absolutely delicious line that’s been misquoted for 60 years. If you hear the words “close-up” and “Mr. DeMille,” hopefully some form of Norma Desmond’s famous words spring to mind. Without giving away the plot to those who have not experienced Sunset Boulevard, Miss Gloria Swanson, who plays Norma, ends the film with “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” And good gravy, she wasn’t kidding!

“I am big — it’s the pictures that got small.” So tells Norma Desmond to Joe Gillis (played by Mr. William Holden) when they first meet at the beginning of the film. Miss Gloria Swanson’s portrayal of Norma, a silent film star whose career has all but faded away, is absolutely one of my all-time favorite performances. Determined to work again, Norma employs Joe to help her develop a script she has written, a script her delusional mind believes Cecil B. DeMille will jump at to direct. The first time I was old enough to understand the film (not just quote it), I remember spiraling into that universe of make-believe right along with Norma; one she creates for herself during a 30-year span of not knowing what to do with the remaining years. Escaping into a world in which Norma defines for herself what “classic film” should mean is an escape I can certainly understand! During a viewing of her own silent films, Norma rants about how the industry has changed with the addition of sound. “We didn’t need dialogue; we had faces,” she tells Joe before jumping up and swearing that she’ll be on that screen once again; that screen she was more than happy to criticize moments earlier.

Although Sunset Boulevard is told from Joe’s point of view, I never really find myself tagging along with him through the movie. I like Mr. William Holden, and I enjoy a number of his other films, but he was never really one of my favorite actors. My first exposure to him was on the episode of I Love Lucy (1955) when he gets a face full of pie moments after Lucy, Fred, and Ethel arrive at the Brown Derby (by the way, the Brown Derby restaurant chain was started by one of Gloria Swanson’s husbands — I love when my world comes full circle like that!). Rather than identify with Joe, I’m much more fascinated by the voice, mind, eyebrows, and wardrobe of Norma Desmond, who, in the capable hands of Miss Swanson, steals the entire movie. I always enjoy a little game of “what if” when it comes to film, so I find it amusing to hear that Mae West and Mary Pickford were considered for the role of Norma . . . wise choice, Paramount! The casting of Erich von Stroheim as Norma’s devoted butler is also an interesting part of the film’s history — 20 years before Sunset Boulevard, Mr. von Stroheim directed the film Queen Kelly (1929) which stared a then 30-year-old Miss Gloria Swanson. There’s that full circle again!

The wonderful problem I run into when writing about Sunset Boulevard is that there’s just too much to say. With all the cameos (Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, and Buster Keaton, to name a few), a bitter view of Hollywood (Louis B. Mayer supposedly asked Billy Wilder “How could you do this?”), and Edith Head’s costume design, I could go on for pages, just as many have! Schwab’s drug store makes a few appearances, with its wonderful old sign advertising “Breakfast, Luncheon, and Dinner” that never fails to tickle me. The always hardworking cigarette finds itself a new costume in the form of a holder that looks like a bent paperclip. Wound tightly around Miss Swanson’s finger, it’s one of the many accessories that positively made for Norma Desmond. As I venture deeper into the world of classic films, the names on the opening credits become more and more familiar. Aside from the credits themselves (my favorite is “Gowns by” so-and-so), the one name I really started to notice was Edith Head, who seemed to contribute to the costumes of every movie I watch. A woman I know little about (but will soon learn more), I always consider seeing Miss Head’s name to be a good sign, if my eye happens to catch it.

And then we come to the Academy Awards. If I were casting an Oscar ballot in 1951, I think I would have had a panic attack . . . and aside from the horrifying times I’m inside an IKEA, I don’t get panic attacks. A year that put the sensational Sunset Boulevard against the phenomenal All About Eve is a part of film history that makes my head explode. Norma Desmond and Miss Bette Davis’s aging theatre star Margo Channing are tied for second place on my list of all-time greatest performances by an actress. Just to keep you on your toes and hopefully faithful to my beloved blog, I’ll soon reveal who reigns supreme in the number-one spot. In addition to Best Actress in a Leading Role (which was awarded to Miss Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, a wonderful performance), the films competed in a number of categories, including Best Picture. As much as I love Sunset Boulevard, I’m happy that the Academy handed the Best Picture Oscar to All About Eve. Apples, oranges . . . it’s all wonderfully delicious dried fruit!

 

Academy Awards for Sunset Boulevard (1951): Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture; and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay.

 

My Oscar Time Machine: I would have called Best Actress in a Leading Role a tie between Gloria Swanson and Bette Davis for All About Eve. Miss Judy Holliday is hilarious in Born Yesterday, and any other year, I would have been thrilled to see her take home the gold. But in 1951, my apologies to the talented Miss Holliday, I’m going to need that Oscar back.

Add it to your queue.

 

At the age of three, I knew I was blessed with old taste. When I was a kid, the family would gather after dinner to watch old episodes of Soap, a brilliant TV show from the late 1970s, created by the same woman who later favored us with The Golden Girls.  As my sister and I moved backwards and earlier than our precious Soap, naturally my parents introduced me to I Love Lucy, All in the Family, and countless others, whetting my appetite for anything that was created before I was.

 

As luck and VCRs would have it, the backwards journey into entertainment took me into film as well. The look, the sound, the costumes, and the “nice and slow” pace of old movies all hypnotized me. The smell I imagined of the endless martinis and cigarettes was enough to draw me into the classic world in which I wanted to live, health risks aside.

 

As the years went by and I began to understand the lines I had committed to memory, my love and appreciation for a time that has since gone with the wind grew along with me. My intention here is not only to explore why the world of classic film sparks such a specified type of happiness within me but also see how many sparks out there I can light.  

 

Naturally I started my journey where so many others have, but over the years, I’ve discovered this is also exactly where so many stopped. The end of the Yellow Brick Road was the gateway into classic film for me; an Emerald City of my very own, full of curtains I wanted to look behind… … …here we go!