I like to say that I was raised by three parents, the third being the 50's era sitcom I Love Lucy. Like most latchkey US children with a house to themselves and no babysitter, television was my portal into the world, however flawed that method of childrearing might be. And who dominated the public TV airwaves more than Lucy? She was on Mondays through Fridays before and after the news, and again on weekends...at least on channel 11 here in Los Angeles. Love her or hate her, I Love Lucy is as much part of American culture as oversized Cadillac cars and free candy on Halloween. Sure Lucy McGillicuddy's (Lucille Ball) behavior is more than obnoxious at time, and yes, Ricky's (Desi Arnaz) man-of-the-house dominance leaves a viewer in 2018 totally nauseous, but I hope we're smart enough as modern TV-watchers to remember that these fictional characters on this show aired more than 60 years ago. Much has changed in the half century since, including our views on acceptable roles and partnerships. And if you feel a gnawing discomfort at watching Ricky deny Lucy an allowance, then that's terrific--it means we as educated individuals have come a long way!
The thing I always loved the most (and still do) about the show was Lucy's strong will, in spite of what Ricky or the world wanted from her as a housewife. To me, a newly arrived foreigner born into a totally different set of gender expectations, Lucy was nothing less than an eye-opener. Even as a little kid in the 90's, I wanted to be subversive just like her. While Ricky paraded his success and cockblocked her career (at times with so much cruelty it was degrading), Lucy, with the help of Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance), would always manage to claw her way to the limelight. Remember that time she ate too much spaghetti when meeting William Holden? When she stole a grapefruit from Richard Widmark's house just to meet him? How she "spooned her way to health" to get in front of the camera for Vitameatavegamin to prove she had talent? Or when she finagled her way to perform "Cuban Pete" with Ricky's band? By the way, the woman can dance!
Lucy didn't always win, but when she did, it was meaningful. And even when she lost, like in her bet with Ricky about whether she would buy a new hat or he would lose his temper first, she won in her own way--eating crackers in bed, loudly, obnoxiously, and on purpose. Compare her to other television wives I grew up with, say, Peggy Bundy from Married With Children or Jill Taylor from Home Improvement (both of which I love), Lucy is a far stronger character.
What strikes me the most now as I watch old episodes is Ricky's insecurities on the show, and how it corresponded with Arnaz's own shortcomings in real life. It is no secret that he was often unfaithful, that he was an alcoholic, and that he was resentful of her success. I'm sure the writers, Madelyn Pugh-Davis and Bob Carroll Jr together with Ball, observed this dynamic in real life and turned that into part of Lucy and Ricky's characters on the page. Of course like any good writers would, they leave it up to us, the viewers, to see the irony.
After six years on air, two homes, one baby (on the show at least), and many many adventures together, I Love Lucy ended in 1957. In real life, the formal partnership between Ball and Arnaz (as well as the marriage), similarly came to a close. Ball filed for divorce, bought out Arnaz from Desilu Productions, and went on to produce more work with Vance. Arnaz on the other hand took a more secondary role away from the camera. In his memoir, Arnaz wrote that he still adored Ball, though by then both had remarried and were living separate lives.
Lucy was never meant to be a universally-liked character. Even the title of the show, I Love Lucy, uses a subjective personal pronoun. Hate her, mock her, despise her all you want, but she is an iconic figure that will outlast any critical essays about her. At the end of the day, it is Lucy who was the star of a show about a woman who wanted to be a star. And golly, she succeeded.
Bits & Pieces
A place for experimentation, a place for pieces unpolished and unpublished, a place to work out thoughts and ideas for larger collections. Typos aplenty. Enjoy (or not).