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Friday, August 12, 2011

"Desilu" Book Review


So today, I'm finally going to share with you my first book review. (I love books, but since this is a classic movie blog I'm restricting myself to only writing reviews about classic movies and their stars!). It's for "Desilu" by Coyne Sanders and Tom Gilbert (or something like that). I finished it a couple days ago, but held out until now because I thought you all would want some variety (from the multitude of Lucy related posts I wrote last week for her 100th). But now, I'm like "what the heck?" You all know how much I love Lucy so let's consider it okay.

Before I start, I guess you all must have noticed a change on my blog.  I've changed the header. The original header

was a little too busy for me. And you can't really see the title properly. So I spent all of last night and today working with this software (it's free, and offers a lot of the same features that Photoshop does. It's quite awesome!). Finally, after many revisions and frustrations, I came up with what you see above us.

I am not one hundred percent pleased with it. I tried both sephia and black and white, and B&W I think looks better, but I'm not still completely sold. It's pretty big, for one thing. I know lots of blogs have big headers, but... I don't know. So. I would really appreciate it if you could leave me some comments telling me what you think of it, and if it's better than the last, and if you know of any way I could improve it. (By the way, I had to abort Cary from the header because I thought it would be kind of cruel to outline him in pink!! So Cary and Grace are in my favicon... or at least they will be as soon as it updates).

Also, the very kind Natalie (or "StanwyckFan") of "In the Mood" (it's in my blog roll, you should see it!) has informed me about Film Classics ('s contest for this season. This season you basically have to write some kind of a post about film noir. Even though film noir isn't my very best subject, I'm hoping to give it a try. For more information, go here:

Thanks, Natalie, for telling me all about it!

Okay, now, as promised, without any further ado, is my review for "Desilu."


As you can probably tell from the title, Desilu promises to tell "the story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz."

If only they had.

I'm not going to say this book was awful, because it wasn't... Though, to be truly honest, I did have several problems with it.

The first was the authors pretty much skip over how Lucy and Desi first met, or their lives before they met each other. They briefly recount it in a crammed first chapter - all events preceding 1946. I thought this was awful. I was looking for a lot of build up on how they met, how they purchased the ranch in California, etc. But the authors breeze over this by using a couple of excerpts from Desi's autobiography. In a page or two, they basically say, "Desi said, 'Do you want to get married?' And Lucy said, 'Sure, why not.' And then they went to Connecticut, eloped, and that's all."


The authors are much more excited to talk about the bad days of Lucy and Desi's marriage: the fighting, the screaming, Desi's drinking, etc. Like they want to write a depressing book of sorts. Look, I know that Lucy and Desi's marriage was most certainly not picture perfect, but they did have some happy days with each other.

More than anything, the only thing the authors really care to talk about are Desilu Studios. The purchasing and buying of shows, stockholders meetings, hiring people - every time I saw a "$" in the book, I went, "Oh no!" WAY, WAY, WAY too much focus on the Studios. It should have been a balance between Lucy and Desi, the people, and the Studios - or, if you had to go either way, more focus on Lucy and Desi. But the book is about 80% Desilu Studios and 20% Lucy and Desi.

I thought it was interesting to learn about the Studios, but it should have been written in a clearer, more understandable way so those of us who are not experts on the subject, or do not own a Studio ourselves, can understand what they mean. Too many figures. On every page you'd find numbers and you'd be lucky to find "Lucy" and "Desi" in the same sentence together.

I have a few more bones to pick. The writers downplay any of their successes. "I Love Lucy" was - and is - one of the biggest phenomenal of television and likely the most successful show to come out of television. Yet it's not really such a big deal to the writers. And though "The Lucy Show" and "Here's Lucy" cannot compare to "I Love Lucy", they were both respectively successful shows themselves. But the writers make them sound like screwball messes strung together.

They on several occasions contradict themselves. On one page, they say that Lucille Ball was very "conservative," and disapproved of movies with explicit language, violence, etc. On another - "she had a very raunchy sense of humor." Uhm, I don't think it's possible for someone to be both. 

Towards the end of the book, they do their best to make Lucille Ball sound like a monster. I hate whenever an author begins to trash it's subject. This was one of these cases. "Lucille Ball was not a funny woman." "Lucille Ball threatened to fire Joan Crawford and she burst into tears" (yeah, I would've threatened to fire her too if she didn't bother to show up on set because she "overslept"). "Lucille Ball started screaming at people on the set." I got SO fed up. Not just because I love Lucy so much, but I know that this is all exaggerated. They say she brought Sammy Davis, Jr. to tears. Yeah, she tortured him so much that years later when they threw the "All Star Party for Lucille Ball," he gave a lovely, touching speech calling her a "gift from God." Wow, he must've been totally bullied by her.

I say exaggerated because I am sure Lucy was just trying to do her job. She was very professional and by the time she did her later shows, she had a very high standard for those she worked with. She did not except tardiness, lack of effort, etc. She was a total perfectionist. And who can blame her? By then, she deserved total respect on set for all she had achieved. It's easy to understand why Lucy believed in hard work: she had to work so hard to get to where she'd gotten. 

What would have made this book better? More focus on their lives before "I Love Lucy." The writers chose to skip this part of their lives, but detail their lives all the way up to their death after 1950 (with much more focus on Lucy than Desi - in fact, he disappears into thin air). What would have been interesting is a look at what they were doing in their separate lives in a certain year. For example, when Lucy was pounding the pavement in New York, Desi was cleaning canary cages in Miami. It would explain to casual fans what different personalities they had, and what different backgrounds.

More focus on their glory years at the Desilu Ranch would have been nice, too. For example, later on in the book someone says something about remembering how they had been at the Ranch when Lucy was pregnant, and Lucy had been all girlish and excited, and had pulled the person's hand to her bulging stomach when she felt the baby kick, her eyes lighting up. "It's wonderful!" she'd exclaimed. If only the authors had shared more sweet stories like that. 

The authors don't share much new or insightful information. However, in reading I kept in mind that this book is considerably old. Well, it's less than 20 years old which isn't very old, but in book years it is. When it was written in the early 90's, the Internet was not as developed as it was now, and not everybody had common use with it. So even though the facts they pull out in the book look old to us today, they were probably new and shocking for readers in the early 90's (wow, I'm making the 90's sound ancient!).

Lucie Arnaz was interviewed for the book and she provides the best stories. Though she cannot attest much about her parents' divorce or anything preceding that, she does share nice information about the later years. In the last pages of the book, she shares a touching story about how Lucy was one of the last people Desi spoke to - and what she said was that she loved him (repetitively). 

In the Epilogue, the authors share some depressing information about how Lucy dies.  However, it's pretty amazing to see how the world reacted at the time. Her death was treated with the importance of when a state of head dies, and the New York Times headline for the day was, in big, huge, black letters: "LUCY DIES." Depressing, but just goes to show you how much everyone loved Lucy.

Over all, this is a good book for anyone interested in Desilu Studios. In fact, it's the perfect book for you. Also, if you want to read about the lows of their marriage - but you'll only find repeated information, anyway.

It's not a terrible book. The final chapter and the Epilogue was touching, if anything. But the bottom line remains that it sends the principal subjects (and their relationship) in an unflattering light many times, depresses the reader on several occasions, and doesn't provide anything new. I'll give it a 3 out of a 5. 


That's all for today. Hope you enjoy my first book review, and like my new site header.



StanwyckFan said...

First of all, I love the fact that you love Lucy so much. I do the same thing with Barbara Stanwyck. ;)

Secondly, you're welcome (again). It was sweet of you to thank me like that. :)

Point three, I like your new header!

And last but not least, that was a fantastic book review!

Okay, I'm done. ;) Until Later On~

Rianna said...

:)I know, I'm crazy about Lucy! There are other actresses I love... but Lucy's tops. I'm sure you can relate. ;) You're welcome. And thanks and thanks (even though I've changed it again, lol). I really appreciate you taking the time to leave such kind comments!

StanwyckFan said...

Yes, I can definitely relate! ;) I REALLY like what you have up there now - Clark and Vivien - that's great! And I like commenting, it's a sort of "do unto others" in my mind. :)

Rianna said...

I know, I'm very happy with this. Aren't drive ins fabulous? (Actually, I've never been to one... but I totally wish I could.) Yeah, I love to comment, too. :)

Anonymous said...

Rianna > It is simply unbelievable .. . , yes your blog .I Take so much pleasure in complimenting you about so many aspects of your blog . First of all am just awestruck at the research and the details you have gone into . All of it penned so lucidly too. The layout and the graphics are just perfect for the theme . Very very impressed with the way you have used internet technology to make the blog touch more than just on of a reader's senses. The reviews make such interesting reading . Rianna keep at it .Since I have commented under anonymous ... My name is Jyoti Kalapa and am your mums FB friend but connected thru the heart (same school) :-) . Have fun doing what you do so well . And since you are a classics buff ask mum to suggest some good Hindi movie classics , to braden your hoeizon . All are not great and all may not appeal to you , but there are some stupendous old Hindi movies .

Rianna said...

Hi Jyoti aunty,
I am SO happy you enjoyed my blog and thank you so very much for all of your beautiful compliments. I really love receiving them and it encourages me to keep on writing. :) Especially as a writer it means quite a lot to me when someone compliments my work, and I take it to heart. I'm not a big Bollywood fan but I'm very open to trying some "Hindi classics." Mommy's a little clueless in this department too (she says "Sholey", but may be too gruesome... ). Are there any good ones you can suggest? It would make good material for my blog.
Thanks once again!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Rianna , There are very few Bollywood movies that I like . For that matter any movie industry . The Bollywood classics .. Hhmmm let me see , there are some good classics , but they should appeal to you as well . I will get back to you on this and you would run them thorough with mum , for I do not know if they would be age appropriate . Be back with a list in a couple of weeks . Jyoti Kalapa

Rianna said...

Hi Jyoti aunty,
Thanks for going to all that trouble!! I'm really looking forward to see what you will put together, and will surely feature them on my blog. Thank you for commenting ... can't wait :)

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