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Friday, October 14, 2011

I Love Lucy's Dream Team || Part Two, "The Backstage Brains"

Hi there,

This is part two of I Love Lucy's Dream Team - I wrote the first part on Wednesday and you can read it here. Today's post will be about the backstage brains, and if you're not a Lucyphile you may not have heard of all of them. They deserve a lot of credit because they added so much to the show, despite never appearing on camera. My summaries may not be so extensive because of my lack of information on them. But here goes!



Jess Oppenheimer (1913 - 1988) was "the brains behind the show," as Lucy would credit him. He was a radio producer when called to help the struggling radio show "My Favorite Husband" (which starred Lucy). This show would be the basis for I Love Lucy, and Jess tweaked the show to make it everything we know. The original "Lucy" character on the radio show was much more sophisticated, but Jess changed her to be more childlike and scheming, reminiscent of Fanny Brice's Baby Snooks. 

When Lucy and Desi became pregnant, they broke the news to Jess first, knowing they'd have to cancel the show but willing because they were so happy to be pregnant (Lucy was nearly 40. She had given birth to daughter Lucie a year before, but she had suffered several miscarriages before that and they thought Lucie would be it). It was Jess who thought "what the heck is wrong with a pregnancy? Let's do it! I'll spice up our season two!" So they did, thanks to Jess. 

Madelyn Pugh Davis (1921 - 2011) and Bob Carroll, Jr. (1918 - 2007) were the original writers for Lucy. Like Jess, they were with the show from it's roots in "My Favorite Husband" and helped develop the characters to the television screen. Though Bob Weiskopf and Bob Schiller would join them later on, Madelyn and Bob stuck on for all the seasons and would go on to write for several of Lucy's other shows, as well.

Lucy loved her writers. (And, being a writer myself, this gives me another reason to love Lucy. I'm glad she was one of those actors who ALWAYS gave credit to her writers. ). When Lucy won Best Situation Comedy at the Emmy's, Lucy and Desi went up and said something along the lines of, "Would it be wrong to get the writers up here and have them accept the award?"

After all, Madelyn and Bob would sit around and come up with the crazy plots! It is said Madelyn would often test the pranks to see if it could be preformed by a woman as well. 

I have immense respect for these two people. They... came up... with the show. All those hilarious lines and scenes and plots? And Madelyn Pugh, being a girl writer in the 50's when pretty much every show only had males for writers. Not only was she a good writer (OBVIOUSLY) she added the femininity that was needed to the show surrounding a "beautiful clown" (the nickname she and Bob gave Lucy). I was upset when she died earlier this year and to me she is a great inspiration. You should check out her autobiography, "Laughing with Lucy", for an interesting look at her life.

Lucy had three different directors throughout it's run, but I have chosen William Asher (born 1921) as the one to profile. He directed the most episodes (101), was married to Elizabeth Montgomery, and would go onto direct her in "Bewitched", yet another fabulous series.

I couldn't get as much meat on this quite brilliant man as I wanted to, but for a fact I know he directed some of Lucy's best and famous episodes. His first was the candy wrapping episode, and it would be followed by other greats like: the pregnancy episodes (including when Lucy breaks the news to Ricky and the actual birth of Little Ricky), the gang's escapades in Hollywood and Europe, and when the Ricardos and Mertzes moved out to Connecticut.

He directed Lucy in more episodes than any other directer ever would.

Karl Freund (1890 - 1969) was an Academy award winning cinematographer at the time he was hired by Desi Arnaz to film Lucy.

It is true that the three camera system had been invented by the time Lucy began, but it was Lucy that perfected it and made it popular thanks to Freund. They filmed Lucy in a new way: a "flat lighting system." 

This system, still in use for sitcoms today, lit up the entire stage instead of just portions to evade shadows and instead it give it the fresh, almost luminous black and white that we all know and love. The studio's floor was changed to smooth, wood paneling so Karl's three camera technique would be able to glide easily across without making any noise.

The cameras themselves were special - up until that point a cheap kinescope camera had been used, not giving the viewers the greatest print always. But they decided to use real motion picture cameras. CBS was not jumping at the idea, so Lucy and Desi agreed for a $5,000 salary cut to cover the cost as long as they could own the episodes. (In 1957, Desi sold the episodes back to CBS and the rerun was born). 

There is a lot more to Karl's innovative style of camera making. Read his own account of filming for Lucy (with much more information that I can offer clearly) here.

Those are just the five "backstage brains" I decided to spotlight for this post, but there are so many countless people that contributed to the show to make it the gem that it is today. And I wish I had been able to write about each member of the Desilu family and their contribution to the show!  

But, even a super Lucyphile like me cannot, and therefore that concludes our selection of I Love Lucy's Dream Team. I'll be back tomorrow to celebrate the big day!

Oh, and I happened to find this article by Lucie Arnaz about her parents. She was interviewed on the occasion of Lucy's 60th and I found the article to be a very interesting read! (I'm glad to know that, like me, Lucy was not a big fan of change and probably wouldn't have been a social networking junkie were she around today).


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