I Love Lucy was a pioneering show for America in the 1950s, serialising the life of a red-headed New York housewife. It showed her schemes and how they backfired, her husband, their best friends and many other similar scenarios. The humour was largely physical and sometimes slapstick, but the driving force behind the plots was the type of trouble Lucy got into.
Today, the show lives on in syndication, though is remembered by more than 40 million people who tuned in every week. It is one of the most famous and popular black-and-white sitcoms ever. After all these years, the heart- shaped title screen still promises the viewers that they're in for a good laugh.
Lucy Ricardo is the red-headed main character played by Lucille Ball. She is constantly trying to make money quick, hide new purchases from her husband, fix what she breaks, become a star or plot petty revenge. She has had dozens of jobs, many in an effort to fix a problem she made without letting her husband know, and sometimes uses the pseudonym Lucy McGillicuddy to avoid her husband's detection of her identity. Her best friend is Ethel who often, reluctantly, gets mixed up in Lucy's schemes. Lucy is married to Ricky Ricardo.
Lucy! You got some 'splainin' to do!
Ricky Ricardo is the Cuban soulmate of Lucy, played by Desi Arnaz. Ricky is a bandleader with a heavy Cuban accent and usually plays at a club called 'The Tropicana'. He sings Latin songs, notably 'Babalu' and has been a star in Hollywood. Sometimes, when Lucy does something unintelligent, Ricky's Latin temper will flare up.
In real life, Desi and Lucy were married for more than 19 years, 11 of which were before the show even started. They created their own production company, Desilu. In fact many things in real life were reflected on the show. Besides her sharing her name in both worlds, Lucille timed her character's onscreen pregnancy and her real pregnancy so that she would be giving birth at the same time as Lucy Ricardo.
Ethel Mertz, played by Vivian Vance, is the best friend of Lucy and bitter wife of Fred Mertz. Ethel is always trying to get money from Fred and usually insults his cheapness, weight and/or bald head. Ethel has more common sense than Lucy, but is easily convinced to help with whatever scheme that Lucy is working on. More often, Ethel finds ways to outsmart or get back at 'the boys', or trick them into letting them get new clothes. Ethel is simply Lucy's co-conspirator.
Fred is the landlord of the brownstone apartment building at East 68th Street where everyone lives. He's the husband of Ethel and is played by William Frawley. He is extremely careful with money and deprives Ethel of clothes and hats and other accessories she feels she needs. For the most part, Ethel and Fred argue or insult one another, but it's obvious that they still love each other.
The character of Little Ricky was invented when Lucille Ball became pregnant. Interestingly, Little Ricky is named after his father in the same way as Desi and Lucille's baby, Desi Jr, was. Little Ricky was a growing boy. His age varied and was inconsistent throughout the show.
The episodes in which Little Ricky first appeared are among the most-watched episodes of any show. They attracted an incredible 72% of the TV audience at the time (remarkable for a Monday 9pm timeslot).
I Love Lucy hardly ever had reprising characters outside of the regulars. However, some did appear semi-regularly as guests.
Tennessee Ernie, played by Tennessee Ernie Ford1, is a countryman from Bent Park, Tennessee. He's Lucy's cousin (or at least claims to be Lucy's cousin - she isn't sure) and knows almost nothing about the city. He stars in two consecutive episodes, 94 and 95. Later, on the Mertzes and Ricardos tour of America, they go to Tennessee and are thrown in jail in episode 112. Ernie does all he can to get them out.
Freddy Filmore, played by Frank Nelson, is a game show host. He has hosted Females Are Fabulous which aims to get women to do strange things for a thousand dollars in episode five. He also hosted Mr and Mrs Quiz, a normal quiz show in episode 32. Filmore hosted a game show that gave away game show tickets in episode 88. Frank Nelson also played many various roles and 'Ralph Ramsey'.
Mrs McGillicuddy, played by Kathryn Card, is Lucy's mother. She appears in many episodes, to Ricky's dismay and generally annoys them, as many mother-in-laws are reputed to do. She appears in episodes 110, 118, 119, 121, 123 and 149.
Mrs Trumble, played by Elizabeth Patterson, is the neighbour of the Mertzes and Ricardos and sometimes complains or nags about the noise created by Little Ricky. She appears in episodes 57, 60, 67, 75, 100, 103, 110 and 133.
Most shows would start out relatively normal, with an everyday problem such as getting a birth certificate or naming a child. Lucy would generally get a hold of the situation and turn it into a completely absurd plot, such as getting trapped in a large suitcase. Some episodes were based on a growing misunderstanding, such as Lucy thinking Ricky is trying to kill her. Certain episodes feature Ricky and Fred knowing the scheme that Lucy and Ethel are perpetrating, but play along and set a trap for the other gender duo to fall into.
In its six-year span, I Love Lucy won more than 200 awards, including five Emmys and never fell below third place in the ratings. The show ended after 179 episodes when Desi and Lucille's marriage began to fall apart. They stopped the show to save it, and began work on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.
Lucy and Desi
Ball was born 6 August, 1911, in Jamestown, New York. The hometown of Jamestown has even appeared throughout the run of the show. Today, Jamestown is to Lucy what Graceland is to Elvis - a Lucy-land in some ways. Lucy starred in four successful sitcoms in her life. The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. She also starred in a slightly less successful sitcom, Life with Lucy.
After her sitcoms, she starred in several films and plays, including two with Bob Hope, and a Broadway production of Wildcat. She suffered heart problems and died on 26 April, 1989.
Desi Arnaz was the actor that played Ricky on I Love Lucy. I Love Lucy was his biggest success, but before that he didn't have a very successful career. His marriage to Lucille Ball jump-started his career and kept it going for many years. Eventually he came to own the powerful Desilu production company, which owned many successful shows, such as The Untouchables. He also began to use his image and fame to market his music, which became a modest success.
The Places They've Visited
Lucy and the bunch went to a lot of places in the run of the series. Most of these come from a trip that the Mertzes and Ricardos took from New York to Los Angeles.
Albuquerque, New Mexico - The Mertzes and Ricardos stop at Ethel's home town, Albuquerque, which is Vivian Vance's real hometown. The townsfolk think Ethel is going to Hollywood and treat her like a star. (Episode 113 'Ethel's Home Town')
Tennessee - The four travellers are thrown in jail for speeding as a part of their trek to California. (Episode 112 'Tennessee Bound')
Los Angeles - The four travellers finally arrive in LA for a series of episodes. She goes to the Brown Derby and meets Eve Arden and William Holden. Lucy thinks Ricky is having an affair. Lucy gets her shot in a musical. Lucy gets into a fashion show with bad sunburn. Lucy meets Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Ricky's movie is shelved and Lucy tries to get a new role for him. (Episodes 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119. 'LA At Last', 'Don Juan and the Starlets' 'Lucy Gets in Pictures' 'The Fashion Show' 'The Hedda Hopper Story' 'Don Juan is Shelved')
Hawaii - Ricky and his band plan to go to Hawaii and Lucy wants to go as well. She goes on a game show to win tickets. (Episode 88 'Ricky's Hawaiian Vacation')
Ocean Liner - Lucy and Ricky plan to have a second honeymoon on their ocean liner to London. But Ricky has shows and is too busy to pay attention to Lucy. But the Mertzes certainly make the best of it. (Episode 141 'Second Honeymoon')
England - Lucy gets to London and tries to see the Queen, but can't. Ricky is invited to meet the Royal Family, but Lucy isn't. That doesn't stop her though. In the second England episode, Lucy meets a movie producer and goes on a fox hunt. (Episodes 142 'Lucy Meets the Queen' and 143 'The Fox Hunt')
Scotland - On their way to Paris, the Ricardos and Mertzes get sidetracked when Lucy decides to go to Scotland to see her relatives, the McGillicuddys. (Episode 144 'Lucy Goes to Scotland')
Paris - Lucy tries to find a painter to discover so that his work will appreciate in value and make her rich. She does discover a lot - a con artist and escargots. In the second Paris episode, Lucy sees and almost assaults Charles Boyer. In the third episode, Lucy goes on a successful hunger strike to get a gown. Ricky learns she had been cheating on the strike and eventually he gave her a burlap bag and told her it was a Paris original. (Episode 145, 146, 147, 'Paris at Last' 'Lucy meets Charles Boyer' 'Lucy Gets a Paris Gown')
Switzerland - Lucy gets herself and the other three trapped in a cabin in the Swiss Alps after an avalanche. This leads to a stream of confessions and a soul search. They are saved by an oompah band. (Episode 148, 'Lucy in the Swiss Alps')
Italy - Fred skimps on transportation and accommodation to get to Italy. Lucy gets homesick and misses her son Little Ricky. In the second Italian episode, Lucy is given a part in an Italian movie and ends up squishing grapes with her feet. In the third Italian episode, Lucy gets in trouble on the way to Nice. She doesn't have her passport and has a great deal of trouble at the border.
Monte Carlo - Lucy accidentally wins a lot of money in a Casino and hides it in Ethel's suitcase. Ricky finds the money and thinks Fred is stealing from him. (Episode 152 'Lucy Goes to Monte Carlo')
Florida - In Florida, Lucy and Ethel are in a contest against Fred and Ricky to see who can fish the most fish. The winner gets $150. Both sides cheat of course. In the second Florida episode, Lucy and Ethel try to stop Ricky and Fred from judging a Miami beauty contest. (Episodes 160, 161. 'Deep Sea Fishing' and 'Desert Island')
Cuba - After Florida, the Ricardos go to Cuba to introduce Ricky's family to Little Ricky and Lucy.
The People They've Seen
Although most of the guest stars Lucy has seen have been on her other shows, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour2, The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy, which are similar shows but not the same. Many famous people have been on I Love Lucy. Some of the stars made their appearances while Lucy was trying to become a star.
Aaron Spelling3 - Episode 'Tennessee Bound'
John Wayne - Episode 'Lucy and John Wayne'
Van Johnson4 - Episode 'The Dancing Star'
Bob Hope - Episode 'Lucy and Bob Hope'
Harpo Marx - Episode 'Harpo Marx'
Orson Welles - Episode 'Lucy and Orson Welles'
William Holden5 - Episode 'LA at Last'
Eve Arden6 - Episode 'LA at Last'
A very famous episode of I Love Lucy is about Lucy's struggle to do a commercial for vitamin syrup called Vitametavegimin. She has to test the product over and over, and it happens to be a quarter alcohol. With such a long name as Vitametavegimin, Lucy has trouble pronouncing it, as she is slurring and hiccoughing. A well-known line was 'Do you out in parties? Are you un-poop-ular?'
The Pizza Tosser
A classic scene in I Love Lucy is when Lucy takes over pizza-tossing and tosses the dough completely wrong. She tosses it too high, too low, on her head, in the fan, etc.
Perhaps the most famous scene ever of I Love Lucy is the one in the episode 'Job Switching'. Ethel and Lucy are working in a candy factory, wrapping chocolates. They find trouble in keeping up because of the speeding conveyer belt and start stuffing chocolates down their shirts and trying to get rid of them.