I LOVE LUCY

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Today in 1911, Lucille Ball was born. She was best know as Lucy Arnaz and was responsible for some of the most memorable moments in early television, and even today, sixty years after the premier of I Love Lucy, small-screen aficionados recognize the genius in such moments as the "Vitameatavegamin girl" and Lucy stuffing her cheeks with chocolate as the candies rolled off the factory belt too quickly.

What made Lucille Ball funny was not that Lucy was unladylike in her juice-induced stupor or obnoxious in her attempt to hide the chocolates—it was precisely that she was a lady who found herself in those bizarre situations that made America love her.

This was not by accident. Lucy's partner in the early television experiment was her husband, Desi Arnaz, and they had strong ideas about their characters' motivations:

On TV, as Lucy Ricardo, I played a character very much like Liz Cugat on my radio show [My Favorite Husband]. Lucy was impulsive, inquisitive, and completely feminine. She was never acid or vicious. Even with pie on her face she remained an attractive and desirable female, stirred by real emotions. Lucy Ricardo's nutty predicaments arose from an earnest desire to please. And there was something touching about her stage ambitions. As we were discussing her with our writers, Desi spoke up. "She tries so hard. . . . She can't dance and she can't sing. . . . She's earnest and pathetic. . . . Oh, I love that Lucy!" And so the title of the show was born.
Blog_lucille_ball1 The Ricardos' adventures took them many places and introduced them to scores of people. With their neighbors/best friends/landlords, Fred and Ethel Mertz (played by William Frawley and Vivian Vance), they traveled, fought and made up, and met the industry stars of the day. Both John Wayne and William Holden made famous appearances on the show, as did Harpo Marx in an unforgettable scene in which Lucy mirrors the famous comedian.

Lucille Ball had some minor successes in television after the run of I Love Lucy, but nothing like the comedic storm that she co-created with Arnaz. I Love Lucy aired for six seasons, from 1951 through 1957, and in those 181 episodes, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo lived in a world in which being a big-band leader played second fiddle to the often frenetic preoccupations of his wife. In syndication, America and the world still live with them.

—Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery, Catalog of American Portraits