Monday, January 27, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

 Yesterday Jeff posted a marvelous aerial photo (see below) of the studio set up from the first years of the old I Love Lucy television show. It was the first in a series of TV series that starred first Lucille Ball and her then husband Desi Arnaz and eventually just the comedienne herself. That first series turned the once showgirl (at left: Lucy in The Ziegfeld Follies - 1946)  and Queen of the "B" Movies  into one of the most recognized performers of her time.

In those early days at least, Lucy knew how to share the spotlight with her co-stars: the perennials Vivian Vance, William FrawleyGale GordonMary Jane Croft and of course Desi.  But she also featured some of the great "second bananas" of theatre and television in her shows including, in this episode, the inimitable Mary Wickes.   This 1952 episode was the first of many appearances that she was to make on the various TV incarnations of Lucy.  A quick tally shows that she appeared over 18 times with Lucy and indications are there were very few TV shows that she did appear on from the early days of the medium until her death in 1996.  Her last movie appearances were as the irrepressible Sister Mary Lazarus in the two Sisters Act's and as the voice of a gargoyle in the Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Dezi Arnaz and his cameraman Karl Freund developed and sold the studios on the idea of performing before a live audience.  They pioneered the use of the multiple set, flat lighting and three-camera set-up that is still used in most sit-com production today.  Always a savvy business man Arnaz convinced the studio to allow filming of the episodes rather than the kinescope recording that was standard at the time.  However Desilu had to assume the cost of the process - which gave them the rights to redistributing the show in reruns and syndication, an innovation.  They made their money back on that little investment big time and put in place a system that is in use 60 years later.

This set, from the early years, comprises: Little Ricky's nursery; the studio decreed double-singles bedroom (makes you wonder how they got that nursery?); the Riccardo's living room; the kitchen; and the Tropicana Club (later the Club Babilou) where Ricky and his orchestra played.  The Riccardos and Mertz's lived at 623 East 68th St on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  Given that the numbers on East 68th only go up to the 500s it appears that their brownstone was somewhere in the East River.

January 27 - 1731: Bartolomeo Cristofori, (b. 1655) who invented the piano dies in Firenze, Italy.
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