Before Lucy Was Lucy, Lucy Was Liz

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Following yesterday’s wrap-up of our coverage on the television career of Lucille Ball (well, all except 1986’s Life With Lucy, which will be featured on the blog if/when — but likely when — it gets released on DVD), I wanted to take today’s post to go back to the beginning. As many know, I Love Lucy (1951-1957, CBS) was largely based on a radio series that Lucille Ball had starred in from 1948-1951, entitled My Favorite Husband. A good portion of the MFH episodes were included among the special features of the ILL DVD releases, and I featured an episode in May’s Old Time Radio Round-Up. The few episodes I’ve chosen to include in today’s post are not representative of my selections for the best from the series; rather, they’re merely the installments that I’ve listened to most recently. (If the old time radio sitcom posts prove to be a popular feature, I may consider doing a post on my favorites. Please, if you have any thoughts, subscribe and comment below. I love to hear from readers!)

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Lucille Ball and Richard Denning played Liz and George Cooper (initially Liz and George Cugat), Ruth Perrott plated Katie the maid, Gale Gordon played George’s boss, Rudolph Atterbury, and Bea Benaderet played his wife, Iris. All of the episodes in today’s post were directed by Jess Oppenheimer and written by ILL‘s original writers: Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll, Jr., and Madelyn Pugh.

 

“Learning To Drive” (Aired: 11/13/48)

George teaches Liz to drive, and then Liz goes to get her driving license. Liz immediately gets in an accident, but through a communications mixup, George thinks Liz has intentionally run over George’s high school girlfriend, Myra Ponsenby.

This first season episode isn’t a laugh riot, and though the premise of Liz driving may remind some of Lucy’s learning to drive in Season Four of ILL, the scripts have little in common. Much of the comedy, instead, comes from a misunderstanding in which George thinks Liz is guilty of running over his old flame. It’s not that funny, but the episode does climax nicely at the police station, where ardent fans will recognize the exasperated voice of Frank Nelson as an officer. (They do a very amusing bit that was later recreated for a Season Two ILL episode, “Ricky And Fred Are TV Fans.” It may actually be funnier here.)

“Mother-In-Law” [a.k.a. “George’s Mother Visits”] (Aired: 03/04/49)

George’s mother comes to visit. Liz hopes to drive her out by spreading ragweed and other allergy-inducing plants around the house, but her plan backfires when George’s mother starts dating her allergist.

Perhaps most interesting about this episode is that Benaderet plays George’s mom and Gordon plays her date — three weeks before they would assume their regular roles as the Atterburys. This episode is amusing in a really base sort of way. It’s all mother-in-law jokes, and while that can produce some laughs, nothing really novel or fresh is introduced. This script was never adapted for Lucy’s television series, as Ricky’s mother could never be as interfering as George’s mom — after all, she lived in Cuba! Interestingly, George’s mom would later be played by the divine Eleanor Audley, who gave the role a much icier portrayal.

“Liz’s Radio Script” (Aired: 03/24/50)

Liz’s play is a finalist in a contest hosted by one of George’s ritzy old friends, and he, Liz, Iris, and Rudolph plan to perform it on the local radio station.

Future Lucy regular Mary Jane Croft plays the famous author with whom George used to go to school. Similar in story (aside from the ex-flame angle) to ILL Season One’s “Lucy Writes A Play,” the comedy in this installment enters in the final act, in which Liz and company get to the station and learn that they were supposed to supply their own copies of the script. In a mad rush, Liz gets to the nearest typewriter. Naturally, given the time crunch, her fingers erred quite a bit. Several jokes were later recycled in the aforementioned TV episode. Not hilarious, but much more polished than the episodes from the first year.

“Liz Appears On Television” [a.k.a. The Friendship Award”] (Aired: 04/23/50)

Liz and Iris make an appearance on a television show celebrating Friendship Week. Their friendship is tested, though, when they discover they’ve bought the same dress for the occasion. And though they both agree to take the dress back, their feuding husbands persuade them otherwise…

This episode was almost directly remade as ILL Season Three’s “Lucy And Ethel Buy The Same Dress.” While that episode is best remembered for Ball and Vance’s joyously jubilant rendition of Cole Porter’s “Friendship” as they rehearse for their women’s club’s variety show, this episode has Liz and her Ethel equivalent, Iris, played by Bea Benaderet, appearing at an awards ceremony where the former intends to honor the latter with a friendship award. This gives the whole thing a sharper sense of irony, and while I do miss the song, the laugh quotient is actually about the same in each episode.

“Liz Goes To Night School” [a.k.a. “Balancing The Checkbook”] (Aired: 11/18/50)

After listening to Liz explain how she balances her checkbook, George sends her to night school to learn arithmetic.

This unique episode was not adapted for the television series, and while I think it would have made a valid and engaging premise, I can understand why the writers did not recycle the script. The story hinges on the fact that George and Rudolph work at a bank, and as Ricky and Fred had entirely different (and more interesting) occupations, it wouldn’t quite work. However, this would have made an excellent script for the later years of The Lucy Show, when the Lucy character (after having lost some brain cells during the change in location) found herself working for a banker. Amusing — and fresh — episode; best of today’s post.

“The Surprise Party” (Aired: 03/10/51) 

Iris lets slip that one of Liz’s friends is throwing a party Saturday night, and Liz and George aren’t invited. But which friend is it?

An original script, this one was also not adapted for television, and it’s easy to see why — lots of dialogue, little action. That being said, this installment feels a lot like a one act: tight and well-constructed. Again, it’s not hilarious, and perhaps part of the problem is that the episode lacks suspense. From the moment that Liz begins her investigation and calls the woman who reveals that the person throwing the party is Liz’s dearest friend, there’s no doubt that it’s Iris Atterbury and that the party is supposed to be a surprise for the Coopers. If the resolution was less telegraphed, this episode would make for better comedy.

 

 

Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more more Xena!

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3 thoughts on “Before Lucy Was Lucy, Lucy Was Liz

  1. Thank you for posting. These episodes are fun to listen to and always make me wonder how I’LL would have changed if Benaderet and Gordon had come along.

    • Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Though TV viewers eventually got plenty of opportunities to see Lucy with Gale, I always wished Lucy and Bea got to interact beyond the latter’s ILL guest appearance. She was just too busy as Gracie’s best friend to be Lucy’s as well!

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