BIRTHDAY BASH: The Redhead’s 103rd

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Today marks the 103rd birthday of my favorite comedienne, star of the best sitcom of all time, Miss Lucille Ball. (Some of my readers may know that I attended the 100th birthday celebration in her hometown of Jamestown, New York back in 2011. Picture below.) We have covered the best episodes of I Love Lucy (1951-1957, CBS), The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957-1960, CBS) The Lucy Show (1962-1968, CBS), and Here’s Lucy (1968-1974, CBS) on Sitcom Tuesdays and have featured several rare Lucy videos on past Wildcard Wednesdays. (Use the search bar or the Lucille Ball tag to locate these posts.)

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In today’s entry, I want to highlight some of Lucille Ball’s best overlooked television work. That is, everything NOT I Love Lucy, which we already know to be brilliant. Though you can check out the best of her shows by season, this post is a collection of what I consider to be Lucy’s best post-ILL performances.

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THE LUCY-DESI COMEDY HOUR

01) Episode 9: “Lucy Wants A Career” (Aired: 04/13/59 | Filmed: 03/06/59)  

Tired of being a housewife, Lucy lands the role of Paul Douglas’s Girl Friday on his new morning show, but now she doesn’t have any time to spend with her family.

Written by Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf | Script Consulting by Madelyn Martin and Bob Carroll, Jr. | Directed by Jerry Thorpe

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With many fabulous bits, this episode, even more than the actual finale, brings the Ricardo characters full circle. Lucy mentions in the beginning that she might return to show business. Her desire to perform was the show’s driving force in early seasons, but hadn’t been mentioned since late 1956. It’s thrilling to see it, not only brought up again, but acknowledged as a story that hasn’t been used in a while. So this episode gives Lucy exactly what she wants — fame. Unfortunately, she misses her family. A funny episode, but also a sweet one. I recommend this one ESPECIALLY for fans of the half-hour series.

 

THE LUCY SHOW

02) Episode 9: “Lucy Puts Up A TV Antenna” (Aired: 11/26/62 | Filmed: 09/20/62)  

Lucy and Viv decide to put up their own TV antenna.

Written by Madelyn Martin, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf | Directed by Jack Donohue

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This is one of both Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance’s best television moments. The scenes on the roof are unbelievably hilarious — incredibly brilliant. My absolute favorite bit occurs when Lucy gets stuck in the chimney and Vivian tries to use the ladder to teeter-totter her out. Vivian sits on her end of the ladder and it breaks in half! (I’m laughing just thinking about it.) A great example of Lucy and Viv working as a team, just as they did so wonderfully in I Love Lucy.

03) Episode 18: “Lucy And Viv Put In A Shower” (Aired: 01/28/63 | Filmed: 12/13/62)  

Lucy and Viv try to install a shower after Lucy insults the plumber.

Written by Madelyn Martin, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf | Directed by Jack Donohue

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This is one of those episodes that, if you haven’t seen it, but are a Lucy fan, you’ve probably heard about. Like “TV Antenna,” this episode gives Lucy and Viv a big block of “home repair” style physical comedy. In later years, Lucy liked to tell the story of how Vivian saved her from drowning during the filming of this episode. Production notes aside, it is one of the series’ strongest and funniest installments, and another example of the duo’s unparalleled teamwork.

04) Episode 30: “Lucy Buys A Boat” (Aired: 04/29/63 | Filmed: 03/28/63)  

Lucy and Viv’s new boat makes up in leaks what it lacks in sails.

Written by Madelyn Martin, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf | Directed by Jack Donohue

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This is another installment, along with several others from the first season of The Lucy Show that really deserves to be classified among the ladies’ best sitcom work. Though the entire episode is funny from start to finish with several excellent beats (like the bit with the pole and the windows), the script builds to the scene with Lucy and Viv trapped on the boat — arguably the funniest part of the episode. Great, great, great physical comedy that evokes a handful of unbeatable belly laughs.

05) Episode 43: “Lucy Conducts The Symphony” (Aired: 12/30/63 | Filmed: 09/06/63)

Lucy turns hypnotist to cure a musician’s nervousness, but she ends up having to take his place in the concert.

Written by Madelyn Martin, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, and Bob Weiskopf | Directed by Jack Donohue

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The first half of the episode is pretty good, but the second half is brilliant. Lucy does a whole act (nearly fifteen minutes) essentially in pantomime, as she plays with and then conducts the symphony. It’s outstanding how precise every single bit — every gesture and moment — is delivered. One of Miss Ball’s greatest, and undiscussed television triumphs, the scene is funny, motivated, and unbelievably well-rendered. Stellar work — the best of the second season.

06) Episode 133: “Lucy Meets The Berles” (Aired: 09/11/67 | Filmed: 06/08/67)  

While moonlighting as Milton Berle’s secretary, Lucy mistakingly concludes that Uncle Miltie is having an affair with Ruta Lee.

Written by Bob O’Brien | Directed by Jack Donohue

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I’ve always been moderately fond of Berle, but have never cared for any of his prior Lucy appearances. But this might be Ball and Berle’s best teaming; in fact, this is one of the best from the entire series. Lucy jumps to conclusions in an episode that — ordinary premise aside — is just screamingly funny. Ruta Lee is on hand to fill a function, but the real meat goes to, as it should, Ball and Berle. The final scene is devastatingly great.

07) Episode 135: “Lucy And The French Movie Star” (Aired: 09/25/67 | Filmed: 05/11/67)  

While trying to snare his account, Mooney sends Lucy to a French movie star’s yacht for dictation. There she gets plastered on champagne.

Written by Bob O’Brien | Directed by Jack Donohue

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Yes, Lucy gets drunk again — for at least the third time in this series. (She gets tipsy in several others.) But here, she’s completely blotto. Unlike her bouts with Viv and the Countess, Lucy gets to the do the bit by herself, and she is, not surprisingly, superb. Furthermore, she gets to do her “man-hungry” shtick, which though used seldom in the series, always strikes me as very funny. Though not a sheer classic that like the Vitameatavegamin bit, Lucy is ALMOST as funny. And since it’s Lucy, that means it’s pretty hilarious.

 

HERE’S LUCY

08) Episode 14: “Lucy, The Fixer” (Aired: 01/06/69)  

While working at Harry’s house on a Saturday, Lucy and her brother-in-law attempt to fix his faulty electric wiring.

Written by Milt Josfsberg & Ray Singer | Directed by Jack Donohue

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This is undoubtedly the best episode of Lucille Ball’s post-I Love Lucy career. I’ll repeat it again for emphasis. This is undoubtedly the best episode of Lucille Ball’s post-I Love Lucy career. It’s so simple — Lucy and Harry tear apart his living room while trying to find out why the lamp won’t turn on. It’s pure Laurel and Hardy, with Lucy and Gale performing expert physical comedy that will have you both laughing your you-know-what off and dropping your jaw in pure amazement. Okay, we have to sit through a dull opening act with the kids, but the entire second act — hot damn. If I were to show one episode of Here’s Lucy to a potential new fan, it would be this one. This is brilliant comedy.

09) Episode 118: “The Not-So-Popular Mechanics” (Aired: 02/19/73)  

An auto repair class proves fruitless when Lucy and Mary Jane are forced to repair Harry’s classic car after Lucy forgets to take it into the mechanics.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis | Directed by Coby Ruskin

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In this excellent episode, a story involving Lucy and Mary Jane’s decision to take a class in auto repair melds beautifully with a story about Lucy’s absentmindedness regarding a promise she made to Harry. After forgetting to take his vintage car to the mechanics, Lucy and Mary Jane are forced to work on the car themselves. Adding to the fun is Robert Rockwell (yes, Connie Brook’s former paramour, Philip Boynton), who plays the girls’ teacher (and Lucy’s new boyfriend). Flawless installment.

10) Episode 143: “Where Is My Wandering Mother Tonight?” (Aired: 03/11/74)  

Lucy feels like a nuisance when she comes to stay with Kim for the weekend.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis | Directed by Jack Donohue

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This is, simply, an outstanding episode that presents the relationship between Lucy and Kim in a most realistic light. And, even more importantly, it’s very funny! (If only every episode of Here’s Lucy could boast this combination.) Lucy’s attempt at yoga is even funnier than it sounds on paper, and her moment with Dirty Jack (director Jack Donohue) is endlessly amusing. A surprisingly fresh and superb installment, this is one of the best of the entire series.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LUCILLE!

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

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3 thoughts on “BIRTHDAY BASH: The Redhead’s 103rd

  1. I also love the Lucy Desi hours with Danny Thomas and Tallulah Bankhead. The one with Paul Douglas is often overlooked but excellent for the reasons you laid out.

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