From Page to Screen: I LOVE LUCY (“The Star Upstairs”)

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday… on a Tuesday! Last week was Lucille Ball’s 111th birthday anniversary, and I honor it here every year, for, of course, she starred in I Love Lucy (1951-1957, CBS), one of the most formative and memorable sitcoms ever produced — a seminal work for this blog and its interests. So, whenever I can, I like to share some of the Lucy rarities I’ve amassed in my decades of appreciation and study. This year, I thought I’d offer a copy of something that proves just how meticulously everyone involved with I Love Lucy labored to create a great product — it’s a writers’ first draft script for “The Star Upstairs,” a classic fourth season entry with Cornel Wilde, whom Lucy Ricardo is dying to meet.

The Lucy character’s fascination with celebrity — which drives many stories during the series’ Hollywood arc — seems tangential to her primary objective of getting in show business, but there’s a definite connection, for even the chance to rub elbows with the rich and famous offers Lucy the kind of excitement and glamour she seeks, validating her obsession with the industry, while making her feel important by proxy — a desire that’s really at the heart of her being, as the crux of most I Love Lucy outings is the tension of Lucy Ricardo wanting to be more than just the “typical” housewife and mother. This yearning provides a character-based logic to a variety of plots, linking Lucy directly to story, and creating an interpersonal conflict with Ricky, whose own definition allows him to believably stand in opposition to her (and most specifically, her show biz dreams). While other wacky sitcom wives, like Joan Stevens (Joan Davis) of the derivative I Married Joan, are similarly impulsive and childlike in pursuit of their weekly wants, Lucy’s specific — and then extrapolatable — goal grants I Love Lucy a narrative continuity, so plots are not just random, they’re entirely supported by (if not totally existing for) her unique, sustaining characterization. This is what a sitcom should be, given the genre’s format (a series of episodic stories inspired by the elements of an established situation — i.e., its characters — in the practice of comedy), and Lucy Ricardo is one of its first ideal models.

This script — which I’m offering to subscribers who comment below to alert me of their private, non-commercial interest — is exciting because it includes the writers’ hand-written notes on their first draft, affording you a glimpse into their creative process. So, from Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, and Bob Carroll Jr., here’s an excerpt of their initial crack at I Love Lucy’s incredibly fun The Star Upstairs” (first aired April 18, 1955).



Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned tomorrow for Evening Shade coverage!

22 thoughts on “From Page to Screen: I LOVE LUCY (“The Star Upstairs”)

  1. As a lifelong Lucy addict I would greatly appreciate being given a copy of the script, strictly for my own private, non-commercial purposes. Thank you, Jackson—and cheers!

    • Hi, Alan! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I have emailed you at your supportourcreatives address.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Jackson! The National Comedy Center in Jamestown has a display of TV scripts on one of the interactive tables as a permanent (I believe) exhibit. Among these are some pages from the I Love Lucy episode, L.A. at Last. The corrections include Guest hand-written instead of Robert Taylor. Of course the guest star movie actor was William Holden.

    • Hi, Eric! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      A lot of I LOVE LUCY’s guest star shows were conceived before said guest star was chosen. That makes some sense; the uniqueness of their presence was largely immaterial because the main attraction was always the series’ central character, Lucy Ricardo.

      As for “The Star Upstairs,” I’ve read that Van Johnson was originally slated to appear, before he bowed out and got added to “The Dancing Star.” In this draft, the writers refer to (the celebrity who’ll eventually be) Cornel Wilde as “star” or “star’s name.”

      Let me know if you’re interested in receiving a copy of this script.

      • Thank you Jackson! I was wondering – do you have any idea why William Frawley is nowhere to be found in this episode? It appears that he was written out of the script from the very start. I have read many LUCY books over the years and have yet to even see this fact even mentioned, let alone a reason for Frawley’s absence. If I’m not mistaken it’s the only episode after season 1 to be missing one of the four main leads.

        • Frawley also missed that season’s “Lucy’s Mother-In-Law” – Fred’s one off-camera line was probably dubbed later – because he was allowed to go to New York for the World Series. I’ve not found any reason in the newspapers/trades as to why he wasn’t in “The Star Upstairs,” but it was the last episode shot before a one-week hiatus, so it’s possible he similarly negotiated an absence ahead of time, likely to enjoy an extended break.

            • Yeah, that tends to be one of the series’ forgotten episodes, in general. But it’s an interesting entry for building out our understanding of Ricky via a guest who corroborates established elements of his characterization!

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