Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week is our annual tribute to the anniversary of Lucille Ball’s birth (August 6, 1911), and boy, do I have something good for you — a treat that will satisfy both my Broadway fans and my sitcom fans. As you may have guessed from this post’s title, I’ve gotten ahold of the first draft script of the famously unproduced 1961 TV special, Lucy Goes To Broadway, which was written by I Love Lucy scribes Madelyn Pugh Davis & Bob Carroll Jr. and built to reunite the cast of Ball’s legendary sitcom (Vivian Vance, William Frawley, and yes, Ball’s ex-husband, Desi Arnaz), while, more importantly, promoting her recent Broadway debut in the 1960 musical Wildcat, a production financed by Desilu.
The draft I have is undated but was likely finished in late 1960 or early 1961, around the musical’s December opening, for although the first reference to this special in print occurs in August, when Desilu began shopping the idea to sponsors, the text shows an awareness of Wildcat — the script includes all its main cast members and several of its big numbers, “What Takes My Fancy,” “Give A Little Whistle,” and most notably, “Hey, Look Me Over” — that only could have come after it was frozen (or close to it). In fact, viewers were supposed to have seen a comic reimagining of the Wildcat rehearsal process and excerpts featuring the original Broadway company, with a bevy of other guests in support, including Bob Hope, with whom Ball had just worked on The Facts Of Life (1960), director Michael Kidd, columnist Hedda Hopper, host Ed Sullivan, and conductor Leonard Bernstein. But, alas, it was never to be. The rigorous demands of Broadway soon proved detrimental to Ball’s health and the initial plan to film Lucy Goes To Broadway that spring kept getting delayed. Then, after Ball’s leave of absence forced Wildcat to close officially in early June 1961, there was nothing left to promote.
Nevertheless, there was still hope that the special could be shot later in the year and make its intended December 1961 airdate. But as the fall approached, changes would have to be made — Ethel Merman was chosen to replace Leonard Bernstein (as Lucy’s singing teacher), Bill Frawley’s My Three Sons demands made him unavailable, and Ball was cozying up to the man she was about to marry, Gary Morton, meaning the hyped Desi Arnaz cameo would now be impossible. And as the fall of 1961 became the spring of 1962, Ball’s interest in TV — which obviously never died, as this special, which she planned to shoot in the midst of a Broadway show, indicates — was flattered with an offer to return to series comedy in The Lucy Show, where she’d eventually do several of the bits featured in Lucy Goes To Broadway, including evergreen gags like charades, getting drowsy, and Lucy’s terrible singing (along with a specific bit involving an unraveling knitted dress that was repurposed for an episode called “Lucy Is A Kangaroo For A Day”). The last printed reference to the special as a possibility occurred in late 1963, when Ball was signed to do a TV one-off with frequent costar Bob Hope, and this piece was allegedly considered as a possibility (before Sherwood Schwartz’s Mr. And Mrs. was picked).
Now, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is this script is one of those items that I can’t share here. The good news is that I’ve got the next best thing — for subscribers who comment below to alert me of their interest. It’s an outline, written by yours truly and based on the text in question, that gives you the entire layout of the three-act story, featuring all the guest stars and comedic centerpieces, and even snippets of the dialogue. As I hope it’ll illustrate, Lucy Goes To Broadway was about as comedically satisfying as the early episodes of The Lucy Show (also written by Davis and Carroll), which were Ball’s best showings post-I Love Lucy. That is, this could have been quintessential Lucy fare, and it’s easy to see how such an endeavor, if made, would have been a treat to both those of us who adore her sitcom work and those of us who’d thrill for a more thorough look at the tuneful Wildcat. So, in honor of Lucy, and the anniversary of her birth, here’s a taste of the Lucy Goes To Broadway outline.
Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned for more Andy Griffith!