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!