Thursday, August 04, 2011

love, lucy

When Warner Bros. purchased the screen rights to Jerry Herman's musical version of "Auntie Mame" in 1971, it was made clear from the getgo that the show's original star, Angela Lansbury, would not be starring.

I interviewed Lansbury in December of that year - in conjunction with Disney's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" - and asked for her take on the matter and about the then-recently announced casting of Lucille Ball as "Mame." Lansbury, ever the pro, took it in stride, explaining that Warners planned to make an inexpensive version of the show and that most of the film's budget would be invested in its star's salary.

The studio needed not just a big star, but an icon.

Rosalind Russell, meanwhile, the original Auntie Mame and a contemporary of Lucille Ball, questioned her friend's age.

Roz opined that maybe Cher would have been a more appropriate choice.

Well, it took nearly three years for "Mame" to finally premiere at Radio City Music Hall (on 27 March, 1974). In the interim, when the film was still in production, I wrote a column about Lucy's big comeback: "Mame" - being filmed by Gene Saks, who also directed it on stage - would be her first movie in 6 years, following Melville Shavelson's "Yours, Mine and Ours" in 1968. It would also be Lucy's final film.

About a week after the column ran, this note arrived in the mail.

Would it be too much of a cliché for me to confess that I love Lucy?

Note in Passing: On Saturday, 6 August, the day that would have been Lucille Ball's 100th birthday, Turner Classic Movies will screen 14 of her films over a 12-hour period, starting at 6 a.m. (est) and The Hallmark Channel will air an "I Love Lucy" marathon all day weekend. Can't wait.

11 comments:

John Kaiser said...

It's things like this that you can never forget. Very cool.

Patrick Stoner said...

Lucy--and unlike you, Joe, I never had a connection with her although I did once interview the co-writers who did most of the I Love Lucy episodes at Universal Studios on one of the many anniversaries of that show--was not a cheery person. Her talent, energy, foresight, and stamina are legendary. Perhaps the most interesting fact about her work--to me--was the time she spent going over and over the many difficult physical routines that are part of television's clip tradition; as always with professionals, once mastered (or mistressed), they looked easy. Desi rightly got credit for the style and technical innovations of the original show, but--whatever his other failings--he always knew who the star was. Ultimately, we all love Lucy, but Joe has the letter from her, so congrats.

Ricki Sablove said...

Wow! A true treasure, from a true treasure. Thank you for sharing this, Joe.

Roberta said...

How great that you have that memory on her 100th birthday.

joe baltake said...

Patrick- Thanks for the insight into Lucy's work ethic, Patrick. Much appreciated. It wasn't exactly a secret that she was a grump in real life. She never tried to hide it, not even in interview situations. I interviewed Lucy for "Mame" just prior to its release and she was fairly sour on everyone and everything.(Remember she got Madeline Kahn fired from the role of Miss Gooch in the film.) Even on talk shows with people like Carson, she'd be decidedly un-cheery. But, you know, I sort of liked that about her - that in real life she was the polar opposite of Lucy Ricardo. A tough, honest broad, so to speak.

Marvin said...

WOW. I am so impressed.

Gerry said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the piece on Lucy--but instantly felt I wanted to read WHAT you'd written about her that prompted the note of appreciation--I looked around the page and didn't see a link--is it there?

joe baltake said...

Gerry! I'll have to dig out that column - if I still have it! - and keyboard it. It's an antique by now. -J

dick said...

fabulous.

Mark Halverson said...

Thanks for sharing, Joe. On Saturday night my instrumental trio the Garage Jazz Architects did a rowdy "garage jazz" version of the I Love Lucy theme song at the Blackwater Cafe in Stockton. The crowd went nuts. She was indeed a star without a demographic boundaries...

g.d. said...

What a wonderful memory! Lucy was always one of my favorites both as an actress as well as a woman.