I Love Lucy changed the fledgling television industry in the 1950’s. This was a time when network television was less than a decade old. Most folks had never heard of television just 15 years earlier. I Love Lucy defined the concept of a sitcom. The show was driven by the very strong personalities of the cast. Desi Arnaz was considered a charismatic Latin lover by American women. Lucy played the perfect foil and found a mountain of gold to mine in strong physical comedy. So many modern shows owe their roots to this classic that it would be impossible to mention them all here. But television wasn’t all that changed. The famous couple had a very public split, and Lucy continued to offer somewhat different versions of the wacky redhead she invented for I Love Lucy.
The first series was The Lucy Show. It was here that she would first team up with Gale Gordon in a series, and the two would share an almost instant chemistry. Lucy played a widowed mother who worked for Gordon’s Mr. Mooney at the bank. After six years Desilu had been sold to Paramount, and Lucy found herself no longer owning the series she was in. The answer was simple. End The Lucy Show and slide directly into production on Here’s Lucy.
The transition was so seamless that both often syndicated under the same Lucile Ball Show banner. The new series would continue the following year in the same time slot as The Lucy Show occupied. Gale Gordon would stick around as Lucy’s temper-spewing boss. This time he was Harrison “Uncle Harry” Otis Carter, and he was Lucy’s brother-in-law. His company was the Carter Unique Employment Agency, named for a throwaway line in a The Lucy Show episode. Their motto was “unique jobs for unusual people”. It was pretty much a two-person operation with Lucy as Harry’s secretary. On the surface their relationship was exactly what it was on the previous series. Lucy would continue to show her incompetence, and Harry would yell a lot. The difference here was that Harry was family, where Mooney was not. So in this series there could be a few tender moments where Harry reveals that he really does care for Lucy.
Lucy was now Lucy Carter. She insisted on the “ar” sounds in all of her characters as a tribute to Desi Arnaz. She went from Ricardo to Carmichael to Carter. Lucy Carter was also a widowed mother. This time the roles of her children would be filled by her real-life children. Lucie Arnaz played Kim Carter and Desi Arnaz, Jr. would play Craig Carter. Both ended up with plenty of opportunities to show off their own variety skills. Craig’s drumming was a particular constant during the years he remained with the show. You know what they say about nepotism: it runs in the family. Desi left the series after the third season for a short-lived career in feature films.
The show’s writers and production staff would remain from both the earlier shows. Many of Lucy’s staff stayed with her through all three shows. Vivian Vance, who was a regular on both I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show even returned for a few episodes as Lucy’s oldest friend, who else but Vivian Jones (Vance’s real name). Mary Jane Croft would also be a strong presence on the show playing the same exact character, name and all, from The Lucy Show. Mary Jane Lewis would join in several of Lucy’s schemes and dramas. Many of the writers would reunite for All In The Family when their tenure with Lucy was over.
The series had its standard sit-com episodes to be sure. There were a few attempts at drama where Lucy would play a spy, but those episodes were the fastest to fade from our collective memories. Here’s Lucy was first and foremost a variety show that just never called itself that. A vast majority of the six seasons contained episodes with song and dance numbers. Often an entire episode would be some production the characters would give for one reason or another. Maybe the school needed a new gym so Lucy gets Carol Burnett to star in a high school production that sported production values that could have built three school gyms. These productions would really be an excuse to feature a big guest and allow the cast to show off their song and dance skills.
And the guests were indeed impressive. Lucy’s reputation as The First Lady Of Television earned her appearances by television’s best and many that you just wouldn’t catch dead on a television sit-com otherwise. One season opened with both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton guest starring along with Liz’s famous diamond ring. It became the highest rated episode of a Lucy show. Many guests appeared as themselves. The list includes folks like: Jack Benny, Robert Alda, Carol Burnett, Wayne Newton, Donny Osmond, Rich Little, Johnny Carson, Art Linkletter, Ed McMahon, Ginger Rogers, Flip Wilson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ann-Margaret, Vincent Price, Lawrence Welk, George Burns, Patty Andrews, Buddy Rich Rudy Vallee, Alan Funt, Dinah Shore, Joe Namath, Eddie Albert, Eva Gabor, Frankie Avalon, Chuck Connors, David Frost and even Lucile Ball in a sixth season episode where Lucy meets her idol, Ball. These are just most of the guest stars who played themselves.
The episodes were either the aforementioned variety show or typical Lucy trouble. It doesn’t matter if she was scheming for a raise or scamming her way to meet a celebrity, Lucy was the queen of physical comedy. Misunderstandings were also a common plot device. Lucy would mistakenly take Buddy Rich’s lucky cymbals instead of her purse. Or she believes Harry is trying to kill her when she overhears him taking out an insurance policy to protect the kids. Lucy was also great at playing naive. No one could be the innocent victim better. She could get conned by an Alan Funt look-alike to rob a fur store and bank. She thinks Vincent Price is really a mad scientist and wants to kill her when all she wanted was an art appraisal. Lucy also had this need to help people who appeared down on their luck, whether it be a reformed safecracker she accidentally frames for a heist or a kind word to the milkman that causes his wife to become insanely jealous. Finally, she was always trying to help out her kids…whether they wanted her to or not. Whether that means pleading with Wayne Newton to give Craig a drum tryout or meddling in Kim’s dating life, Lucy was usually in over her head.
The fourth season saw great changes to the series. Desi had left. Lucie Arnaz was given more to do in the series. The opening theme was jazzed a little, and the sets were somewhat upgraded. The season finale was intended as a back-door pilot to spin Lucie Arnaz into her own series. She moves out and hangs out with a new cast of “hipper” regulars. Meanwhile Vivian Vance would join the show as a regular to fill the void left by the Kim character. Unfortunately Vance was diagnosed with cancer, and her health made it impossible to do a series schedule. While she lived for several more years, she never again returned to a Lucy episode. The pilot wasn’t picked up, and the fifth season would begin very much like the fourth did, albeit not according to the original plans.
In the fifth season Lucy would have to contend with a skiing accident by the real-life Lucy. She broke her leg and was in a cast for five months. These circumstances would necessarily be written into the show, and Lucy would wear a cast for a good part of the season. When the fifth season ended, it was expected to be the final episode. It was a flashback affair as Lucy and Harry pack up the Agency’s office. At the last minute the network convinced Lucy to come back for one more year, and a sign that read “temporary” was placed over the office closed sign at the Carter Unique Employment Agency.
The sixth season never did attain the same kind of standards Lucy had been used to delivering. The show ended more with a whimper with most fans feeling that the earlier finale might have been best after all.
MPI has put together a rather impressive collection here. They have gathered all six seasons into one impressive release. The episodes look about as good as they could without extensive and expensive restoration. But they didn’t stop there. Each season contains a generous supply of extras. On DVD reviews we don’t usually itemize these extras, but I’m going to make an exception here because of the effort made to please fans of the show who have waited a long time for this release.
Meet The Carters: (14:24) The Arnaz kids talk about the development of the show and their participation.
Let’s Talk To Lucy – Gale Gordon: (11:13) These are taken from Lucy’s daily radio show which aired from 1964-1965. She would broadcast from various studio locations and sets and talk with the stars. Here she gets to chat with her long-time co-star who is actually quite reserved and quiet, unlike the characters he’s best known for playing. These are audio only with stills and text info.
Making The Main Title Sequence: (2:41) Really just raw footage and various “winking Lucy” takes. I was hoping for more on the stop-motion process.
Screen Tests: (3:19) Desi Jr. and Lucie test for the film Yours, Mine Ours.
Here’s Lucy On Location: (15:02) The 2nd season opened with a four-episode location shoot as the cast traveled through the West in a camper. This contains a ton of production and home movie footage of the trip.
Let’s Talk To Lucy – Carol Burnett: (10:51)
Lucile & Wayne Newton: (4:01) The younger Lucy appears on a television special with Newton.
Lucy Meets The Burtons – A Comic Gem: (24:23) This is a rather revealing look at the big episode. There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and some candid talk. The Burtons were not always happy with the shooting or with Lucy herself.
Let’s Talk To Lucy – Doris Day: (9:37)
Make Room For Granddaddy With Lucy: (27:16) Lucy guest stars on The Danny Thomas Show as her Lucy Carter character.
Lucy With Jack Benny: (16:04) Benny was a frequent guest on Lucy’s shows. Here she returns the favor for Benny’s 1971 television special.
Lip-Synch Lucy: (4:09) Another Jack Benny skit from 1969 where Carol Cook provided Lucy’s singing voice as she often did on the television shows.
Lucile & Desi With Robert Young: (7:39) The two join Young for a Kraft 1970 television special.
Remembering Gale Gordon: (15:09) A nice tribute to the actor with plenty of clips and behind-the-scenes footage.
Let’s Talk To Lucy – Dinah Shore: (26:33)
Lucy On The Pearl Bailey Show: (7:22) Clips from her 1971 appearance.
Here’s Lucy Spotlight – Desi Arnaz, Jr.:(17:30) Desi talks about his time on the show and his own career. Sister Lucie joins for a few words of her own.
Let’s Talk To Lucy – Frank Sinatra: (14:30)
Lucy On The Donny And Marie Show: (5:46) Remember that little bit of country and little bit of rock ‘n’ roll? Lucy was a guest in 1977.
Here’s Lucy Spotlight – Lucie Arnaz: (18:00) Same as the Desi spotlight with Lucie now the focus.
Let’s Talk To Lucy – Andy Griffith: (19:17)
Lucy On The Tennessee Ernie Ford Special: (8:36) Lucy’s guest appearance on the show.
Lucy & Vivian On Dinah: (20:13) This is a cross between a roast and This Is Your Life. Dinah surprises Lucy with visits from her mom, Vivian Vance, daughter Lucie and “long-lost sister” Zsa Zsa Gabor. The treat here is that Lucy talks about her childhood. It’s not something she did often.
U.S. Savings Bond Episode: (12:21) This mini-episode of Here’s Lucy was really a PSA for the payroll savings bonds program.
Each season also featured a ton of “Vault” features that were often promotional or home movies of various events and times. Each episode also comes with an optional introduction. These are usually a minute or two and feature Lucie Arnaz or Desi most often. There are a few by surviving guest stars or production folks.
This is the least known of Lucy’s three major television shows. It doesn’t appear to have shown up as often in syndication and is too often over-shadowed by The Lucy Show. It would be a mistake to assume it’s the same show, but the similarities can’t be discounted. Truth to tell, Lucy had a very specific brand of physical comedy that would bind together all of her television characters. This series was produced by Lucy’s second husband Gary Morton. You’ll notice the stop-motion Lucy throws him a little kiss in the opening sequence. Lucy loved to be in charge, and some of the material here in the extras doesn’t always paint her in a good light. She wasn’t always a “nice guy” at all. She knew her craft, no one can deny that. Lucy always believed that “you have to take comedy very seriously”.