Kids today are entertained by the relentless loop of “Law and Order” reruns. It’s a far cry from my childhood of the 60s and 70s where “I Love Lucy” was the rerun of choice. My parents were Lucille Ball fans, and fell in love with her alter-ego Lucy Ricardo, the Lucy of “I Love Lucy”. “I Love Lucy” debuted in 1951 and ran for nine seasons. The impact of the show lasts into the new millenium. A quick glance at the Disney Channel will take you down memory lane. The new sitcoms have all the grape stomping, food assembly line mishaps, and zany auditions. None, of course, as good as the original.
Lucille Ball and “I Love Lucy” has many, many fans—but the sheer audaciousness of Lucy Ricardo’s cross-dressing; or her rejection of the norms of marriage in the 50s (Lucy’s real-life husband Cuban born Desi Arnaz played on-screen husband Ricky Ricardo). Ricky’s bombastic reactions to Lucy’s escapades, all in Spanish, make it the first bi-lingual sitcom.
Ball also ran Desilu Studios, the production company set up with Arnaz (which she ran as a solo studio head after their divorce), making her a pioneering feminist. The number of “firsts” — both of advancement of television and women — are too numerous to mention.
So does her pioneering spirit and nonconformity make her show an early touchstone in gay culture? The Washington Blade asked Richard Bell in 2011.
“She could be totally glamorous,” Bell says. “Tall, regal with the figure and the face and the hair. But then she could turn on a dime and be this real low down sort of broad of a character. She could go from being sort of this grand duchess to being a truck driver, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it always boils down to this sense of camp and the ridiculous and gay men in my generation we just laugh at things that are quote-unquote campy and she was. … When she lights her nose on fire with Bill Holden, it’s just camp. We get that and we understand and appreciate what it is.”
In a 1980 interview with People magazine, Ball was asked about gay rights. Her response was,
It’s perfectly all right with me. Some of the most gifted people I’ve ever met or read about are homosexual. How can you knock it?” Certainly a groundbreaking statement (for its time) from a straight shooting American icon.
If you’re interested in reliving the golden days of “I Love Lucy” you can do so via the stage show “I Love Lucy on Stage.” Audience members are transported back to 1952 to the Desilu Playhouse to watch the “filming” of two “I Love Lucy” episodes. You even get the Crystaltone Singers performing advertising jingles in perfect 50s style harmony.
"I Love Lucy, On Stage"
Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre
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