Episode #1513

American Icons: I Love Lucy

Originally aired: October 8, 2010

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Friday, March 28, 2014


I Love Lucy feature card

This is where television invented itself.

It set the model for the hit family sitcom. Lucy was a bad girl trapped in the life of a ‘50s housewife; her slapstick quest for fame and fortune ended in abject failure weekly. Both the antics and the humiliation entered the DNA of TV comedy, from Desperate Housewives to 30 Rock — writers can’t live without Lucy. Rapper Mellow Man Ace celebrates the breaking of an ethnic taboo; a drag performer celebrates Lucy as a freak. With novelist Oscar Hijuelos, producer Chuck Lorre, The Office’s Mindy Kaling, and a marriage counselor who has some advice for the bickering couple.

I Love Lucy was produced by Jenny Lawton, with production assistance from Chloe Plaunt and Claes Andreasson.
David Krasnow
edited the show.


Quiz: How well do you know Lucy?


Mindy KalingBonus Track: Mindy Hearts Ricky
Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project, The Office) grew up thinking I Love Lucy was “one of the many black and white things that people keep telling you is so great ... and you’re just sort of bored and annoyed by it.” Then her Office boss Greg Daniels ordered her to watch it. She came away with a pretty serious crush on Ricky Ricardo. And she says she's not bothered by jokes about his accent.


Script for 'Lucy is Enciente'Bonus Track: Deconstructing Lucy
Although Lucy's on-screen antics may have looked improvised, every gesture, glance, and step was written into the script. Gregg Oppenheimer — son of creator, producer, and head writer Jess Oppenheimer — reads a bit of telling stage direction from “Lucy is Enceinte.” Jess and Gregg Oppenheimer are the authors of Laughs, Luck ... and Lucy.

→ Read an excerpt from the "Lucy is Enciente" episode script


Confidential MagazineBonus Track: Notes on a Scandal
In 1955 Confidential Magazine, a Hollywood scandal rag, reported on Desi Arnaz’s supposed philandering. Dartmouth film and television professor Mary Desjardins explores the less desirable side effect of being a celebrity couple.

→ Read about Lucy and Desi in Confidential Magazine (1955)


Slideshow: Behind the scenes of I Love Lucy

Courtesy of Gregg Oppenheimer

Lucille Désirée Ball was born on August 6, 1911 into a family of meager means in rural upstate New York. Ambitious and looking for a way out of small town life, Ball worked her way up from fashion model, to chorus girl, to B movie star, to comedy icon.

WNYC Archives

I Love Lucy merchandise was and still is a big business. In 1953, Desi Arnaz put out a hit record of him signing the I Love Lucy theme on one side and “There's a Brand New Baby in Our House” on the other. The record was released in conjunction with the birth of Ball and Arnaz's real and on-screen babies, Desi Jr. and Little Ricky.

Courtesy of Gregg Oppenheimer

The I Love Lucy show was the first comedy to be filmed in front of a live studio audience, a practice that is now standard in many of today's TV sitcoms. Lucille Ball's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, wrote that her mother's “clowning and comedy talent thrived on the sound of real people laughing uproariously at her antics.”

Claes Andreasson

Dann Cahn, editor of I Love Lucy, showed Studio 360 around the original soundstage where the show was filmed in Los Angeles, California. Standard convention in the early 1950s was to broadcast television shows live from New York, but Ball and Arnaz insisted on filming in LA. I Love Lucy's original soundstage, now part of Hollywood Center Studios, is still in use today.

Claes Andreasson

Dann Cahn was the head editor of I Love Lucy and one of the first people to cut for multiple cameras using a custom made machine he called “the monster.” Cahn says, "When I had signed up for the I Love Lucy job and arrived in my cutting room, two guys came in wheeling this new edit thing and I said to my assistant, 'What are we going to do with this monster? It won’t even fit in the cutting room.' So we put it in the prop room and used it there. It was a Moviola with four heads three for picture and one for sound. Its new name — The Monster — stuck."

Claes Andreasson

The I Love Lucy heart is an iconic image with a global reach. Even today, you can still buy hats, T-shirts, posters, lottery scratch tickets, dolls, iPhone apps, and just about anything else emblazoned with the Lucy logo. It is Lucy lore that Desi gave Lucy a diamond-encrusted heart-shaped lapel watch on her 29th birthday. It was supposedly Lucy's first gift from Desi and was used as the model for the logo.

Claes Andreasson

Dann Cahn sits amongst the many chairs set up on the original I Love Lucy soundstage. Rehearsals for I Love Lucy would begin with a read-through of the script every Monday morning. Jess Oppenheimer, the show's creator and head writer, says that if anyone saw the cast doing their first read-through they'd say, everything's great, but "ditch the red head. She doesn't know what's she's doing.” But by showtime, Ball's performance was nothing short of perfection. (Also pictured: Gregg Oppenheimer, Jess's son.)

Claes Andreasson

Another view of the original I Love Lucy soundstage. Karl Freund, the Oscar-winning cinematographer, convinced Desi Arnaz that I Love Lucy needed to be filmed on a soundstage, not on a theater stage, as was the convention at that time. A soundstage allowed Freund to set up the necessary infrastructure — including a hanging light grid and crab dollies — to successfully accomplish the innovative technique of three cameras shooting simultaneously. The techniques “Papa” Freund invented for I Love Lucy are still used to make sitcoms today.

Claes Andreasson / Hollywood Center Studios

This archival photo shows how long rows of bleachers were erected in the soundstage for the live audience to watch the filmings of the I Love Lucy show. During filming, Jess Oppenheimer, the creator and head writer of I Love Lucy, would sometimes pace up and down behind the bleachers to hear if the audience was laughing at the jokes. Oppenheimer's background was in radio, so he was accustomed to using his ears, not his eyes, to tell if the show was working or falling flat.

Claes Andreasson / Hollywood Center Studios

A seat to watch a live filming of I Love Lucy was one of the hottest tickets in town — brought to you by Phillip Morris, I Love Lucy's official sponsor.

Claes Andreasson / Hollywood Center Studios

Shooting I Love Lucy was a huge production involving three cameras, a live audience, set and costume changes, and live music. Because many of the show's creators had experience in live radio, they initially didn't realize that music could be later edited into the show after filming. It was the Wild West of TV and I Love Lucy was on the frontier.

Claes Andreasson / Hollywood Center Studios

Filming I Love Lucy with three cameras was just one of the show's many monumental innovations. Television historian Thomas Schatz explains, “I Love Lucy shaped the style, the technique, the veritable 'grammar' of the sitcom. And beyond the series' impact on the genre, there was Desilu itself, which affected the institutional, economic, and even the technological practices of the TV industry.”

Courtesy of Mary Desjardins

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz continually blurred the lines between their personal lives and their on-screen personas. This resulted in the occasional unpleasant side-effect, such as when Confidential Magazine wrote in 1955 about Arnaz's alleged dalliances with prostitutes. Susan Sontag wrote that the success of I Love Lucy was based on “the confusion and mixture of televised fantasy and voyeuristically apprehended reality. A dose of fantasy. And the insinuation that we might be watching something real. Which has turned out to be television's perennial, still winning formula.”

A script page for the episode 'Lucy is Enceinte'
Courtesy of Gregg Oppenheimer

A page of the script for the famous episode titled “Lucy is Enceinte,” in which Lucy tells Ricky that she's pregnant. Months before Lucy Ricardo was with (scripted) child, Ball found out she was pregnant in real life. Ball and Arnaz assumed that the pregnancy would mean an end to I Love Lucy because pregnant women were verboten on television. But Jess Oppenheimer, the show's creator, decided to write the pregnancy into the Lucy scripts. He soothed the nerves of the network by having a priest, a rabbi, and a minister vet every pregnancy-related script to make sure it wasn't in any way offensive. And, famously, the word pregnant was never said on the I Love Lucy show.

    Music Playlist
  1. "I Love Lucy" theme and various interstitials
    Artist: CBS Orchestra
    Album: I Love Lucy: The Complete Series
    Label: Paramont
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Mambo Jambo (Que Rico El Mambo)
    Artist: Dave Barbour
    Album: Mambo Fever: Ultra Lounge 2
    Label: Capitol
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Mambo Garner
    Artist: Erroll Garner
    Album: Mambo Moves Garner
    Label: Verve Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Variation on "Lucy"
    Artist: Alex Gallafent
    Album: Unreleased
  5. Rhumba at the Waldorf
    Artist: Xavier Cugat
    Album: Xavier Cugat: 16 Most Requested Songs
    Label: Sony Music Entertainment Inc.
    Purchase: Amazon
  6. Hooray For Hollywood (Cha-Cha)
    Artist: Don Swan & His Orchestra
    Album: Mambo Fever: Ultra Lounge 2
    Label: Capitol
    Purchase: Amazon
  7. Why
    Artist: Kiki & Herb
    Album: Will Die For You
    Label: Evolver Entertainment
    Purchase: Amazon
  8. Peanut Vendor
    Artist: Desi Arnaz
    Album: The Best of Desi Arnaz - The Mambo King
    Label: RCA
    Purchase: Amazon
  9. Cielito Lindo
    Artist: The Spanish Guitar
    Album: The Spanish Guitar
    Label: Clifton Bishop
    Purchase: Amazon
  10. Rumba Matumba
    Artist: Desi Arnaz
    Album: The Best of Desi Arnaz - The Mambo King
    Label: RCA
    Purchase: Amazon
  11. Theme from: "I Want to Live"
    Artist: The Gerry Mulligan Jazz Combo
    Album: I Want To Live: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack
    Label: Rykodisc
    Purchase: Amazon
  12. I Love Lucy
    Artist: Barry Harris
    Album: For the Moment
    Label: Uptown Jazz
    Purchase: Amazon
  13. I Love Lucy: I Love Lucy (in the style of Purcell)
    Artist: Burnette Dillon
    Album: Mozart TV - Favorite TV Tunes in the Style of Great Classical Composers
    Label: Delos
    Purchase: Amazon
  14. Totally Hot Nashville Steel Guitar
    Artist: CMH Steel
    Album: I Love Lucy Theme
    Label: CMH Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  15. Tico Tico (No Fuba)
    Artist: Desi Arnaz
    Album: Cuban Originals: Desi Arnaz
    Label: RCA Records Label
    Purchase: Amazon
  16. Babalu
    Artist: Desi Arnaz and His Orchestra
    Album: Cuban Originals: Desi Arnaz
    Label: RCA Records Label
    Purchase: Amazon


Gina Barreca, Justin Bond, Dann Cahn, Jeff Greenstein, Oscar Hijuelos, Mindy Kaling, Chuck Lorre, Mellow Man Ace, Emily Nussbaum, Gregg Oppenheimer, Gustavo and Mary Anne Pérez Firmat and Robert J. Thompson

Produced by:

Jenny Lawton


David Krasnow


Claes Andreasson

Comments [8]

Michael Klein from Brooklyn, NY

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnes founded Desilu Productions, which produced I Love Lucy. But it also was responsible for bringing Star Trek to television. Interesting that one television icon begat another.

Mar. 31 2014 09:06 PM
Steve nyc

To second Justin Bond,


Babalu, freaks!

Mar. 31 2014 08:50 PM
Jenny from Studio 360

Hi Kate --

While you point out correctly that "I Love Lucy" aired during the Cold War, Ricky is absolutely, no doubt about it, Cuban. He sang Cuban songs, ate Cuban food, used Cuban idioms. And in Season 6, Episode 9, the whole gang visits Ricky's hometown of Havana.

Ironically, it was Lucille Ball -- not Desi Arnaz -- who was questioned by an investigator with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953 (she was cleared of being a Communist). In the wake of that scandal, Arnaz told Hedda Hopper, "The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that is not legitimate."

Mar. 30 2014 04:33 PM
kate kennedy from Nassau County, L.I., N.Y.


desi arnez was cuban, but that was not acceptable for the show because of cuban COMMUNISM & the ANTI-commie sentiments of the 1950's U.S.

so, ricky ricardo was re-branded as Puerto Rican (but his band actually always played cuban style music.)

This is an essential, and widely known part of the ''I Love Lucy'' story.

Very surprised you missed this, EXTRA surprised you mentioned over and over & over that ricky was cuban.

love your show, but you flopped on fact checking this one.

Mar. 30 2014 02:19 PM
Charles from New Hampshire

So Desi from Estados Unidos hates Lucy. So did the great Garry Wills. Both are right!

Mar. 30 2014 12:15 PM
Desi from Estados Unidos

I hate Lucy.

She has never been funny in anything. That show was stupid.

God, I hate Lucy.

Mar. 30 2014 10:56 AM
Basil Rodericks from brooklyn

I have now heard this show 3 times. This time I swore it would not happen. Cried. What a phenomenal show about a phenomenal performer. People should pray they get a treatment like this. What excellent work.

Mar. 29 2014 04:30 PM
Keira from nyc

Lucy wasn't a "frustrated housewife"—she WAS a housewife—she was a frustrated performer.

Mar. 29 2014 03:35 PM

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