Monday, July 27, 2009


by Gina Sestak

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Lucy-Desi Center in Jamestown New York, which has two museums devoted to the late great comedy stars. Why Jamestown, you may ask? Because Lucille Ball, like Lucy Ricardo nee McGillicuddy, was born and raised in Jamestown.

If you're anything like me, you have dozens of episodes of I Love Lucy stashed in your memory. Lucy tipsy from tasting Vitameatavegamin or trying to conceal chocolate in her hat. Ricky demanding she "''splain" or beating out Babalou on his conga drum. These images all look something like this:

Black and white. After watching the show for so many years, it just seemed natural to think the Mertzes and Ricardos lived in shades of gray. Imaging my surprise when I saw the actual costumes and sets -- they were in vivid color!

What an eye opener! Now I'm forced to suspect that James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart didn't tool around in grey cars and that Veronica Lake didn't really have white hair.

As writers, I think we need these moments in which our perception of the world shifts, these moments that broaden our perspectives.

I'm not only talking about visual perception. I Love Lucy seems so tame by today's standards that it's sometimes hard to remember how cutting edge it was for the time. That show was very controversial -- it depicted a "mixed marriage" - a white woman wedded to a Latino man, which was then still illegal in some states. It was also the first tv show to openly feature pregnancy, which up until that time had been hidden away and only hinted at. Lucy flaunted her big belly, wearing maternity clothes and even cross-dressing to disguise herself as a paunchy male reporter to crash Ricky's baby shower. America was shocked, but then America got used to it.

And this is the essence of what art can do -- a seemingly simple set of black and white performances can change the way we see the world.


Wilfred Bereswill said...

The two scenes that stick in my head are the grape stomping and the chocolate conveyor belt and Lucy with a mouth full.

I guess that "Gotcha" moment, something our kids will likely never appreciate, is the breakthrough of Technicolor and the opening of the Wizard Of Oz. Where the scene in Kansas starts in Black and White and when the door opens to Oz, everything is in color.

Funny, my daughter in journalism loves photography and loves to work in black and white and likes film over digital.

One of these days I'm going to break out my old record player and my stash of vinyl records and have a nostalgia day.

Gina said...

Right, Will. Yet another thing younger folks may not have experienced, the skipping record. And the roling/flipping tv image, with lots of snow, that made you have to turn that little knob on the back or adjust the rabbit ears or just bang on the side of the tv until it behaved itself!

There are so many memorable scenes from I Love Lucy. Ricky in costume at the hospital while Lucy was in labor. The Friends of the Friendless, marching to their own music. Lucy and Ethel in charm school. The gigantic loaf of bread protruding from the oven. Lucy dancing around Ricky as he sang Jezebel. Lucy in ballet class. Ricky and Fred dressed up in makeshift armor, patrolling the living room. So many scenes.

Jennie Bentley said...

I bought DH one of those old-looking (but new) tape/cd/radio/turntable/all-in-one music machines for Christmas a couple of years ago. Best gift I ever gave him. Now he plays all the old LPs we didn't listen to for years.

Excellent post, Gina!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I absolutely love Lucy. I've watched all the shows a million times. I was surprised, though, when my kids found it just as funny as I did (they're 12 and 7). Some things are just timeless.

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