If you were around in the 1950s, there’s a high chance you were watching I Love Lucy. The iconic sitcom ran from 1951-1957 and helped symbolize an entire decade in American culture. The show was popular at the time, but who could have predicted that we would still be enjoying it 60 years later?
The fact is, I Love Lucy was a transformative and groundbreaking show at the time. Here, we will be talking about some of the craziest facts you probably didn’t know about the famous show that steered the cultural and progressive dialogue across the country.
Larry? Who Is Larry?
You might be familiar with Ricky Ricardo, played by Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy. The real-life husband of Lucille Ball played a fictionalized version of himself on the small screen. According to early versions of the script, Ricky’s original name was Larry Lopez. But what happened?
Early research suggested that audiences didn’t like the idea of two main characters with similar-sounding names. So, producers changed his name to Ricky Ricardo and the rest is television history!
No Love For Fred And Ethel
Fred and Ethel Mertz were played by William Frawley and Vivian Vance respectively. However, over the six seasons of the show, audiences might not have noticed some of the real-life tensions between the actors.
It turns out that Frawley and Vance didn’t actually get on off-screen. The 20-year age gap between them often caused problems and it led to awkward arguments on set. Even some of the cast members wouldn’t find out until years later.
Lucille’s Real Hair
In the 1950s, it was seen as revolutionary to watch television with color on it. Lucille Ball’s red hair was an iconic part of the show and still resides comfortably in television history. However, fans of I Love Lucy will know that it wasn’t exactly natural…
It turns out that Ball’s real hair color was brown and that she had dyed it blond when she first came to Hollywood. Her bright red hair was not as relaxed as it looked and was actually carefully constructed by makeup artists.
Every Episode Had A Live Audience
In the golden age of television and sitcoms, I Love Lucy was one of the first shows around to have a live studio audience for every single episode. Each week, 300 people would visit the studio and laugh along as the actors recorded their scenes.
According to Arnaz, Ball would actually perform better with a larger audience, since she could bounce off their energy. For all 180 episodes, people both young and old would sit for hours as they recorded every line.
The Theme Lyrics
For 179 episodes, it is impossible to hear the lyrics of the iconic theme tune. However, there is one episode that actually plays them! In Lucy’s Last Birthday (Se2 Ep25), they are played in full.
They are as follows: “I love Lucy and she loves me. We’re as happy as two can be. Sometimes we quarrel but then how we love making up again. Lucy kisses like no one can. She’s my missus and I’m her man. And life is heaven you see. ‘Cause I love Lucy, Yes I love Lucy, and Lucy loves me.”
An Awesome Memory
It can be hard for actors to learn all their lines in only a few days before each episode is set to record. According to staffers on set, there was one actor who was always prepared to tackle his scenes: Desi Arnaz.
Apparently, Arnaz would remember all of his lines after the first table reading! This meant he had more time to prepare things like timing and delivery, making his performance even better throughout the show’s run.
Lucille Ball Almost Died
In one of the most famous scenes of I Love Lucy, Ball was stomping on some grapes in a big barrel. While it’s still funny today, there was actually a scary story behind the filming of the scene and what almost happened.
During the filming of the scene, Ball was actually choking on a grape! As a professional, she decided to keep filming and didn’t tell anyone that she was suffering. Once the cameras cut, the crew ran over and helped her!
TV Guide Loves Lucy
In an age where magazines ruled supreme, Lucille Ball would prove to be the queen of the game. After appearing on TV Guide’s first-ever issue, the sitcom star would go on to appear on its cover another 39 times!
Given the fact that each episode was bringing in millions of viewers, it was good for business to have her on its cover. She liked it, too, since she was getting extra exposure. To date, she has appeared on its cover more than any other celebrity.
Drinking Apple Pectin
Today, it is considered one of the most famous scenes in sitcom history! When Lucy appears to be getting drunk of ‘Vitameatavegamin Liquid’ in ‘Lucy Does a TV Commercial’, it makes sense that the actress would have to be drinking something else!
It would be irresponsible for her to actually drink 23% alcohol, so instead the actress is drinking apple pectin. It’s a testament to her acting skills that it looked so real! Today, it’s one of the most famous scenes in the show’s run.
The Real Mertzes
The best friends of the Ricardos, Fred and Ethel Mertz, were actually named after real people! When developing the show, they chose the name Fred after Ball’s real-life brother (who was actually named after their grandfather!).
For the name of Ethel, they decided to choose a name that honored the Broadway star and true friend Ethel Merman. In a strange twist of fate, Vivian Vance was once Merman’s understudy! Isn’t it strange how it all comes together?
While some stars were perfect at memorizing their lines, there was one actor who wasn’t as strong as the others: William Frawley. Of course, he was one of the funniest parts of the show once the episodes were recorded, but apparently, it took a while to get there!
Frawley would often struggle with his lines and sometimes even complain about having too much to say each week! Well, we can see he made it in the end and earned his place in television history!
A Lasting Legacy
I Love Lucy enjoyed the pleasure of finishing its run on television as the number one show in America. While many shows eventually run out of steam, this one went out with a bang and its energy has survived for 60 years!
Today, I Love Lucy is still watched by 40 million Americans every single year and syndicated around the world. What’s more, merchandise still remains popular – as well as the iconic red perm! When was the last time you watched an episode?
Did you ever notice a sound in the background whenever Lucy got into a crazy situation? Sometimes, you can hear the faint noise of ‘uh-oh!’ heard from behind the camera. Well, those moments weren’t always planned…
It turns out that that was the sound of Lucille Ball’s real-life mother! She attended all the recordings and often ‘improvised’ some of her lines. Once they realized she couldn’t keep quiet, producers decided to use it as a catchphrase for other shows!
The producers and showrunners were certainly forward-thinking when it came to the production value of I Love Lucy. Since it is still enjoyed today, they must have invested in some of the best film and equipment possible! Of course, that sort of investment is pretty expensive…
To make sure the books were balanced, Ball and Arnaz both agreed to take a pay cut so the crew could afford everything they needed. It’s a good thing they did because that quality programming is still enjoyed today.
The Show Dominated America
So many people would tune into each 30-minute episode that there were drastic and physical repercussions to each airing. For example, telephone and water usage would see a dramatic drop in that period since people were glued to their screens!
In fact, the high streets would often close their shops early since everyone had gone home early to make sure they saw the start of the show. It truly dominated American culture for much of the 1950s…
Ball And Arnaz Ran The Show
They weren’t just the stars of I Love Lucy, but they truly ran it to the success it is today! Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had both demanded that the show be filmed on 35mm, which was expensive at the time. They also preferred it to be filmed in Hollywood as opposed to New York. How did they have this power?
It turns out that they earned ownership of the show through their company, Desilu Productions. They made $40 million from the show, which is around $256 million in today’s money.
Making The Jump
We’re in a new age of television where actors are swapping film roles for long-form TV shows that reach critical acclaim. However, in the 1960s things were a little different and TV was seen as a step down from film roles.
Lucille Ball wasn’t too excited about moving from film to television since it was widely considered a step down. One night, she dreamt that her deceased friend had encouraged her to do the show – and the rest is literally history!
Seen As A Foreigner
Would you like to work with your real-life partner every day? When CBS originally approached Ball about turning her radio show into a television show, she only agreed to do it if she could work opposite her real husband!
Weirdly, producers didn’t think that audiences would believe that Lucy was married to a foreigner. This is particularly strange since they had already been married for 10 years! Their unique chemistry showed producers they had nothing to worry about. As a result, it became the classic show we love today.
One Person Could Joke
Audiences will remember the unique speaking style of Desi Arnaz on the show. The Cuban actor had a pronounced accent and would often speak with a unique tone or style. While it might have been acceptable to make fun of him behind his back, no one was allowed to do it to his face.
Except for one person! Only his real-life wife, Lucille Ball, could cheekily make fun of his voice. It was an unwritten rule that only she could mock his voice during the production.
Don’t ask us how or why, but William Frawley was a massive fan of baseball. Specifically, he was a die-hard supporter of the New York Yankees. Now, anyone can tell you how frustrating it can be when you have to work during your team’s game.
Well, Frawley wasn’t having any of it! He had it in his contract that he was allowed to miss work whenever the Yankees were playing a World Series game. It’s a good thing the clause was inserted into his contract – the Yankees made the World Series each year of the show’s run except for one!
Lucy and Ethel
While it might seem obvious that Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance were to become such good friends, it wasn’t so clear at first. Initially, Ball thought that Vance was so funny that she could overshadow Ball in their performances together.
However, the two managed to break the tension between them which resulted in a real friendship lasting decades. It’s a good thing, too, because the world was blessed with these two comedic stars on our screens for decades!
Frawley Wasn’t Exactly Mr. Popular…
Before production started on I Love Lucy, William Frawley was considered a bit of a wild card. He was known to often go on long drunken binges into the early morning, as well as generally get up to quite crazy antics in the work environment.
While some of the cast members were unsure if he would be a good fit for the cast, it was Desi Arnaz who encouraged the rest of them to take a chance on him. Well, they listened and the rest was history!
A show like I Love Lucy was sure to attract plenty of attention during award season. Three of the four main cast members received Emmy nominations for their work on the show. Who was the mast member who was left out?
It turns out that Desi Arnaz never received a nomination! Overall, Frawley received five nominations, and Ball and Vance even won for their work. Lucille Ball won four times and was nominated 13 times. Nice work, Lucy!
Whenever a telephone number was spoken on the show, producers had to make sure the numbers weren’t actually in use! This was to make sure that no one would call the number and harass the real owner of the line.
Well, since the use of telephones was increasing per household at the time, producers had to keep changing the number in the show! All in all, The Ricardos had two phone numbers, while the Mertzes’ had four of them!
Bonuses for Laughter
Of course, when you put some of the best comedians of the time on a sound stage to record a sitcom, you’re going to get some laughs. But how funny were our four main characters? Well, it turns out that they were pretty hilarious!
There was a major tradition in I Love Lucy that celebrated this fact. Every time a cast member got the audience to spontaneously start laughing or cheering, they would win a silver dollar at the end of the scene.
A Pregnant Lucy
The show must go on! What is supposed to happen when one of the show’s cast members gets pregnant in real life? Well, showrunners have no choice but to incorporate it into the story. And that’s exactly what happened in 1952, when Ball and Arnaz fell pregnant.
However, it wasn’t that easy. Audiences were a lot more prudish than they are today and measure had to be taken for people to be sensitive to it. For example, a Rabbi, a Priest, and a Minister had to read some of the scripts to make sure they wouldn’t offend anyone at home.
The Birth of a… Rerun?
After their new child was born, Desi Arnaz wanted to make sure that Lucille Ball had all the rest and sleep she needed being a new mother. Well, what did this mean for the production schedule? Suddenly, two of the show’s cast members weren’t coming into work.
The TV network had no choice but to run an old episode of I Love Lucy since they didn’t have a new episode that week. And just like that: the first rerun was born!
A Unique Stage Name
When Lucille Ball started acting, she experimented with unique names to make sure that she would get recognition. Since she wanted roles on Broadway, Ball chose to be called Diana Belmont. Here’s why…
In Long Island, New York, there was a famous racetrack called Belmont Stakes. Since it was already well known, she wanted her name to resonate in people’s minds. Something changed her mind and she decided to stay with Lucille Ball. We think that’s far better!
No Room For Improvisation
While it’s not uncommon for TV stars to improvise some of their lines, the folks at I Love Lucy didn’t have that luxury! It turns out that every single spoken word on the show was in the original script – meaning there was no room to experiment.
Lucille Ball spoke more about this in an interview years after the show ended: “We never ad-libbed. We never ad-libbed on the set when we were putting it together. It was there.”
The original plan from the producers was to make a show that would mirror the lives of real-life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. They thought, who would be able to resist an inside look into the lives of these charming celebrities?
Well, Ball and Arnaz disagreed. They didn’t want their real lives to be front and center. While they wanted to play a couple on-screen, they opted to make it more relatable and unique by playing fictionalized versions of themselves instead.
We already understand the power that some of the stars had in their contracts. It turns out that some of the clauses were put in just for jokes and to see what they could get away with! Let’s take a look at some of them…
Ball revealed that Vivian Vance ‘must gain five pounds every week and she must never get more laughs than Ball’. These joke contracts kept the spirits high and morale boosted as they worked together for all those years…
We’ve all seen our favorite stars feature their young children in some of their shows or movies. It’s a cute way to get them a cameo and spend some time with your kids while you’re at home all day.
Well, Ball and Arnaz seemed to disagree! Across the show’s run, they never put their children in front of the camera. This was to make sure that their children kept hold of some of their privacy and individualism. Years later, the kids admit to not minding that they weren’t featured on the famous show.
Just Your Average Family
How does a famous family spend their time away from the cameras? Well, the same way as every other family! Lucille Ball prided herself on living a typical and normal life away from the production studio.
Her hobbies included gardening, swimming, and painting. While they played the ‘everyday’ folks on TV, it’s nice to know that they didn’t have to act too hard and that they’re similar to that off-screen, too! Were you expecting glitz and glam?
Super Guest Spots
In the episode ‘Superman’, George Reeves makes an appearance as the Man of Steel. It was an awesome crossover moment where the two shows merged and the different characters met and conversed.
At the end of the episode, Ball demanded that Reeves be credited as ‘Superman’ at the end. This was so that her younger viewers could imagine that the real Superman visited the show and that the illusion wasn’t broken. Very considerate of you, Lucille Ball!
The Mertzes Came And Went
William Fawley and Vivian Vance are considered supporting roles, even though they appeared in most of the episodes. In fact, there are only seven episodes where they never appeared – all of which were from the first season.
It seems that they were supposed to come and go, but audiences loved them so much that they were written in as regular characters from the second season. We can’t imagine it any other way and we’re glad it worked out.
It’s common today to hear artificial laugh tracks playing under our favorite sitcoms. Think of shows like Friends or Seinfeld – even though they were filmed in front of an audience, they still edited the laughter to their desire.
Well, I Love Lucy didn’t abide by such gimmicks! It turns out that all the laughter you hear on each episode is completely real and organic from the recording. Recently, more sitcoms are adopting the single-camera setting and laugh tracks are dying out.
It’s normal for shows to be sponsored by companies who wish to associate with pop culture and boost revenue. Well, brands were lining up around the block to be the lucky ones to sponsor I Love Lucy due to its rising audience numbers.
When it first aired in 1951, the show was sponsored by companies like Proctor & Gambles and Philip Morris Cigarettes. How times have changed – can you imagine a cigarette company sponsoring a show today? Thankfully, laws have changed to prevent this.
Being A Wildcat
Outside of the sitcom scene, Lucille Ball was also an acclaimed Broadway star. In 1960, when the show came to its end, Ball appeared on Broadway in the musical Wildcat. The show, which was a musical, was written by Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman, about an oil tycoon and his sister.
You wouldn’t know it from the performance, but it was actually the first time that Lucille Ball appeared on Broadway! It had great reviews and ran 172 times before ending its run.
Life After Lucy
Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The couple divorced in the early 1960s after the show had come to its end. However, what happened next was another moment in television history…
Ball assumed all control over Desilu and was actually the first woman to run a mainstream major television studio on her own. As time went on, she would help produce countless hits for the station before selling it for millions of dollars.