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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lucille's got balls

It is high time for me to pay tribute to the comic genius of Lucille Ball, from the ultimate all American TV series I Love Lucy.
By the time the show started, in 1951, Lucille was no spring chick, she was already 40. Pre I Love Lucy, she certainly was quite the seductress. Here are a few pre-Lucy pix.

And even though she consistently thereafter had "a lot of  'splaining to do", she remained quite the pin-up.

But Lucy, was not just a silly red head. According to estranged Desi Arnaz, she was not a natural red head, and the jury is still out on whether Lucy was a communist or not. But, in 1953, she was met by a representative of the House Committee on un-American activities for having stated the Communist party in her political affiliations, when she registered to vote for 1936 (fbi files). She did deny all political involvement, as one would do naturally at the time, and let's remember that many actors, and artists became the object of all sorts of accusations by the HCUA at the time, and that you were guilty by association, see A Miller and Marilyn for example. Whether she was "better red than red" being a non issue, let's have a look at her comic genius, and that of the series's scriptwriters. Lucy is funny mostly because she does slapstick, a form of comedy mostly dominated by men, and Lucille Ball worked with the best in the field, and what a brilliant student she was!

Before the show, she worked with Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers,
Harpo even featured in an episode of Lucy. Click here to watch the clip..
 And Buster Keaton
"The jokes, reminiscences, and reenactment of well-loved movie bits that filled the Boors Nest were more than an exercise in nostalgia. For the aging men, they kept the withering muscles of their comedy in shape. For Lucille, they provided informal professional training. .....Up in the Boors Nest, Keaton taught Lucille how to command props and how to throw herself into physical maneuvers without hurting herself. Speedy, rambunctious Lucille learned to slow down and refine action. Keaton drilled her in the mantra that was the foundation of her fabled comic timing: Listen, React, then Act. .....
Miss Grant Takes Richmond, her first film under her new Columbia agreement, showed that Keaton’s belief in her was justified. Lucille played a public-spirited secretary, a character so ditsy that watching her is like standing before a photographer’s developing tray and seeing a photograph of Lucy Ricardo gradually emerge."
Excerpt from Kathleen Brady's The Life of Lucille Ball.

Lucille Ball, in the character of Lucy stands out because she was willing to take personal challenges and push them to the limit. See for example when she impersonates Charlie Chaplin.
She has no issue putting on a man's suit, being that of a tramp or of that of a clown. See The Audition.
Humour by nature is progressive because it makes you look at yourself from outside, hence it transforms you, and your world. It allows you to take a look at the flaws of the world you live in, and here the show does to some extent what Charlie Chaplin did in Modern Times, it says look at this society, it is funny, it is not right and things need to change. In fact there is a direct reference to one of the mosct famous scenes in Modern Times in the candy factory scene.
I could go on about her prowess at slapstick for ever but here are another two clips that are such testimonies to her vast talent at slapstick - The ballet scene
or Lucy's geisha's dance.

There is also a little more to the show than mere slapstick. In I Love Lucy, the traditional family values of American post-war society are prevalent,  however some signs of ambivalence are displayed towards its own values, I wish I could say the show was in someway subversive, but that would be just too far fetched, but it was ambivalent.

The premise of the show relies mostsly on Lucy's frustrations with her status of housewife and her ambitions which makes her dissatisfied with the daily chores no matter how hard she tries. This model is far from the usual “stepford wives” representations of the perfect homemaker of the 1950's. In this way, I Love Lucy echoes many women’s position, frustrations and ambitions to get away from the confines of an apron, and this drives the comedic plotline of the show. 
Watch her and her pal Ethel trying to make bread and butter.
Lucy is forever pursuing new things to do, often at the expense of on-and-off stage husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz). She often dream of making it in the world of television or cinema. Here she is being shot for an Italian movie, acting as though she was Sofia Lauren.
But ultimately, Lucy's grandiose illusions fails and “domestic harmony” returns, Ricky forgives Lucy for her “silly mistakes” and regains the figure of authority in the household.  Lucy was indeed a "bad girl", and scenes of spanking are numerous, in a way that might be even seen as “acceptable” in today's media. The theme of men's (Ricky's) domination is a recurrent one in the series, and not necessarily in a fantasy kind of a way.

In this way, I Love Lucy “simultaneously legitimizes the yearning of women for fuller lives and assured them that they would be better off keeping their dreams in their head
Excerpt from Manning, Robert. “Why Love Lucy?” Honey, I’m Home! New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1992. 62-75.Manning 68-69).

This is the reason why such a show is ambivalent rather than subversive. The comic element of the character shows without the slightest shadow of a doubt the cracks in the American society of the 1950's, whilst on the other hand avoiding any form of radicalism, which would come at a later stage in the media with a series like That Girl, shot with an actress who to this day is willing to take quite radical stances about women's position in society.

Lucille has become my favourite comic after Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, plus she was gorgeous, vulnerable, graceful, awkward, daring, unbearable, demanding, everything a woman should be. 


cb said...

she is truly amazing! i have seen every show watched it all the time when i was little, it was my favorite show. she is such an inspiration to me! she is one of the greatest women ever and the most beautiful comedian!


su said...

Me encantó leerte Dani, un post interesante ;) Abrazos.

Ginger said...

AMAZING post about an amazing lady.
Lucille Ball has always fascinated me, her success and her comic genius broke the very expectations and limitations that her show poked fun at. I Love Lucy's continued popularity and place in pop culture is a testament to the fact that what Lucille Ball was doing was truly special.

I love your posts!

Becky said...

Great post! Yep, Lucy is great. The episodes never fail to entertain...genius slapstick moments & comic timing. I also love Desi!

Danièle said...

Thanks girls. It makes me feel a little sad though that Lucille does not have the same international fame as her mentors. I had never heard of Lucy before I went to the US.

Su, me encanta leer tu blog también :-) Besos.

Becky said...

Wow really Dani?! I watched Lucy all the time when I was growing up, it was always on TV in England. Usually early Saturday morning I believe.

Danièle said...

There are only a certain proportion of shows that gets distributed in non English speaking Europe, and I guess thats key. She was not that successful pre Lucy, and actors like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton got their reputation outside the English speaking world because they shot in a era of silent movies.

But heck she is top of the league for slapstick, Mae West did not really do slapstick. So to me Lucille is right there at the top with Charlie and Buster.

Annushka said...

I Love Lucille))) Very, Very, Very, beautiful post dear))) Your blog is very interesting!!! Love, Love, Love!!!)))

Rebelde said...

Qué buena entrada Daniéle... un besito guapa.

La pépite modeuse said...

great blog !

Jamil S.P. said...

I like your blog, dear Danièle. And you're a great and kind friend.
Thank you, have a nice weekend!

Danièle said...

Thanks to all my blogging friends for your feedback :-)

.::P-G-de-R::. said...

great article, wow, perfect!