Even though I Love Lucy is like, really old and filmed in black and white and everything, you just can’t deny that it’s still ridiculously funny.
When you’re a great comedienne like Lucille Ball, it doesn’t matter how many years have passed since you performed – that shizz transcends time and space.
So whether you’re a fan or a future fan, here are 14 things you might not know about the (first) show that made Lucy famous.
14. Only Lucy was allowed to make fun of Desi’s English proficiency.
Desi had real pronunciation issues (English was his second language) that were often played for laughs – but only if Lucy was the one to deliver them. If any other character made remarks, the audience wouldn’t laugh.
13. The Mertzes hated each other off-screen.
Vivian Vance, 22 years younger than William Frawley, considered him an “old poop.” In turn, Frawley referred to her as a “sack of doorknobs.”
And that was on a good day.
Neither was dumb enough to let the clash affect their jobs, though, and even actors who spent nearly every day on set with them were unaware of their animosity at the time.
12. Lucille was too anxious to appreciate her own comedy in some scenes.
During filming of what would become one of the shows most iconic episode – Lucy Does a TV Commercial – Ball was so nervous and worried about messing up her lines that she couldn’t even find it funny.
Ball was famously not an improviser, which meant memorizing every slurred word of her Vitameatavegamin pitch.
Fun extra fact: she was actually drinking apple pectin.
11. Little Ricky (from the show) and Desi Arnaz, Jr. (their real child) were born on the same day.
Ball’s children were intentionally delivered by C-section, and it just so happened that the doctor who did her surgery only did them on Mondays – the same night I Love Lucy aired. So Little Ricky (the show child) and Little Desi (the real child) were born on the same night.
They did not know the gender ahead of time, of course, but producers had decided the on-air bundle of joy would be a boy.
Arnaz was delighted when Lucy delivered a boy, as well, announcing “Lucy followed your script! Ain’t she something?!”
Extra fun fact: More people watched the reveal of the Ricardo baby than tuned in to watch Eisenhower get sworn in the following day.
10. Lucy suffered for the comedic gold that was the grape-stomping episode.
There were many obstacles, from trouble procuring the grapes to the issue of the stain used to turn Lucy purple, but the most frightening was that the Italian extra hired to fight Lucy almost killed her.
Something about the “fake” part was lost in translation and she ended up holding Ball’s head under the grape mush until she almost drowned.
9. CBS wasn’t sure the public would buy Lucy marrying a foreigner.
Lucy was adamant that her real-life husband Desi Arnaz play her husband on the show, but the network didn’t believe that an average American housewife would have married a foreign man until they proved it by touring a popular vaudeville-type act together.
8. Smoking was required.
The show almost failed before it got started because of its lack of a sponsor. Tobacco giant Philip Morris signed on at the last minute, under the condition that the characters smoke their cigarettes on camera and mention the brand whenever possible.
Lucy smoked Chesterfields, though – so she stuffed her preferred cigs into Philip Morris packs.
7. Desi was self-conscious about his height.
Though Arnaz is officially listed as 5’11 in most biographies, he was actually 5’9. And because Lucille Ball was 5’7 without shoes on, Arnaz wore 4-inch lifts in his shoes.
Their on-set sofa was also lifted on his end for the same reason.
6. Ball’s pregnancy sent producers into a tizzy.
The Arnazes were thrilled about her pregnancy, as Lucy had suffered three miscarriages in the past, but both they and producers were concerned how it would affect their hit series. At that time, visibly pregnant women never starred on TV shows, and it would be impossible to conceal her condition.
Arnaz helpfully informed the network that “she got as big as a house when she was carrying Lucie.”
The network had no choice but to write her pregnancy into the show, and when onscreen Lucy breaks the news to Desi, the couple’s real-life emotion shines through.
Extra fun fact: CBS decided the word ‘pregnant’ was vulgar, so they usually said ‘expecting’ instead.
5. Ball and guest star Harpo Marx clashed on set.
Lucy was an admirer from afar, but when working with Harpo Marx, she found dealing with his “never the same way twice” approach difficult, due to her inability to improvise.
4. Lucy and Desi refused to move to New York City to film the show.
In 1951, the majority of television shows were broadcast from New York, and live broadcasts could only be transmitted so far. Their sponsor, Philip Morris, objected because they wanted the best quality production for their customers, who were largely based on the east coast.
Arnaz wanted the show shot in California, where they lived, with 3 cameras, like a stage play. It had never been done on network TV, but would allow for the same quality product no matter where the show was shot. It would also give Lucy the room for a live studio audience, and the immediate feedback that helped her thrive.
Cinematographer Karl Freund, writer-producer Jess Oppenheimer, and director Marc Daniels all helped solve the dilemma as they built a set and placed the filming equipment.
The stars also agreed to take a large salary cut, in exchange for right of ownership over the original films.
That latter condition paid off as the show became so popular in syndication that it made Lucy and Desi the first people to become millionaires from television.
3. William Frawley wasn’t the first (or second) choice to play Mertz.
Ball wanted Gale Gordon to play Fred Mertz, but they couldn’t afford him. Even after Frawley threw his own hat in the ring executives were wary (he had a drinking problem), but Desi eventually intervened on his behalf and the rest is history.
2. Arnaz refused to let Ricky cheat on his taxes.
Arnaz was a true believer in the American Dream, and as a result, very patriotic. He came from a family of self-made Cuban refugees and worked from a young age – which he alluded to in his acceptance speech on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town in 1954.
“From cleaning canary cages to this night in New York is a long ways. And I don’t think there’s any other country in the world that could give you that opportunity.”
There was a script that had originally called for Ricky to fudge numbers on his tax returns, and Arnaz flat-out refused, stating that Ricky wouldn’t cheat the U.S. government out of their due.
1. The Candy Lady wasn’t an actress.
The “The Candy Factory Episode” (actually the “Job Switching” episode) is one of the best-loved ones of the bunch, but you might not know that the woman who played the straight-faced boss lady – Amanda Milligan – was a real-life candy dipper at See’s Candies on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Milligan had never seen an episode of the show because she watched wrestling on Monday nights, and hit Lucy so hard in the face during their scene that it nearly broke Ball’s nose.
During some down time, Ball asked Milligan, “How do you like working in show business?”
Milligan, whose 30-year career involved little other than putting swirls on chocolates, replied “I’ve never been so bored in my life.”
Greatness abounds! Now, go and check out those reruns.
Are you a fan of Lucy? Who are your favorite comedians, old or new? Please share with us in the comments!