from American Icons: I Love Lucy (Studio 360 Radio Series, Episode #1231)
To this day, the name “Lucy” is synonymous with the I Love Lucy television show and its iconic star, Lucille Ball. During the height of its glory, the night Lucy gave birth to her first child, 44 million Americans watched the episode (72% of the possible viewing audience). Compare that popularity with the highly publicized inauguration of President Eisenhower that scored only 29 million Americans.
The original I Love Lucy show was the first comedy sitcom initiated onto television and aired weekly on CBS from 1951 – 1957 with nearly 200 episodes tugging at the heart strings of America. Lucy was beautiful and funny, her husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) was handsome and talented, and their landlords were their supportive best friends, Ethel (Vivian Vance) and Fred (William Frawley). In reality, it was hard to tell if the show was just a show or a reflection of antics in the real life marriage of its two stars, a confusion that the network fostered. It birthed the creation of reality TV shows without even trying.
The show paralleled much in the life of Lucille Ball, who was born to a family of meager means in New York and I Love Lucy was set in New York. Lucille Ball attempted various ways to get out of the small town life as a fashion model, chorus girl, B-movie queen and radio show character before finding gold as television’s all-time leading comedic actress. Once a week, Lucy attempted a new way to gain fame and break out of her mundane life as a homemaker, always with results that leave viewers in stitches, but unlike Lucille, Lucy never makes it. Instead, she falls back into the doting arms of her loving husband who catches her before she hits the ground. No matter how much seems to go wrong in her life, Lucy always has laughter and love and acceptance by friends and family surrounding her, making everything seem well with the world no matter what happens. Not so true in real life. The series ended and Lucille filed for divorce one day later on Desi’s birthday.
Previously reserved for motion pictures, I Love Lucy was the first television program to use high-quality film instead of grainy kinescope. It’s really amazing anyone watched TV before the advent of TV film. Check out these links for a comparison of the viewing quality:
CBS Blooper Reel (1960) Kinescope published by historycomestolife –
I Love Lucy’s Best Blooper! published by Briggitte Suastegui –
The show’s popularity would probably have been high simply because of its amazing quality, but what set it apart was that every week, it pushed that invisible glass ceiling in a way that we could relate to and enjoy doing so. What the original audiences didn’t probably pick up on then was the abusive nature of Desi, who always forgave Lucy, but was usually very demeaning and controlling in the process, sometimes even spanking her. Amazingly, they could not say that Lucy was “pregnant” on television, but they could show domestic abuse and make it appear tolerable. Having lived through it personally, it never is.
Another glass ceiling the show hit was about inter-racial marriage. Desi Arnaz was the first Latino on television airwaves. At the launch of I Love Lucy, 16 states still had anti-miscegenation laws forbidding inter-racial marriages. It’s quite noticeable in every episode that although Ricky Ricardo is definitely Cuban in his accent and music, his face, hairstyle and clothing look distinctly Caucasian.
Lucy’s persistent actions and good nature made the audience feel like it was ok to try anything, no matter how crazy, as long as you laugh along the way and get up to try again. She also showed women that there was more to life than “just being a homemaker”. Lucy and Lucille Ball’s lives helped their public relate to someone who was able to successfully get through the ups and downs of life, always wide-eyed with a smile on her face.