50 years ago, we learned to love Lucy


October 14, 2001|By Hal Boedeker | Hal Boedeker,Special to the Sun

Raise your glasses and toast the crazy redhead.

The public's love affair with Lucy Ricardo reaches its 50th anniversary tomorrow and shows no signs of waning. Millions remain absorbed by the candy factory, the grape stomping, the Vitameatavegamin.

In that spirit, the cable channel TV Land offers a great tribute this week to Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy: It will replay "The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub" at 9 p.m. tomorrow, a half-century to the moment that the episode launched the series.

Then TV Land will offer 49 episodes tomorrow through Friday under a marathon called "50 Greatest Laughs." TV Land also restores the animated elements, such as the opening credits, that accompanied the series when it first aired on CBS.

"The Girls Want to Go" isn't top-drawer I Love Lucy. Lucy Ricardo (Ball) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) pretend to be man-chasing hicks to get back at their husbands for not taking them out. Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) and Fred Mertz (William Frawley) are ridiculously slow to recognize their wives' ruse.

Yet the episode showcases Ball's joy in performing and her willingness to go way out for laughs.

Ball, of course, didn't make I Love Lucy a classic by herself. She had an innovative producer in husband Arnaz, believable co-stars as the bickering Mertzes and a sharp writing staff that could turn out 39 episodes a season. (Today's comedies usually produce an uneven 22 episodes a year.)

Almost every I Love Lucy episode contains a memorable moment, courtesy of Lucy Ricardo's clowning, plotting or whining. She can get a loving cup stuck on her head, slink around like a vamp or set her fake nose afire.

For many viewers, I Love Lucy was the first series they regularly followed, whether during its network run or later during reruns. That inspires nostalgia and reverence. Yet it's also a series that prompts debate about feminism, the role of women, the battle of the sexes and the portrayal of that crazy redhead.

Long spurned in her pursuit of movie stardom, Ball met her TV assignment with gusto, reveling in rehearsal and working out her routines painstakingly. With I Love Lucy, the discussion always comes back to her.

So pass the Vitameatavegamin and drink up. It's so tasty, too.

Hal Boedeker is a television writer for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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