Lucy & Desi: Healing the World through Love and Laughter
by Joan Patrie
The world loves Lucy. America loves Lucy. And Jamestown, New York, Lucille Ball’s hometown, really loves Lucy! Born there on August 6, 1911, the actress and comedienne had an extensive stage, movie, radio, and television career. She and husband Desi Arnaz revolutionized the television industry with the innovations they brought to their new sitcom, "I Love Lucy."
Premiering on October 15, 1951, this groundbreaking comedy series quickly became the most popular show on television. Today, it is seen somewhere in the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in 80 countries and in 22 languages. It was the first television show: to be filmed before a live audience with three cameras; to feature an interracial couple; to show a pregnant woman playing a pregnant woman (even though the word "pregnant" could not be used back then!); and to reach over 10,000,000 homes. They made it look so easy and effortless - the physical comedy, the subject matter, the Cuban born bandleader with the heavy accent - but in truth, they were pioneers.
Lucille Ball was the first woman to head a major Hollywood studio, Desilu, which produced – among its many shows – Star Trek, Our Miss Brooks, Mission Impossible, The Untouchables, The Andy Griffith Show, My Favorite Martian, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Make Room for Daddy. Later great comediennes - Phyllis Diller, Imogene Coca, Joan Rivers, Carol Burnett, and Lily Tomlin - all bear the unmistakable stamp of Lucy’s genius.
TV Guide says that Lucille Ball's face has been seen by more people more often than the face of anyone else who ever lived. She won countless awards: the Television Academy Hall of Fame; Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Lifetime Achievement Citation; Presidential Medal of Freedom; Newsweek’s Top Female Entertainer of the 20th Century; and induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001, to name just a few.
Fifty years ago, in February of 1956, Lucille and Desi arrived by Bell Aircraft helicopter - owned by a schoolmate of Lucy’s and piloted by a Jamestown native - for the world premier of Forever Darling at Dipson’s Palace Theater in downtown Jamestown. Lucy never forgot her hometown. Lucy Ricardo, her character in "I Love Lucy," was from Jamestown. Characters on the show had the same names as her Jamestown friends, and there were frequent references to Lake Chautauqua, Celoron, and Jamestown. Lucy decorated her Beverly Hills home with the famous furniture manufactured in Jamestown, and furniture from her hometown was part of the "I Love Lucy" set. She even had Swedish limpa rye bread from Jamestown’s Jones Tasty Baking sent to her in California!
Lucy died April 26, 1989, in Los Angeles, California. Today, she rests in Jamestown. In the fall of 2002, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr., transferred the cremains of their mother and grandmother, Desiree (DeDe) Eveline Hunt Ball, from Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California, to Jamestown, New York, the birthplace of both women. They have been interred in the beautiful Hunt-Ball tree shaded family plot at Lake View Cemetery.
Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. were instrumental in establishing the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center which manages the Lucy-Desi Museum, the Desilu Playhouse, and gift shops in their mother’s hometown. The Center’s Mission is to preserve and celebrate the legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and enrich the world through the healing powers of love and laughter.
Opened on May 25, 1996, the Lucy-Desi Museum has welcomed over 200,000 visitors who have come from every state in the United States and more than 30 countries. The Museum features Lucy’s and Desi’s wardrobe and costumes, props from their television shows, awards (including an Emmy), family photographs, and more.
Jamestown’s newest Lucy-Desi attraction, the Desilu Playhouse, opened in August of 2005. Named for the studio where "I Love Lucy" was filmed, The Desilu Playhouse features exact replicas of Lucy and Ricky’s New York City apartment and the Hollywood hotel suite where Lucy pantomimed with Harpo Marx and set her nose on fire with William Holden, plus a life-sized wall mural of the original studio audience, a "Vitameatavegamin" opportunity, memorabilia from the 1950s including an "I Love Lucy" bedroom set, and more!
The Lucy-Desi Center hosts the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival each year on the weekend closest to her birth date, August 6th. The Center and Festival have welcomed special guests including Lucie Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr., Keith Thibodeaux (I Love Lucy’s "Little Ricky"), Carol Channing, Rich Little, Ray Romano, Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone, Joan Rivers, Billy Gardell, and more.
The Lucy-Desi Museum and Desilu Playhouse are open year-round, except major holidays. For more information, call 1-877-LUCY-FAN or visit www.lucy-desi.com . Lucille Ball’s hometown would love to welcome you!