Wednesday, 6 June 2012

An Evening with Lucie Arnaz

Lucie Arnaz
Lucille Ball

This past Monday, I was lucky enough to be at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, where Lucie Arnaz took the stage to give an eloquent speech and Q and A with a very enthusiastic audience of Lucy fans. 

Lucie's appearance, part of a series entitled "Unique Lives and Experiences," was a 100th birthday tribute to her famous mother, Lucille Ball, as well as touching on her own unique life. Lucie's life has been one of show business success, despite living in the shadows of her legendary parents, Lucy and Desi Arnaz. 

Lucie with her parents on her first birthday

From the minute she took the stage, Lucie captivated the nearly sold-out audience with her charm, wit, laid-back attitude, and effortless eloquence. She discussed her mother's difficult growing up in Jamestown, NY, and the fact that she was deemed by a Jamestown photographer as not photogenic. Thank goodness Lucy didn't take the photographer's words to heart, because her success as a model for Hattie Carnegie gave her enough money to move to California, get into the movies, and move her whole beloved family with her to California. And that, as they say, was just the beginning.

Lucille Ball, blonde and modelling

Once Lucy met Desi on the set of Too Many Girls (1939), they began a whirlwind courtship and love affair, and married in 1940. However, by 1950, they had barely seen each other, due to Lucy's movie career and Desi's touring schedule as a bandleader. Lucie said that Lucy told her later, "You can't have children that way, Lucie." The answer? An offer from CBS to bring Lucy's radio show, My Favorite Husband, to television. Lucy agreed, but only if Desi got to play her onscreen husband. It took a successful vaudeville tour by Lucy and Desi to convince CBS that audiences would "buy" the Cuban-born Desi as Lucy's onscreen husband, and in 1951, the couple had two births to celebrate: the birth of their daughter Lucie, and the birth of I Love Lucy, the most beloved sitcom of all time.

Lucy and Desi Arnaz become Lucy and Ricky Ricardo

 Lucie then went on to talk about the "Red Scare" in 1953, when her mom was accused of being a communist. Luckily, Desi's winning over of the press caused for the whole situation to blow over, but it proved that even Lucy, the most popular TV star of the time, was not immune to the McCarthy era.

When Lucy divorced Desi in 1960, she moved the family (Lucie and Desi Jr.) to New York City where she made her Broadway debut in the musical Wildcat. She soon met and married comedian Gary Morton. However, Lucie was quick to point out that Lucy and Desi remained lifelong friends, despite their tumultuous relationship and divorce. Lucie said that Lucy spoke to Desi on the phone days before he died, and they said "I Love You" to each other one last time. In a letter Desi wrote for Lucy for the Kennedy Center Honors, an honor bestowed to her just days after Desi's death, he wrote, "I Love Lucy was never just a title." Lucy and Desi were soulmates who could never make it work living together, but the love between the two never disappeared.

Lucy and Desi years after their divorce and still affectionate, with Lucie and her husband Laurence Luckinbill

In the 1970s, Lucie started coming into her own, as she co-starred with her mother on her sitcom Here's Lucy, and started to prove herself as both a comedic and musical talent. Lucie said that Here's Lucy was her training ground, as she learned from her mother and co-stars, and also got to participate in four or five musical production numbers for the show each year. It was Vivian Vance (Ethel on I Love Lucy and a woman Lucie considered her aunt) who convinced Lucie to start doing summer stock theatre each summer while on hiatus from Here's Lucy. This allowed Lucie to hone her triple threat talent even further, and landed some very good parts in musical and plays like Seesaw, They're Playing Our Song, the film The Jazz Singer, and more.

Promo picture for Here's Lucy: Lucie, Lucy, and Desi Jr.

To this day, Lucie continues to use her musical talents, touring and singing songs off her newest album Latin Roots, a tribute to her father and his music. While Lucie says she will never be able to emotionally comprehend her parents' complicated relationship, the love she holds for both her parents are very evident. Lucie currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Larry, and has three grown children and two stepchildren.

The Q and A portion of the evening was extremely entertaining, as Lucie answered questions from comment cards submitted by audience members. I was so happy to hear my question read aloud and answered, which was, asking her about her involvement with the Lucy-Desi Center for Comedy in Lucy's hometown of Jamestown, NY. Fans will be pleased to know that there will be an addition this July to the center, with the train station being converted into a Museum of Comedy. There will also be a Festival of New Comedy, highlighting new comedic talents following in Lucy's footsteps.

Other anecdotes gleaned from the Q and A portion: Lucy was actually not that funny in real life... she was a serious woman who had severe trouble relaxing and was happiest and most fulfilled while working. However, days before her death after a heart operation, she woke up from the surgery and said to her daughter: "To think, this was the day I was supposed to get my roots done." Clearly, the woman possessed at least a little bit of the sitcom Lucy persona in real life. Lucie also shared a delightful story of Desi teaching a very young Lucie and Desi Jr. Spanish at Lucy's request, but keeping the learning down to learning the Spanish words for bread, butter, and shoe, and then telling them to go play.

All in all, the evening with Lucie Arnaz was a great success, demonstrated by the enthusiastic standing ovation at the close of the show. Anyone who ever has an opportunity to hear Lucie speak in person about her legendary mother and father (or see her perform her musical act!) should jump at the chance. You won't be disappointed!



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