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August 5, 2011

Lucille Ball's centennial reminds me why I love 'I Love Lucy'

Last year, I wrote a little something about how Gustav Mahler saved my life. A tiny bit of hyperbole aside (never miss an opportunity to theatricalize), he did.

But long before Mahler entered my consciousness and helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life, there was Lucy and Ricky and Fred and Ethel.

They were my favorite childhood companions and they stayed with me right on through adulthood, giving me lift after lift along the way. They are with me still.

Cringe or chortle if you must, but it's the truth. I am a life-long "I Love Lucy" fanatic. And on the occasion of the centennial of Lucille Ball's birth -- Aug. 6, 1911 -- I couldn't resist a few words about how much she and that brilliant sitcom mean to me.

Watching "I Love Lucy" in re-runs remains one of the clearest memories I have of my youth. Actually, just hearing it is an even stronger memory. I became so fond of the show that, ...

when our TV set went on the blink for a while and had only sound, but no picture, I would still sit in the front of the set at the appointed time to listen to "I Love Lucy." I loved it just as much.

Over the years, wherever I lived, I soon found out when the show was being aired. It came in especially handy whenever I was feeling down; nothing could snap me out of it like a visit to the Ricardos flat at 623 E. 68th Street.

In Los Angeles, during my time in grad school, I would sit many an evening with the sweet little, Mrs. Trumbull-like landlady of the humble house where I rented a room off-campus, and we would watch the 6 p.m. re-runs together while eating supper off of TV trays. Then I would go back to my oh-so-serious musicological studies.

As the decades went by, "Love Lucy" never lost its hold. Lucille Ball, alas, did not interest me as much in other contexts. I never cared for her later sitcoms. I happily discovered her early movies (some are quite terrific), but had a tough time with the later ones (oy, that "Mame"). Still, the comic genius of Lucille Ball was never in doubt.

I have great respect for what she accomplished throughout her life, but it is her chapter as Lucy Ricardo that really means the most to me. Heck, it even landed me a life partner -- 27 years ago this month, an acquaintance of mine in Fort Lauderdale told me I just had to meet a guy he knew who loved Lucy as much as I did. Robert and I still toss dialogue from the show into our conversation. We always will.

So thanks for everything, Lucille Ball. You and the terribly underrated Desi Arnaz created an amazing product with the help of the ideal Vivian Vance and William Frawley, and, of course, the superb script writers. You made television history and television magic, Miss Ball. Another hundred years from now, assuming the planet remains habitable, you will be still be making people laugh.

I had to post a gem from "I Love Lucy" to end this verbiage, but what to choose? Too many favorite moments.

In the end, I figured that, since this blog covers music and theater, I should pick a scene from one of Lucy Ricardo's disastrous moments onstage -- in this case, a scene from the immortal operetta she wrote as a fundraiser for the Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League -- "The Pleasant Peasant."

The fact that she couldn't carry a tune didn't dissuade her in the least from taking a major role, of course. Little did she know that the chorus would be right behind her, ensuring that the music would have a chance:



Posted by Tim Smith at 4:15 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens


Another forever fan of ILL and yes, never real fond of the rest of her work. It was always about Lucy Ricardo! Yes, Desi was really underrated and over these long years it sadly never seemed to change. Happy Birthday, Lucy!!!

Thanks for the comments. TIM

I Love Lucy is still a go-to show for me when there's nothing on TV. I have ALL the seasons on DVD so I pop one in when nothing else is on! One of the BEST shows of all time to me!

Happy B-day, Lucy!

Thanks for commenting. TIM

I hope, as I drift off on my deathbed one of these days in the future, that it's an episode "I Love Lucy" I hear playing in the background. Her show has that much comfort for me.

I trust that will be a LONG way in the future, but I sure can understand how you feel. TIM

Thank you. What a lovely reminder of a soul that could brighten any day. Just a little taste left me wanting more. Chocolates, anyone?

And maybe a little foot-pressed wine to go with them. TIM

Nice story Tim.. Like you I also loved "I Love Lucy" and the star of the show.. she was a very talented performer.. part of my life as a child growing up was in South America.. I bet you never heard "I Love Lucy" dubbed in Spanish for the Latin American audience..huh? Well, let me tell you that I did and in the Spanish version, Lucy had the accent.. LOL

That's great! Thanks for sharing that very cool perspective. Glad to know she translated so well. TIM

We will always love Lucy, she's an American Icon. You can see more Google Doodles at

So tastefully and engagingly written that I have become an instant fan of the writer, who is able to weave his heart deftly into a critical appreciation. Might I take exception to an apologetic tone--would that something on TV currently could garner such laughter and, yes, love. She and her pals have been a comfort to me and a beacon for 45 years; thanks for understanding.

: ) Thanks Tim from a new reader.


Rock Candie Designs recently took a trip to Lucille Ball’s hometown! Check out the trip here: HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY TO OUR ALL-TIME FAVORITE COMEDIENNE, LUCILLE BALL!

Every time I think about how much I miss Lucy, all I can do is go "WAAAAAAA..."

I second that wail. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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