You won't need a buzz off your Vitameatavegamin elixir to appreciate this: The Hallmark Channel is celebrating what would have been Lucille Ball's 100th birthday with a 48-hour marathon of classic "I Love Lucy" episodes.
Hallmark, the exclusive cable home of the show, will air 96 total episodes beginning on Saturday, Lucille Ball's actual birthday. The episodes begin Saturday morning at 6 a.m. and end Monday morning at 6 a.m., with 48 unique episodes airing each day. No reruns!
It's hard to understate the significance of Lucille Ball as a TV star and iconic American celebrity. Not only was Lucy the first woman to head a production company, she was on the cover of TV Guide more than any other star in history. "I Love Lucy," which was the most watched program in the nation for four out of six of its seasons, is considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It won five Emmys during its run. (FYI for all the hardcore "Lucy" fans out there: According to Hallmark Channel, Viacom owns the rights to "I Love Lucy.")
Hallmark is also releasing a rare, never published interview TV writer Ray Richmond conducted with Lucille Ball in 1984 titled "My Lunch with Lucy." Click below to read that interview.
MY LUNCH WITH LUCY
By Ray Richmond
It was November of 1984. I was the chief TV critic for the Daily News of Los Angeles when my editor asked if I wanted to interview Lucille Ball in connection with her being honored by CBS with an “all-star party” airing on the network in December.
“You’re asking me if I’d like to interview Lucy?” came my incredulous response. “Wait. Let me think about it. Yes!!!”
I mean, who wouldn’t leap at the chance to chat with the all-time queen of comedy? You don’t let that kind of opportunity pass. And I didn’t.
But at the same time, I couldn’t have known what awaited me after arriving that day promptly at 11:30 in the morning at Ball’s sleek but unpretentious home in Beverly Hills.
I rang the doorbell, expecting an assistant to answer. Instead, it was the redhead herself, resplendent in a green sundress and white sandals, her hair still very much the hue of goldfish. She was holding a ruby red beverage in a tall, frothy glass and immediately asked if I’d like one as well.
“I’d love one,” I said, already rather awestruck.
“Good. Come on in, honey.”
Not only had a woman who’d shared a living room with me since I was a toddler just called me “honey”; she took me by the hand to lead me inside. And instead of being met by the typical entourage of publicists and helpers, it was instantly clear that we were alone aside from a housekeeper puttering around the kitchen.
Someone needed to pinch me, as I figured I must to be dreaming. Me and Lucy. In her home. Just the two of us. Sipping cocktails. About to travel together down memory lane.
We settled into a very light and airy living room dominated by a big, floppy couch and linen pillows. I sat on the sofa, Lucy in an overstuffed chair. But before getting settled, she called out to her housekeeper.
“Rosa! The lasagna in the fridge. Can you heat it up with some of the bread?”
“Si!” came the response from the kitchen.
“You hungry?” Lucy asked me after having already decided I was.
It didn’t matter that I’d had a late breakfast and it wasn’t even noon yet. I was going with this program to the hilt.
“Absolutely. Lasagna sounds great.”
“Good,” Lucy replied with a firm nod of the head. “Okay, now what can I tell you? Ask me anything you want.”
I mean, what didn’t I want to ask this woman? What I wanted to say was, “Tell me everything. About Desi. About Vivian. About being a television pioneer. About what those years were like. About how it feels to forever be America’s wacky sweetheart.”
Turning on my microcassette tape recorder, I began asking. And Lucy started telling. And telling. And telling. And telling. All of it with great color and clarity and candor.
When I asked her about Vivian Vance and the great sisterly friendship she is purported to have had with her I Love Lucy costar, Lucy began to tear up in remembering the pal who had died a mere five years before of breast and bone cancer.
“Oh God it was so hard,” Lucy shared between quivering sobs. “I couldn’t save her. I felt so helpless. She was the love of my life.”
The description of Vance’s decline spanned some 15 minutes of our time together. I wasn’t pressing with questions. It instead emerged in a single cathartic burst from Lucy’s lips. This was a woman often thought to be rigid and abrasive in private. But here she was reliving one of her most agonizing moments with a visible raw grief, openness and sincerity in front of a complete stranger.
Our interview would traverse a gamut of emotions, reaching ebullient highs in discussing her early life, her years on TV, and her early years as a movie starlet.
When the subject of Desi Arnaz was raised, Lucy grew immediately wistful and nostalgic.
"What can I tell you, I loved him," she said, a tear beginning to form in her left eye. "He and I just had different hopes for what love and marriage ought to be. But, he's a great father to our kids…a good man." With that, Lucy began dabbing at her eyes. "I'll never stop loving Desi. And I know how much he'll always love me. He and I are good now. Growing older and maturing is the best thing that ever happened to us. And you know it's no secret that we had our problems, but I can look at Desi now and remember the fantastic times we had together back then, too."
"That's all you're getting out of me!" her voice rising. "Can we change the subject please?"
Oh yes we could. And I did, immediately.
As the minutes turned into two hours and the end of our interview neared, what I had expected to be a low-energy half-hour of monitored banter turned into a revelatory, unforgettable conversation with a legend that you get once per lifetime, if you’re ridiculously lucky. Lucy was by turns witty, charming, reflective and somber. By the end, she was worn out by all of the emotion she’d expended, seemingly surprising even herself.
“That was fun, kid,” she said, as I flipped off my recorder and handed the housekeeper my cleaned lasagna plate.
“This is one of the greatest moments of my life,” I said to her. “I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve given me today.”
“Ah, well you must not have much of a life if chatting with an old bag is as good as it gets,” she laughed heartily.
Just then, Lucy’s second husband, Gary Morton, walked in, giving his wife a warm kiss and hug that warmed my heart to see. As I was making my way past the loving couple to leave, Lucy made a parting demand.
“Don’t tell anyone I color my hair,” she said. “Let ‘em think it’s still natural. OK?”
I kept Lucy’s secret all of these years. But given that she’s turning 100, I figure she’s probably all right with my finally spilling the beans.