Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

by Coyne S. Sanders, Tom Gilbert
     
 

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The behind-the-scenes story of television’s happiest couple, and Hollywood’s most tumultuous marriage

The magical union of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz created I Love Lucy—the greatest, most enduring situation comedy in television history. Yet the overwhelming pressures of fame, backstage battles, oversized egos, and Desi’s

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Overview

The behind-the-scenes story of television’s happiest couple, and Hollywood’s most tumultuous marriage

The magical union of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz created I Love Lucy—the greatest, most enduring situation comedy in television history. Yet the overwhelming pressures of fame, backstage battles, oversized egos, and Desi’s philandering and drinking led to the destruction of their star-crossed, tempestuous marriage—but never their love for each other.

This new edition of Desilu features a special commentary by Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic Tom Shales, and includes a brand-new preface and never-before-seen photographs. Written with the close cooperation of family members, including Lucy and Desi’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, Desilu is the most candid and balanced inside account of Lucy and Desi’s celebrated, but ultimately tragic, relationship—as well as a fascinating look at the legendary Desilu Studios and the fabled golden age of television.

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Editorial Reviews

The Hollwood Reporter
“A page-turner of the first order ... Desilu is good, gritty, fair but strong and bottom line -- a gripper.”
The Houston Post
“Lively and informative ... A thoughtful, candid look at one of the world’s most loved, most watched comedy teams --
The Boston Globe
“Well researched and toughly sympathetic”
Entertainment Weekly
“Excellent”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Provide[s] fresh insights into the performers’ personalities . . . Fans of the Lucy show will find Desilu fascinating.”
Beverly Hills (213)
Filled with juicy details, quotes, backstage insights, rare photos . . . The best bio about America’s red-topped funny lady ever”
Houston Post
Lively and informative ... A thoughtful, candid look at one of the world's most loved, most watched comedy teams.
Boston Globe
Well researched and toughly sympathetic.
Beverly Hills
Filled with juicy details, quotes, backstage insights, rare photos . . . The best bio about America's red-topped funny lady ever.
Hollywood Reporter
A page-turner of the first order ... Desilu is good, gritty, fair but strong and bottom line — a gripper.
Hollwood Reporter
A page-turner of the first order ... Desilu is good, gritty, fair but strong and bottom line — a gripper..

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062020017
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/02/2011
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
105,648
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"I am a real ham. I love an audience. I work better
with an audience. I am dead, in fact, without one."

— Lucille Ball, 1953

The year 1947 was a time of great uncertainty for thirty-six-year-oldLucille Ball. A fourteen-year career in mostly mediocre motion pictureshad left her financially rewarded but artistically frustrated. With a filmactress's greatest opportunity — a shot at major MGM stardom-behindher, not exactly a failure but certainly not a success, she was faced withthe brutal reality that odds were she had nowhere to go but down. Withno film offers forthcoming-and almost against her will-Lucille wouldmake what would prove to be a very significant choice: to go "legit," orperform in a play, onstage, an area where she had had very littleexperience. I

Dream Girl, a Walter Mitty-esque mixture of comedy and fantasy written by Elmer Rice, was the vehicle that would bring Lucille to the boards. A smash hit on Broadway during the 1945-46 season, it presented the vivid romantic daydreams of a prim bookshop owner. The tour-de-force — and very demanding-part of Georgina Allerton was a plum role Rice had concocted as a gift, of sorts, for wife Betty Field. Lucille, however, would make her debut as Georgina in a less auspicious place than Broadway-she would bow in a summer-stock production one hundred miles away, in Princeton, New Jersey.

The events leading up to Lucille's appearing in Dream Girl, however, were not quite the result of her own determined efforts for a stage career. In the early months of 1947, Herbert Kenwith was scouting talent for his upcoming production ofthe show, which would reopen the McCarter Theater under his auspices that June as part of the Princeton Drama Festival. Lucille had often complained that she was a second-string film actress, losing good parts to Ann Sothern and Ginger Rogers. True to form, she was not Kenwith's first choice for the stage; he originally opted to cast the then-popular Martha Scott. When that actress proved unavailable, the young director happened to read that Lucille was visiting New York, and began a zealous pursuit.

Lucille was staying at the posh Hampshire House on Central Park South, so Kenwith phoned her suite, only to be told by her maid, Harriet, that "Miss Ball was out shopping." When Harriet mentioned that Lucille would return to the hotel very briefly to dress for the theater, Herbert asked which play she would be attending. Harriet revealed Lucille's theater-going plans for the next three nights.

Kenwith hatched a plan. He called in some favors and managed to secure a house seat for each play on the same night Lucille planned to attend. "House seats are usually down in front, and I assumed she had house seats, too, so I'd be sitting near her," recalls the director. "As it turned out on that first night, I was not sitting directly in front of her, but sort of checkerboard in front of her. I kept turning around and looking at her. Every time I'd look at her, she'd catch my eye and look away. She was becoming annoyed, but I wanted her to remember my face. During intermission, we both walked out to the lobby. I kept moving around in front of her. The second night, I was seated about three rows away, so I made a deliberate error and walked into the row in front of her, as if I were looking for my seat. This time I said hello to her. She said hello, nodded her head, and ignored me. The third night, in the lobby, she grabbed me by the arm and said, 'Who the hell are you?' I said, 'I'm Herb Kenwith. You don't know it yet, but you're going to do a play for me.'"

"You're out of your mind," she told him. "I'm not going to do a play for anybody."

"Yes, you are. You are going to do a play."

"What play?"

"It's called Dream Girl."

"Oh, I wouldn't do that," said Lucille, who had seen the Broadway production. "It's longer than Hamlet."

Despite her protestations, Lucille was intrigued by Kenwith and invited him to lunch with her in her suite the following afternoon. "We had lunch. There were a lot of carrots on the plate. I commented that the carrots matched her hair. 'Well,' she said, 'That was the inspiration for the hair.'" At that moment, two local reporters arrived and began to interview Lucille, asking her what she was doing in New York. When at first she hesitated, one reporter said, "We can't believe you'd come to New York without any plans. is there some plan that you have?"

Trapped, Lucille — merely in New York on pleasure — stammered, "Well, as a matter of fact, I'm going to do a play." The announcement surprised Kenwith as much as it did the newspapermen. Lucille deftly tossed the ball in Kenwith's direction. "By coincidence, this is my producer. He's going to produce and direct a play for me." Kenwith announced that Miss Ball's upcoming play would be Dream Girl. "The next day I got a copy of the paper and went to Actor's Equity. I said, 'I don't have a contract with Miss Ball, but will this interview constitute a contract They told me that it might not stand up but, on the face of it, it was like a contract because she was quoted about doing the play and had made a commitment." He visited Lucille later that week.

"Here's a copy of Dream Girl," he said as he handed her the script. "What the hell for?" she retorted.

"You're going to do the play at Princeton."

"You're crazy."

"No, you're going to do it. You have to do it. You made a commitment in the newspaper to do this play."

"You know this is blackmail?"

"Yes, I know it. But I want you to do this play."

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Meet the Author

Coyne Steven Sanders is a noted entertainment journalist, author of the critically acclaimed Rainbow's End: The Judy Garland Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show Book, and writes for Variety in Los Angeles.

Tom Gilbert, a veteran entertainment trade journalist, has written about television for the Los Angeles Times, Variety, and the Hollywood Reporter. In his capacity as a Lucy expert, he has appeared on E!, CNN, the History Channel, Entertainment Tonight, A&E's Biography, NBC's Headliners and Legends, and the Fox News Channel. Based in Los Angeles, he currently is managing editor of the television trade journal Electronic Media.

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