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When Lucy Met Gary
Am I happy?
No, not yet ...
I will be.
I've been humiliated.
That's not easy for a woman.
—Lucy to TV Guide, 1960
IN THE SPRING OF 1960, WHEN I WAS nine and Lucy was nearly forty-nine she once again graced the cover of TV Guide as she had done numerous times since the debut of the television magazine in 1953. Lucy and Desi's second child, Desi Arnaz Jr., was on the cover of the magazine's first issue just weeks after his birth on January 19, 1953. The headline read, LUCY'S EIGHT MILLION DOLLAR BABY, referring to the amount of the contract Lucy and Desi had signed with CBS to continue production on the wildly popular I Love Lucy for another two years.
The latest TV Guide story about the reigning queen of television comedy however was a sad one. She was filing for divorce from Desi Arnaz, her husband of nineteen years, and the partner with whom she had created a television empire unprecedented in size and scope for its time. Nearly two decades of womanizing, excessive drinking, and mental abuse had taken its toll on Lucy, so after Desilu wrapped the final episode of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, Lucy called the sitcom and her marriage quits. Once before in 1944, Lucy filed for divorce from Desi but changed her mind on the morning of the court date after a rendezvous with Desi thenight before. Things were different now. The drunken stupors, the temper tantrums in front of the kids, and the public humiliation were more than she could bear. And yet, if you read between the lines of the TV Guide story, it was clear she was still in love with Desi. That's what made it so heartbreaking.
America was not ready for Lucy and Desi to split, under any circumstances. Ike and Mamie Eisenhower may have still been in the White House, but Lucy and Desi were in everybody else's house. The marriage on and off the TV screen had become legendary and the public could not endure its shattering. To the millions of fans that tuned in CBS on Monday nights Lucy and Desi were Lucy and Ricky—their personal lives and television personas were one and the same. So it was no surprise that Lucy received literally tens of thousands of letters begging her not to divorce Desi. To get through this very difficult period in her life, Lucy turned to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, who proselytized the power of positive thinking. And she publicly acknowledged Peale's spiritual support in getting her through the divorce and on with her life.
Lucy wanted to, needed to get as far away from Beverly Hills and Desi as possible, so she packed up and moved to Manhattan with her mother, DeDe, her daughter, Lucie, Desi Jr., and her personal assistant and chauffeur Frank Gorey. They moved into the penthouse of the newly built Imperial House on East Sixty-ninth Street—ironically very close to Lucy and Ricky's fictional 623 East Sixty-eighth Street address.
Lucy agreed to star in what would be her first and only Broadway musical, Wildcat, of which Desilu Productions was the sole backer to the tune of $400,000, a huge sum of money in 1960. The show opened first in Philadelphia to appreciative audiences but unenthusiastic critics. When it opened in New York on December 15, the opening night crowd roared with approval but the show received generally poor notices. Although disliking the show, Walter Kerr in the New York Times was kind to Lucy. "Miss Ball is up there doing all the spectacular and animated and energetic and deliriously accomplished things she can do." Lucy's fans poured into Broadway's Alvin Theatre by the busload, but continual ill health forced Lucy to close the show five months later in May 1961. I think the stress of doing eight shows a week and not having Desi at her side quickly did her in. She returned almost $200,000 in ticket refunds out of her own pocket.
Paula Stewart was Lucy's costar in Wildcat, and would remain a close friend of hers until Lucy's death. During the run of the musical, Paula was dating a stand-up comic named Jack Carter who had a friend named Gary Morton. Every night, exhausted, Lucy would go right home alone from the theater to her penthouse apartment. The last thing on Lucy's mind was men. One night Paula finally cajoled Lucy into having a late supper with her, Jack, and Gary.
Gary Morton, born Morton Goldaper in the Bronx, was fifteen years younger than Lucy. When they met, Lucy was nearly fifty. Gary had just turned thirty-five. His physical appearance and manner suggested a guy ten years older, which probably made Lucy more at ease about the vast difference in their ages, if at the time she even knew how old he really was. Gary was a stand-up comedian working the borscht belt circuit in the Catskill Mountains, and the Copacabana and Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.
Gary Morton was 180 degrees different from Desi Amaz. He wasn't particularly bright. He wasn't particularly talented. He certainly wasn't rich. He was a second-rate comic who until he met Lucy could not even land a guest appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. But on the plus side, Gary was sober, Steady, and he could make Lucy laugh. And those were qualities sorely missing in Lucy's life. Gary used to tell gossip queens Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons that he wasn't in awe of Lucy when he met her because he worked nights and slept all day so he never watched I Love Lucy and didn't know how famous Lucy was. It made for good press and you could be sure Lucy approved the items before they were printed.
Lucy and Gary hit it off at dinner and started seeing each other, until Wildcat closed. Lucy liked his slight irreverence; but don't worry, when they were together he knew who Lucy was. When Lucy returned to Beverly Hills after a much-needed holiday in England and Italy—after Wildcat closed—Gary followed her out west. I was distantly related to Gary Morton (I'll explain later), so I was beside myself with joy when I heard Lucy and Gary were dating. One day I was walking with my mother on White Plains Road in the Bronx and we met Gary's mother, Rose Goldaper, on the street. She was a very funny and bawdy woman who if she chose to could have been a great vaudevillian in her day. So there she was standing on the street corner kvelling (Yiddish for bragging) about her son Gary, and how she had prayed every night that he would find himself someone nice to marry, somebody good, and maybe this time her prayers would be answered. I was ten years old and I remember thinking to myself, "Is she kidding, someone nice, somebody good, this is Lucille Ball she's talking about, not a Rockette!" Gary had been married once to the sister of Judith Exner. Judith was one of President Kennedy's mistresses, who went public about her relationship with JFK shortly before her death. Gary's marriage to Exner was annulled. I never knew why and the family never spoke about it.
As we walked away I said to my mother, "Can you imagine if Lucy marries Gary and becomes part of our family?" My mother laughed, took my hand, and told me not to think about it too much. Was everyone in the family surprised, probably none more than Mama Rose herself when Lucille Ball married Morton Goldaper at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York on November 19, 1961. As thousands of fans lined the streets behind police barricades hoping to get a glimpse of the new Mrs. Gary Morton, Lucy's friend, the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale married them. Lucille Ball Morton was now officially a member of our family, although my mother predicted the marriage would not last six months. She was right. It lasted nearly twenty-eight years.
Gary moved into the colonial house at 1000 North Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, California just shy of his thirty-sixth birthday. He finally gave Lucy what she needed most—marital stability, happiness, and a home life. And Lucy gave him what he needed most—polish, cachet, financial security, and steady employment when he became the producer for her new television series The Lucy Show.
Desi had sold his share of Desilu to Lucy in 1962 for just over two and a half million dollars, and at forty-five years of age he "retired" to Del Mar, California. Lucy was now the executive in charge of production of her new series as well as The Untouchables. She was also renting production space for Ben Casey, The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, My Favorite Martian, and The Danny Thomas Show with Danny often referring to Lucy as "my favorite landlady!"
Contrary to what has been written about Lucy, her business acumen was not her forte. By virtue of her divorce from Desi and her subsequent purchase of the studio, Lucy was thrust into a position of bureaucratic power that she found neither comfortable nor enviable. As executive producer of I Love Lucy, Desi Arnaz had made virtually all the business production and financial decisions leaving Lucy to do what she did better than anybody else—make people laugh. Now she had to oversee the production of a couple of top Neilsen-rated shows and sometimes she had to do what she hated to do more than anything else—fire people. In the meantime, Gary was learning the business, warming up Lucy's studio audience every week, and doing what he was told.
For Gary's hard work, loyalty, efficiency, and devotion he was rewarded. He loved vintage cars, so Lucy bought him a Stutz Bearcat. He loved good clothing, so Lucy got him a brand-new, very expensive wardrobe. He loved to play golf, so Lucy saw to it that he became a member of the prestigious Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles. And although Gary enjoyed living in Beverly Hills, he loved the house in Palm Springs that he now shared with Lucy.
Lucy was also incredibly generous to Gary's family. She opened her homes and guest houses to Gary's mother, Rose, and Gary's sister, Helen, who frequently came out from back east for extended stays in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs. Lucy bought Rose a full-length mink coat that she proudly wore inside the studio on the Hy Gardner Show when he hosted a program about celebrity mothers-in-law. In fact shortly after they were married Lucy told Rose how happy Gary had made her and that she would give Gary anything he wanted, but if she found him even looking at another woman, she'd kill him. Over the years Gary accrued his own personal wealth working for Lucille Ball Productions and investing wisely. He, too, was very generous to his sister and his mother, buying them condominiums in New York, Miami Beach, and West Hollywood. Lucy's sister-in-law, Helen, moved to California in the middle of the 1970s after her husband died and became a companion and confidante to Lucy.
In the last decade of Lucy's life, Gary befriended oil billionaire Marvin Davis, who bought 20th Century Fox Pictures. Soon after, Lucille Ball Productions moved onto the Fox lot and Gary became the executive producer on his first and only major motion picture, a mediocre film called All the Right Moves starring a relatively unknown actor named Tom Cruise. In the years that followed, Gary mostly played golf, read scripts, and gave Lucy some really bad professional advice.
A couple of years after Lucy died Gary moved out of the house in Beverly Hills, and into his Palm Springs home. Subsequently, he married a much younger woman named Susie, who loved to play golf. Gary died of lung cancer in 1999 at the age of seventy-three, and Susie still lives in the house that Desi built for Lucy almost half a century ago.
Why Lucy Met Lee
IN 1961 I WAS ELEVEN YEARS OLD and absolutely nuts about Lucy. I'm not sure if every kid my age felt the same way but I could not get enough of her. I don't know if I remember first-run episodes of I Love Lucy that ended in 1957, but I do remember watching the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, which aired until April 1960. After that I watched Lucy rerun after rerun that seemed to run night and day.
After Lucy ceased production Lucy had gone to New York to do the Broadway musical Wildcat and began dating Gary Morton. Gary Morton's sister Helen's husband, Bob, was my father's first cousin, so although Gary was technically not related to me, where I came from we called it meshpucha, a Yiddish word for family. So when Lucy and Gary got married, Lucy became meshpucha, too.
I first met Lucy in New York in the winter of 1962, shortly after their wedding. Lucy and Gary came to Matthews Avenue in the Bronx to visit Helen and her family, and I was invited to the house after dinner. I lived around the corner and although I had the flu with a temperature of 102 degrees I got up and went. I remember riding in the elevator and rehearsing how to introduce myself to Lucy. "Hello, Miss Ball," too formal I thought. "Hi Lucy," too familiar. "Hello, Mrs. Morton," too Jewish. It didn't matter. I took one look at her and uttered not a single word the whole evening. I didn't eat anything. I didn't drink anything. I just sat and stared. This was my first I Love Lucy episode and I felt like Lucy Ricardo when she could not take her eyes off William Holden at the Brown Derby. Lucy was teaching Helen a card game called crazy eight's and Gary was bragging about how much Lucy had won at the crap tables on a recent trip to Las Vegas. Lucy made me sit next to her, and every so often she tickled my ribs and made some Donald Duck quacks in my ear. Lucy wanted me to have a picture taken of the two of us but they ran out of film, and Lucy got very angry with Gary. I remember thinking that without a snapshot, none of my friends would believe I really was with Lucy. Hell, I didn't believe I really was there. By the time my brother picked me up outside Helen's apartment building at ten o'clock, I was delirious. I didn't know if it was high fever or just high on Lucy. It was an evening I will never forget.
When I was seventeen I saw Lucy again at Helen's son's wedding in a synagogue on Long Island. When word spread that Lucy was coming, probably from the caterer themselves, the whole town of Woodmere, New York, came out to greet her. I felt sorry for the bride who was so upstaged at her own wedding. I remember introducing Lucy to my eighty-six-year-old grandfather, Max, who asked, "Lucy who?" He then asked her what she did for a living.
I saw Lucy once again in Las Vegas when I was twenty-two. She and Gary asked Helen and her family and me out for a long weekend. Frank Sinatra was checking out of the six-bedroom duplex suite and we were checking in. I had a terrific time. Other than on those three occasions I saw Lucy on television along with the rest of America.
In the winter of 1980, my partner Tom Wells and I vacationed on the island of Kauai, then stopped off in Los Angeles on our way back to New York. Over the years I had remained very close to Gary's sister, Helen, and it was she who suggested that when I get to California I call Gary and Lucy to say hello. I had not seen them for almost eight years. Lucy was no longer doing her weekly sitcom; in fact Lucy wasn't doing much of anything except staying home and playing Scrabble with some close friends. And learning to play a new game called backgammon, which she loved from her first roll of the dice, but could not master as quickly as the word games at which she excelled. I called Gary and he invited us over. "Lucy's taking a backgammon lesson but she'll be done by eight, we'll have dessert."
Tom and I arrived at 1000 North Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills at eight on the button. Actually, we came by at seven-thirty and circled the block a couple dozen times, seeking out movie stars and checking out the houses. We rang the front doorbell and Gary answered. Before I had the chance to introduce Tom to Gary at the doorstep, a voice bellowed from the other side of the grand foyer, "Gary, why the hell don't you let them in?" It was unmistakably Lucy. We walked through the center hall and into what looked like a den, but which Lucy called her lanai. It was Lucy, in person, dressed in black from head to toe save for the shock of orange hair that was also unmistakably Lucy. She looked beautiful. And she looked younger than a woman in her late sixties. She extended her hand to Tom and said, "Hi, I'm Lucy." I don't know why, but I said, "No shit," and she broke up. What do you know, I made Lucy laugh.
We spent the night talking about everything and everybody except me. She wanted to know all about Tom. Where he came from, Memphis. Where he went to school, Harvard. What he did for a living, advertising. What his parents did. How many brothers and sisters he had. When I tried to talk about me, Lucy told me to keep quiet, she was talking to Tom. It was another episode of I Love Lucy—the one where Lucy brings Ethel together with a new friend of hers and the new friend and Ethel get real chummy and leave Lucy out completely. This time I was Lucy.
We stayed for about an hour. Lucy was tired. She asked us to come back the next night for dinner, but unfortunately we had to get back to our jobs in Manhattan. She thought that was a flimsy excuse and said she would write us a note or call our boss and ask if we could stay on a while. Lucy was dead serious but we politely declined her offer. She said she was coming east in a few weeks and could we get together? I told her I would have to check my calendar and my secretary would get back to her. She laughed like Lucy Ricardo. We all hugged and then we said good-bye. "No `goodbye's,' we never say `good-bye,'" Lucy said. She walked with us down the driveway to the car admonishing me to drive carefully. As we drove off I said "Lucy, we had such a great time tonight. Thank you so much, you're the best." "No shit!" she yelled back.
On the drive back to our hotel I thought about how Lucy and I had reacquainted at a time in our lives that seemed so right for us both. I think that's why we clicked. I was twenty-nine years old, been married for almost eight years, recently divorced, and although I was now in a successful new (in more ways than one) relationship, I was still very unsure of where certain life paths were leading. Although my parents were cognizant of my lifestyle and totally accepting of Tom, my relationship with them was somewhat tenuous.
Lucy, too, in a sense was choosing new paths in her life, having neither a television series nor a television empire to occupy her time. She also wasn't particularly close to her kids, Lucie and Desi Jr. As a matter of fact, I could count the number of times I saw either of them with Lucy during the last decade of her life. All I know is that on the few occasions mother and daughter were together things always seemed a bit tense and they tended to disagree on almost everything important.
And I remember one visit to the house from Desi Jr. when Tom and I were in Beverly Hills. It was in the mid 1980s and Desi Jr. was getting his life straightened out after years of alcohol and drug abuse. He was sober, happy, and about to star in a play, Sunday in New York, at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida. We were all sitting around the dinner table listening to Desi talk enthusiastically about his life and future when Lucy literally cut him off in mid-sentence and said it was time to play backgammon. So the next thing you know Tom, Lucy, and I are playing in the lanai and Desi is sitting alone in the dining room. I felt so sorry for Desi, and could not for the life of me understand why Lucy had seemingly so little time or patience for her own son.
Suffice it to say that for Lucie and Desi Jr., growing up in the shadow of a superstar mom whose work meant more to her than anything or anyone else could not have been easy. When they were teenagers trying to have their own show business career, yet forever being the children of America's most famous couple, I'm sure it led to familial dysfunction. My God, they even had the same first names as their parents.
Maybe Lucy and I were at a juncture that gave us a common bond, which linked us as "mother and son" without all the baggage that encumbers almost any real mother-son relationship, famous or otherwise. All I knew was that she was totally accepting of who I was, who Tom was, and who we were together. And I also knew that from that night on Lucy was going to play an integral part in my life and I in hers. Was I being realistic, who knows, or was I just being swept into a fantasy from spending an hour or so with this remarkable woman?
Lucy Plays the Palace
A FEW WEEKS AFTER WE CAME HOME I received a phone call at my office from Wanda Clark. Wanda had been Lucy's secretary since 1963, a couple of years after she married Gary. Wanda knew a lot, had seen a lot, but always said very little. She was warm, friendly, witty, and bright, and loyal to Lucy to the nth degree. I had never met Wanda, but when I was a kid if I wanted to send Lucy a Christmas or birthday gift or something I would call Wanda. She'd always make me feel like I was Lucy's number one fan.
"Lucy and Gary are coming to New York on the twenty-eighth for a week," she said. "Lucy is leaving CBS and signing a new contract with NBC and has lots of interviews, but Lucy wants to see you. Now hold on Lee, I'm going to put you through to the house." The next thirty seconds were an eternity. And then came the voice. "Listen, I hope you boys learned how to play backgammon by now, and you better get your asses out of work because I'm bringing my board with me. One more thing, you know everybody in New York, so get Gary and me a suite with two bedrooms in any hotel other than the Sherry Netherland, Jeeesus that hotel is filling apart, and get us a car and driver, and it doesn't have to be a stretch limousine, and I can't talk with you any more because Gaby is here to give me another goddamn backgammon lesson, Jeeesus I'll never learn that game." Click. Dial tone. "Hello?" I said. "Lucy? Wanda?"
Tom and I were working for a theatrical advertising agency named Ash LeDonne. Our clients included Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, Radio City Music Hall, Resorts International Hotel Casino in Atlantic City, and Helmsley Hotels. Tom was a vice president in charge of marketing and I was a creative director. Our offices were right next door to each other, so when I finished talking to Lucy, actually, when Lucy got finished talking to me (since I never did a get a word in "etch-wise," as Ricky Ricardo used to say), I ran in and told Tom that Lucy was coming to town.
"Hey, I got an idea," Tom said, "Let's put her up at The Helmsley Palace." Our agency had just been awarded the Helmsley account, not so much on the merit of our advertising pitch, but for a personal favor Tom did for Leona Helmsley. After our presentation was over Leona told us that in a few days she was throwing her annual. "I'm just wild about Harry" party for her multibillionaire husband Harry and the theme was "The Wizard of Ours"; Harry of course was the wizard. Leona needed a "yellow brick road" to lead the guests from cocktails, which were being held in their penthouse apartment at The Park Lane Hotel, into the elevator and down to the ballroom where the dinner dance would take place. Tom's father was a designer, the first interior decorator for Holiday Inns worldwide, and Tom assured Leona that his dad could get a carpet made with a yellow brick stencil and have it delivered to the hotel in time for the party. "You get me that carpet, and you got the account," Leona croaked. Seventy-two hours later Leona got her "yellow brick road" and we got the business. As it turned out, we got "the business" from Leona in more ways than one.
Excerpted from I Loved Lucy by Lee Tannen. Copyright © 2001 by Lee Tannen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|THE PILOT EPISODE||1|
|EPISODE ONE When Lucy Met Gary||7|
|EPISODE TWO When Lucy Met Lee||15|
|EPISODE THREE Lucy Plays the Palace||21|
|EPISODE FOUR Lucy in Beverly Hills||33|
|EPISODE FIVE Lucy's Back in Town||57|
|EPISODE SIX Lucy & Miracles||65|
|EPISODE SEVEN Lucy & Me (Not)||73|
|EPISODE EIGHT Lucy & Me in NYC||85|
|EPISODE NINE Lucy & Christmas||107|
|EPISODE TEN Lucy & Snowmass||127|
|EPISODE ELEVEN Lucy Joins the Army||139|
|EPISODE TWELVE Lucy & Life with Lucy||151|
|EPISODE THIRTEEN Miss Ball Goes to Washington||165|
|EPISODE FOURTEEN Lucy Goes to Harvard||179|
|EPISODE FIFTEEN Lucy & the Massage Therapist||185|
|EPISODESIXTEEN Last Laughs: 1989||193|
|THE SEASON FINALE||221|
Posted October 13, 2010
No text was provided for this review.