Saturday, August 18, 2018

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and their roundez-vous with Destiny

Two of the Greatest Shows in TV History owe everything to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and I am not referring to "I Love Lucy". Lucy was the driving force behind Mission Impossible and STAR TREK. 


Lucille Ball was a very popular second banana in Hollywood during the 1930's and early 1940's, but she was getting older, by 1940 though she was still beautiful, but she was also 30 years old. Hollywood was never known to allow women to age gracefully, most older actresses quickly found themselves on the unemployment line. Lucy chose to dye her brownish blonde hair red with henna hair dye, hoping it would make her stand out. It worked, helped mightily by Lucy's can-do attitude, Lucy was willing to do anything for a laugh, even willing to make a total fool of herself. Where other actresses would worry about their dignity and reputation, Lucy only cared about laughs, being a comedian was a role which was a natural fit for her. Studios began turning to her for comedies because of her cooperative, low maintenance persona and reasonable salary demands. Lucy cared more about having a job that finagling a huge salary or the perks that many other stars demanded. She wanted to work and was always willing to meet the studio half-way. Directors loved her  because she would do anything they asked no matter how demeaning or dangerous it was.

Lucy's life story began with a horrible accident at age 14. 

In her memoir, Love Lucy, Ball writes that on July 4, 1927, her grandfather, “in a holiday mood, came home from work on the trolley with a mysterious object wrapped in brown paper. It was a birthday present for Lucille Ball’s brother, Freddy, who was about to turn 12—a real .22-caliber rifle.” Despite Freddy’s excitement, Ball’s father told him he couldn’t shoot the gun until the next day, after he showed him how. True to his promise, Ball’s father “set up a tin-can target in our backyard and then in his usual meticulous, careful way explained all about the gun.”
Next door to the Balls lived an eight-year-old boy, Warner Erickson, who Ball writes had a habit of stopping by uninvited. He did so on this day. Freddy’s “little girlfriend” Johanna took a turn with the gun, and just as she was aiming at a tin can, Warner’s mother called out his name from their home. “The gun went off,” Ball writes, “and Warner fell spread-eagled to the ground, into the lilac bushes.” Ball continues: “The next few days were a kind of nightmare as we all hung on to bulletins from the hospital. Then we learned the awful news: a .22-caliber bullet is very small, but by fantastic bad luck, the bullet passed right through Warner’s spine, severing the cord.” While Ball’s grandfather “would have paid the Freddy’s medical bills,” the Erickson family opted for a lawsuit and won, effectively taking Ball’s grandfather’s life: “They took our house, the furnishings that Lucille Ball’s mother, DeDe, had bought so laboriously on time, week after week, the insurance—everything. My grandfather never worked again. The heart went out of him. It ruined Celoron for us; it destroyed our life together there.”  Huffington Post

In 1940 Lucy was a comedic success and much in demand. She was appearing in an RKO Studios movie, Too Many Girls(1940) with a young Cuban actor Desi Arnaz. Desi was most famous for being a drummer, guitarist, singer and protege of Band Leader Xavier Cugat. Eventually, Desi struck out on his own. He created his own orchestra and invented the Conga Line dance, which became a huge sensation in 1940, which led to his acting career. Though plagued by a thick Cuban accent, Desi had a great friendly personality and a lot of musical talent, which made his band one of the hottest in America.

Desi too faced troubled times. His father, Desi II, was a liberal reformer elected mayor of Cuba's vacation resort town of Santiago de Cuba while in his 30's. Desi II was very popular and won by a landslide. The family were descendants of the founder of the Bicardi Rum and quite well off. In 1932, Colonel Batista and his corrupt cronies began a military coup against the liberal Cuban government, deposing President Gerardo Machado in August 1933. Desi's Dad was arrested, while his family fled to Miami with only the clothes on their back. 15-year-old Desi was forced to work doing menial tasks, including cleaning out bird cages and manual labor. His father was eventually released and joined his family, eventually taking Pharmacist courses in Atlanta Georgia. As Desi said, you can only truly appreciate success and wealth when you either already lost it or rose from the depths of poverty, Desi did both. Desi with his Dad and son, Desi Arnaz IV 

Desi met Lucy while filming Too Many Girls, fell in love and got married. Lucy decided to branch out of movies as she got older, taking a starring role in a radio show, My Favorite Husband in 1948. The show was a lucrative success. At the same time Lucy and Desi's marriage was strained by their volatile personalities and the fact that Desi and his orchestra were on the road for over 40 weeks a year. With the birth of television, CBS decided to bring their show My Favorite Husband to TV. Lucy agreed, with only one condition, Desi be cast as her husband, replacing the radio show's original white Middle West Anglo Saxon Banker with Desi's Cuban Band Leader, Ricky Ricardo. At first, CBS was resistant, finally, the network gave in after Desi created a Vaudeville Act and took it on the road to show that America would accept a red headed comedian married to a Cuban Band Leader. It was a smash success and I Love Lucy was born.

Did you know that Desi Arnaz's father was a Doctor? Did you know that he was the Mayor of Santiago de Cuba and considered a possible future President of Cuba?

Little Desi with Mom

Little Lucy with Mom and Dad

Few people know today that Desi Arnaz is considered a brilliant businessman. It all started with his negotiations for the I Love Lucy Show. Instead of limiting himself to arguing over star salaries, Desi said he and Lucy would produce the show themselves. Next, he proposed filming the show on 35 mm film. No one appreciated the fact that Desi was about to invent the re-run, the live audience 3 Camera TV show with famed Cinematographer Karl Freund(DRACULA), Lucy always performed best when in front of a live audience and TV Syndication. This would make Lucy and Desi the richest performers on TV for years to come. The CBS Network and its executives and "bean counter accountants" balked at the cost, about $5,000 a week. Desi said he and Lucy would take a pay cut to offset the cost, if he and Lucy retained rights to the show after its initial broadcast on CBS. Many business schools teach Desi's strategy as among the most brilliant in business history. By 1957, Lucy and Desi were multi-millionaire and were able to buy RKO STUDIOS AND CREATE DESILU STUDIOS, making themselves Hollywood Moguls equal to Louis B. Mayer and Warner Brothers.

Lucille Ball is the reason we have 'Star Trek' — here's what happened Meryl Gottlieb Jul. 8, 2016, 3:58 PM Business Insider

The comedy icon's company, Desilu Productions, was responsible for Gene Roddenberry's original "Star Trek" series. Desilu was one of the largest independent production companies in Hollywood and of course was the driving force behind Ball's star-making vehicle "I Love Lucy," which ran from 1951 to 1957. But it was also responsible for "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Untouchables," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," and more. Ball and then-husband and eventual "I Love Lucy" costar Desi Arnaz formed Desilu in 1950. Ball made most of all of the creative choices while Arnaz handled the business. The two worked as partners for years until they divorced in 1960, and Ball purchased Arnaz's share of the company in 1962. Ball was the head of a major studio, and thus one of the most powerful women in Hollywood at the time. When the landmark "The Untouchables" ended its run in 1963, Desilu desperately needed another big hit. Herbert Solow, who was hired to find projects for the studio, brought Ball two proposals: one for Roddenberry's "Star Trek" and another for "Mission: Impossible." It was clear that the "Star Trek" pilot would be expensive to film, but Ball — who actually believed the series was about traveling USO performers — overruled her board of directors and got the pilot produced. The pilot, titled "The Cage," famously flopped. However, NBC pulled an unlikely move and ordered a second pilot, which came to be called "Where No Man Has Gone Before," only retained Leonard Nimoy's Mr. Spock from the first pilot, and became the show it is known as today. Ball agreed to finance this re-shoot, again over the preferences of her board of directors. So Ball is the one who let "Star Trek" live long and prosper. Thanks, Lucy.

Lucy bought Desi out when they got divorced in 1960, after 20 years of marriage.  Lucy showed she was as brilliant a business woman in her own right, when, against the advice of all of her executives and friends, she green-lighted to two shows no one thought could be made, much less had any chance of being successful, but former LAPD officer Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek knew the truth and openly admitted, Lucy was the mother of Star Trek, which he intended to be as a show about space which would address topical political and social issues. But Roddenberry disguised it as a "Wagon Train" in Space, after a currently popular Western. And she green-lighted a spy saga known as Mission Impossible. Which portrayed US Spies doing the impossible to defeat our enemies and save our friends. For TV it was never a better time and all thanks to Lucy and Desi. 

Future Law and Order DA Stephen Hill would be replaced after season one because of religious issues replaced by Peter "Graves" Aurness brother of Gunsmoke's James "Arness" Aurness, whose most famous role before the Western was as the Alien in "The Thing" (1950)

When I was 9-years-old I fell in love with a TV Show called Star Trek. I was an original Trekkie. Another Trekkie, Brian Sharples, and I went to East Valley Elementary School in Marietta, Georgia. Sometime later when we were transferred to Sedalia Park Elementary School. At some point we heard that NBC was thinking of canceling Star Trek, so we jumped into action. We created and carried petitions around school, using every tool at our disposal to get kids to sign, so we could keep our favorite show on the air. Brian Keith O'Hara

Here is a photo of a young William Frawley, Fred Mertz. 

William "Bill" Frawley, February 26, 1887 – March 3, 1966, was Irish Catholic and a New York Yankees fan. He began life working for the railroad and as a court reporter. In High School and after graduation he appeared in plays as an extra and later a featured player to make extra money. By the 1920's he was appearing in Vaudeville. By the 1930's and 1940's he gravitated to Hollywood where he became a steady character actor, gruff, hard drinking Irish American. By the late 1940's acting roles became scarce and Bill earned a reputation for drinking too much. He heard about I Love Lucy and the need for a gruff landlord, Fred Mertz. Bill went to meet Desi, who liked Bill immediately. Desi decided he would be perfect for the Ricardo's landlord. But Desi had heard the drinking stories about Bill too. He told Bill, if he got the role, he would be on the three strike plan. Be unable to perform once, a warning, twice, suspension and three times, you'll be fired. Bill never got the first warning, always keeping his drinking under control for the next 9 years when  I Love Lucy finally went off the air, including its later incarnation as the Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour. Though there are reports that in some episodes you will see Bill keep his hands in his coat pockets. He would get alcohol withdrawal shakes and hide them.
The biggest problem Bill had was with Vivian Vance. Bill detected a coolness from co-star Vivian Vance. Then one day he heard her talking to Lucy about him, echoing many of her character's on screen character Ethel Mertz's description of Fred Mertz as an old goat. Vivian resented having to portray being married to a man who was 20 years older than she was. Bill's feelings were hurt and angry that she would say that to Lucy and put his job at risk. He never forgave her. But Desi grew to love Bill and his gruff, endearing manner. They became real friends and his job was NEVER in danger. 
Few people know that there was one strange clause in Bill's contract, at his insistence. Bill demanded time off any time his beloved New York Yankees made it to the World Series. Desi loved the NY Yankees too, but knew with the retirement of Yankee Hero Joe DiMaggio in 1951, the same year I Love Lucy went on the air, there was little chance of a hitch. The Yankees had appeared in the 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949 and 1950 with Joe DiMaggio. Everyone figured it would take a while to rebuild the team without him. WRONG! 
In 1951, the Yankees scouts had stumbled across a kid from Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle, who would turn out one of the best home run hitters of all time. He helped the Yankees make it to the World Series in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1960. The NY Yankees won five World Series with Joe DiMaggio in the 1940's, they would win 5 World Series thanks to Mickey Mantle: 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956 and 1958. Desi laughed, hoisted on his own petard, but Bill only had to be written out of two of the series episodes. At that time, TV Shows made 39 episodes a year.  In 1960, New York acquired Roger Maris who promptly hit 61 home runs and the Yankees Murderers Row was back. 

Bill was unemployed again, with Desi and Lucy's divorce and ending their show. But Desi looked out for his friends. Desi heard about a show producer Don Fedderson was making:  My Three Sons. He suggested his pal Bill Frawley portray Uncle "Bub" another gruff curmudgeon, who looked out for Fred McMurray's three sons while Dad was at work. Even though Bill might have been a little to old to work as a regular in a series, he never let the show down. Desi is rumored to have come up with a strategy to keep Bill in line. He told Fedderson to have the kids go to lunch with Bill every day, sometimes with their parents/guardians, prompting Bill to be on his best behavior.  Chip, Stanley Livingston, told his real life younger brother, Ernie, Barry Livingston, that they were counted on to keep Bill sober. Bill would drink cocktails during lunch, but never too many with kids present. Bill did curse like a sailor and the boys loved it, was more than a little bawdy and offered unedited opinions about politics and politicians, which the boys found amusing and sometimes hilarious. Bill lasted from 1960 to 1965 in the role, replaced by a slightly younger William Demarest, who was more of a settled, serious actor

Bill's last appearance on TV in 1966, The Lucy Show, when Lucy visits a horse stable and a hand, Bill, speaks a couple of lines of dialogue. 

On March 3, 1966, William Frawley was strolling down Hollywood Boulevard after seeing a film when he suffered a major heart attack. His nurse dragged him inside the hotel where he died in the lobby. Contrary to popular belief, Frawley did not live in the hotel at the time. Although Frawley had spent nearly 30 years living in a suite upstairs, he had moved to the nearby El Royale Apartments a few months before. Wikipedia

When Bill Frawley passed away, Desi took out huge ads in all the local and trade papers saying Buenos Noches and Adios, Amigo

Desi was his real friend and Desi was always loyal to his friends. 

In the third season of I Love Lucy, Desi Arnaz III REFUSED to do a scene in which he takes a questionable, possibly dishonest, tax deduction on his IRS Tax Form.  Desi loved the US. After fleeing Cuba with his family, after VICIOUS, CORRUPT General Batista's 1933 Military Coup, the Arnazes arrived in Miami without any money. They had been forced to leave their father in prison. After several months, Desi's father joined them. Desi's father worked full time and went to college at night earning his doctor's degree. Teenager Desi worked cleaning bird cages after school and playing guitar at night with local bands. Desi was a very good guitarist and eventually was hired by Latin Band Leader Xavier Cugat, future husband of singer Charo.  Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz's families supported VICIOUS dictator Batista. Desi's father, Dr. Desi Arnaz II was the popular liberal mayor Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's 2nd largest city. Dr. Arnaz was the youngest mayor in Cuba's history.  Remember the Gold Phone Dictator Batista got in the Godfather II (1974)? Desi felt paying taxes was the price of FREEDOM and he was proud to pay his taxes HONESTLY.