I used to love to sit in front of the TV with my mother and father when I was a kid, watching reruns of “I Love Lucy”. It was clean, wacky humor and Lucy was a joy to watch. Watching Lucy was watching someone who was a master of her craft, who had perfect comic timing and instinct, who was a bonafide talent. It was something more, too. It was watching someone who was passionate about giving it her all each and every performance, about getting it just right. While today’s shows are uber-edited and pumped full of canned laughter, “I Love Lucy” was filmed using the then-new technological innovation of multi-camera film production in front of a live audience. She – and the whole cast – had to get it right every time, in front of an audience. Doris Singleton, who played Caroline Appleby on the “I Love Lucy” show, said that everything was scripted and rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed, and that working on the set was not like the party one might think– that Lucy was “tough”, and the show required a lot of hard work to pull off. Lucy once asked Red Skelton how to play a drunk and spent hours with him, watching and imitating him so that she could get it just right for a skit. She could be hard on cast members who showed up late, didn’t know their lines, couldn’t get their timing right. On the other hand, she often showed kindness to those around her who had talent and gave 100%. Marlo Thomas, whose show rented space from Lucy’s Desilu Productions, said that she once asked Lucy advice on being a producer. Lucy told her to “hire the very best that you can and don’t be concerned that they will take power away from you.”
Although Lucy played a naïve, accident-prone, starstruck housewife whose harebrained antics were always landing her in hot water, Lucille Ball had a reputation, in fact, for being a tough perfectionist. She was described, and not always in a good light – as “tenacious”, “serious”, “direct”, “determined” “extremely professional”. Lucille Ball was a dancer, an actress, a comedienne, a Broadway performer, a TV and movie star, a film studio producer and a wife and mother – quite a catalog of life experiences. She was also a forward thinker, a discliplined professional and a woman who accepted no excuses for anything less than perfection. She delivered to her customers – us, her audience – a flawlessly executed performance week after week, year after year. You knew what you tuned in for, and you got it in buckets. A few things we can learn from Lucille Ball:
Thanks, Lucy, for the laughs – and the good advice.