100 years after her birth and 60 years after she began her television career, Lucille Ball is still spreading the “love.”
The comedic actress, who would have been 100 on August 6, is part of the inspiration behind the latest exhibit to open at the Library of Congress. “I Love Lucy: An American Legend” opened August 4 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1950’s comedy. Ball, who had enjoyed moderate success as a film and radio actress until this point, was 40 years old when the show first aired on October 15, 1951 and starred with real-life husband and entertainer Desi Arnaz.
The small exhibit, located in the James Madison Building, is worth the stop for both die-hard fans and novices alike. The space is filled with scrapbook pages donated by the couple’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, that document the television show’s rise to prominence and the fame that developed for the cast, which included Vivian Vance and William Frawley as their neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz.
The pages also share a glimpse into Ball and Arnaz’s pre-”Lucy” life, when the couple was working in radio and film, and later onstage together in their pre-sitcom vaudeville act. More on-view “Lucy” memorabilia includes paper dolls of the TV family, magazine covers from “Time” and “Look” Magazine, the original sheet music composition for Desi Arnaz’s “Babalu” and the composition of the show’s theme song. Visitors will be most delighted by the screen reels of favorite episodes of the series, including the iconic “Vitametavegamin” commercial (from ep. 39: “Lucy does a TV commercial”) and Lucy and Ethel’s hilarious turn in a candy factory (from ep. 39, “Job Switching).
Raymond White, curator of the exhibit, put an emphasis on exploring how the unique relationship between Ball and Arnaz served as the key factor in creating a hit show: “The Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz papers at the Library of Congress provide a unique opportunity to view the development of the show from the perspective of their family--in terms of the items that were preserved in the family scrapbooks, and this was our point of departure for the exhibit,” he says. “...the scrapbooks contained a wealth of materials documenting the early careers of Ball and Arnaz...and a treasure trove of photographs that present the extremely photogenic Ball and Arnaz in the height of 1940s Hollywood glamour.”
The show aired for six seasons on CBS, and produced 180 episodes. It won five Emmys, and was the first show to air what are now known as “reruns,” an idea that no doubt has been key in securing its never-ending popularity.
In addition to the exhibit, author Kathleen Brady has re-released her 1994 biography “Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball” in paperback through publishing company iUniverse. Brady had the unique opportunity of interviewing Ball at her home in Beverly Hills in the late eighties, and remembers the four-time Emmy winner as a robust spirit: “She had more energy than anybody I had ever met – energy in the sense of a force field. I don’t think that she was completely in control of it,” she says.
In the duration of their afternoon-long visit, what impressed Brady most was a rather innocent moment, when she spotted the actress’ plain handbag on a chair: “She could buy and handbag in the world, and she’s got one just like my mom,” she thought. Brady says in addition to her “unmatched gift for physical comedy” her ability to see opportunity within the simple things made her so great: “She so appreciated the ordinary. She saw the potential in the ordinary.”
Even though she was well-known for the hilarity that she brought others and “…worked very hard to honor the respect that people paid her,” Brady feels that Ball, who died in 1989 at the age of 77, would “want her talents as an actress recognized” as her legacy.
“She was truly, truly great,” Brady states.
“I Love Lucy: An American Legend” will remain open through Jan. 28, 2012. For more information, visit loc.gov. Kathleen Brady’s book, “Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball” can be purchased at iuniverse.com/bookstore.