“She was one of the crucial people who really helped sustain one of the most dominant shows in the history of television,” said Ron Simon, a curator at the New York City-based Paley Center for Media.
In 2007, the publication Television Week named her one of the 25 most influential people who shaped the industry, noting that she was a principal writer on all 180 “I Love Lucy” episodes and 13 specials on CBS from 1951 to 1961.
The program was one of the top-three most-watched programs during its first six years on the air and won two Emmy Awards as best situation comedy. Forever in syndication, “I Love Lucy” made enduring household names of Lucille Ball and her real-life husband, Cuban-born bandleader Desi Arnaz, as well as Vivian Vance and William Frawley as their quirky neighbors, the Mertzes.
If the show’s premise wasn’t particularly innovative — the wacky housewife, the irritated husband, the oddball friends —“I Love Lucy” was elevated by the anything-for-a-laugh conviction of the four leading actors and the irrepressible inventiveness of the scripts.
The initial writing force behind the show included Mrs. Davis (then known as Madelyn Pugh), her longtime writing partner Bob Carroll Jr. and their producer, Jess Oppenheimer. Writers Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf later joined the team.
Together they molded Ball, who had appeared in minor Hollywood dramas and comedies, into the lovably slapstick-prone Lucy Ricardo.
The show was propelled by a relentless physical humor, with Ball in one instance battling a giant loaf of bread that emerges from the oven and pins her to the wall. Other memorable sequences featured Ball slipping and sliding in a vat while mashing grapes and getting very drunk while filming a commercial for an alcohol-laced patent medicine called Vitameatavegamin.
Ball often credited the show’s writers for her success, and Mrs. Davis returned the compliment.
“The great thing about Lucy, besides her marvelous comic talent, was she would do anything you wrote. There was never that ego saying, ‘I don’t know. I won’t look good,’ ” Mrs. Davis told USA Today in 2001.
“We’d say, ‘Do you mind working with animals? Do you mind getting covered with clay? Do you mind letting someone slap chocolate in your face?’ ” Mrs. Davis said. “She never said no.”
Mrs. Davis said her favorite episodes included a 1952 show in which Lucy and Ethel land jobs in a chocolate factory, only to have the conveyor belt kick into overdrive.
Another episode, from 1955, centered on Lucy’s mortifying encounter with handsome Hollywood actor William Holden — he accidentally sets her fake nose on fire.