The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Lucille Ball’s hometown, ‘Scary Lucy’ haunts her memory

A bronze sculpture of Lucille Ball is displayed in Lucille Ball Memorial Park in the village of Celoron, N.Y., in her hometown. (Post-Journal via AP)

It’s described as a “scary” sight at night — a 400-pound bronze sculpture of Lucille Ball, greeting residents with zombie-esque eyes and a deranged, toothy grin. The statue, which sits in a memorial park in her hometown of Celoron, N.Y., has provoked protest and prompted its sculptor to agree to redo it.

“I take full responsibility for ‘Scary Lucy’ though by no means was that my intent or did I wish to disparage in any way the memories of the iconic Lucy image,” sculptor Dave Poulin told the Hollywood Reporter this week in a letter. “Yes, in retrospect, it should have never been cast in bronze and made public, and I take complete ownership of that poor decision,” he added. He said he will do a new one for free.

The statue was unveiled in 2009 at the Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron, depicting the famous Vitameatavegamin scene from the 1950s’ classic TV show “I Love Lucy.” Since then, critics have argued the likeness looks nothing like the comedienne at all, instead comparing it to Conway Twitty, the snake in “Beetlejuice,” actor Steve Buscemi or an extra from “The Walking Dead.” In 2012, a Facebook group called “We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue” was created to petition for the statue’s replacement.

“I think it looks like a monster. That’s just my opinion,” the Facebook group’s founder, a Jamestown man who asked to remain unnamed, told Yahoo News. “When you see it at night, it is frightening.”

Indeed, for some the sculpture is more of an insult to Ball, who was born in Jamestown, a western New York city that shares its border with Celoron, where she lived with her mother as a small child. Buffalo News art critic

“Despite the fact that the statue bears almost no resemblance to its subject — despite the fact that its deranged grimace and jagged teeth inspire more dread than reverence — tour buses still stop at the park. People still pose for pictures with their arm around Lucy,” he wrote in a column over the weekend. “And Celoron residents are still proud of their village’s role in the life of the First Lady of Comedy, even if some of them privately wish that the statue commemorating her would be struck by lightning.”

The creepy cast has been a local conversation piece for years, but it grabbed national attention late last week when Jamestown’s Post-Journal reported on a community desperate to raise funds to fix it.

The sculptor, Poulin, has created more than 120 commissioned public sculptures, including many public collections in Jamestown such as a Veterans War memorial and a monument to the Underground Railroad. His work is “life size and cast bronze,” according to his Web site.

Poulin said he started the statue several years ago as a “private endeavor” for two people who had supported him early in his career. The couple then donated it for the memorial park.

“I understand if the community is upset and had suggested years ago they remove the sculpture so as not to continue to anger people,” he wrote. “It puzzles me when an art work is donated to a community, they accept it, and then get angry and insist you redo the art work at your own expense. To create a life-size bronze is a very time consuming and expensive endeavor.

“I am willing to put my time and money into redoing the Lucy sculpture and feel confident after ten years I can do a much better job. I only wish I moved more quickly in making the situation right.”

[Somebody installed a bust of Edward Snowden in a Brooklyn park]

Celoron Mayor Scott Schrecengost told the Post-Journal he has spoken with Poulin over the years about redoing the statue but the artist wanted $8,000 to $10,000. He said he got other estimates of about $5,000, though the price was still too steep from the small community, and he didn’t want to tap into taxpayer funds. “We’d like to work with the original sculptor, and wish he would stand behind his work enough to step up and fix it for free,” he said.

Over the weekend, the story hit a national audience. Columnists wrote about it. Critics complained about it. And artists started splicing the statue’s head onto old stills from the “I Love Lucy” show and posting them online for laughs.

The town “has been talking about chopping the head off this statue and putting on a new head,” the Facebook group’s creator said in a post. “That would turn this monster into a true Frankenstein! You can see that even with a new face … and even if they get the face right … the body is as horrible.”

On Monday, Poulin wrote a letter to the Hollywood Reporter, saying he had just returned home after spending time with his family and was “a bit surprised to the extent of all the news” pertaining to his Lucille Ball sculpture.

“Unfortunately, at the point in my life when I created the Lucille Ball sculpture, now over ten years ago, I came up short, and was not able to rise to the challenge,” he wrote. “Over the years, I have felt blessed to have inspired and touched the lives of thousands of people who do enjoy my other works, and am heartsick at the feelings that have been evoked as a result of the Celeron [sic] Lucy.”

Poulin said he will be contacting the Celoron community and offer to remove the old statue and replace it with a new one that honors America’s “first lady of comedy.”