Lucie Arnaz on Growing Up with Lucy

A 60th-anniversary "I Love Lucy" DVD brings back family and career memories.

By Susan Toepfer
Lucille Ball with children
Lucille Ball with Lucie and Desi Jr.
Photograph: Courtesy Lucille Ball Productions/Desilu,too, LLC

 

Sixty years after I Love Lucy premiered, the show appears as fresh and endearing as Lucy Ricardo’s nonstop attempts to take center stage. With a new 14-episode DVD, The Best of “I Love Lucy” ($14.99), available at Target and Target.com, More caught up with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s daughter, actress-singer-producer Lucie Arnaz, to talk about the series and her family memories.

More: Whose idea was it to put together a 60th-anniversary collection?

Lucie Arnaz: I have no idea. It’s all CBS—they own I love Lucy. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions, that my parents owned these shows. It’s hard to explain—I’ve tried, but nobody’s that interested, except me, because it would be worth about $400 million. But my mother and dad sold the rights in 1957.

My parents originally decided to own the rights because when they were filming the pilot, CBS wouldn’t spit up an extra $5,000 to do a live show with three cameras [a technique the couple pioneered]. So they said they would pay for it—and $5,000 was a lot then; you could buy a house with it—but in exchange they would like to own the film.

At that point, they thought it would be like home movies for their kids. Nobody knew about reruns, syndication, DVD sales. So when Mother and Dad wanted to buy RKO studio, which seemed a good idea at the time, they sold all the Lucy rights to CBS. My father was smart, though. He didn’t sell the rights to my mother’s image. Anyone who wants to use a photo has to get permission or pay a fee.

I did hear through the grapevine that CBS wanted to do something to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the show, but that’s all. For the 50th, my brother Desi and I did a special. It was scheduled to air November 15, 2001. Then 9/11 happened, and we thought, Oh my God, who’s going to want to watch a comedy? But it turned out to be such a healing thing. Spiritually, it was almost as if I Love Lucy went into production in 1951 to present a goldmine of laughter 50 years later.

More: The show certainly represents the American dream, what we’ve come to think of as maybe our happiest time. What are your favorite episodes?

L.A.: I get asked so often, you’d think I’d have them tattooed on me! One time a woman asked, and I just said, “Number 92.” I have no idea. There are so many good episodes. The ones people always mention are truly hysterical, historically hysterical—you tell me.

More: The vitamin commercial, the grape stomping and the candy factory.

L.A.: Exactly. But if you asked my mother, her favorites were the one where she tells Ricky she’s going to have a baby and the gypsy one. She loved to get dressed up in costume, and of course the other one was sentimental.

More: Are you surprised by how well the show has held up?

L.A. It astounds me. It’s 60 years and counting, and the show has never been off the air. There are now four generations of people who bring kids up—first to my mother and dad, now to me. I save the letters. At one point I thought they would make a good book, except it would be redundant. So many people have so many detailed stories of how this particular show affected their home life.

More: What do you think made Lucy unique?

L.A. That’s the question of the century. I think it was a gift from God. I also always honor the writing. I Love Lucy had the best writers ever. And all four—Lucy, Desi, William Frawley, Vivian Vance—were such good actors. My father was not a great actor, but he was trained to take it from his heart.

First Published June 20, 2011

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