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Saturday marks what would have been Lucille Ball‘s 100th birthday.
The Hollywood Museum marks the occasion with a special exhibit running through Nov. 30. The actress’ centennial is also being commemorated on TV: Hallmark will broadcast 102 I Love Lucy episodes, ME-TV will air 100 episodes of various programs including The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and The Lucy Show, and TCM will show 14 of her films beginning on Saturday.
Ball died in April 1989. She was 77.
Here are 5 facts about her most successful series, I Love Lucy, which debuted on CBS in 1951:
1. Everything on I Love Lucy was scripted.
Despite what seemed like ad-libbing, Ball made sure each moment of the show was rehearsed and perfected. Ball said on the commentary of the 1991 Criterion laserdisc Criterion Television Classics: I Love Lucy, “Because Viv [Vivian Vance] and I believed, and because we knew what we were going to say and because we were thinking, we were listening to each other, and then reacting and then acting, it came out like may we’d made it up. We never ad-libbed. We never ad-libbed on the set when we were putting it together. It was there.”
2. Ball credited writers Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll Jr. for the success of the show.
Ball said (via Criterion Television Classics: I Love Lucy), “Many times when we would review at the beginning of the season, they would say Viv and I ad-libbed our way through some mediocre writing. They have since found out that that was ridiculous. They know how great our writers are because hundreds of people have copied from them. I have such respect for those kids, my writers I call ‘the kids,’ Bob and Madelyn.”
3. I Love Lucy was the first television comedy to use the three-camera format in front of a live studio audience.
Cinematographer Karl Freund developed a system for lighting the set from above so that production wouldn’t have to change lighting when camera angles switched. Christopher Anderson of the Museum of Broadcast Communications writes, “Although the technique was not generally used outside of [Ball’s production company] Desilu until the 1970s, it is now widely used throughout the television industry.”
4. I Love Lucy was more popular than President Dwight Eisenhower.
Eishenhower’s presidential inauguration drew 29 million viewers in January 20, 1953. The next day, 44 million viewers tuned in to watch Lucy give birth to little Ricky, accounting for 72% of all U.S. homes with TVs, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
5. The show broke racial and social barriers on television.
I Love Lucy was the first television series to show an interracial couple (Ball and husband Desi Arnaz). It also was the first to feature a pregnant woman playing a pregnant woman, but could not use the word “pregnant” on telecasts, according to the Lucy Desi Center. Additionally, Ball was the first woman to head a Hollywood studio, Desilu, which produced Star Trek, The Untouchables, My Three Sons, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and My Favorite Martian.
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