Lucille Ball's Daughter Reflects on 'I Love Lucy' Memories, Finding Own Place in Creative Arts
Newly colorized episodes of the 1950s sitcom are headed to nationwide cinemas Aug. 6, on what would have been Ball's birthday.
In recognition of Lucille Ball's prolific career on television and famed role as an endearing housewife and loyal friend on CBS sitcom I Love Lucy, Fathom Events is presenting newly colorized episodes in nationwide theaters on the late star's birthday, Aug. 6.
I Love Lucy: A Colorized Celebration will include five classic episodes of the CBS show that ran from 1951 to 1957 and also starred Ball's husband Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley. The episodes will be accompanied by a short feature called Red Head Tales — referring to Ball's hair color — which details the process used to create the colorization.
Ahead of the event, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with entertainer Lucie Arnaz — the daughter of Ball and Arnaz, who made her debut on Here's Lucy in 1968 and subsequently carved out a varied performance career in musical theater and acting — about childhood memories, her experience of I Love Lucy and finding her own place in the creative arts.
You’ve been a performer in your own right for many years now. How do you feel about connections to your mother and father now versus when you were growing up?
In a weird way, I guess I’ve always expected it, but truthfully, I don’t get a lot of them. I don’t know why that is. The only people who tend to connect me with them in that way are people on Facebook. I’ll say something or I’ll do something, and they’ll say, "Oh, just like your mom on such and such show…." But generally, in my professional career, very few times have I had to go head-to-head, and I think it's because I went in a different direction. I wasn’t on a television show doing comedy sitcoms for most of my life; I went into theater and music. Maybe that’s why I decided to switch it up a little bit.
Was there an expectation that you would enter the arts field?
When I was very young, like five or six, I was shy and afraid to get up in front of people. I think it was because I saw the power of what the two of them were, and it was intimidating when you don’t know if you have any talent. I don’t want to be that opening act, you know? But when I became about eight or nine years old, I had a little backyard group with my girlfriends and we would put on plays that we either made up or we would lip-sync to Broadway show albums and things. It was something I was passionate about, I would jump up on make-believe stages. Mom was very supportive of any of my brothers' and my passions; whatever it was, if he wanted to play the drums or piano then she would arrange lessons. She saw that I was having a good time doing that so she built a little stage in the backyard garage, with one light, so that we could do it better, and we would charge tickets to our neighbors.
Then, I picked a high school because it had one of the best drama departments, and I started doing shows and learning craft that way. When [Lucille] got ready to switch her television show up, she just popped the question. She said, "You know, we’ve done our show for six years, and syndication wise we could start another show and syndicate it, and I’m just thinking that perhaps you would like to play the child on the new series." I thought that was interesting, because she was giving me the opportunity if I wanted it, to continue the education in the direction I was going. At first I didn’t want to do it, but then I thought, as long as I don’t make a fool of myself, it’s probably great education. And it truly, truly was. But I don’t think either my mother or my father assumed I would go into this business at all and they never pushed us in that direction or told us it was a great thing to do. What we saw were two people who worked hard but were hardly ever home. We knew from the inside how hard this business could be. I had no fantasies about what working in show business would be, so it was my choice to go ahead and give it a shot.
How did your experience of your mother differ from how the public consumed her on television?
My mother was a very private person and so was my father, though he was more gregarious with people. He was Latin, everybody was "amigo'"and a best friend. He would sing at the drop of a hat even when he wasn’t being paid for it. My mother, when she was off-camera and home, she was home. She didn’t leap at the chance to get up and perform in front of people, like a lot of comedians and performers do. She liked her at-home time with family, she played games sort of as meditation and relaxation, Backgammon and Scrabble.
You were well into your performance career when Lucille died. Is there a memory you can recall where the two of you connected as peers and shared your experience?
It’s interesting because I started my professional career on the Here’s Lucy show. It was interesting to sort of be peers from the beginning, even though she was the star of the show, we were all actors trying to learn our lines and get the blocking right in four days and to perform in front of an audience. There’s a camaraderie there and we did feel like peers, especially after the first couple of years with Gail [Gordon] and some of the guest stars that would come on. Then, later on, she was very supportive of my work when she would come and see me in a Broadway show or touring around the country. I don’t think I ever got a note from her ever. I always felt like she was another actor friend, but one who really wasn’t a musical performer and she was sort of in awe that I decided to go and do that. She would say, "I don’t know how you do it," and that was a huge compliment coming from her.
There are many family values in I Love Lucy that have resulted in its timeless appeal. What do you most identify with from the show, that you’ve integrated into your own life?
Since I grew up with it and never knew anything else, I don’t know if I resonate with it the way other people do although I laugh at it for the same reasons: ordinary people getting into ordinary situations and trying to get out of them, while getting into trouble and somehow getting away with it and everybody still loves them in the end. If there’s anything I take away from the show in general, I think it’s the unconditional love. That’s the feeling [you get] when the show is over: Awww. It worked out OK, and that I can get in trouble too and maybe there’s somebody who will put their arms around me at the end of the day and say, "I still love you." I incorporate that into my life and I hope that’s the way I live my life. Also, to not take things very seriously. When you grow up as the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, you learn to see the humor in things. That’s important today.
What is your take on the newly colorized episodes?
I didn’t get as excited about it as everybody else, and I think there could be something in my brain that remembers what it looked like for real and so black-and-white or color doesn’t affect me really. I still appreciate black-and-white, and I kind of didn’t like the intrusion in the color, it took me out of it, but I’ve changed my mind a little bit because it seems to be attracting so much of the younger crowd who don’t like black-and-white. If that’s true, then that’s great. I do think it’s hilarious that Lucille has become ultra-famous on that show for being a redhead in a black-and-white show. It just proves that you didn’t need it to be color. But hey, it’s like a party — they spent an awful lot of money to do this well, and they did it really well. It’s more the idea, too, that they’re running it on the big screen. The fact that they’re having this event to celebrate mom’s birthday on Aug. 6 and they would put it all around the country — is fantastic.
How has your performance career been influenced by Lucille’s acting style?
I hope what I have taken from watching her for 68 years is the believability. If you don’t believe what you’re doing, nobody will believe it and it won’t be funny. People can write lots of funny stuff for you, but if you play it like you know how funny it is, it’s never funny. She believed what she did and she was the queen of doing that. There isn’t a fake moment in I Love Lucy. Not one. If you look at an example, maybe the Vitameatavegamin routine, there isn’t a false moment — she is in it from the beginning all the way through to the end. And it can be as exaggerated as she wanted it to be because she was totally connected to what she was doing and why. Not trying to get a laugh, trying to be in the situation. It’s a perfect example because she kept taking another tablespoon of the stuff, so it shows how the increments of this could get bigger and bigger and you actually watch it happen. She never got ahead of it — it’s kind of a wonderful metaphor for life: Be living in that first spoonful and then be living in the second spoonful and don’t be ahead of yourself. That’s what you learn from watching her.
What are you working on now?
I’m on the East Coast working on a mini summer tour of a concert I do called I Got the Job, launched from my musical past. It’s really the first time I’ve done a retrospective of the musicals I’ve been in. It’s fun because it’s a very authentic show because it’s really something I’ve done and not just songs I like singing. We’re also in the process of executive producing, along with Amazon, this story about my mom and my dad — Cate Blanchett is going to be in it and Aaron Sorkin wrote the script. I’m very excited about that.
Is there something that drives you to perform?
It’s kind of an inexplicable urge to get up there take on a character and try to make it believable — to me, that’s a fascinating challenge. When I do my cabaret and concerts, it’s basically the same thing only set to music. The lyrics have a story and I like telling stories to people.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.