WEIRDLAND: Merry Christmas with Lucille Ball & Jerry Lewis

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Merry Christmas with Lucille Ball & Jerry Lewis


Despite his grudging acceptance of the role of Seymour, Jerry Lewis was brilliant in "My Friend Irma" (1949) directed by George Marshall. In December 1948, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin made a NBC radio show. Lucille Ball was their guest, singing “The Money Song” with them, and Jerry ended the show by stepping out of character to thank the audience and make a plea for the March of Dimes—his first recorded charity pitch. The NBC radio show did, in fact, include a routine from My Friend Irma almost verbatim—but the ratings foundered and the network had trouble finding a sponsor. However, Martin & Lewis were a success on their debut film My Friend Irma. Crediting the “comedy know-how” of George Marshall, Variety described Martin and Lewis as “a team that has decided film possibilities if backed with the right material and used properly.” Lewis, the review said, “will rate loud guffaws for his mugging.” Dean, however, it noted, “needs to tone down nitery mannerisms for films.” 


Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Christmas Show, on December 5, 1949. My Friend Irma had been released on September 28, 1949.


I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, a new one-hour special featuring two back-to-back colorized episodes of the classic series, will be rebroadcast Sunday, Dec. 24 (8:00-9:01 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL features "The Christmas Episode" and the newly colorized "The Fashion Show." Both were colorized with a nod to the 1950s period in which they were filmed. The main titles and end credits are seamlessly combined into one set at the beginning and end of the hour, with no interruption between the episodes.


"The Christmas Episode" was first broadcast on CBS on Christmas Eve, 1956. The episode was not included in the series' long history of rebroadcasts, first on CBS Daytime and later in syndication. Long thought to be lost, the program was rediscovered by CBS in 1989. In "The Fashion Show," Lucy convinces Ricky to allow her to spend up to $100 on a dress at the fashionable Don Loper Salon in Beverly Hills. However, when an opportunity arises for Lucy to participate in a Loper fashion show featuring glamorous movie star wives, Lucy winds up spending five times that! Lucy hopes that if she gets a mild sunburn, Ricky will feel sorry for her and forgive her for spending so much, though, as always, she goes a bit too far!


"The Fashion Show" was originally broadcast Feb. 28, 1955, and became an immediate favorite not only of viewers, but of Lucille Ball herself. The episode features a few of her real-life personal friends: Mrs. Gordon MacRae, Mrs. William Holden, Mrs. Van Heflin, Mrs. Forrest Tucker and Don Loper himself. "I Love Lucy" Christmas specials have aired on the Network the past four years, each combining the holiday-themed episode with a different comedy classic. Beginning in 2015, "The Christmas Episode" has been shown colorized in its entirety, with fully-colorized flashback scenes. "I Love Lucy" was broadcast on the Network from Oct. 15, 1951 through June 23, 1957. It was voted "The Best TV Show of All Time" in a 2012 viewer poll conducted by People magazine and ABC News. "I Love Lucy" stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Vivian Vance and William Frawley as the Ricardos' friends and landlords, Ethel and Fred Mertz. Source: www.broadwayworld.com

One of the most important things that Lucille Ball showed was that women could be funny and attractive all at once—a groundbreaking concept for the day. This was particularly admirable given that Lucy was beautiful enough to be a conventional film star, and, in fact had become a Hollywood movie sensation as ‘Queen of the B-Movies.’ But she shrugged off the persona of a cool beauty, instead reveling in the chance to get a laugh. She was never afraid to look foolish, silly, or even ugly for the sake of a good gag and her public loved her for it. By proving this formula, she paved the way for generations of funny women to come. Think of Carol Burnett, Roseanne, Gilda Radner, Candice Bergen and Joan Rivers—they all owe at least a part of their success to the amazing Lucy. Molly Haskell, one of the most prominent and discerning critics of popular culture, had her say in a piece entitled “50 Years and Millions of Reruns Later, Why Does America Still Love Lucy?” To Haskell, the answer lay in Ball’s subversive approach.

“Although the Lucy persona would disavow any connection with feminism,” the author asserts, “in her own foot-in-mouth way, she cuts a wide swath through male supremacy, saying anything that comes into her head and taking down sacred cows and chauvinist bulls along the way. Trying to say ‘thank you’ to Ricky’s pompous Cuban uncle, and garbling her Spanish, she calls him a fat pig before accidentally (?) shredding his foot-long, hand-rolled cigar—symbol of Lucy’s assault on puffed-up male potency.” Lucy may surrender at the final clinch, but she is no surrendered wife. Molly Haskell’s affectionate tone was amplified by another pop culture critic. Writing in the New York Times, Joyce Millman argued that Lucy “waged an unspoken battle against Ricky’s attitude of male superiority—you could feel her sense of injustice burning behind every scheme.” How did I Love Lucy become television’s most popular sitcom in a deeply conservative era? “It did not violate viewers’ comfort zones, particularly female viewers’ comfort zones. If Ball had been too forthright, she might have turned women away from the show.”

So Ball couched her characters’ bold ambitions in peerless physical comedy. She looked silly and unglamorous. And as a clown, Ball was a radical, powerful figure; it was as if she was daring you to think it was unseemly for a woman to put on a putty nose or a fright wig and throw herself into a joke with body and soul. (Decades later, physical comedians like Lily Tomlin and Gilda Radner finished what Ball started, turning chaotic energy into a feminist statement). Statements like these would have astonished Lucy, who had gone public with her view of the Movement: “Women’s lib? It doesn’t interest me one bit. I’ve been so liberated it hurts.” In High Anxiety: Catastrophe, Scandal, Age, and Comedy (1992), University of Wisconsin history professor Patricia Mellencamp uses Lucy to underscore her investigations of 1950s America: “When it comes to money, there are two kinds of people: the earners and the spenders. Or more popularly known, husbands and wives.” To Mellencamp, “this ‘ethos of gender’ recognizes a key facet of postwar ideology, a cluster of ideals and expectations at the crossroads of mainstream representatives of gender roles, marriage, domesticity, and consumerism.”

Every week for seven years, she reminds us, “Lucy, the chorus girl/clown, complained that Ricky was preventing her from becoming a star. For twenty-four minutes, she valiantly tried to escape domesticity by getting a job in show business. After a tour de force performance of physical comedy, in the inevitable reversal and failure of the end, she was resigned to stay happily at home serving big and little Ricky. The ultimate ‘creation/cancellation’—the series’ premise, which was portrayed in brilliant performances and then denied weekly—was that Lucy was not star material.” In one celebrated episode (“The Ballet”), Lucy throws a pie in Ricky’s face during his solo at the Tropicana.

In large measure the praise of I Love Lucy is due to Lucille Ball's talent and grit. She was not only funnier than anyone else on TV; she was also more beautiful—a matchless combination. But there is another component in the mix—Lucille Ball was a festival of contradictions: a woman who yearned for her own family and didn’t know how to relate to her children; a demanding wife; a cold-eyed, exacting businesswoman who made others cry—and then retreated into tears when her authority was questioned.

Jerry Lewis was once quoted as saying about female comedians: “a woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me, but sets me back a bit.” In 2014 Lewis clarified he thought women were funny, but not as crude standup comics. "Seeing a woman project the kind of aggression that you have to project as a comic just rubs me wrong. And they're funny—I mean you got some very funny people that do beautiful work but I have a problem with the lady up there that's going to give birth to a child—which is a miracle." And Lewis called Lucille Ball "brilliant." In many ways, Lucille Ball was the female equivalent of Jerry Lewis, both having reached the peak of their popularity during the 1950s. —"Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball" (2007) by Stefan Kanfer

How about Lucille Ball's reputation as one of the wealthiest women in Hollywood? Unamused, her voice boomed out loud and clear. “For God’s sake, are you dumb, I haven’t seen a paycheck in 20-some years. I know what I owe. Nobody in Hollywood has any money with our taxes. It’s a lot of crap to say I’m a business tycoon and such,” Lucy emoted on, with a straight face, though she had sold her Desilu production company for $17 million and is the Hank Aaron of TV residuals. “The only people who have big money are some little old ladies in Boston or some Maharaji Cuckoo in Arabia—that’s real money. We all have jobs, not money. I have great credit, that’s my real credential as a businesswoman. The better the year, the more I have to borrow. That’s one reason Cary Grant quit the picture business.” Source: people.com

Film Tribute to Jerry Lewis at the MIC (Interactive Museum of Cinema) in Milan, Italy (Viale Fulvio Testi 121), scheduled from 12-23 December 2017. The ticket cost for admission is 6,50 € (7,64 $).

Tuesday, 19 December, 5:00 PM: The Nutty Professor (1963)
To improve his social life, a nerdish professor drinks a potion that temporarily turns him into the handsome, but obnoxious, Buddy Love. Jerry Lewis directed, co-wrote and starred in this riotously funny movie that set a new standard for screen comedy. Co-starring Stella Stevens as his love interest Stella Purdy.

Thursday, 21 December, 5:00 PM: The Patsy (1964)
When a star comedian dies, his comedy team, decides to train a nobody to fill the shoes of the Star in a big TV show (a Patsy). But the man they choose, bellboy Stanley Belt (Lewis) cant do anything right. The big TV show is getting closer and Stanley gets worse all the time. Source: www.milanoweekend.it

"I look closely at the world. I see it as it is, but I'm twisting it to make it funny." —Jerry Lewis

Hampton Fancher (screenwriter of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049) remembers Jerry Lewis as an egocentric sentimentalist, describing the person he met as "this guy who has everything, except he doesn't have enough. I kind of liked him. When you see him in person, he was actually a handsome guy. He's got beauty in his face. He's a serious guy. Takes himself very seriously. Not a funny guy. I met a lot of comedians: Jack Benny, Buddy Hackett... Funny people who socially were quite the opposite. Anyway, Jerry Lewis was the opposite and also very sad and not about any particular thing. I could see that he was the classic Chaplin City Lights kind of thing. He was alone and he doesn't want to be alone. He said to me, when the shoot for the movie (Romeo und Julia 70) was finished: 'You want to stay? I can get you back to L.A.' I was sorry I didn't stay. I felt that kind of sentimental guilt. I was too interested in my own future and I was not happy with him."

"I felt for him. In his persona there is a neediness, in almost all of his roles. Maybe his only roots were his own myths about himself. When I heard that he died, I thought of three scenes from his films that stuck in my head. The first one is of him working in a hospital: The Disorderly Orderly (1964). He is walking on the grounds and while patients tell him of their ills, he is physically feeling everything they tell him about. I always thought that awareness was great. I could identify with that. Someone tells you how they cut their finger - it goes right through your own body. These scenes are a fantastic exploration of empathy." On Jerry Lewis in The Disorderly Orderly car chase scene Fancher says: "He doesn't even have a stuntman doing it, he is doing it himself. And who comes down on a gurney down the hill? It's Jerry."

"I did have another connection. My girlfriend was one of his best friends. Joan Blackman, she was under contract by Hal B. Wallis, same guy Jerry was under contract at Paramount. And she did Visit To A Small Planet [1960] with Jerry and they became good friends. He was very generous. He gave her and her husband at the time all kinds of things. He was very kind to them. He helped them a lot in their careers. My second scene: Jerry plays a magician and, appropriately, has a pet rabbit who likes to slide on his belly down the handrail of the staircase—so much, the rabbit's belly is all red and smoke comes off it. The rabbit at one point wears sunglasses and has a drink."

I haven't seen this one [The Geisha Boy, 1958] in a very long time. Maybe that's why they like him in France because he has some surrealistic imagination and does crazy things that nobody does. And the third scene is with Dean Martin (You're Never Too Young, 1955) and takes place in a boarding school where he pretends to be a child but he is really a grown up. He is wearing shorts and is doing a musical number, military inspired, with a group of girl students there. R.W. Fassbinder used this scene in his In a Year with 13 Moons [1978]. Source: www.eyeforfilm.co.uk

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