On this date in 1951 I Love Lucy, starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, aired on CBS in the U.S. for the first time. The black-and-white series originally ran from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957. After the series ended in 1957, however, a modified version continued for three more seasons with 13 one-hour specials, running from 1957 to 1960, known first as The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show and later in reruns as The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour. The show, which was the first scripted television program to be shot on 35 mm film in front of a studio audience, won five Emmy Awards and received numerous nominations. It also won a Peabody Award for “recognition of distinguished achievement in television.”
I Love Lucy was the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings (an accomplishment later matched only by The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998) . The show is still syndicated in dozens of languages across the world, and remains popular, with a U.S. audience of 40 million each year. A colorized version of its Christmas episode attracted more than eight million viewers when CBS aired it in prime time in 2013 – 62 years after the show premiered. A second colorized special, featuring the “L.A. At Last!” and “Lucy and Superman” episodes, aired on May 17, 2015, attracting 6.4 million viewers. I Love Lucy is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. In 2012, it was voted the ‘Best TV Show of All Time’ in a survey conducted by ABC News and People Magazine.
I am not old enough to have seen the show when it originally aired and, besides, there was no television in South Australia in the early 1950s. But I did see the earliest shows starting around 1960 when they were shown in Australia. They were a favorite in my house for several years when Australian-made television shows were cheaply produced and of rather poor quality. The great bulk of nightly viewing, which ran from about 4:30 pm to 11 pm (longer on Saturdays and Sundays), came from the U.S. and the U.K. – mostly the U.S. So I feel as if I was part of the early days of I Love Lucy. In runs of the shows in the early 1960s they still felt current even though they were 10 years old. Nowadays, of course, they are more like period pieces. I loved the show as a boy, but it lost its luster for me decades ago. I’m not a fan of sight gags, nor much for situation comedies as such. Maybe I’m just too much of a realist to accept ludicrous premises.
Television executives had been pursuing Ball to adapt her very popular radio series My Favorite Husband for television. Ball insisted on Arnaz playing her on-air spouse so the two would be able to spend more time together. The original premise was for the couple to portray Lucy and Larry Lopez, a successful show business couple whose glamorous careers interfered with their efforts to maintain a normal marriage. Market research indicated, however, that this scenario would not be popular, so Jess Oppenheimer changed it to make Ricky Ricardo a struggling young orchestra leader and Lucy an ordinary housewife who had show business fantasies but no talent. The character name “Larry Lopez” was dropped because there was at the time a real-life bandleader named Vincent Lopez, and was replaced with “Ricky Ricardo”. Ricky would often appear at, and later own, the Tropicana Club which, under his ownership, he renamed Club Babalu.
Initially, the idea of having Ball and the distinctly Latino Arnaz portray a married couple encountered resistance as they were told that Desi’s Cuban accent and Latin style would not be agreeable to American viewers. The couple overcame these objections, however, by touring together, during the summer of 1950, in a live vaudeville act they developed with the help of Spanish clown Pepito Pérez, together with Ball’s radio show writers. Much of the material from their vaudeville act, including Lucy’s memorable seal routine, was used in the pilot episode of I Love Lucy. Segments of the pilot were recreated in the sixth episode of the show’s first season. Desilu Productions
Ball and Arnaz founded Desilu Productions. At that time, most television programs were broadcast live, and as the largest markets were in New York, the rest of the country received only kinescope images. Karl Freund, Arnaz’s cameraman, and even Arnaz himself have been credited with the development of the multiple-camera setup production style using adjacent sets in front of a live audience that became the standard for subsequent situation comedies. The use of film enabled every station around the country to broadcast high-quality images of the show. Arnaz was told that it would be impossible to allow an audience on to a sound stage, but he worked with Freund to design a set that would accommodate an audience, allow filming, and also adhere to fire and safety codes.
Network executives considered the use of film an unnecessary extravagance. Ball and Arnaz convinced them to allow Desilu to cover all additional costs associated with filming, under the stipulation that Desilu owned and controlled all rights to the film, a decision CBS later regretted because of the show’s endless profit in syndication. The couple also pushed the network to allow them to show Ball while she was pregnant. According to Arnaz, the CBS network told him that it would be wrong to show a pregnant woman on television or even use the word “pregnant.” Arnaz consulted a priest, a rabbi, and a Protestant minister, all of whom told him that there would be nothing wrong with showing a pregnant Lucy or with using the word “pregnant.” The network finally relented and let Arnaz and Ball weave the pregnancy into the story line, but remained adamant about avoiding use of “pregnant,” so Arnaz substituted “expecting,” pronouncing it ‘spectin’ in his Cuban accent. Oddly, the official titles of two of the series’ episodes employed the word “pregnant”: “Lucy Is Enceinte”, employing the French word for “pregnant,” and “Pregnant Women Are Unpredictable”, although the episode titles never appeared on the show itself.
Arnaz and Ball decided that the show would maintain what Arnaz termed “basic good taste” and were therefore determined to avoid ethnic jokes as well as humor based on physical handicaps or mental disabilities. Arnaz recalled that the only exception consisted of making fun of Ricky Ricardo’s accent; even these jokes worked only when Lucy, as his wife, did the mimicking. Over the show’s nine-year run, the fortunes of the Ricardos mirror that of the archetypal 1950s American Dream. At first, they lived in a tiny, if pleasant, brownstone apartment. Later, Ricardo got his big chance and the couple moved, temporarily, to a fashionable hotel suite in Hollywood. Shortly after returning to New York, they had the opportunity to travel to Europe. Finally, they moved into a house in Westport, Connecticut.
The original Desilu company continued long after Arnaz’s divorce from Ball and her remarriage to Gary Morton. Desilu produced its own programs and provided facilities to other producers. Desilu produced The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, Mission: Impossible, and Star Trek.
There is an “I Love Lucy” Cookbook which I have not seen. I gather that many, if not most, of the recipes are Cuban. This one for a Cuban version of arroz con pollo is taken from http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/arroz-con-pollo-108483 I have no idea of the provenance of the recipe itself, but it looks all right. Quite different from the Argentine dish — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/che-guevara/
I Love Lucy Arroz con Pollo
3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (3 1/2- to 4-lb) chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 lb onions, chopped (2 1/2 cups)
2 green bell peppers, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 (14- to 15-oz) can diced tomatoes, including juice
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (12 fl oz)
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups long-grain white rice (3/4 lb)
1 cup frozen baby peas (not thawed; 5 oz)
1/2 cup small or medium pimiento-stuffed green olives (2 oz), rinsed
1/4 cup drained chopped bottled pimientos (2 oz), rinsed
Special equipment: a wide 6- to 7-qt heavy pot (about 12 inches in diameter and 4 inches deep)
Purée garlic, orange juice, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a blender until smooth. Put chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour purée over them, turning to coat. Marinate chicken, covered and chilled, turning occasionally, 1 hour.
Transfer chicken, letting excess marinade drip back into bowl, to paper towels, then pat dry. Reserve marinade.
Heat oil and butter in 6- to 7-quart pot over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then brown chicken in 2 or 3 batches, without crowding, turning occasionally, about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer chicken as browned to a plate, reserving fat in pot.
Prepare rice and bake arroz con pollo:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350°F.
Sauté onions, bell peppers, and garlic in fat in pot over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally and scraping up brown bits from chicken, until vegetables are softened, 6 to 8 minutes.
While vegetables cook, heat saffron in a dry small skillet over low heat, shaking skillet, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine and bring to a simmer, then remove from heat.
Add cumin and salt to vegetables and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in saffron mixture, bay leaf, tomatoes (including juice), broth, water, and reserved marinade and bring to a boil.
Add all chicken except breast pieces, skin sides up, and gently simmer, covered, over low heat 10 minutes. Stir in rice, then add breast pieces, skin sides up, and arrange chicken in 1 layer. Return to a simmer.
Cover pot tightly, then transfer to oven and bake until rice is tender and most of liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Scatter peas, olives, and pimientos over rice and chicken (do not stir) and let stand, pot covered with a kitchen towel, until peas are heated through and any remaining liquid is absorbed by rice, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf.