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Lucille Ball, Jamestown, New York: Star Trekking
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[All events mentioned in this article are from the 2012 celebration. Check with the links below for the August 2016 schedule.]
"People with happy childhoods never overdo; they don't strive or exert themselves. They're moderate, pleasant, well-liked, and good citizens." That is, according to actress and television executive Lucille Ball.
But she wasn't describing herself.
As half of the duo that created the familiar I Love Lucy TV series in 1951, she wrote those words in her autobiography Love, Lucy. "But," Ball goes on to say, "the tremendous drive and dedication necessary to succeed in any field - not only show business - often seems to be rooted in a disturbed childhood. I wasn't an unloved or an unwanted child, but I was moved around a lot...I had a redheaded temper (though no red hair) in those days."
So I think we can thank the unsettled upbringing of the comedy queen for provoking "the tremendous drive and dedication" that has brought us joy to the point that we've experienced almost unbearable laughter.
We pretty much all love Lucy and all the 181 episodes that are still aired of the most enduring sitcom in TV history. And Lucy - despite the early loss of a cherished father, and the lack of money and frequently shifting households ever thereafter - loved the birthplace where she said, "I learned to live in my imagination and to step inside other people's skins..." So let's follow the comedic genius' roots to their source in Jamestown, NY for our fourth stop on the Star Trekking series of hometown tributes to classic Hollywood stars.
Lucy Fest: The Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy in Jamestown is HUGE. It has been in swing, in one form or another, since Lucille herself told the town in the late 80's that she would like an annual festival to perpetuate comedic arts as part of her legacy. This year it will be five days - August 1 thru August 5 - A Wednesday through a Sunday during which, in the words of one blogger, "The streets are shut down and an air of celebration fills the city..."
All events listed are ticketed except where denoted as free.
Some Highlights by Venue:
It's funny that the character Lucy Ricardo was star-stricken and always trying to break into the movie business because Lucille Ball, the creator of that character, was a beauty in dozens of Hollywood films before she and her husband Desi Arnaz started producing and starring in I Love Lucy. Desilu Studios is a must-see for any fan of the show. It houses exact reproductions of the sets of the Ricardo's New York apartment and the Beverly Palms Hotel suite where Lucy accidentally set her false nose on fire in front of screen idol William Holden and performed the mirror image pantomime with Harpo Marx. On the re-created "Vitameatavegamin" set you'll have the opportunity never to be "unpoopular" again if you choose to get into the action and perform the part of Lucy making the famous "commercial." Desilu also has costumes and other artifacts from the show and includes a radio set exhibit where visitors can listen to excerpts from My Favorite Husband, Lucille's radio program that evolved into I Love Lucy in the nascent days of television.
Desilu Studios is one facet of the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy. The Center is also the home of the Lucy Desi Museum where the duo's personal lives are displayed in memorabilia - like Ball's 1972 gold-colored Mercedes - and old exhibits are frequently swapped out for new ones to keep things fresh. The facilities are open not just during the festival but all year round and are introducing new audio tour guides during this year's Fest.
You will find there, too, the Tropicana Room - a reproduction of Ricky Ricardo's nightclub. The Room is open for private bookings and will serve designated meals with movie screenings during the Lucy Fest.
[All events mentioned in this article are from the 2012 celebration. Check with the links below for the Aug. 6 - Aug. 10, 2014 schedule.]
Some Highlights by Event:
There's a free Party on the Plaza of City Hall all day the first four days of the festival. There will be entertainment, a Lucy Costume Contest, something that is promised to be "the world's most comprehensive I Love Lucy Trivia Contest," and the Lucy World Games in which, for a $5 entry, visitors can compete in grape stomping, candy wrapping (we know where those activities came from, don't we?) and the like. The parties include live music, food, comedy and "spirits," by which I conclude they mean drink.
If you are interested in spirits of a different kind, there will be several Paranormal Investigations of the Lake View Cemetery, resting place of the Ball family and branches. Yes, Lucille did enter the world in August 1911 with the true, bouncy surname of "Ball." She exited in 1989. (There will be an electromagnetic "ghost hunt" on Thursday afternoon which is only for people 18 years of age and older!)
As to Lucy's given name, Elisabeth Edwards, a savvy staffer in the offices of Desi and Lucille's daughter Lucie Arnaz, says that there is, "no definitive answer," to the question of how Ball and the writers came to use her real first name for Lucy Ricardo. "No agenda," Edwards says. Lucille is Lucy; Lucy is Lucille. It's just something we take for granted.
Some Other Lucy Events (ticketed unless designated as free):
- Lucy Bus Tours, visiting local points of interest in Ball's life, each day of the festival except Sunday
- Lucy Under the Stars free outdoor screenings Friday & Saturday nights
- Lucy's Tea Party Sunday afternoon following a Summer Wind Cruise of her beloved Lake Chautauqua in the morning
But the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy has another raison d'etre:
In a videoed address, Journey Gunderson, the Center's executive director, explained, "We feel as though we've long fulfilled the part of our mission to preserve the legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. But we also know that their true intentions and hopes were for their legacy to live on in the form of living, breathing comedy - comedy that is as progressive and contemporary as they were."
Some of the comedy events that will live and breathe include a Comedy College seminar Friday afternoon where you can add your own breath to the exploration, on stage, of different types of comedy employed in Lucy's shows. (More seriously funny lectures and workshops will take place in the days leading up to the Fest; check with the links below.) Friday night brings Late Night Comedy in the Tropicana Room where comedians from around the nation will perform - and, I hear, it can get quite "blue" (blush!). Those performances will be followed by a sparkling cocktail reception hosted by Lucie Arnaz - a tax-deductible benefit for the Center at $100 a ticket. There will be a Story Pirates: Kid's Comedy Show on Saturday.
The big guns of the Lucy Comedy Fest will perform for your pleasure at Jamestown's Reg Lenna Civic Center Theater: Thursday night, well-known comedian Paula Poundstone; Friday night, a Stand-Up Showcase featuring Tammy Pescatelli, the Stand-Up Showdown winner, with Lucie Arnaz as "musical host"; and Saturday night, Billy Gardell, star of the CBS sitcom Mike & Molly.
Here's a couple of laughs (or gasps) in advance:
The New York City drama school Lucille attended when she tentatively left Jamestown at the age of 17 wrote to her mother at the end of her first term to say that her daughter was "too shy and reticent" to be an actress and that it would be a waste of money for the girl to continue!!! And, in her soggy days as a showgirl, Ball was fired many times while shows were still in unpaid rehearsal - one producer saying to her, "Forget it Two-Gun. You're a nice kid but you just don't have it. Why don't you go home...and raise a big family?" (So when they tell you you're just not good enough, you probably shouldn't listen. Lucy didn't.)
As to the I Love Lucy legacy, I suppose "Vitameatavegamin" has always been my favorite episode. But I also have a wild fondness for "Ricky Loses His Temper" - a lesser-known segment in which a little pearl-encrusted cocktail hat in a millinery shop makes a budget-constrained Lucy's legs turn to lead. It typifies for me the way many women - myself included, I freely admit - feel about shopping.
What's your favorite I Love Lucy episode and what makes it so dear? Do you see yourself reflected in it or is it just plain drop-dead funny?
For detailed information about the Lucy Fest and year-round Lucy attractions, directions and accommodations; or for info on the comedic arts education program at the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy, check with these websites: