I Love Lucy has always been amusing to watch, but delivering a daily dose of laughter to its fandom wasn’t always easy. Cast members had to go through some quite challenging moments. Here are 40 unbelievable secrets and behind the scenes stories from I Love Lucy.
It wasn’t all glitz and glamour behind the scenes, and the brawl between Ethel and Fred was from time to time simply uncontrollable.
William Frawley (Fred Mertz) and Vivian Vance (Ethel Mertz) had remarkable on-screen chemistry. However, there was an issue with the age gap between them. Vance was 22 years younger than Frawley and would often be caught talking loudly and irritatingly about how no fan would believe that they were indeed married. Frawley also had a few bitter words for the on-screen spouse.
Arnaz and the height advantage
Arnaz’s height was typically listed 5’11” in most of his official biographies. The reality is that the actor-musician was actually 5’9, and there is a funny story behind this discrepancy.
Owing to his Latin American pride, Arnaz demanded that he appear taller than his wife on-screen. He wore shoes with lifts and also had the family love seat layered with extra cushions to give him the extra height advantage, all that for Desi to be taller than Lucy.
The show included bloopers
Unlike most of today’s comedy shows, I Love Lucy didn’t use any laugh tracks. Instead, an audience of 300 people had to be present during filming. Every laugh and sentiment in the show is authentic.
While this is a great fact, it meant that directors had to be hesitant when it came to reshooting scenes to correct mistakes. As a result, most of the show came with bloopers that eventually turned I Love Lucy into the iconic sitcom it is.
A bun in the oven
Ball discovered she was pregnant during the second season. Though people were happy for her off screen, directors went into a panic. At the time, no show had ever included a pregnant woman in their scenes.
CBS eventually permitted the inclusion of scenes with the pregnant lady. To ensure that this would not rub people the wrong way, a priest, a minister and a rabbi had to be present during filming. Also, the show rarely used the word ‘pregnant’. Instead, they used the euphemistic phrase “expecting.”
Fans had some baby fever
The belief that including a pregnancy in the plot would be a bad idea was false. In fact, the pregnancy, and later on the birth of Lucy’s child, proved to be a win for the network. It provided a relatable plot twist to a fandom that had not watched shows that had dealt with such issues as pregnancy and childbirth.
In fact, the childbirth episode was watched by 44 million people, which was over 72% of American households that owned a TV set. Perhaps, the audience craved a relatable plot.
Lucy almost drowned
The grape brawl scene was traumatic to all the cast members involved. If you do not remember the scene, it involved a fight between Lucy and another actress, who was supposed to hold her head under grape mush during the scene.
Sadly, the other actress did not understand English, and she held Ball in the mush for too long. The star almost drowned in the process. Everything you see in the episode was actually true.
Arnaz never forgot his lines
Arnaz had more talents in his bag than just acting. He boasted a photographic memory. In fact, he managed to memorize most of his remarkable lines and scenes by reading through them only once.
In most cases, it takes an actor a couple of hours to practice their lines and perfect them. The fact that the show was to be performed in front of a live audience meant that the cast would indeed need more practice to avoid forgetting their lines out of anxiety. For Arnaz, this was not something he had to worry about. He never missed a single line.
William Frawley had trouble remembering his lines
William, who acted as Fred throughout the sitcom, had trouble remembering his lines. He would take a long time to memorize his lines only for them to escape him during both practice sessions and a few episodes.
This was so frustrating for him that he once ripped off script pages out of anger. He just might be the first actor to ever get angry at getting a lot of lines and at the same time failing to recall them.
Lucille had a late start
I Love Lucy first aired in 1951. By that time, Lucille was already 41 years old – old enough to have gone through an entire acting career. Sure, she had minor roles in some films, but she didn’t get her big break until her iconic role in I Love Lucy.
While this might not be an anomaly in Hollywood today, it was certainly a rarity at the time. It was a dream come true for her, and it changed her life, and ours.
There were awards for every applause
Throughout the show, hearing applause from the audience was quite common. It happened when the acting was remarkable, when jokes were particularly funny, and when scenes touched the audience’s heart.
It might surprise you to learn that the cast was actually paid to get applause. For every applause that a member of the cast got, there was a reward of a silver dollar. Cast members often had to keep track of their earnings per applause on a chart in the studio. Who do you think earned the most?
Rated better than the President’s inauguration
By the third season, I Love Lucy had found its way into the heart of America, and kept on garnering even more viewership by the day. It had rating wars with other shows and networks, but none was as unlikely as the President’s televised inauguration.
During the 1953 swearing in of Ike Eisenhower, 67.7% of TV-owning Americans were glued to the screens to witness the historic moment. The previous night, 71% had tuned in to view an I Love Lucy episode.
Lucille became a magazine queen
The national TV guide had its first issue released in 1953. In turn, it went out to become a pop culture staple with high acceptance rates all over the country. Lucille was among the key media personalities that were featured in the magazine in multiple issues.
Her child, Desi’s baby, also shared in on the fun. She boasted a total of 39 features with the magazine, all having her on the cover. In an interesting way, she acted as the show’s brand ambassador.
Mother came to watch
You may have noticed a distinctive ‘uh-oh’ sound coming from the audience. It would typically come up whenever Lucy got into her outlandish antics. While a lot of people see this sound as synonymous to the TV show, few people actually know that it was produced by Lucille’s mom.
Throughout the filming of the show, Dede Ball often sat in the audience and uttered these words. This motivated Ball throughout her professional career. She was happy to see her mother in the audience, to feel her supportive presence.
Lucille wanted all the fame to herself
By the end of the Sitcom, Ball and Vivian Vance were the closest of friends, but this wasn’t always the case. Lucille frowned at the idea of starring close to another attractive actress. In turn, it was reported that she continually demanded that Ethel Mertz wear less flattering makeup and costumes.
For her specific role, Ethel was also required to gain some weight. Fortunately, the feud ended after three years of working alongside each other as these foes turned into friends.
Holding on to the title
A 2012 survey by People Magazine and ABC news set out to identify the best show of all time among avid TV viewers. I love Lucy managed to hold on to the title. Years after the end of production, it seemed that the show kept touching the hearts of its loyal fans, turning it into a cultural icon.
While it was still airing, the show gathered numerous awards, including 5 Primetime Emmy Awards. It also had the most viewership numbers compared to other shows of its time. Out of the six years it ran, it was the best show in four.
In real life, Lucy and Ricky had tied the knot. In fact, Lucille had demanded that she would only star in the show as long as her husband was included in it.
While their on-screen marriage was among the fans’ favorite acts, their off-screen marriage had some thorns. Desi (Arnaz) was often sited with other women, and had cheated on Lucille several times. Despite the rough times, they made it work.
The shock of divorce
Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were an iconic couple on set, but their off-set woes soon led to their divorce. The couple made the acquaintance of each other on the Broadway set of Too Many Girls.
It was instant love, and the two love birds got married a year afterwards. 20 years later, Ball filed for divorce, owing to the challenging aspects of the marriage. Despite the sour break up, the two remained close friends.
Desi’s temper tantrums
It seems that Desi’s cheating nature was not the only thing Lucille had to put up with. She also had to deal with his irritability. Desi had an extremely hot temper. He easily got angry, and was often triggered by the slightest of provocations.
She claimed she held on to their marriage for as long as she could, until she couldn’t take it any longer. After the divorce, and until he passed away, Desi claimed he loved her more than anything in the world.
A diehard fan
Diehard fans can do anything to show support for their team. Well, William Frawley was a diehard baseball fan. In fact, his contract included a clause that allowed him to miss part of the filming sessions so that he could support his favorite team, the New York Yankees.
The clause came into play when he did not appear in two episodes of the sitcom as he was out rooting for his team.
In 1950, Lucille and Desi started a small production company, Desilu Productions. It launched with the production of the I Love Lucy show and grew from there onwards. Gradually, with the success of the show, the studio kept growing, turning Lucy into the first woman to head a major studio.
An entertainer and businesswoman, she became one the most powerful Hollywood actresses of the time, and continuously broke barriers for women in show business.
William Frawley is indeed talented, and he was the best person to fill the shoes of Fred in the show. But the directors had been hesitant when it came to hiring him.
Other than having a history of substance abuse, he was quite unstable, traits that made his reliability quite questionable. Arnaz, a close friend of William, managed to convince the directors to reconsider hiring him. Just like that, he got his big break and played the role of Fred.
A tightly scripted show
I Love Lucy had to be performed in front of a live studio audience. With all the reactions and sentiments by the audience being authentic, little was left to chance. Everything had to be planned and delivered according to script.
In fact, producers would get pretty angry whenever any one of the actors did an ad lib on the show. This meant that the cast had to stick to the pre-defined words and gestures while on the stage.
Laughing so hard
The thing about having a show with a live audience is that reactions are authentic. However, it can also have a major impact on the continuity of a single episode or plot. A good example was the memorable scene where Ricky and Lucy do the tango with a dozen eggs.
The audience responded to this scene so enthusiastically that part of it had to be edited out. The crowd laughed for more than 60 seconds, which was too long for the episode’s continuity.
Breaking bones on set
Among the best scenes in the show was when Lucy happened to fall down a candy factory conveyor belt. While it was an amazing moment for the show’s yearning audience, Ball was probably less fond of this moment.
She broke her nose after being smacked too hard by Amanda Milligan, a real-life chocolatier. Despite the pain and agony of a broken nose, Ball upheld her professionalism and continued acting for the rest of the episode.
Trouble keeping up with Harp
Despite being a memorable part of the show, Harpo Max’s presence grew fairly demanding for Ball. Both didn’t get along too well, and this proved to be quite the challenge. Marx refused to rehearse with Ball for the memorable mirror scene, turning the scene’s performance into a challenge for the pair.
What was supposed to be a 4-minute moment ended up taking hours to film. They should have followed the golden rule: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
George Reeves wasn’t credited
By the time the show was on the air, George Reeves had already made a name for himself in the film industry as Superman. In the eyes of the younger audience, he was synonymous to the film, and most of them actually believed that he was more of a real character than a fictitious one.
He made a guest star appearance on the show, but he was not included in the credits. No, this had nothing to do with snubbing this legendary icon. Instead, Ball requested the seclusion of his name so that younger viewers wouldn’t realize that superman was indeed an actor.
Vivian’s husband was jealous of the cast relationships
It turns out, Ball was not the only cast member who had a tough marriage. Vivian’s husband, Phillip Ober, was abusive and would often make Vivian feel under appreciated. In fact, his bitterness resulted in Vivian taking on therapy sessions to find some peace.
Once Ball and Vivian became close friends, they were almost inseparable. This made Phillip quite mad at the closely knit relationship that the two were developing, so he tried to push them apart. At one point, he tried to convince Vivian that the rumor that the two were lovers was in fact true!
I love Lucy was the mother of reruns
After they had their first child, Arnaz was skeptical about having his wife act. He wanted her to go on maternity leave, to have some time for herself and the baby. However, this wasn’t easy to do at a time when they had to please an eager audience.
Luckily, the he was adamant enough to convince the network to allow Lucille to take some time off. Instead of airing new episodes of the show, CBS did reruns, bringing the idea of reruns to life.
Stores closed down when the show was being broadcast
I Love Lucy can boast as having the most immense viewership of all time. At its peak, the show’s popularity was felt in other businesses too, all across the United States.
In fact, many shops and department stores often closed down their doors during the show’s broadcast. At the same time, authorities had noticed that water and telephone lines were used in a much lower capacity. Do you need another proof of the show’s insane popularity?
Ricky’s accent wasn’t something to joke about
The marriage of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball was an anomaly at a time when interracial marriages were frowned upon. When on screen, the two decided to avoid joking about any ethnical differences. However, Lucy did take occasional jabs at the Cuban accent of her colleague.
This humor only managed to go well for the two. Whenever Ethel and Fred tried the edgy humor, the audience would seldom give the same reaction. Some jokes are not for everyone.
Lucy almost lost her life on set
Lucille was such a remarkable actor, that she could easily act with a poker face despite going through an issue. The moment when she broke her nose was not the only time she had to act in distress. In one other episode, ‘Lucy’s Italian Movie’, she was choking on a grape.
However, she put on a show and continued with the scene as though nothing happened. Once the cameras went off, the crew came rushing to help her.
The show was based from real life situations
It isn’t unlikely to learn that producers base storylines around real life events to ensure they reach the hearts and minds of viewers. Lucille and Arnaz used their own marriage, with its happiness, hardship, challenges, and lessons-learned.
They also based part of the story around their real life friends, a Broadway star called Ethel Merman and Desi’s brother Fred. No wonder the show could relate so well with its audience.
Quality was at the center of the show
For Desi and Lucille, everything had to be perfect. They wanted to deliver nothing but the best to their audience. This meant that they would use state of the art editing tools and film with the latest technology.
In fact, I Love Lucy was the first TV program to use 35 mm film for live shots. While the films were outrageously expensive, they delivered such high quality footage that made reruns possible decades later.
Desi didn’t get any nominations
A show with the success rate of I Love Lucy had to gather a lot of Emmy awards and nominations. While the show got as many as 13 nominations, Desi Arnaz was the only person in the main cast not to receive an award.
Lucille bagged 5 Emmys, while William got nominated five times without any wins. Vivian, on the other hand, was lucky enough to bag the first-ever Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy Award. Arnaz could do nothing about this though.
Cast had to change phone numbers often
When you are a star, people typically try to get in touch with you. Sadly, it can be a nuisance to keep getting calls from strangers on your private phone number.
Any famous actor can attest to how necessary it is to retain their telephone numbers as private. In fact, Riccardo switched phone numbers twice while Mertzes did so four times during the run of the show. As displeasing as it was for some fans, it was highly necessary.
A dream inspired the show
At first, Lucille was trying to make a name for herself in Hollywood, and was conflicted about venturing into television. She was completely invested in making movies, and had decided to keep pushing that goal.
However, a deceased friend urged her to undertake a different path. One night, she dreamed that her friend called Carole Lombard to insist she takes the plunge. It is quite remarkable where a dream can take you.
Lucy was not a redhead
When I Love Lucy was airing, colored image technology had not been introduced. TV shows were in black and white. However, given the fame that Lucille had gathered, people knew her for her famous red hair. It might shock you to know that she was actually a natural brunette.
At first, she dyed her hair blonde when she was a model before she settled on the iconic apricot-colored hair. Later on, she switched to the iconic ginger locks for a role in Dubarry was a Lady.
Ricky was almost named Larry
In the early versions of the script, Ricky was supposed to be named Larry. The directors thought that the alliteration that came from “Lucy and Larry” would give the duo an iconic place in the industry.
However, they ended up naming the character Ricky. Despite the change, the show went on to make huge waves. And by the way, choosing the name ‘Ricky’ sprouted a hilarious parody by Al Yankovic.
The power of I Love Lucy lives on
I Love Lucy, which began with the small studio the couple founded, went on to make waves in Hollywood and around the globe. It didn’t just evolve into a money-making machine. It made optimism a way of life.
Lucy never backed down. She stood up for what she believed in, and her can-do spirit is still a force today. In 1967, she sold her company to what had become Paramount Pictures. Today, I Love Lucy‘s entire library is owned by CBS.