Sunday, December 22, 2013
The Lucy Desi 1959 Christmas Day Special
One of the last television shows Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz did together was a Christmas special that has never been re-broadcast. That's a real shame, it was a star-studded spectacular that any Lucy fan would find appealing.
On Christmas Day, 1959, The Desilu Playhouse (1958-1960) presented a special Holiday broadcast starring the whole I Love Lucy gang, in addition to the Desilu Players and numerous stars of other popular Desilu productions like George Murphy, Spring Byington, Lassie, Danny Thomas, Hugh O'Brien and Ann Sothern. Even Hollywood hag Hedda Hopper made an appearance!
The wrap-around plot had Hollywood gossip queen Hedda Hopper interviewing Lucy and Desi about the Desilu Players and the show they recently staged. This led to flashbacks of Lucy (who was directing the stage show) creating chaos backstage between the musical numbers.
This Desilu Christmas special was produced and (essentially) directed by Lucille Ball herself. This is the only Desilu production I can think of that features the I Love Lucy cast members playing "themselves."
The juxtaposition of the 'real' Lucy with the Lucy character is slightly confusing and, though Vivian Vance is referred to as "Vivian" here, her personality is basically Ethel's with more attitude.
If you ever get the opportunity to watch this hour-long special, look for the scene where William Frawley (as himself?) tries to pick up one of the young girls in the show. How's this for a come-on: "Miss Lovell, do you feel about older men the way I feel about younger women?"
This is the next to last appearance of the four I Love Lucy cast members together, Lucy and Desi filed for divorce just a few months after this special was filmed. The couple only appeared together in one more Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Show; they never again performed together.
The Desilu Players was a pet project of Lucille Ball's, who hand-picked each of the versatile performers as her protégés - they were appearing in a stage revue that she produced in LA around the time of this broadcast. The musical comedy numbers from that show ended up in the Christmas special's final edit.
One of those musical numbers ('I'm Only Happy When I'm Singin' the Blues') featured some wild art direction and garnered excellent revues for the sterling performances by Carole Cook and Dick Kallman as singing/dancing coffeehouse beatniks.
Carole Cook was a life-long friend of Lucy's; a Broadway star she appeared several times on The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. Dick Kallman starred in the fondly remembered TV series Hank in 1965. He also embarked on a promising Broadway career before being tragically murdered in his New York apartment in 1980.
Also in the Desilu Playhouse cast: Majel Barrett (Nurse Chappell on Star Trek another Desilu show) and Robert Osborne (the Classic Movie Channel host and erstwhile writer for the Hollywood Reporter)