It’s been over five decades since I Love Lucy‘s first broadcast (in 1951), but the show has never gotten old, and it is still as hilarious as it’s ever been. I Love Lucy broke several technical and artistic grounds, as well as shattered racial and social barriers, something which was unprecedented on US television at the time.
1. The shooting of I Love Lucy
There’s no doubt about it, I Love Lucy was a groundbreaking moment in 1950s US television. It became the first television series to use the three-camera format (which will be expounded later in this article), which led to becoming a standard technique in filming TV sitcoms.
Three-hundred audience members attended every episode taping. They filmed the entire episode from start to finish, and they rarely had to re-tape the scenes. Not even once did every cast member ad-lib on the set, although it looks like they did.
2. Original producers wanted the show’s plot to be a mirror of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s real lives as celebrities
However, both Lucille and Desi felt that their celebrity lives were something that the audience could not relate to. Instead, they decided that the plot be focused on an average American family.
3. Lucille Ball’s natural hair color was not red
Her natural hair color was actually brown. Upon entering show business, she dyed her hair blonde first, then finally red.
4. Lucy’s reel-and-real-life childbirth
The episode where Lucy and Ricky welcomed little Ricky was aired on January 19, 1953. Forty-four million viewers (or 72% of the entire American household) tuned in to witness this joyous occasion. It was broadcast on the same date that Lucille gave birth to her son Desi Jr. in Los Angeles.
The episode even beat the broadcast of Eisenhower’s presidential inauguration the next day (which drew 29 million viewers).
The couple actually wrote Lucille’s real-life pregnancy into the show, and her scheduled real-life Caesarean childbirth was aligned with the date of her television character’s childbirth.
5. Theme music
The iconic theme music for the sitcom was composed by Eliot Daniel. The lyrics were written by five-time Oscar nominee Harold Adamson, and were sung by Desi. The song can be heard on the episode “Lucy’s Last Birthday,” and here are the following lyrics:
I love Lucy and she loves me.
We’re as happy as two can be.
Sometimes we quarrel but then
How we love making up again.
Lucy kisses like no one can.
She’s my missus and I’m her man,
And life is heaven you see,
‘Cause I love Lucy, Yes I love Lucy, and Lucy loves me!
6. CBS didn’t think that Americans would want to see a TV show about an interracial couple
In 1950, CBS asked Lucille to develop a television sitcom based on My Favorite Husband, the hit radio show which starred herself and Richard Denning. She agreed, but on one condition: that her real-life husband Desi be inlcuded the cast. CBS hesitated, and didn’t think that audiences would buy a sitcom about an all-American woman married to a Cuban with an odd accent.
To prove CBS wrong, the couple embarked on a vaudeville tour which included Arnaz’s own orchestra. The act’s success finally convinced the CBS big bosses to sign the couple up.
I Love Lucy not only proved to be a star vehicle for Lucille, but it also made a way to save their already shaky marriage.
7. I Love Lucy was the first scripted television show to use a three-camera format in front of a studio audience.
Lucille and Desi were based in Los Angeles and wanted to remain there to be near their home and their baby. But most television shows at that time were filmed in New York, and the show’s sponsor Philip Morris also wanted I Love Lucy to be shot in the Big Apple. In those days, TV programs broadcast from coast to coast were yet unheard-of, and such shows could only be shown so far.
As a result, West Coast audiences were only able to watch such shows taped in New York through kinescopes, which displayed inferior-quality pictures. Philip Morris balked at the idea of I Love Lucy being shot in California and the kinescopes shipped to New York, as the cigarette giant wanted the best quality picture possible. Desi came up with the suggestion: the show should be shot with three cameras, which would provide the uniform quality picture for every market.
Most television shows at that time used a single-camera format, and added a canned laughter in the soundtrack. But Desi knew better: that Lucy should work in front of a live studio audience to get the immediate response (and laughter).
Desi hired cinematographer Karl Freund to help address these challenges. Freund developed a lighting system above the studio set so that each of the three cameras would pick up the same quality of image from every angle. This three-camera format was unprecedented in US television, and it has become a standard technique for most TV sitcoms filmed in front of a live audience.
8. The Great Grape Dilemma
Lucille reportedly nearly choked to death while doing the grape stomping scene in the episode “Lucy’s Italian Movie.” No one noticed it until the episode was done filming.
9. The first cover of TV Guide
The inaugural cover of the magazine TV Guide featured Lucille’s newborn son Desi Jr. The first issue was released on April 3, 1953. Lucille went on to appear on the TV Guide‘s cover 39 more times, more than any other celebrity in the magazine’s history.
10. “Pregnant” was then a taboo word on TV
In 1952, when Lucille was in the family way in real life, CBS would not allow the word “pregnant” to be used on the show as it was then considered taboo. Instead, they used the word “expecting.”