Did you know that Lucy was a Commie? Perhaps somewhere in the recesses of our collective mind, "Red Lucy" rests somewhere, but it took the new 34-disc complete I Love Lucy set (with all 194 episodes beginning with the rare, 1956 pilot, plus gazillions of extras, digitally remastered and restored), to jar it free in my case. The box set is not only guaranteed to put you in a good mood. It can also get you thinking. ...
What was it about Lucy that made her the most beloved woman in America during the fifties -- and that allowed her to survive the potentially devastating revelation that she had registered to vote as a Communist in 1936? Writing in Cinema Journal in back in 2003, Susan M. Carini explains "The story unfolded in the fall of 1953 when newspaper and radio columnist
Walter Winchell accused Ball of being a Communist Party member. Ball was actually
tuned into Winchell's radio broadcast at the time. As she read over the script for her
next show, Ball heard: "The top television comedienne has been confronted with her
membership in the Communist Party."" The Los Angeles Herald-Express reported
the story with a banner headline in red ink, and soon press interest became frenzied.
One week later, the couple drove in the back gates at the Motion Picture Center to
begin filming I Love Lucy episodes for the year. The front offices were jammed with
reporters; hundreds of calls had been logged at Desilu production.
It turns out that that Lucy had registered as a CP member to please her
grandfather, Fred Hunt. When the news broke, her husband, co-star, and tyrannical boss at Desilu Productions, Desi Arnaz talked to CBS President Frank Stanton, as well as to advertisers and decided to spend $30,000 of their own money to buy the I Love Lucy time slot, at a cost of $30,000, so he could take his case to the American people, which turned out to be a pretty easy sell. Desi saw it as an advertising opportunity. He explained to the studio at the time:
"Lucy and I will go on the air and tell the story about Grandpa and all the goddarn
things Lucy had to go through. I have got to let the American people know what this
is all about. She is not going to be crucified by malicious insinuations, distorted facts,
and false accusations. Besides, Lucy and I telling all the stories about Grandpa could
be our funniest show
Here's how it sounded on the air: :
"Welcome" to the first I Love Lucy show of the season. We are glad to have you back and
glad to be back ourselves. But before I go on, I want to talk to you about something
serious. You all know what it is. The papers have been full of it all day.
Lucille is no Communist! Lucy has never been a Communist, not now and never
will be. [Note: This was a lie.] I was kicked out of Cuba because of Communism. [Note: this was also a lie] We both despise the Communists and everything they stand for. [cue: tears]
Lucille is 100 percent American. She is as American as Barney Baruch and Ike
Eisenhower. Last November, we both voted for Ike. Tomorrow morning the complete
transcript of Lucille's testimony mill be released to the papers and you can read it for
yourself. Then you will know this is all a pack of lies. Please, ladies and gentlemen, don't
believe every piece of bunk you've read in today's papers! [Cue applause.] And now, I want you to meet my favorite wife-my favorite redhead-in fact, that's the only thing red about her, and even that's not legitimate-Lucille Ball." Funnily enough, Carini notes, Lucy's FBI file "appears to have been assembled by a Lucy worshiper, replete as it is with positive press clippings that dilute the sting of her association with communism."
There collection also includes plenty of fan stuff, footage of many of the characters accepting Emmy awards from the earliest existing Emmy telecast, flubs, and lost scenes, though my God, with all those episodes, I dunno how anyone would have the time to get to it. The Amazon page for the set is here.