Manipulation 101

Oct 1, 2001  •  Post A Comment

This is politically incorrect but funny. My friend Sherry Spiegel cruised me through Los Angeles some years back, following (at my insistence-Sherry is far too classy for this kind of activity) the Map of the Stars. This particular map took us past humble little abodes in which “stars” may have lived while they were still bussing tables at Chasen’s, but certainly not once they’d made it. Then we got to Beverly Hills and a handsome two-story white brick house that the Map of the Stars said belonged to Lucille Ball. In this case, the map seemed to be up to date. And we were not alone in thinking so. There on the lawn, three Japanese women, necklaced with cameras, stood posing for photographs. Sherry stopped the car so I could roll down the window. “What are you doing on somebody’s lawn?” I queried. The ladies beamed, “We rrrove RRRRucy!!”
Well, I don’t. Not really. She’s hilarious, of course. A brilliant comedienne. Physically fearless, slapstick silly. Impeccable timing. A direct descendant of Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx. I love her eyelashes and her big bright mouth. I also love Ricky’s theme song. And the neighbors.
But as for loving “I Love Lucy,” no. Because certain behaviors, funny as they were, were troubling to me, coming of age in the ’50s. Things she said and did that just didn’t feel right.
We ’50s femmes (there’s a real ’50s word) were raised to be Good Girls. Ladylike. White gloves to go downtown. Our values were pretty straight ahead. Work hard, get good marks, behave yourself, be Good Girls.
On television, Lucy was no Good Girl, and I liked her for it-her spirit and gumption. But I didn’t like what she did to get what she wanted.
Lucy kept lying to Ricky. She and her pal Ethel had so many cute conspiracies, invented all these little scenarios. They were manipulative, dishonest. It was all in fun, but my bedrock ethics told me what they were doing was basically wrong. I laughed, but I felt uncomfortable too. The dishonest shenanigans made me not love Lucy. Not really.
Decades later and just ever so slightly older, I see that the small tricks and deceptions had something to say about the role of women then. In those postwar years, before the feminism of the ’70s, women in America were expected to stay home, look cute, keep a clean house and raise perfect children. They had little power beyond what came out of their bottles of kitchen cleanser. And so playing games, making up stories, fooling husbands was almost the stay-at-home’s job description. You could tiptoe around the truth if you had to, to carry off something you coveted. Why right there on television, one of the day’s biggest stars was doing it too. Lucy had her little lies. So did we. And everybody laughed and had a terrific time!
God, I hope this doesn’t make me sound like too much of a moralistic prig. I loved the chocolate factory. I loved the little ol’ winemaker. That has to count for something! But a situation comedy based on pulling the wool over your mate’s eyes so you can get what you want did not always leave me laughing.
And doesn’t today, so many years later, at a time when opportunities for women have become so much broader that it should make that Lucy loopiness seem even more hilarious.
So that’s the story of Lucy and me. Even though I did want to see where she’d lived in Beverly Hills. Now, if that Map of the Stars had shown the home of Imogene Coca-another great comedienne of those days-I would have gotten out of the car and had my picture taken on her erstwhile lawn.
Heck, for Imogene Coca, I would have even done some weeding!