Still special, still `Lucy’

Oct 1, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Whether you love Lucy or not, you can’t leave her-or she won’t leave you, at any rate-for she’s part of the language now, part of our autobiographies. Lucy is referenced in contemporary poetry-a cousin shows up wearing “an elevated `I Love Lucy’ hairdo” in “American Adobo” by Nick Carbo, and a woman cries “when she watches reruns of `I Love Lucy”’ in Denise Duhamel’s “The Star Spangled Banner.” An expert on a radio discussion of intelligent life on other galaxies notes that “I Love Lucy” has already reached 5,000 stars, with the first episode reaching a new star every day (a galactic Lucification!).
Unlike the Nelsons of “Ozzie and Harriet,” whose happy days ’50s family faded with time, and that bunch of Bradys whose upbeat lives didn’t begin till a couple of decades later (’69), when they made restless baby boomers wonder why their families weren’t as fabulous, Lucy spans all generations. Friends in my high school Class of ’50 remember their first TV sets tuned into Lucy’s beginnings the year after we graduated, and today’s pre-hip-hoppers watch her on TV Land. “I Love Lucy” was the honoree’s chosen theme for her “Sweet Sixteen” party in Coral Springs, Fla., early this year, on the grounds that Lucy is “so much fun”; “Lucy” posters plaster the walls of a college freshman at Gainesville, Fla. A retired schoolteacher in Indianapolis boasts, “Our Ricky was born about the same time as Lucy’s,” and a writer in her 40s still smiles when her brother the executive phones and imitates Ricky’s voice calling “Looo-cy!” as he did when they were growing up in Chicago. Two Vassar graduates working in New York in the ’60s called one another when life got boring or stressful and asked, “What would `Lucy’ do?”-a question that prompted shopping expeditions, teas at The Plaza, treks to The Village, whatever seemed diverting enough to qualify as “Lucy.”
Why is Lucy so loved? Maybe because she was the first good-looking woman actress to throw her body around with abandon in the cause of comedy; compare her rubbery torso flings to Mae West’s statue-like stance as she shot one-liners from the side of her mouth, immobilized in iron-corseted splendor, the essence of femme fatale formality. Lucy was unafraid to look silly, wear a fake mustache, hide under furniture, “like a friend who’d do anything to make you laugh,” says a fan. A ’50s housewife breaking loose, but just for fun-no threat to home and hearth or handsome husband who always forgave her gaffes.
Maybe she’s loved so long and well because her problems were as sunny as funny, unlike the darker shades of “The Honeymooners,” which gained its faithful following later, when the darker side was more admitted in a world become conscious of its own subconscious. Alice cooked and cleaned in a crummy apartment as Ralph worried over the rent being raised, or their being evicted or losing his job-the heavyweight problems of an overweight bus driver (and his best friend who worked in the sewer), alien to the glamorous world of the wife of a Latin bandleader, a handsome star of the nightclub circuit.
Lucy had room to play without really having to pay, abetted by true-blue pals like Fred and Ethel, those ultimate middle Americans; their friendship put a subliminal seal of approval on a scatterbrained redhead married to a marimba-shaking, Spanish-speaking musician. The right stars were aligned the right way for Lucy to make it through space and time, not only lasting half a century but extending into the galaxy!