I Love Lucy made Lucille Ball one of the most famous sitcom actors of all time. However, several people who used to work with Ball claim that basically every comedic move she made was strategically “coached.”
‘I Love Lucy’ star Lucille Ball wasn’t naturally funny, according to actor/singer Edie Adams
When actor Edie Adams sat down for an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, she revealed that on the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour — on which Adams appeared — everything funny Ball had to do was written out in detail.
“She was brilliant in what she did,” Adams said. “But she was not a … natural comic.” Adams chalks this up to Ball being new to comedy when she started off.
“She had done a lot of small parts in movies but no really heavy comedy,” Adams explained. To train Ball, her then-husband/fellow I Love Lucy co-star Desi Arnaz hired an expert.
“He got a clown from either Mexico or Cuba that had worked live …” Adams recalled. Arnaz bought the clown’s act so he could “teach it to Lucy.” He was essentially preparing Ball for the I Love Lucy premiere.
“They knew they were going to do the pilot in September, and the year before — this is in the early ’50s — they toured the country doing this thing with the guy there coaching her on every little thing,” Adams continued.
The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour alum claims that Ball essentially mimicked this clown’s every word and move.
“Anything that she did that was like that was coached by this old guy,” Adams shared. The Apartment star, who had worked with her husband, comedian Ernie Kovacs on other comedy shows, said that Ball was totally different in her comedic approach from any other comic.
“Lucy was a stickler,” Adams said.
Director Jay Sandrich recalls Ball’s meticulous attention to detail on the set of ‘I Love Lucy’
In his own interview with Television Academy Foundation, legendary director Jay Sandrich recalls working with Ball on I Love Lucy — and confirmed much of what Adams claimed.
Then an assistant director on the series, Sandrich marveled at how Ball had to “be an expert” in a lot of different things. Whatever her TV character was doing that week, she had to get it down pat — “so she could relax and be comedic.”
Sandrich remembered a particularly memorable episode, “an hour show with Red Skelton.” He and Ball were in a boxcar in one of the scenes, and the comedian Red Skelton was pantomiming eating a meal. Ball was supposed to do the object work exactly the same way.
Ball “stopped him in rehearsal” to ask the fellow actor exactly how he was acting out the meal.
“I don’t know, I just do it,” Red Skelton responded. Ball wasn’t satisfied with that response.
“No, you’ve gotta show me,” she demanded. “Show me how you do it.” Red Skelton complied.
“For 2 or 3 hours, he tutored her,” Sandrich recalled. Red Skelton was telling her: “You gotta feel that there’s a glass there; you’ve gotta feel the weight. You bring it up to your lips, and you’ve gotta pretend like you’re swallowing the liquid.” Ball would answer back: “show me.”
Lucille Ball had to ‘be in control of the comedy’, Sandrich claims
Apparently, Red Skelton had to break it down “moment by moment by moment.”
“Well, by the end of those 2 or 3 hours … she was as good as he was,” the I Love Lucy AD shared. However, much like Adams claimed, that talent was intensely studied, rather than inherent.
“She was so technical,” Sandrich continued. “Everything was very thought-out and appropriate to whatever she was doing.”
Even the guest actors on I Love Lucy had to say their lines exactly the same way each and every time. Anything else would throw her off.
“She had to be very much in control of the comedy, then she could relax and be funny,” Sandrich said.
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