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conducted by Billy Ingram
BI: How did you meet Lucille Ball?
MS: I met her when I was twelve. I went to a filming of one of her shows, Here's Lucy. That's the way I knew her, not as Lucy Ricardo but as Lucy Carter. That's what she looked most like when she wasn't playing Lucy.
BI: Did you get to meet her the first time you went to a taping?
MS: The very first time no, but the next time I went with my scrapbook and pictures. I went to her mom, who went to every single show, because I knew what she looked like. She said, "How would you like to meet Lucy after the show?"
I got to backstage to a place called "Lucy Lane" which Universal Studios built for her behind the set. There was a boutique shop and a hair-and-makeup place, it looked like a street. No one really saw it but the cast and crew. When I met her, she was standing in front of her dressing room, three steps up, and I remember looking up at her and she was like twelve feet tall! She was really nice to me, she signed an autograph, looked through my scrap book, gave me a kiss and off I went. And then I happened to go over and over again and we became buddies.
From You Tube - Lucille Ball on Dinah:
BI: What was a taping of Here's Lucy like?
MS: I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was on Thursday afternoons. When they filmed it at Universal Studios, they got most of their audience from the Universal Tour. So if you were on a tour bus at 1:00 on a Thursday afternoon, they'd say, "Congratulations everybody, you're going to a taping of Here's Lucy with Lucille Ball" and everyone would get excited.
Gary Morton (Lucy's husband and stand-up comedian) would do the warm up for fifteen or twenty minutes then Lucy came out and answered questions. When they would introduce Lucy, she would literally run from one end of the stage to the other, waving. And the audience went crazy. She would introduce the cast and then they would film the show from start to finish, almost without stopping. They might do half a scene over or pick up a line, but that's it.
BI: Was she was sorry that Here's Lucy ended?
MS: I think she was tired of the weekly grind and television was changing. That's when All in the Family was starting, Good Times and all these Norman Lear shows were on and she wasn't that type of person.
It was time for her to relax. The kids were grown and she was going to do yearly specials. She probably thought she was going to do more than she did, she only did a handful of them, like five or six.
Once she retired from her weekly series she needed new friends. She happened to see me over and over again and she said, "Get a life! There's more to me than just Lucy."
I got a job at a department store and she came by one day to see if I was really working. She bought $600 worth of linens from me. She gave me her home phone number and said, "Do you play Backgammon?" and I said "No," and she said "You'll learn." She taught me how to play Backgammon and I still play to this day.
BI: Why did she do Life with Lucy? It was a terrible show.
MS: Well, not while you were there. The show was sold out to the general public before they filmed one shot of footage. It was like going to Friends which is sold out forever. When you were there you had a great time.
When she did her last series, Life with Lucy, she couldn't believe that twelve years had passed between the two shows. She was having so much fun. She had more energy than I had and I was twenty-five. She wanted to do everything.
She wasn't like a star. She was happy to be coming back, she even said she was bringing two hundred people back to work. She was happy that some of the same people that worked on I Love Lucy were with her forty years later. The sound man, who was hard of hearing (which she always thought was funny), the director, Gale Gordon, her stand-in, they were all there. Oh, and her writers. She was able to get other writers, who wrote for M.A.S.H. or whatever, but she wanted her writers.
BI: Looking back that may have been a mistake.
MS: There were lot of mistakes. She was missing an Ethel. One of the best episodes they had was with Audrey Meadows who played her sister. Lucy had more fun with John Ritter than with anybody. On that week, Lucy called it "Ritter-itis" because he kept making her laugh. During the actual filming he broke her up. She had to say "Cut!" She said that was only the third time in her life while filming a show that she actually had to say "Cut" because she was laughing so hard. It was not like her.
BI: She had a reputation for being very demanding to work with.
MS: When she did Life With Lucy, she was tough. She was doing everybody's job. She did the cameraman's job, the lighting, the stagehands, she couldn't just be an actress. She had to be wearing all these hats.
If Lucy said something, she was tough about it, like "Hey, you're off your mark." Was she nasty? Absolutely not. She was firm, but twenty seconds later when she had a break, she was playing Password or Backgammon. She was having a lot of fun, like a little schoolgirl.
They had three or four directors. There was a director named Bruce Bilson and he wanted a more of a quiet set. After lunch everybody was talking about what they had for lunch, "I had this, I had that" and finally the director yelled, "I don't care what anybody had for lunch. I don't care what you had for lunch, I don't care what you had for lunch, I want this place quiet!" And about twenty seconds later, Lucille Ball said, "I got tuna" and broke everyone up laughing. From then on it was a happy set. People could come by and watch rehearsals, it was a free set.
Her biggest competition was herself. I Love Lucy was on another channel at the same time, The Lucy Show was on another channel at the same time. Would you rather watch a forty year-old Lucille Ball or a seventy-five-year-old Lucille Ball? Most people chose the forty year-old Lucy.
BI: When Life with Lucy was cancelled, is it true that she felt like people didn't like her anymore?
MS: Absolutely. She was devastated. She said she had never been fired before and she really thought nobody liked her anymore. She was really hurt. I think she was more upset with ABC because they didn't give her a chance, seven episodes then out.
All the reviews were bad. And she said, "You know what, it wouldn't have been so bad if the reviews said, ‘Lucille Ball's new series had no pizzazz' or whatever, but they kept knocking me." They said; "Lucille Ball is old," "She should be in a retirement home," "She should be dead." Literally, they were saying the nastiest things about her. That she could not understand.
BI: You were at the Academy Awards with Lucille Ball?
MS: I was going to be a seat filler. The second she walked through the door she grabbed me and said; "Michael, come with me." Even at the Academy Awards fifteen years ago there were a lot of credentials. You can't go here, you can't go there without credentials. And believe me, I was at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of credentials. She grabs me and I go everywhere with her. It didn't matter, credentials or not, I was with the president, I was with the Queen. I was going everywhere with her. I was in the Green Room and meeting all her friends, "You know Jimmy Stewart, this is Cyd Charisse." These were major stars. She gave me her ticket to the audience, so I literally sat in the second row the entire time. I was no longer a seat filler.
BI: How was she feeling at that time? She died just a few weeks later.
MS: She had been ill but when I was with her she looked great. When I saw her on tape years later, yeah, I could see she was ill. When you were with her you couldn't tell.
BI: The day Lucy died, the world changed forever in a small way. I just couldn't imagine that Lucille Ball would no longer be there.
MS: She died like at 6:11 in the morning. By 6:15, Entertainment Tonight was calling me, USA Today and Dan Rather's office in New York and Good Morning America. It was the biggest news story.
Lucie Arnaz said something on a talk show a few months later. She said, "Lucille Ball is dead but Lucy Ricardo is still alive." And that's true, Lucy Ricardo is alive and she'll always be alive with Ricky and Fred and Ethel and little Ricky. And that's true.
From You Tube - Lucille Ball interview from 1977:
ORDER: Here's Lucy Season 1 on DVD
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