Over the run of the various Lucy TV programs (five series, twenty-four and a half years) a lot of guest stars came and went. In fact, Here's Lucy (1968-1974) used a different guest celebrity practically each week.
Plotlines had to be stretched to the point of absurdity to shoehorn in some guests. On one particularly unbelievable episode of The Lucy Show, Lucy and Vivian's sons (age 10 & 12), ask Lucy to get her 'good friend' Ethel Merman to sing in their annual Boy Scout stage revue. Ethel Merman?!? Today's equivalent would be landing Ru-Paul for your Boy Scout Jamboree!
Not everyone loved Lucy!
Sometimes having more than one star on the set can lead to conflicts. Four guest stars proved very difficult indeed, in part because advanced alcoholism made them a target for tough taskmaster Lucille Ball's anger.
Tallulah Bankhead made a guest appearance on the hour-long Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour in December of 1957, replacing originally scheduled guest Bette Davis, who had cracked a vertebrae in a fall at her home.
Bankhead had been a movie star since the silent days and had a decent career in the 1940's as a radio comedienne. But television success eluded her; this was an important break for her sagging career.
Ms. Bankhead was a formidable, over-the-top personality, one of those old-school, "Dahhhhhling" actresses, but her drinking and drugging was pretty much constant and her health was failing by this point.
Still, she hadn't lost any of her affected bitchiness. "They had this plot. They were living in Connecticut, or somewhere, and rehearsing a play for the PTA, whatever that is. I did have pneumonia at the time. And someone nearly blinded me one day at rehearsals with hairspray."
This was a demanding part for any actress, requiring numerous bits of slapstick business - and Tallulah was required to be on camera throughout much of the show.
Lucy and Tallulah quarreled all week during rehearsals, with Lucy snapping her fingers in La Bankhead's face and trying to tell the actress how to read her lines, causing Tallulah to storm off the set in anger (a Hollywood technique perfected by Judy Garland in three different mediums - motion pictures, television, and the concert stage).
When it came time to finally shoot the episode, Tallulah was blinded all right - but not by hairspray. It was obvious to everyone on the set that the legendary actress had been drinking. Desi recounted: "I was terrified. I kissed her quickly, wished her luck, and walked away, hoping against hope..."
"I planned all sorts of things to cover for her when we actually shot the show," Lucy admitted later. "Well, when we did the show, Tallulah sailed through every scene magnificently - but I didn't."
Still, this episode was the number one rated program for the entire week. It is also one of the best episodes of any of the Lucy series, highly recommended viewing.
true old-Hollywood fashion, Ms. Bankhead said this about working with
Lucy: "She's divine to work with! And Desi! He's brilliant! He
has a temper, however. But that's because he's fat! It
And in this corner . . .
Joan Crawford proved to be another troublesome guest for many of the same reasons.
She was the biggest film star of the 1940's (when Lucy was merely a B-movie actress) but Crawford's career was long gone by 1967 when she was asked to do a guest appearance on The Lucy Show.
The 'plot' of the episode revolved around Lucy and Vivian inadvertently coming across Crawford's new country home, a house she's fixing up herself. They think the legendary actress is broke (in real life she practically was) and arrange a benefit show for her, which they all star in (of course).
During rehearsals for the show, Lucille Ball caught Crawford drinking from a flask in her purse. The next day, the legendary film actress was late to the set.
A shouting match ensued over the phone when Crawford was late again the next day, with Lucy threatening to fire the aging actress and replace her if she couldn't get it together.
From then on, Lucy was merciless in her criticism of Crawford's performance. The show went off all right, but it sounded like Crawford was drunk for the taping.
By all accounts, Joan Crawford needed the money and the exposure the show offered (the episode was originally written for another aged-out diva, Gloria Swanson). For that reason, she endured the humiliation of Lucy having her repeat and repeat a dance number and then, in front of an audience, rudely cut the number because of Crawford's poor performance. (The insult stung - Joan Crawford first gained attention as a young dancer in the Twenties.)
After the taping was over, Crawford was quoted as saying, "My God, they tell me I'm a bitch - Lucy can outbitch me any day of the week!"
And in this corner...
One of Lucy's many guest-star coups was a rare television appearance in 1970 by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on Here's Lucy.
Surprisingly, the Burtons approached Lucy at a party with the idea of being guest-stars on her show and the result was a very funny episode.
A script was rushed into production by longtime (but long gone) Lucy writers Bob Carroll and Madelyn Davis. They reworked a gag they had written for both I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show - Lucy gets Elizabeth Taylor's ring stuck on her finger before it has to be presented at a gala party that evening.
All wasn't happy on the set. Conflict arose early when Lucy suggested Richard Burton read his lines a bit stronger. The great Shakespearean actor responded by shouting his lines all through the dress rehearsal. He wrote in his memoirs, "I loathe Lucy!" The filming went on without a hitch, however.
That episode, the first for the 1970-71 season, was the highest rated program on any network for the premiere week and the second highest rated Lucy episode ever.
Here's Lucy Season 1 on DVD
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