Fade Out – Lucille Ball


Episode 12 - Lucille Ball's MAME with Special Guest Steve Givens.

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22 responses to “Fade Out – Lucille Ball

  1. Never seen Mame, and I look forward to spending the rest of my life without seeing it. Regardless, it may have been the end of her film career, but it was far from the end of Lucy. Even her passing away, wasn’t the end of her. Lucille Ball is eternal. A cultural icon who will never be forgotten.
    I’d like to take a moment to shine a light on an adventure/thriller she was in before she became famous. Five Came Back. It’s a fantastic and tense story of of a small group of survivors of a downed passenger plane in a South American Jungle. (One of the survivors is a prisoner being brought back the the states for execution) As the pilots work to fix the plane, they discover they have landed in the territory of an extremely hostile native tribe. As the war drums pound in the background tensions rise even higher. The professor amongst the group (because there is always professor in these movies) tells them that it’s when the drums stop, that they need to worry. A time runs low, the pilots then announce that only one of the engines can be repaired, and therefore it can only carry 5 of the now 9 survivors to safety…. And that’s when the condemned man gets ahold of their only gun…

      1. I’ve searched myself and can’t find it streaming anywhere either. Search Five Came Back 1939 to differentiate it from that Netflix series about filmmakers in WWII. Amazon has it in DVD for $22 from Warner Archives. (Which I understand is a lot to shell out for a movie you’ve never seen. That seems to be the only way to view it currently. I first saw it in VHS. My mother got it free with the purchase of our first VCR. It was remade as Back from Eternity starring Robert Stack. I’m not sure if that’s any easier to find.

  2. A very good episode on a very bad movie!

    I cover Lucy & Desi every semester in my undergrad “Media & Culture” course and we talk about how innovative the series was both in front of & behind the camera. I also cover them in my Television History course. I once had a student say that they wouldn’t let their kids watch Lucy as she’s a poor role model for girls. I tried to explain that Lucy Ricardo may not be a “Feminist” but she is a pre-Feminist character who was much more liberated than the other 1950s sitcom moms like June Cleaver & Donna Reed.

    As this year marks the 70th anniversary of I Love Lucy, I was asked to speak on the topic to a couple of local civic groups. It’s amazing just how popular the series was & their was a mountain of merchandise (furniture, bedding, dolls, toys) and comics! The Lucy comic book ran until the early 1960s. Many don’t recall that there was also an I Love Lucy newspaper comic strip that ran from 1952-55. The strip was created by writer Lawrence Nadel & drawn by Bob Oksner. Overall, the strip is a cute gag-a-day feature that lacks the outright wackiness of Lucy & Ethel’s onscreen hijinks. As far as I know, the Lucy newspaper strip has only been reprinted once in the early 1990s by Malibu.

    One interesting bit of trivia is that the Lucy comics strip includes a sequence on the birth of Little Ricky that differs from what was shown on the TV show. A Crisis of Infinite Little Rickys?

    1. Chuck, I knew about the comic book but not the strip. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing the info.

      I would love to one day travel to the Lucy museum in Jamestown and take a look at what is on display there. Not mention visit the two Lucy statues (one of them being the infamous scary Lucy). Have you ever been?

      Lucy as a proto-feminist character is an apt description. Although Lucy Ricardo never changed the norm (in true sitcom fashion, none of her shenanigans have any lasting effect), she certainly challenged it.

      This brings to mind my favorite “I Love Lucy” moment. After she dances with Van Johnson and leaves the night club stage, she has a few seconds all to herself where she is overwhelmed with joy at pulling off the dance. It’s the first time in the series where Lucy’s attempt to get in the show ended with her actually putting on a “successful” (i.e. not disastrously comic) performance. The moment feels real and genuine (Ball’s acting was en point in this moment), and it has feminist undertones of a woman defying odds to achieve a long desired goal for herself.

      Thanks for the comments! As one Lucy fan to another, I’m glad you liked the show.

      1. I show that Van Johnson clip in my Lucy lecture. I’ve not been to the museum yet but intend to. We used to visit Chautauqua when I was a kid & it’s not far from Jamestown. FYI you may want to check out our online databases for BGSU’s Browne Popular Culture Library & also our Music Archive to see what we have in the collections related to Lucy & Desi.

  3. After listening to the show, I can’t help but make corrections to some of my comments:

    1) I erroneously kept saying “prankster character” when I should have said “trickster character.” Subtle, but important difference.

    2) I mentioned that there were 157 episodes of “I Love Lucy” TV show, but there were actually 180. 157 was stuck in my mind because it was the number of episodes I had actually seen when I first started to research the show and Lucy as a teenager. I have subsequently seen all 180 episodes at this point.

    Thanks again to Rob for indulging my suggestion. I’ve been on a high throughout the whole holiday season since recording the show.

  4. You didn’t make me watch Mame, but you did make me watch Being the Ricardos (although your biographical data did “spoil” the story beats for me, I guess.

    I’m always pleasantly surprised when I spot Lucy in an old movie, like the Marx Brothers’ Room Service, or one of my favorites, Stage Door. She’s also in a few Rogers and Astaire movies!

    1. Do check out “Dance, Girl, Dance” and “The Big Street” if you haven’t already.

      What did you think of “Being the Ricardos”?

      1. In spite of not being a particular Lucille Ball fan (have I ever seen an episode of I Love Lucy? I don’t think so), I did enjoy Being the Ricardos, while at the same time acknowledging it’s nowhere near Aaron Sorkin’s best work. Maybe there are too many narrative devices – a fake talking heads documentary, flashbacks within the flashback, Lucy’s imagination staging the sketches in black and white – or perhaps the likeness make-up is distracting (on Nicole Kidman especially), I’m not sure, but it doesn’t quite gel. And yet, there are a lot of great moments in the nitty-gritty of comedy writing and working out the slapstick, J.K. Simmons can do no wrong, and you can always count on Sorkin to deliver some cracking dialog. And to bring it back to a single theme, in this case Lucy’s deep need to find a home, illustrated in the type of show she built, and contrasted with the type of marriage she had. I like Sorkin’s biopics for that kind of distillation and insight, I just wish he’d cut out the layer too many.

  5. Never seen Mame and don’t think I want to now.

    Saw ‘Being the Ricardos’ and having just listened to the TCM podcast about Lucy, I found it lackluster. The Podcast was better!

    I adore Kidman and think she played Lucy as I think she would be. Bardem is a tough choice for me as Desi was baby-faced and energetic and boyishly handsome, none of which I can say about Bardem. I do think he works well with Kidman. And as you say, the supporting cast especially Simmons kill it.

    I am reminded of a bad dad joke from Get Smart. I think someone from Kaos is taking to Hymie the robot.

    Kaos agent: You used to kill and ‘hello dolly’!
    Hymie: What?
    Kaos agent: Sorry, wrong musical. You used to kill and ‘Mame’!

    A Mame/maim pun! I keep waiting for the day I can resurrect that in real life!

    1. Anj, totally agree about the TCM podcast on Lucille Ball. It offers some interesting insight into her life and career, particularly her early life. The recent “extra” episode with Lucie Arnaz was really good as well.

  6. Hey, team. Thanks for this. Steve is always a great guest, and I enjoyed learning more about Lucy and Desi and their roles in entertainment history. I was confused early on when you started busting on Mame. I saw a movie with “Mame” in the title a couple times on cable as a kid, and I remembered really enjoying it. A quick internet search jogged my memory; it was the Rosalind Russell version.

    1. Thanks for listening, CE, and I appreciate the encouragement.

      Yeah, Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell is definitely the version people should watch.

  7. I’m all full of Lucy this month! I really enjoyed the TCM podcast, especially learning so much about Desi! I’ve seen Mame on stage several times, but I think I shall never watch this film. You two certainly haven’t encouraged me!

  8. This is my first episode of “Fade Out”, and I love it!

    I think what surprises me the most about MAME is that Warners even let it go to theaters. This was a time when the studio was putting out films such as SUPER FLY, MEAN STREETS, MAGNUM FORCE, THE EXORCIST, THE TOWERING INFERNO, and of course, BLAZING SADDLES, so Warner Bros. had a keen sense of what filmgoing audiences wanted…and MAME sure wasn’t it.

    By the early 1970s, families…Lucille’s intended audience…almost never went to the movies together any longer. Parents would drop their kids off at the theater for G-rated matinees, and they then tended to plant themselves in front of their TV sets. This was a golden age of made-for-television movies, not to mention some of the greatest weekly series of all time, so most adult Americans opted to go to the movies with far less frequency then they had in earlier decades, preferring to be entertained at home by the tube instead.

    Upon viewing the finished film, I really wish the studio had chosen to release it direct to television instead. TV had always been far more sympathetic to Lucy than movies usually were. Had MAME debuted on network television in ’74, while I don’t think the critics would have liked it very much, I also don’t think that they would have savaged it quite as much. The final consensus probably would have been that it was a failed attempt, but boy, it sure was nice to see Lucy on our TV screens again, wasn’t it?

    Naturally, Warners would never have made back the film’s $12,000,000(!) budget by airing it on TV, but upon previewing it, I’m certain they realized it was never going to make any money in theaters, either. At least giving it to TV would have let the studio eliminate its theatrical marketing costs, not to mention the expense of making and distributing all of those prints of the film.

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