Book Chronicling Lucille Ball’s 1956 Visit To Launch Today

Jamestown native Chris Olsen signs a copy of his book, “Lucy Comes Home” for Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi on Wednesday. Olsen’s 208-page book details the February 1956 visit of Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, to Jamestown for the premiere of their MGM movie, “Forever Darling.” P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

Luck? I don’t know anything about luck. I’ve never banked on it and I’m afraid of people who do. Luck to me is something else: Hard work — and realizing what is opportunity and what isn’t.”

— Lucille Ball

Chris Olsen is a Los Angeles-based attorney and a movie producer, but a good portion of his heart remains where he grew up.

In Jamestown.

On Westwood Drive.

With his dad, Ted; his mom, Janice; and his sisters, Sharyn and Cindy.

And when Olsen needs a reminder of his love for his hometown, all he has to do is walk into his home office and cast his gaze to a framed photograph to know that he and his family have a connection to one of the most memorable moments in Jamestown’s history.

Forever.

Or, should I say, “Forever Darling.”

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In February 1956, actress and Jamestown native Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, arrived in town for the premiere of their MGM movie, “Forever Darling.” Thanks to a video archived on YouTube, one can see the helicopter that carries the iconic couple hovering over the old football field behind Jamestown High School; he or she can watch Desi wave to a crowd of onlookers during a parade through downtown; and he or she can witness the crush of people as they pour into Dipson’s Palace Theater on East Third Street to watch the movie for the first time.

But as thrilling as that video is, you wish there was more.

Enter Olsen.

The married father of four has gone about connecting the dots to Lucy’s visit seven decades ago, courtesy of a 208-page book — a photographic journey, if you will — that he has compiled, entitled, “Lucy Comes Home”(GArts, 2018). It was released earlier this month and its official launch will be held today at the Robert H. Jackson Center, beginning with a reception at 5 p.m. followed by a panel discussion at 6 p.m.

“This is the first real event since the book has come out,” Olsen said Wednesday morning. “I can’t think of a better place to do the initial book launch than here in Jamestown — the town Lucy loved and the town that has taken her legacy and moved it forward with the Lucy-Desi Center, the National Comedy Center and all the great things happening here in Jamestown. To just take a moment and celebrate how much her return meant to this city is priceless.”

Included in the 200-300 photographs are the megastars’ visit to Lucy’s former home in Celoron, to Jamestown General Hospital and to Bigelow’s Department Store; their appearances at the Crystal Ballroom in the Hotel Jamestown and at the Temple Hesed Abraham’s Sports Night at the same venue; and the warm and enthusiastic reception they received from the Western New York town that Lucy once called home.

So what is Olsen’s connection to that event 62 years ago?

His mom, the former Janice Swanson, was Lucy’s “homecoming queen” during the actress’s visit. Jan was bestowed the honor of hosting Lucy and Desi after winning a contest in which more than 14,000 votes were cast. The photograph mentioned above — taken by The Post-Journal’s Dick Hallberg — shows Jan receiving a kiss from Desi as hundreds of people look on in a packed-to-the-rafters Crystal Ballroom at the Hotel Jamestown.

“I always loved that picture,” Olsen said. “I loved that it was black and white, and I loved that it was vintage American and that it was of my mother.”

But as he found out, there were many more photos that were taken besides the ones that appeared in The Post-Journal and The Jamestown Sun. Several trips to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. confirmed for Olsen the existence of more than 1,000 images taken by Charlotte Brooks of Look magazine, whose job it was to capture every aspect of Lucy’s visit to her hometown.

“What I love most about the book and the photos is it really connects Lucy and Desi to Jamestown in a way that few people could really appreciate until you see the photographs,” Olsen said. “Here she is, the biggest star in the universe, and if you look at her face there’s elation, there’s joy, there’s emotion. It says it all. … You really see in those photos and, hopefully, the book portrays how much it meant to her. You can clearly see what it means to the people in the town.”

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Fast-forward to 2018. To today specifically.

After the reception at the Jackson Center, local attorney and historian Greg Peterson will host a panel discussion that will include people who either witnessed Lucy and Desi’s homecoming in 1956 or have a connection to the couple or the activities during their stay. For Olsen, it will also serve as a celebration of his mom, the person who inspired the book in the first place, and it will affirm Lucy’s quote from the beginning of this story was spot on.

Olsen’s hard work turned into an opportunity, and now, through his book, the people who love Lucy and the community she once called home are the beneficiaries.

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