(9:05 PM) How A Former Mayor Attempted To Reunite Lucille Ball With Her Hometown
It might be a forgotten art, but the power of carefully worded letters might be the very reason the National Comedy Center is on the verge of opening in Jamestown.
Former Jamestown Mayor Steve Carlson wrote several letters to Lucille Ball, and her family and friends, to convince the Broadway, television and movie star to return to Jamestown in the mid-1980s. We know about these letters today because Carlson kept a large box of his correspondence with “The First Lady Of Comedy,” which was given to Sam Teresi, Jamestown mayor, following Carlson’s death in 2014.
In January 1985, Carlson wrote a letter on official city letterhead to Ball asking her to please return to her hometown. At the time, it had been about 30 years since Lucy had visited Jamestown. Her last visit was in 1956 for the premier of her movie “Forever, Darling,” which also starred her first husband Desi Arnaz as well as James Mason.
Carlson didn’t just correspond with Lucy. In April 1985, Carlson wrote a letter to Gary Morton, Ball’s second husband, about bringing Lucy back to Jamestown. Carlson even wrote a letter to another Jamestown native turned actor Greg Mullavey, who was best known for the television show “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” who ate dinner every once in awhile with Ball and Morton.
“Carlson was working all angles to get Lucy home,” Teresi said.
In 1987, Carlson wrote a second letter to Lucy that focused on how her native city could honor her. In the letter, Carlson discussed the work that was being done to restore the Palace Theater, now known as the Reg Lenna. At the time, the theater had fallen into disarray, but the Arts Council of Chautauqua County, which was headed by Philip Morris, was working to renovate the structure. Carlson had suggested that when the theater was restored they could name it after Ball, where she had performed, along with at the Little Theater, before becoming a worldwide star.
During this time, Carlson had not made it publicly known that he was writing letters to Ball to work out her return to Jamestown, Teresi said. So when Reg Lenna made a $1 million donation toward the renovations, if local foundations matched the gift, the theater board named the newly renovated facility after Lenna.
This, of course, led to another letter written by Carlson to Ball to inform her that they would have to find another way to honor her in Jamestown. Teresi said this is when the two started nurturing ideas, which led to the development of the Lucille Ball Festival of New Comedy, which was going to be a celebration about developing new comic talents and encouraging comedy playwrights.
See tomorrow’s edition of The Sunday Post-Journal for complete coverage.