Lucy Comes Home Again
Icon’s Visit Detailed In Book Authored By Jamestown Native
The 8-millimeter film, transferred to video by PC Projects, is priceless. Available on YouTube, it chronicles the February 1956 arrival of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Jamestown for the premiere of their MGM movie, “Forever Darling.”
In 2 minutes, 3 seconds, an observer 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 Jamestown; 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.
And then the video ends, and you wish there was more about Lucy and Desi’s visit 61 years ago, because, well, there had to be absolutely so much more to it.
So what happens? Chris Olsen comes to the rescue for all the fans of Lucy & Desi and for the entire community, really.
The Jamestown native and Los Angeles attorney has gone about connecting the dots to Lucy’s visit seven decades ago, courtesy of a book — a photographic journey, if you will — that he has compiled, entitled “Lucy Comes Home,” that will be released in April 2018.
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.
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In addition to being a lawyer, Olsen is a movie producer and a 1982 graduate of Jamestown High School. His connection to all things Lucy has its origins with his mother, the former Janice Swanson, who was Lucy’s “homecoming queen” during the actress’s 1956 visit. Swanson was bestowed the honor of hosting Lucy and Desi after winning a contest in which more than 14,000 votes were cast.
“I was beyond honored to be Lucy’s homecoming queen,” Swanson said. “What I loved most was seeing how much Lucy loved Jamestown and the people of Jamestown. It was truly an honor and a privilege to be a small part of that historic visit.”
Swanson said the book will allow readers a chance to “see and experience” what happened during Lucy’s visit.
“Here we are, 60 years later, remembering just how important it was — to Lucy and Desi, and to our town,” she said.
Olsen said the footprint for the book started in 2006, “when Mom was asked to come back (to Jamestown) for the Lucy Fest and speak, because it was the 50th anniversary of ‘Forever Darling,'” Olsen said during a phone interview last week.
If he ever needed a gentle nudge after that return to Jamestown 11 years ago, all Olsen had to do was look at a photograph that is framed and hanging in his home office in southern California. The image, taken by the late Post-Journal photographer, Richard Hallberg, shows Desi kissing a young blonde woman as he places a crown on her head.
That young lady is Jan, then 21 and the homecoming queen for Lucy and Desi’s visit.
“What meant the most to her was to see how much Lucy and Desi loved each other,” Olsen said. “The story she always tells is the one from the Crystal Ballroom, the homecoming dance and the crowning of ‘Miss Jamestown.’ There were so many people that most of them couldn’t sit down. Lucy and Desi got separated and Lucy stood on a table (to look for Desi). The awareness of each other was pretty amazing. As Desi was quoted as saying years later, ‘I Love Lucy’ was never just a title.'”
Olsen calls the book a love letter to both his mom and to Lucy. It will take the reader on quite a journey, one that began on Feb. 1, 1956, on the West Coast and included stops in other cities along the way to promote the film and to raise funds and awareness for the Heart Fund charity.
“(Lucy and Desi) left on a special train from Santa Monica, California to much fanfare,” Olsen said. “There was a marching band and tons of people. … It was such an affair that MGM sent a press corps. … They left Santa Monica, went through Chicago, to New York to Jamestown. After Jamestown, they went to Philadelphia and Dallas (and ultimately back to California).”
It’s in Jamestown, though, where Olsen has truly been able to turn back the clock.
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“Lucy Comes Home,” published by Glitterrari Incorporated/G Arts will feature photographs from Jan’s personal archives and from The Post-Journal, as well as those taken by Charlotte Brooks for LOOK magazine. In total, Olsen uncovered about 1,000 photographs of which several hundred will be included in the finished product. The book’s scheduled release date is April 26, 2018, the 29th anniversary of Lucy’s death.
“What’s impacted me the most has been the photographs … from The Post-Journal; WJTN’s radio broadcasts of the parade; and the (movie) premiere,” Olsen said. “They all tell the same story in different mediums. That story was Lucille Ball, who was the biggest star in the universe.”
During his research, Olsen also discovered that Lucy considered her return to Jamestown “one of the best days of her life.”
“You long for the people who know you best, who loved you and cared for you before you were anyone,” Olsen said. ” … She longed for that and celebrated how much she cared about the people of Jamestown and returning to her hometown. That’s what carried this story through.”
The story had plenty of subplots, too.
One involves Tony Cosimano, who was 15 the day that Lucy and Desi arrived in Jamestown via helicopter. A sophomore, Cosimano was joined by the rest of the Red Raider band, of which he was a member, and other JHS students as they waited on the football field behind the school to greet their special guests and ultimately to march in their honor in a parade through downtown.
On a different day, Cosimano would likely have stayed home. He was battling a cold, but he convinced his mother that this was a day he couldn’t miss, so he braved the elements. As it’s turned out, the decision was one of the best he ever made. Cosimano couldn’t have known it at the time, but his life trajectory was about to change as soon as the Bell helicopter, piloted by JHS alum and former Lucy classmate, Floyd Carlson, landed on the football field.
Sure, he would continue to pursue his love for music — after graduating from JHS in 1958 he studied at the University of Michigan for a year and at Fredonia State for six months, auditioned successfully for the United States Military Academy band and ultimately performed with that group at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade — but it was flying that interested him most. In fact, Cosimano would go on to serve in Vietnam as a U.S. Army combat helicopter pilot, and he continues to employ his rotary aircraft skills and knowledge with his company, International Aircraft Purchase and Lease, LLC.
All of that has transpired in Cosimano’s life because he got out of his sickbed as a teenager to stand in the cold and wet behind Jamestown High School and wait for the arrival of Lucille Ball.
“I firmly believe that if you have enough of a passion for what you want to do or what you think you want to do, follow that passion and it will come,” Cosimano said. “It may take a while, but if you believe in it, stay with it.”
Olsen could have said the same thing about his desire to tell the story of Jamestown’s most famous native. He had the passion, he had the belief and he stayed with it.
“I credit my fifth-grade teacher at Persell (Elementary School), Bruce Widen, for giving me the encouragement and inspiration to write,” Olsen said. “Mr. Widen taught me that the arts and creative writing can be just as cool and fun as sports.”
It’s clear that Olsen found “cool and fun” in his latest project.
“‘Lucy Comes Home’ is a chronicle of a very meaningful and important time in Lucy’s life as well as for the people of Jamestown,” he said. “The book will celebrate this historic visit, help those who were there to remember just how exciting — how epic — her visit was. And, if we do it correctly, it will allow those who weren’t there to feel like they were.”
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A portion of the proceeds from “Lucy Comes Home” will be donated to the Lucille Ball Scholarship Fund to encourage and support the arts for local students in and around Jamestown; the Alex George Gregory Foulk Memorial Fund to raise awareness and provide assistance, education and support away from drug addiction in the community and beyond; and the Thorn Tree project, which provides education, resources and opportunities for more than 1,500 young boy and girl students in Kenya