Memory Preserved

30 Years After Passing, Lucille Ball Still Has Impact

The May 18, 1991 cover of The Post-Journal Tempo Magazine. P-J file photo

It’s been 30 years since Lucille Ball, Jamestown’s most famous comedienne, passed away at the age of 77 after an aortic rupture.

Ball’s impact on the world of comedy and on Jamestown speak for itself.

In addition to starring in feature films like Forever, Darling, and the iconic I Love Lucy, Ball made her mark on the world of television through DesiLu Productions, the studio Ball created with her husband, Desi Arnaz, and later ran on her own while launching such famed television shows as “Star Trek,” “Mission Impossible” and “The Untouchables,” as well as serving as the studio home for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” The Andy Griffith Show, “The Jack Benny Program,” “The Danny Thomas Show,” and “My Three Sons.”

As for Jamestown, look no further than the National Comedy Center and the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center, entities that preserve both Ball’s memory and contributions to comedy as well as exploring comedy as an art form. Thousands of people flood to Jamestown each year for the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, a sign of the impact Ball’s name still has three decades after her passing.

NEW ROUND OF TRIBUTES

Tributes poured out online Friday from fans and stars like Marie Osmond. The Hollywood Museum hosted a Remembering Lucy event earlier this week that also served as the unveiling of the museum’s new Remembering Lucy exhibit. The event was attended by several special guests, including Kate Luckinbill-Conner, Lucy’s granddaughter and daughter of actors Lucie Arnaz and Lawrence Luckinbill. Luckinbill-Conner also announced The Lucy Legacy, a project to bring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz into the present.

Lucie Arnaz was unable to attend the event due to a scheduling conflict with her own performance in Florida, but posted taped comments on her Instagram page.

“But, this is a wonderful tribute to her and I think that Mom would be very pleased to know that, 30 years after she ‘left the building,’ she is still remembered so fondly,” Arnaz wrote. “Lucille Desiree Ball grew up with an inordinate amount of sadness in her early life and, after all of that, all she ever wanted to do was ‘make people laugh,’ to try to make their trials, their tribulations disappear for a few minutes, help them feel a little bit better. How lucky that she was able to make a living doing what she loved. And she has been parsing out that same medicine for close to 70 years. Many people have found inspiration from her professional body of work as well as courage from her personal story. But, I think what would make her most proud today would be seeing how her grandchildren have embraced … and expanded … the entire Lucy Legacy, focusing us all on the growing relevance of her and my dad’s contributions even today. It fills my heart to see my daughter, Kate, or stepson, Nick, tell me how the show and her legacy impact their generation, bringing LUCY into this new century with such zeal, such enthusiasm. Being a generation removed, they have been able to embrace this phenomenon from a whole new perspective and breathe brilliant new life into what Lucy, Desi and I Love Lucy represent.”

DIGITAL ARCHIVES ANNOUNCED

As for the National Comedy Center, the local organization announced Friday that it will launch a new initiative to digitally preserve the extensive archives of the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum.

Lucille Ball at her childhood home in Celoron. File photo

The National Comedy Center, which last month was designated by the United States Congress as the official national cultural institution dedicated to comedy, will begin to digitize hundreds of documents, photographs and media in the archives, in order to preserve this material for future generations and make it accessible to comedy fans from around the world. These archives include behind-the-scenes production papers, rare family and studio photographs, handwritten notes, letters and telegrams from notable figures to Ball and Arnaz, most of which have never been exhibited previously. The archival material will be made available within the National Comedy Center and Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum exhibits in the coming years.

Part of the National Comedy Center complex, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum explores the legacy of the “First Couple of Comedy” and the impact they had on comedy and popular culture. It features original artifacts and material from Ball and Arnaz’s life and career, and their revolutionary impact on entertainment as founders of Desilu Productions, which, by 1962, became the largest independent television production company in the United States, producing legendary series including “I Love Lucy,” “Star Trek,” “Mission Impossible” and “The Untouchables,” as well as serving as the studio home for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” The Andy Griffith Show, “The Jack Benny Program,” “The Danny Thomas Show,” “My Three Sons,” and many more.

“Lucille Ball was a true pioneer, an innovator, and an immense talent. It has been our tremendous honor to make her dream a reality, with the opening of the National Comedy Center last August – and to see the incredible response from our visitors,” said Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center executive director. “Now, on this milestone anniversary, we look forward to digitally preserving our Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz archives in a way that makes their story forever-accessible and engaging for generations to come.”

With “I Love Lucy,” Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz created and starred in one of the most beloved series in television history. She was nominated for 13 Emmy awards, winning four times for her work in “I Love Lucy” and “The Lucy Show. Beyond her legacy as a comedic actress, Ball was the first female head of a major Hollywood production studio and known to be a savvy business woman in an otherwise male-dominated industry. While she supported Jamestown’s early concepts to build a museum in her honor, she expressed the desire for it to be a much broader celebration and examination of comedy, which led to the development of the National Comedy Center, the first museum devoted to comedy as an art form.

For more than 25 years, the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in Jamestown has showcased comedy’s rising young comedians and greatest stars, including Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Jay Leno, Lily Tomlin, Lewis Black, Trevor Noah, Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Gaffigan, Paula Poundstone, Ray Romano, Bob Newhart and The Smothers Brothers, and more than 100 other comedic artists. The 28th annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, presented by the National Comedy Center this August, will be headlined by Sebastian Maniscalco and John Mulaney.

Lucille Ball went solo, returning to the airwaves in The Lucy Show in 1962. Later, the show was redesigned and became Here’s Lucy. Gale Gordon, left, became her new sidekick. File photo

A CHILDHOOD FRIEND’S REMEMBRANCES

Thirty years ago, area residents shared their memories of Lucille Ball through a special section in The Post-Journal. Many of the remembrances focused on Lucy’s decision to host a premier of “Forever, Darling” in Jamestown or of chance encounters with the famous comedienne. One, in particular, stood out through the lens of 30 years — the remembrances of Cecelia Ditonto Welch, who wrote a letter to The Post-Journal detailing Lucy’s lunch-time plays in Celoron and the times she would occasionally catch up with Lucy in the years that followed.

“About once a month, Lucy would put on a little one-act play which she would make up all by herself,” Welch wrote. “She was so talented. She would perform in the school yard during the warm winter months. At lunch time, she would go home, eat lunch and come right back with a bag full of clothing for “dress up.” She asked me to help her dress up for her act. She would hide behind the bushes to get ready and dress up for her act. All the children would be waiting for her to perform out on the school yard.”

While Welch and Lucy were friends in elementary school, Welch later moved to Jamestown and the two lost touch. It wasn’t until Lucy visited Jamestown in the 1940s that the two saw each other again during an appearance at the Hotel Jamestown. They met up, again at the Hotel Jamestown, in 1956 and then again in the 1960s when Lucy was performin at Universal Studios with John Davidson.

“It sure was a great show,” Welch wrote. “When watching the show, I saw Lucy’s mom close by and when the show was over, I went to see her. Lucy’s mom was so happy to see me and she directed me to Lucy’s office, where she went after the show. Again, we had a nice visit. She said, ‘When I come to Jamestown, I want to see you.’ About three months ago, I wrote to Lucy and received from her, a beautiful picture. I was so happy! Lucy was a great friend — kind, honest and talented.”

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