Films Bring Renewed Interest To Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz

Amy Poehler, left, is pictured with Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center executive director, during a visit to Jamestown by the actress and director. Poehler’s documentary on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz comes amid renewed interest in the “Queen of Comedy” and her husband. Photo by Brendan Bannon

While Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz have long been fascinating for many, the release of a biographical film last year coupled with a documentary this year have helped bring renewed interest to the icons.

Amy Poehler’s “Lucy and Desi” is one of the new endeavors focusing on Jamestown’s queen of comedy and Arnaz. Poehler recently visited the National Comedy Center for a special screening of the documentary that she directed and produced. “Being the Ricardos” featuring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem also helped shine a spotlight on the beloved “I Love Lucy” stars.

Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center executive director, spoke to The Post-Journal to discuss the local impact and what the projects bring to the table in the realm of Lucy and Desi lore.

Gunderson believes the new features have reinvigorated the interest the public has always felt for Ball and Arnaz, but perhaps in a different way.

“To me, it feels like looking at Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as a story through a 2022 lens is an opportunity to appreciate them in a way that they have been underappreciated until now,” Gunderson said. “As much as people thought it was novel or brave for Lucille Ball to insist that her Cuban husband play her husband on the show in early 1950s Hollywood, I think now people are equipped to truly appreciate how incredible it was that a woman and a minority took on and revolutionized the business of entertainment and built an empire.”

This image released by Amazon shows Lucille Ball, right, and Desi Arnaz in a photo from the documentary “Lucy and Desi.” Amazon via AP

Gunderson said the new attention has increased attention for the National Comedy Center and the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum for fans of all ages. While before visitors were often lifetime ‘Lucy’ fans, visitors now include those whose curiosity has been piqued by the revitalized focus on Ball and Desi.

“We see people visiting the National Comedy Center Center and the Lucy Desi Museum because Lucy and Desi are in the zeitgeist,” she said. “I think the appreciation people are now getting for Lucille Ball as a businesswoman resonates as they consider that the National Comedy Center itself was her vision for her hometown and they’re making that connection.”

The films also allow audiences new and old to uncover previously unknown information they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Gunderson said it is an opportunity to further connect with the couple’s legacy.

“I think that what we learn in both films is that these were complex, talented, incredibly hardworking, determined individuals and that nothing about their story — whether it be their careers or their personal relationships — is simple,” she said. “I think what we gain especially from Poehler’s documentary is a humanizing of both in a way that allows for a greater understanding and appreciation of their legacies.”

Gunderson added that Ball is also a role model for women and girls and her legacy in that light also continues today.

This image released by Amazon shows Lucille Ball, left, and Desi Arnaz in a photo from the documentary “Lucy and Desi.” Amazon via AP

“Many people knew Lucille Ball just as Lucy Ricardo and figured she was a funny actress,” Gunderson said, “but many more had no idea her tenacity in becoming the first female head of a major Hollywood studio while being a mother and while looking out for the livelihoods of everyone who worked in that empire.”

During her stop in Jamestown, Poehler said she had worked with Gunderson and Laura LaPlaca of the National Comedy Center on research for the documentary. She said Gunderson and LaPlaca helped fill in details for the documentary film during her visit.

“Journey Gunderson and Laura LaPlaca were amazing and helping us kind of fill in because there is so much context and subtext needed in order to talk about this incredible life and career,” Poehler said. “I think that you have to always make connections between the old and the new in order to try to make sense of things. So that was super instrumental.”

Poehler added that she learned a lot about Ball and Arnaz throughout the making of the film.

“It’s been a really interesting experience to figure out how to creatively enter that world and say something about it,” she said. “I think their early lives … have been a mystery for a long time and they certainly came from a generation that didn’t talk a lot about that stuff. They were forward thinkers and forward movers. Every day was an experience of learning more about the people we were talking about.”

Gunderson said Poehler was incredibly interested in making sure the story of Ball and Arnaz was told precisely.

“Amy Poehler was so dedicated to the accuracy and authenticity of the storytelling that I could tell from moment one of her several days in Jamestown in June that the story was in good hands,” Gunderson said. “The fact that she wanted to spend as much time as she did in Lucy’s hometown, to get a feel for Ball’s background and the essence of her upbringing and spent so much time int the depths of the National Comedy Center archives tells you how dedicated she was to getting this right as a director.”

She said area residents should take advantage of the rekindled interest in Ball and Arnaz to visit the National Comedy Center.

“There’s never been a better time to visit the National Comedy Center which was her idea and one that enriches the lives of the people who live here culturally and economically in a way that’s everlasting,” Gunderson said. “One can also have so much fun appreciating the laugh that Ball and Arnaz created by fun activities at the Comedy Center like wrapping the chocolates in a green screen studio and putting yourself in some of the funniest scenes of television history as a family. If you live here in the area and haven’t done so, there’s never been a better time to enjoy this legacy of your hometown.


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