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Her Name Was Skeeter: The Mystery of the Missing Muppet

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Michael Frith doesn’t recall who first sketched out Skeeter, the myopic Muppet first introduced in the CBS animated series Muppet Babies (1984-1991). She could’ve been named, he says, by the Muppets's creator, the late Jim Henson. Along with Bob Richardson and Frith, all three producers on the show, Henson recognized a need for a strong female character to help balance the anarchy provided by an infantilized Miss Piggy. As the twin sister of established Muppet Scooter, Skeeter was athletic, smart, and capable—all qualities that the little girls watching the show would want to emulate.

“She was a great character,” Frith tells mental_floss. “She was more extroverted than Piggy and brought all kinds of positive energy to the show. I always loved Skeeter.”

So did viewers. But once Muppet Babies wrapped after seven seasons, she appeared to be one of the few Henson-inspired creations to wind up on the Muppet unemployment line. Over time, her fans began to question why Skeeter never appeared in subsequent movies or television series and specials, or earn even a passing mention by her former cribmates. Was Skeeter persona non grata in the Muppetverse? Was Muppet Babies canonical? Never reproduced in felt form, was she even technically a Muppet? Where had this model of female empowerment gone?

If Frank Oz had gotten his way, none of the Muppet Babies would have been birthed. In the early 1980s, Frith had been keen on the idea of regressing the adult Muppets—Kermit, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, and Fozzie Bear among them—into children for animation. The idea, Frith says, was to use the characters to impart moral and educational messages in ways that would be difficult after they had reached Muppet adolescence.

“Piggy as an adult is not particularly sympathetic to a kid,” he says. “But as a child, she is. Jim loved the idea.”

Oz did not. A longtime puppeteer who performed as Miss Piggy before moving into film directing, Oz was adamant the Muppets not be simplified for a juvenile audience. “He felt it was inappropriate to take characters from one medium with adult characteristics and move them into another," Frith says. "The Muppet Show was intended for families, not just kids.” Sesame Street was Henson’s nod to children; the Muppets were supposed to be slightly edgier.

For a time, Oz got his wish. But during production on 1984’s feature, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Henson found a workaround. According to Frith, Henson casually floated the idea of supervising a segment of the movie. He told Oz, the director, of his plans.

“Sure, Jim,” Oz said. “What’s it going to be about?”

“Well,” Henson said, “I thought it would be nice to do a thing where the Muppets are babies.”

Frith and the rest of Henson’s team got to work on designing and assembling live-action Muppets that appeared as children in a dream sequence. The response to the scene was so strong that CBS began petitioning Henson to do an animated series with the same premise.

Muppet Babies premiered in 1984 to big ratings, becoming a staple of Saturday morning television. But during its development, Frith and the other writers and producers were confronted with a gender imbalance in the cast, something Frith says could be attributed to the heavily male-skewing puppeteers who had worked in the Henson studios since the 1960s.

“We had Piggy and Nanny, strong female characters, but we needed at least one more,” says Frith. “The Muppets evolved around the puppeteers. You can say dispraisingly it was a boys’ club, but no more so than The Beatles were.”

The result was Skeeter, who was bold, brash, and adventurous—the total opposite of her nerdy twin brother. In the show’s many fantasy sequences—which often used clips from film and television shows—she was a problem-solver. (Frith, incidentally, is amused that the clips were perceived as a stroke of genius: They were used because the show didn’t have the budget to be fully animated.)

During the cartoon's run, Skeeter made a little-known but very public appearance as part of a Muppet Babies live stage show. Instead of being designed to fit on a hand, she and the rest of the Babies were formulated into towering, seven-foot costumes worn by performers. It would turn out be the only time she appeared in “person.” Despite several movies and series produced following Babies, Frith says that no one considered using Skeeter as a utility player. During a “home movies” segment for a 1987 television special, the Babies are seen as live-action Muppets: Skeeter is conspicuously absent.

“We never said, ‘Oh, let’s take an old Scooter puppet and put on some long hair and a dress,’” explains Frith. “One of the problems one has with a vast repertory company is accounting for all of the characters and giving them the face time they need. It becomes a handful to try and corral.”

Skeeter did appear in various Muppet Babies-themed storybooks and toy lines throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but always as an illustrated cast member and never as an adult. By the time Disney purchased the Muppets from The Jim Henson Company in 2004, her chances of resurfacing were reduced even further. It would take a die-hard Skeeter fan to help answer the question of what happened when she finally grew up.

Amy Mebberson

Amy Mebberson was one of the legions of girls who sat in front of their televisions admiring Skeeter. A native of Australia, Mebberson moved to the States in 2006 to pursue a career in illustration. In 2009, she was recruited as a penciler for Boom! Studios, which was launching a Muppet Show comic book. It did not take long for Mebberson to make her pitch.

“I consider the Muppet Babies cartoon an integral part of Muppet history,” Mebberson tells mental_floss. “Although Skeeter was made for the cartoon, she left enough of an impact on fans that we were all left wondering whatever happened to her when they [all] grew up. The comics gave us an opportunity to explore that.”

In 2009, Mebberson pitched the comic’s writer, Roger Langridge, on a Skeeter appearance, sketching out how she thought the character might look as an adult. Langridge and Boom!, in turn, had to get Disney’s approval. The company's response helps explain—at least in part—why Skeeter has proven to be such an elusive presence in Muppet lore over the past 25 years.

According to Jesse Post, a former Disney employee who acted as a go-between for licensees like Boom! and the caretakers at The Muppets Studio, Disney shared Frank Oz’s preference to keep the characters aimed toward adulthood. It's an assertion supported by a 2008 piece in The New York Times, which indicated that some children could not readily identify Kermit or his colleagues.

Muppet Babies was verboten at the time,” Post tells mental_floss. Conferencing with Susan Butterworth, then-head of all things Muppet-related, in San Diego one year, Post says she loved the idea of including Skeeter in the comic series, but didn’t want to make any overt associations with the animated series. (Officially, a source inside Disney tells mental_floss that Skeeter hasn’t appeared in any projects because she was never technically a Muppet.)

“The thing with Muppet Babies was, during the time between the [2004] acquisition and the [2011] Jason Segel movie, Disney had targeted the property to adults almost exclusively,” he says, “with some secondary targets among the different children's age groups. The concern was that an [adult] movie might not work out if there's an onslaught of Muppets diapers and baby bottles out in the market, which makes perfect sense.”

The mandate, while not written in stone, was that the Muppets were preparing for a big-screen relaunch that needed adult ticket buyers and didn't need to be referencing a time when they crawled around on all fours, which made invoking Muppet Babies a problem. Initially, Mebberson and Langridge didn’t get a green light to refer to Skeeter by name—that came later. In the four issues in which she appeared, a framing device featuring balcony vultures Statler and Waldorf helped reinforce the idea that the story might be taking place out of continuity. Disney, it appears, is not committed to acknowledging Muppet Babies as canonical. Neither is anyone else.

“It had its own world the same way the Muppets did,” Frith says. “If you try to parse the movies, the shows, you’ll find all kinds of inconsistencies. I don’t know if they’re alternate worlds. Maybe parallel. It’s a bunch of quantum physics.”

Mebberson’s The Muppet Show arc wrapped up in 2010. She’s since snuck in a few fleeting Skeeter sightings when illustrating Muppet storybooks. In the speculative continuity of both Mebberson and Frith, Skeeter is a world traveler, prone to finding herself in far corners of the globe. “People like to depict fraternal twins as polar opposites,” Mebberson says, “so it kind of naturally lends that if Scooter is the homebody who loves his mother, Skeeter would be the wild child who rebelled and ran away to join the circus or something.”

For his part, Frith—who is retired from Muppet-related projects but recently collaborated on an app, Leonardo’s Cat—believes Skeeter is doing some philanthropic work similar to his own: He’s part of No Strings International, a program dedicated to using puppetry to bring some consolation to poverty-stricken children in third-world areas. “I imagine she’s in the Arctic,” he says. “Or in the Middle East.”

Fans who are truly curious may want to pose the question to the source. Promoting ABC’s The Muppets via Twitter in 2015, Skeeter’s brother, Scooter, was asked what became of his sister.

“Skeeter is currently studying overseas,” he said. “And if she ever reaches dry land, she’ll come visit.”

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15 Fascinating Facts About Candyman
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Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a Chicago graduate student with a deep fascination with urban legends, which she and her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are using as the basis for a thesis project. After they stumble across the local legend of Candyman, a well-to-do black artist who fell in love with a white woman in the late 1800s and was murdered for it, Helen wants to learn more. When she’s told that Candyman still haunts Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project, and that his spirit can be summoned by repeating his name into a mirror five times, Helen does just that … and all hell breaks loose.

What began as a low-budget indie film has morphed into a contemporary classic of the horror genre, and essential Halloween viewing. In 1992, English filmmaker Bernard Rose—who got his start working as a gopher on The Muppet Show—turned Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” into Candyman, which was released in theaters 25 years ago today. In honor of the film’s anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about Candyman.

1. EDDIE MURPHY WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE LEAD.

Though the role of Candyman turned Tony Todd into a horror icon, he wasn’t the only actor in consideration for the film’s title role: Eddie Murphy was also reportedly a contender for the part. Though it’s unclear exactly why he wasn’t cast, sources have reported that it had to do with everything from his height (at 5 feet 9 inches, he wouldn’t seem nearly as intimidating as the 6-foot-5 Todd) to his salary demands.

2. AN UNEXPECTED PREGNANCY LANDED VIRGINIA MADSEN THE LEAD.

Virginia Madsen stars in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

When asked by HorrorNewsNetwork about how she got the role of Helen in Candyman, Virginia Madsen shared that it was almost by accident: She was supposed to play Bernie, Helen’s friend and classmate, the role that eventually went to Kasi Lemmons.

“I was actually very good friends with Bernard [Rose] and his wife Alexandra,” Madsen said. “She is a wonderful actress, who actually brought Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’ to her husband. She thought this would be a great film, and he could direct her. She was supposed to be Helen. I was going to play [Kasi Lemmons'] part, until they made the character African American. Then I was out.

“Right before shooting, Alexandra found out she was pregnant. It was great for me, but it was so sad for her because this was her role; she found this story and really wanted it. So when I was asked to step in I felt like ‘I can’t take my friend’s role.’ She actually came over one day and said ‘It would just kill me to see someone else play this role, you have to be the one who plays it.’ So with her blessing I took on the role. I really tried to work my butt off just to honor her.”

3. IT COULD HAVE STARRED SANDRA BULLOCK.

On the film’s DVD commentary, producer Alan Poul said that had Madsen been unable to step into the role of Helen, the part would have likely been offered to Sandra Bullock, who was still a relative unknown actress at that point. Though she had played the role of Tess McGill in the television adaptation of Working Girl, she was still a couple of years away from Speed (1994), the role that launched her into stardom.

4. ITS OPENING SHOT WAS GROUNDBREAKING.

The film’s opening credits feature a great aerial view of Chicago, which was pretty revolutionary for its time. “We did that with an incredible new machine called the Skycam, which can shoot up to a 500mm lens with no vibration,” Rose told The Independent. “You've never seen that shot before, at least not done that smoothly.”

5. NOT ALL OF THE FILM’S CREEPY DETAILS SPRUNG FROM CLIVE BARKER’S IMAGINATION.

While investigating one of Candyman’s crime scenes, Helen and Bernie discover that the design of the apartment’s medicine cabinet made it a possible point of entry for an intruder. This was not a made-up piece of horror movie fiction. While researching the film, Rose learned that a series of murders had been committed in Chicago in this very way.

6. BERNARD ROSE SEES CANDYMAN AS A ROMANTIC FIGURE.

Tony Todd stars in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Viewers may think of Candyman as one of the horror genre’s most terrifying villains, but Rose said that “the idea always was that he was kind of a romantic figure. And again, romantic in sort of the Edgar Allan Poe sense—it's the romance of death. He's a ghost, and he's also the resurrection of something that is kind of unspoken or unspeakable in American history, which is slavery, as well. So he's kind of come back and he's haunting what is the new version of the racial segregation in Chicago.

“And I think there's also something very seductive and very sweet and very romantic about him, and that's what makes him interesting. In the same way there is about Dracula. In the end, the Bogeyman is someone you want to surrender to. You're not just afraid of. There's a certain kind of joy in his seduction. And Tony was always so romantic. Tony ties him in so elegantly and is such a gentleman. He was wonderful.”

7. THE BEES IN THE FILM WERE BRED SPECIFICALLY TO APPEAR ONSCREEN.

No, that is not CGI! The bees that play a key role in Candyman are indeed real. So that they looked appropriately terrifying, but were less dangerous to the cast and crew, the filmmakers used newborn bees—they were just 12 hours old—so that they looked fully grown, but had less powerful stingers.

8. TONY TODD WAS STUNG 23 TIMES, AND GOT A BONUS EACH TIME IT HAPPENED.

Photo of Tony Todd in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

In addition to allowing the filmmakers to cover his face with bees, Todd actually agreed to film a scene in which he had a mouthful of bees—and that, too, was all real. He told TMZ that he wore a dental dam to prevent any bees from sliding into his throat—which doesn’t mean that he didn’t suffer a sting or two … or 23, to be exact, over the course of three Candyman movies. Though it might have been worth it. “I had a great lawyer,” he told TMZ. “A thousand dollars a pop.”

9. THE BEES WEREN’T GREAT NEWS FOR MADSEN, EITHER.

Madsen, too, had to get up close and personal with those bees—a fact that almost forced her to pass on the role. “When Bernie was first asking me to do the role I said, ‘Well, I can’t. I’m allergic to bees,’” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “He said ‘No you’re not allergic to bees, you’re just afraid.’ So I had to go to UCLA and get tested because he didn’t believe [me]. I was tested for every kind of venom. I was far more allergic to wasps. So he said, ‘We’ll just [have] paramedics there, it will be fine!’ You know actors, we’ll do anything for a paycheck! So fine, I’ll be covered with bees.

“So we a had a bee wrangler and he pretty much told us you can’t freak out around the bees, or be nervous, or swat at them, it would just aggravate them. They used baby bees on me. They can still sting you, but are less likely. When they put the bees on me it was crazy because they have fur. They felt like little Q-tips roaming around on me. Then you have pheromones on you, so they’re all in love with you and think you’re a giant queen. I really just had to go into this Zen sort of place and the takes were very short. What took the longest was getting the bees off of us. They had this tiny ‘bee vacuum,’ which wouldn’t harm the bees. After the scene where the bees were all over my face and my head, it took both Tony and I 45 minutes just to get the bees off. That’s when it became difficult to sit still. It was cool though, I felt like a total badass doing it.”

10. PHILIP GLASS COMPOSED THE SCORE, BUT WAS DISAPPOINTED IN THE MOVIE.

When Philip Glass signed on to compose the score for Candyman, he apparently envisioned the final film being something totally different. According to Rolling Stone, “What he'd presumed would be an artful version of Clive Barker's short story ‘The Forbidden’ had ended up, in his view, a low-budget slasher.” Glass was reportedly disappointed in the film, and felt that he had been manipulated. Still, the haunting music is considered a classic score—and Glass’s own view of it seems to have softened over time. “It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year,” he told Variety in 2014.

11. MANY OF THE FILM'S SCENES WERE SHOT AT CABRINI-GREEN.

In 2011, the last remaining high-rise in the Cabrini-Green housing project was demolished. Over the years, the property—which opened in 1942—gained a notorious reputation around the world for being a haven for violence, drugs, gangs, and other criminal activities. While the project’s real-life history weaves its way into the narrative of Candyman, it only makes sense that Rose would want to shoot there. Which he did. But in order to gain permission to shoot there, he had to agree to cast some of the residents as extras.

“I went to Chicago on a research trip to see where it could be done and I was shown around by some people from the Illinois Film Commission and they took me to Cabrini-Green,” Rose said. “And I spent some time there and I realized that this was an incredible arena for a horror movie because it was a place of such palpable fear. And rule number one when you're making a horror movie is set it somewhere frightening. And the fear of the urban housing project, it seemed to me, was actually totally irrational because you couldn't really be in that much danger. Yes, there was crime there, but people were actually afraid of driving past it. And there was such an aura of fear around the place and I thought that was really something interesting to look into because it's sort of a kind of fear that's at the heart of modern cities. And obviously, it's racially motivated, but more than that—it's poverty motivated.”

12. THE FILM’S PRODUCERS WERE WORRIED THAT THE FILM WOULD BE CONSIDERED RACIST.

During pre-production, Candyman’s producers began to worry that the film might draw criticism for being racist, given that its villain was black and it was largely set in an infamous housing project. “I had to go and have a whole set of meetings with the NAACP, because the producers were so worried,” Rose told The Independent. “And what they said to me when they'd read the script was 'Why are we even having this meeting? You know, this is just good fun.' Their argument was 'Why shouldn't a black actor be a ghost? Why shouldn't a black actor play Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lecter? If you're saying that they can't be, it's really perverse. This is a horror movie.'”

13. STILL, SOME FILMMAKERS COMPLAINED THAT IT WAS RACIST.

In a 1992 story in the Chicago Tribune, some high-profile black filmmakers expressed their disappointment that the film seemed to perpetuate several racist stereotypes. “There’s no question that this film plays on white middle-class fears of black people,” director Carl Franklin (Out of Time, Devil in a Blue Dress) said. “It unabashedly uses racial stereotypes and destructive myths to create shock. I found it hokey and unsettling. It didn't work for me because I don’t share those fears, buy into those myths.”

Reginald Hudlin, who directed House Party, Boomerang, and Marshall, described the film as “worrisome,” though he didn’t want to speak on the record about his specific issues with the film. “I've gotten calls about [the movie], but I think I'm going to reserve comment,” he said. “Some of my friends are in it and I may someday want to work for TriStar.”

For Rose, those assessments may have been hard to hear, as his goal in adapting Barker’s story and directing it was to upend the myths about inner cities. “[T]he tradition of oral storytelling is very much alive, especially when it's a scary story,” he told The Independent. “And the biggest urban legend of all for me was the idea that there are places in cities where you do not go, because if you go in them something dreadful will happen—not to say that there isn't danger in ghettos and inner city areas, but the exaggerated fear of them is an urban myth.”

14. IT’S STILL THE ROLE THAT MADSEN IS MOST RECOGNIZED FOR (ESPECIALLY AT AIRPORTS).

Kasi Lemmons and Virginia Madsen in 'Candyman'
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Though she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination in 2005 for Alexander Payne’s Sideways, in 2012 Madsen said that Candyman is still the role she is most recognized for—especially at airports.

“More people recognize me from that movie than anything I’ve done,” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “It means a lot to me. It was after years of struggling. As an actor, you always want a film that’s annual, like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. I just love that I have a Halloween movie. Now it’s kind of legend this story. People have watched it since they were kids, and every Halloween it’s on, and they watch it now with their kids. That means a lot to me. The place I get recognized the most is the airport security for some reason. Every person in airport security has seen Candyman. Maybe it makes them a little afraid of me.”

15. THERE WAS AN ACTUAL CANDYMAN KILLER.

Though the Chicago-based legend of Candyman is a work of fiction, there was an actual serial killer known as “Candyman” or “The Candy Man.” Between 1970 and 1973, Dean Corll kidnapped, tortured, and murdered at least 28 young boys in the Houston area. Corll earned his sweet nickname from the fact that his family owned a candy factory.

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About I Love Lucy
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When I Love Lucy premiered on October 15, 1951, no one could have predicted that it would become one of television’s most beloved and enduring programs of all time. But a combination of innovative filming techniques, the dogged perfectionism of star Lucille Ball, top-notch writing, the “can do” attitude of the production staff, and the business savvy of Desi Arnaz, I Love Lucy topped the Nielsen ratings for four out of its six seasons and picked up a handful of Emmys along the way. And even though the show’s main stars couldn’t stay married to one another (Lucy and Desi divorced in 1960, after 20 years of marriage), they remained the best of friends. As Desi would proclaim until his dying day, “I Love Lucy was never just a title.”

1. CBS DIDN’T THINK AMERICANS WOULD BUY THAT LUCY WAS MARRIED TO A “FOREIGN” MAN.

When CBS approached Lucille Ball with the offer of turning her popular radio show My Favorite Husband into a television show, she was agreeable with one condition: that her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, would be cast in the role of her spouse (played on the radio by Richard Denning). The network balked—there was no way that American viewers would accept average housewife Liz Cooper (her character’s name on the radio series) being married to a “foreign” man with an indecipherable accent. Never mind the fact that Lucy and Desi had been married more than a decade; such a “mixed” marriage was unbelievable.

2. LUCY AND DESI HAD TO TAKE THEIR SHOW ON THE ROAD TO CONVINCE THE NETWORK BRASS.

Arnaz had a successful career touring the country with his rhumba band, which was one of the reasons Lucille wanted him to get cast as her TV husband—to keep him off the road and close to home. In an effort to show the network (and potential sponsors) that they could work together as a comedy team, they crafted a sort of vaudevillian skit that was inserted into the middle of performances by the Desi Arnaz Orchestra during a tour in the summer of 1950. The audiences roared over Lucille’s antics and her interaction with Desi as she interrupted his band’s concert confusedly, cello in hand, thinking she had an audition scheduled. The “Professor” skit not only convinced the network powers that be that the couple could, in fact, be convincing as husband and wife—it also was such a hit that it was incorporated into episode six of I Love Lucy’s first season.

3. THE SHOW BROKE GROUND IN SEVERAL WAYS, SIMPLY BECAUSE THE ARNAZES WOULDN’T MOVE TO NEW YORK.

Lucille and Desi wanted to work in Los Angeles, near their home and their new baby daughter Lucie. But in 1951 the majority of television shows were broadcast from New York, and that’s where sponsor Philip Morris wanted their show to originate as well. In those days the U.S. wasn’t wired for television from coast-to-coast; shows broadcast live could only be transmitted so far. As a result, such shows were preserved on kinescopes (a movie camera aimed at a TV monitor that recorded the show in negligible quality) and shipped to distant stations.

Philip Morris objected to I Love Lucy being performed in California and the kinescopes sent to New York; their biggest cigarette market was up and down the east coast and they wanted the best TV picture quality for that area. Desi Arnaz suggested that the show be filmed with three cameras, like a stage play, which would provide the same quality picture for every market. But multi-cameras had never been used on a situation comedy before, and there were many obstacles involved, not the least of which was accommodating a live studio audience (Desi knew that Lucille worked best when she got immediate audience feedback).

Desi hired legendary cinematographer Karl Freund to help solve the dilemma, and along with writer-producer Jess Oppenheimer and director Marc Daniels, they built a set, and the necessary filming equipment was strategically placed. CBS balked at the additional expense involved in this undertaking, so Arnaz struck a deal: he and Lucille would take a large cut in their salaries and their company, Desilu Productions, would retain ownership of the films in exchange. The enduring high quality of the 35 millimeter film was part of the reason that I Love Lucy became so popular in rerun syndication, and Desilu’s 100 percent ownership of the series made Lucille and Desi the first millionaire TV stars.

4. ONLY LUCY WAS ALLOWED TO MAKE FUN OF RICKY’S FRACTURED ENGLISH.

After a few episodes were filmed, it became an unwritten rule that only Lucy would ever poke fun at her husband’s pronunciation problems. The writers had allowed other characters to make remarks, but in each case the “joke” was met with stony silence from the studio audience. For some reason, it seemed cruel when anyone other than Lucy “mucked” Ricky’s English.

5. SMOKING WAS REQUIRED ON-CAMERA.

I Love Lucy almost never made it to the air because CBS had trouble securing a sponsor for the show. Finally tobacco giant Philip Morris signed on at the 11th hour. As a result, lots of smoking was featured in each episode, and the name “Philip Morris” was worked into the dialogue whenever plausible. There was, however, one small problem: Lucille Ball was a Chesterfield girl. She eventually overcame this little hurdle by having a stagehand stuff any on-camera Philip Morris packs full of Chesterfield cigarettes.

6. WILLIAM FRAWLEY WAS FAR FROM THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY FRED MERTZ.

Lucille Ball was eager to have Gale Gordon, whom she’d worked with on her My Favorite Husband radio show, play crusty neighbor and landlord Fred Mertz. But Gordon, who had a steady gig at the time on the Our Miss Brooks radio program, asked for more money than Desilu had to offer. Character actor William Frawley knew Ball in passing (they’d met back in the 1940s) and phoned her personally when he read about her upcoming TV show in the trade papers to inquire if there might be a part for him. CBS and Philip Morris were wary of hiring Frawley, who had a reputation for being a heavy drinker. But Arnaz (no stranger to the bottle himself) thought that Frawley was just curmudgeonly enough to bring Fred Mertz to life. He met Frawley for lunch at Nickodell’s on Melrose Avenue and offered him the role with the proviso that if he missed work for any reason other than legitimate illness, he’d be written out of the show.

7. DORIS ZIFFEL WAS ALMOST ETHEL MERTZ.

Lucille had worked with Bea Benaderet in radio and wanted her to play Ethel Mertz. But Benaderet had just signed on to play Blanche Morton on the TV version of The Burns and Allen Show and was unavailable. Barbara Pepper was a personal friend of Ball’s, and the two had worked in films together, so she was the next serious consideration for the role. Pepper was the right age and body type to play Ethel, but she was also a known alcoholic and the network nixed her after Frawley was hired; two heavy drinkers in the main cast was too risky. I Love Lucy had already gone into early rehearsals by the time director Marc Daniels saw Vivian Vance performing in a play at the La Jolla Playhouse and recommended her to Arnaz. Pepper did play background characters on several I Love Lucy episodes and would go on to land the role of Doris Ziffel on Green Acres.

8. THE “MERTZES” DESPISED ONE ANOTHER OFF-CAMERA.

Vivian Vance was 22 years younger than her TV husband and resented having such an “old poop” play her spouse. Frawley responded in kind, referring to her variously as “that sack of doorknobs” or just plain “b*tch.” But all that animosity was strictly behind the scenes and known mostly only to the series’ writers and directors. Frawley and Vance were savvy enough to not jeopardize their jobs on TV’s most successful show by openly airing their mutual hostility. Even co-workers like Keith Thibodeaux (Little Ricky, a.k.a. Richard Keith) and Roy Rowan (the show’s announcer), who were on the set daily, had no idea that things were less than cuddly between the two actors until years after I Love Lucy ceased production.

9. DESI ARNAZ HAD LIFTS IN HIS SHOES (AND HIS LOVESEAT).

Arnaz listed his height as 5’11” in most official biographies, but those who worked with him knew that in reality he was 5’9” and wore four-inch lifts in his shoes. Lucille Ball stood 5’7” in her stocking feet, and when she wore heels she seemed to tower over her husband. Desi Arnaz Jr. would later explain to an interviewer that his father “was a Cuban with a Latin male’s pride,” which is why it was important to him to be taller than his wife. A dual-purpose, subtle additional cushion (undetectable by the viewing audience) was added to the Ricardos’ loveseat so that Ricky would be taller than Lucy while seated, and would also give him the extra boost needed to gracefully rise from a sitting position up onto his elevator shoes.

10. ARNAZ FLATLY REJECTED A SCENE THAT INVOLVED RICKY CHEATING ON HIS TAXES.

Desi Arnaz was an unabashed believer in the American Dream and was very patriotic when it came to his adopted homeland. Desi was 17 years old when Fulgencio Batista overthrew the Cuban government and the Arnaz family fled to Miami with little more than the clothes they were wearing. The family lived in a warehouse with some other refugees and Desi got a job cleaning birdcages for a man whole sold canaries to pet stores. As he said during his acceptance speech on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town in 1954, “From cleaning canary cages to this night in New York is a long ways. And I don’t think there’s any other country in the world that could give you that opportunity.” So when a scene in original script in the episode “Lucy Tells the Truth” called for Ricky to fudge some numbers on his income tax return, Arnaz refused to play it and asked the writers to remove it. He didn’t want the audience to think that Ricky would cheat the U.S. government.

11. THE CANDY LADY WAS A BIG DIPPER IN REAL LIFE.

“Job Switching” (often referred to as “The Candy Factory Episode”) has long been a fan favorite, particularly the scene where Lucy and Ethel are stuffing their faces and clothing with chocolates while trying to keep up with a speedy conveyor belt. The previous scene featured Lucy hand-dipping chocolates with a real-life dipper that stage manager Herb Browar found at See’s Candies on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Amanda Milligan had never seen I Love Lucy (she watched wrestling on Monday nights), but Browar hired her anyway; he thought her deadpan expression would make her the perfect straight woman for Lucille to react to. During rehearsals Lucille was worried that the scene just wasn’t going to be funny on film because Milligan seemed hesitant to hit her in the face as the script specified. When the cameras were rolling, Milligan hauled off and smacked Lucille so hard that Ball feared her nose had been broken. Despite her pain and ringing ears Ball didn’t call for a “cut” because she did not want to have to do another take! During a break in filming Lucille asked Milligan “So, how do you like working in show business?” An unsmiling Milligan, who’d spent eight hours per day for the past 30 years putting swirls on chocolates, replied, “I’ve never been so bored in my life.”

12. LUCILLE WAS TOO STRESSED TO APPRECIATE THE HUMOR IN ONE OF HER MOST POPULAR EPISODES.

Another fan favorite was, interestingly, not one of Ball’s favorite episodes. It wasn’t until “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” was voted tops in many viewer polls over the years that she acknowledged that it was a funny episode. During filming, she was too nervous and worried about messing up her lines (imagine having to say “Vitameatavegamin” that many times during a spiel) to appreciate the humor.

Ball was many things, including a great physical comedienne, but one thing she was not was an improviser or extemporaneous speaker. Every slurred word of her drunken Vitameatavegamin pitch was in the script. Lucille even came up with a backup plan, lest she forget her lines: she had script supervisor Maury Thompson made up and placed off-side in front of her podium holding up her lines (there were no cue cards on the I Love Lucy set), much like a real commercial setting.

By the way, that stuff Lucy was pouring onto the spoon was apple pectin.

13. BECAUSE THE SHOW WAS FILMED IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE, THEY HESITATED TO YELL “CUT” AND RESHOOT SCENES.

As a result, the occasional blooper was left in and sort of papered-over. One classic example occurred in “Redecorating the Mertz’s Apartment,” at the breakfast table when Lucy is musing aloud about how to repair both the Mertz’s marriage and their tacky apartment. See how Desi saves the scene after she mistakenly says “paint the furniture and reupholster the old furniture:”

14. LUCILLE’S PREGNANCY CREATED PANIC BEHIND THE SCENES.

During season two, Ball discovered that she was pregnant. While the Arnazes were overjoyed (Lucille had previously suffered three miscarriages before giving birth to daughter Lucie in July 1951), they were also concerned about the fate of their hit series. Other than the late 1940s sitcom Mary Kay and Johnny (which also starred a real-life married couple), a visibly pregnant female had never starred on a TV series. It would be impossible to conceal Lucille’s condition because, as Desi told the network, “she got as big as a house when she was carrying Lucie.”

Eventually, the network agreed to write Ball’s pregnancy into the show, and Desi hired a local Catholic priest, a minister, and a rabbi to sit in while each episode was filmed to determine whether there was anything objectionable. CBS deemed that the word “pregnant” was vulgar, so it was replaced with “expecting” (or, as Ricky pronounced it, “‘spectin’”). The scene at the Tropicana, where Lucy finally breaks the news to Ricky, was genuinely emotional for the actors, who both started crying and Desi had to be prompted “sing the baby song!” Director William Asher reshot that scene, but decided that the raw emotion in the original take made for a more poignant moment and used it.

15. LITTLE RICKY AND DESI ARNAZ JR. WERE BORN ON THE SAME DAY.

The Arnazes already knew that Lucille would give birth via Caesarian section when her time came (as that was how Lucie had been delivered), and Ball’s obstetrician regularly scheduled all his C-sections on Mondays. As luck would have it, I Love Lucy aired on Monday nights, so with the pregnancy episodes timed just so, Ball went to the hospital the same night that Lucy Ricardo did.

What the Arnazes did not know in advance, however, was the gender of their pending bundle of joy. I Love Lucy head writer Jess Oppenheimer had decided that the Ricardos would have a boy, so when Desi Arnaz Jr. was born, Desi Sr. joyfully called Jess to announce proudly, “Lucy followed your script! Ain’t she something?!” (By the way, a record-breaking 71.7 percent of American televisions were tuned in that Monday night to see the Ricardo baby, which topped the number of folks who watched Dwight D. Eisenhower get sworn in as President the following day.)

16. LUCILLE TRULY SUFFERED FOR THAT ICONIC GRAPE-STOMPING EPISODE.

“Lucy’s Italian Movie” faced a variety of obstacles. First was getting a vineyard to donate the necessary grapes for stomping. The company that ultimately agreed did so with the proviso that it must be mentioned in the script that foot-pressing was an outmoded method of making wine in Italy. Next was the local extra cast to wrestle Lucille in the grape vat; Teresa Tirelli didn’t speak any English and an interpreter had to explain the scene to her. Apparently something was lost in the translation because Tirelli didn’t grasp that this was supposed to be a filmed-from-the-waist-up fake fight and she literally held Lucille’s head under the grape mush until the star very nearly drowned. And even though the show was broadcast in black and white, Ball, Arnaz, and the production staff were sticklers for detail so a formula for a purplish/blue dye had to be worked out that would properly tint Lucille’s flesh and hair without irritating her skin or reacting with the chemicals used to keep her permed locks that famous henna color for that final scene.

17. LUCILLE EXASPERATED GUEST STAR HARPO MARX.

Ball was a long-time admirer of Harpo Marx, but when it came to actually working with him, she was unprepared for his “never the same way twice” approach to his comedy routines. In the Hollywood episode where she was required to mirror his moves, she insisted on incessant rehearsals to get the bit just right. But Harpo’s attitude was “I’ve done this bit for 35 years, why do I need so much rehearsal?” In the end, this was one of the few instances where the scene was re-shot several times after the studio audience had left and was later pieced together by editor Dann Cahn.

18. THE LONGEST LAUGH ON THE SHOW LASTED 65 SECONDS.

When Lucy hid dozens of eggs and then danced the tango with Ricky (resulting in the inevitable blouse full of scrambled yolks), the audience roared for so long that ultimately some of the laughter had to be edited out in the final film. Neither Ball nor Vance had used eggs during rehearsals so that their onscreen reactions would be more genuine when the shells cracked and the albumen slimed its way down their flesh.

19. ARNAZ REQUIRED AS MUCH REALISM AS POSSIBLE, NO MATTER THE COST OR DIFFICULTY.

No matter how wacky the situation, Arnaz tried hard to maintain some veracity, thinking that that the audience would believe it (and thus find it more humorous) if the actors believed it. So when a scene in “Pioneer Women” required an eight-foot-long loaf of bread to pop out of the oven, the producers found a New York bakery willing to bake one. (It was rye bread, by the way, and when filming was finished it was cut up and served to the audience.) Likewise, in “Deep Sea Fishing” when Ricky and Fred entered into a bet with Lucy and Ethel to see who could catch the biggest fish, two 100-plus pound tunas were purchased at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, packed in ice into child-sized coffins and air-shipped to Hollywood.

20. THE “UH-OH” LADY HEARD IN THE STUDIO AUDIENCE WAS LUCILLE’S MOM.

Quite often when Lucy Ricardo was stepping into a precarious situation, a woman in the audience could be heard uttering “uh-oh.” That was Dede Ball, who attended every taping and tended to get wrapped up in the proceedings. I Love Lucy sound engineer Glen Glenn was the co-founder of Glen Glenn Sound, and in the 1960s and ‘70s his company was one of the leading providers of laugh tracks, or canned laughter, to TV sitcoms. Many of the yuks used in their recordings were culled from I Love Lucy and The Red Skelton Show, which is why Dede’s “uh-oh” could be heard years later on shows she’d never seen, much less been in attendance.

Additional Sources:
A Book, by Desi Arnaz The Lucy Book, by Geoffrey Mark Fidelman Meet the Mertzes, by Ron Edelman and Audrey Kupferberg The “I Love Lucy” Book, by Bart Andrews Lucy & Ricky & Fred & Ethel: The Story of I Love Lucy, by Bart Andrews Laughs, Luck….and Lucy, by Jess Oppenheimer

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