This weekend marked what would have been Lucille Ball’s 105th birthday. As I celebrate along with the millions of fans both old and new, I think of how Lucille came to be the infamous Lucille Ball.
Like many, I own, watch, and rewatch episodes of “I Love Lucy” on a regular basis. I can recite many by heart. While others watch for pure enjoyment, I watch as a teaching tool. I mean, who’s a better comedic teacher than the king of slapstick herself.
What some may, or may not know, is that before she was Lucy Ricardo, Lucille Ball was the star of B-movies in Hollywood. How on earth did she make the jump from B-star big screen to A-star small screen? She went by way of radio. Turning her radio hit series “My Favorite Husband” into a show about the lovable Ricardos and their pals the Mertzes. MFH provided the content and layout for “I Love Lucy” but that still doesn’t explain how she became the funny gal we all know and love?? Simple. She learned it.
Don’t misunderstand me, comedy can’t be taught, BUT it can be finessed. And that’s where Buster Keaton comes in. Desi saw the comedic genius that Lucy was and decided to bring in the big boss to help her hone that genius. So Buster, along with Red Skelton, took Ms. Ball under their wing and a star was born. But it wasn’t easy.
When they first started, Buster put Lucy through a scene to see she’d handle a situation. How she’d ‘act’. She bombed. It was at that point that Buster said, (I imagine exactly like this) “look kid, you got great chops but you’re thinking too hard red. We’re gonna run the scene again and this time, I want you to not think. Instead: Listen. React. Then act.”
And the rest, as they say, is television history. Needless to say, she took to heart what Keaton taught her. She later would use those exact words to try and create the next generation of comedians.Except this time she’d tell them to “SHUT UP! Listen! React. Then act.”
The great thing about Buster’s words is that they still remain very true today. In the world of acting (comedy in particular), it’s very important that one doesn’t act. Instead, listen to what’s being said. React to it internally. Then project externally.
Thank you, Ms. Ball. Not only for your timeless comedy but for continuously being a teacher to those of us willing to learn.
Happy birthday Red!!