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I Love Lucy: Voiceover Legend Janet Waldo Recalls Lucy and Desi

Janet Waldo on I Love LucyYou may not know her name but you certainly know her voice. Janet Waldo has been acting professionally for more than 70 years. Discovered by Bing Crosby, she worked on many radio shows and starred for eight years as teenager Corliss Archer on Meet Corliss Archer. She went on to become a staple of many classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons as the voice of Judy Jetson (The Jetsons), Nancy (Shazzan), Granny Sweet (The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show), Josie McCoy (Josie and the Pussycats, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space), Penelope Pitstop (Wacky Races, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop), and Morticia Addams (The Addams Family).

At age 87, Waldo is just as energetic as ever and her voices sounds virtually the same. I spoke to her about The Jetsons and the release of the 1988 TV movie called Rockin with Judy Jetson. But first, I had to ask Waldo about one of her first on-camera roles.

Of course, you’re most known for your large volume of voiceover roles but I have to ask you about your work on I Love Lucy.
Janet Waldo: Oh, I’m delighted to talk about that.

Now, you were in the 20th episode that aired in January 1952 and it was called “The Young Fans.” As I recall, you were playing a teenager who’s infatuated with Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) and Lucy (Lucille Ball) tries to pair you up with a teenage boy who in turn falls for her. What do you remember about working with Lucy and Desi?
Waldo: I have lots of memories because Lucy herself was quite a character and a fascinating personality. I think it was the first TV show that I’d ever done. I’m not sure but, anyway, Dick Crenna was also on and he played the boyfriend who was in love with her and I was in love with Ricky. And Lucy was quite fascinating. Would you like me to tell you a little about Lucy?

Absolutely, please.
Waldo: Well, she was amazing. I still watch her shows. They’re still on TV and they’re fantastic and I see that one that I did very frequently. But, she was very low-key until the lights came on and the cameras were turned on and then she lit up, like a star. She was just brilliant. And very funny and very nice to me and nice to work with.

I remember I was plenty scared because it was the first time I had done anything like that and I was studying my script right before we went on. Because we did it live in front of an audience so we had no pickups. And she said to me, “It’s too late now!” (laughs) She was very sweet to me but very real and it was great fun to do and Desi was charming and delightful and wonderful and I loved it. I love it every time I see it repeated. I think it’s very funny.

Do you remember anything about Vivian Vance and William Frawley?
Waldo: Well, they weren’t on that show. On the one episode that I did but, on The Lucy Show, I played Lucy’s sister and Vivian Vance was on that one.

Right, now that was about 11 years later in an episode called “Lucy’s Sister Pays a Visit.” What was that experience like?
Waldo: I was a great fan of Lucy and all her shows and I played her sister. And I had to cry and the director kept saying, “Do it again. Do it again.” And I’d do it again and I’d say to Lucy, “I don’t know what he wants from me.” And she’d say, “He wants you to bawl like me!” (laughs). So I was afraid to do that because I didn’t want to imitate her but I imitated Lucy’s bawl and that’s exactly what he wanted. She was absolutely right. And he printed.

I see. You were playing her sister so they share a similar way of crying…
Waldo: Yes, of course but you know, in this profession, you don’t want to steal from anybody else. But I did and that’s what he wanted. (laughs) And, I did it with her blessing.

Did you notice a difference in Lucy since you’d worked with her more than 10 years earlier?
Waldo: Between the two shows? Yes, she was much warmer with the first one. But, it was hard for Lucy to be warm, she was a very, um, cool person. She didn’t do… chatter, you know. She was very private and the only thing was that, on the second one, that she was away from Desi and she was a totally different person. She was so obviously very unhappy and angry and it was a whole different show. But the first one was a complete joy.

And Peter Marshall (Hollywood Squares) played your husband…
Waldo: And he was so unhappy when we did that show together that, before we went on in front of the live audience, he threw up (laughs). He was so… I don’t think he’d like for me to tell this story but he went off and got sick to his stomach. But he was angry and not happy at that point either. So it was all just a very different experience for me. But, I Love Lucy was such fun. I can’t begin to describe it. And Desi was wonderful and, actually, can I tell you something about him?

By all means!
Waldo: This is a story that people ask me about who are writing books and I’ve stopped telling about it because they want to make something of it. But Desi, you know I think he was very much in love with Lucy but I think that they had their problems. So anyway, he asked me to come to his dressing room. And I thought “Oh, he’s going to give me some pointers” (laughs). And I was pretty naive in those years (laughs). Because naturally I wanted to improve as much as I possibly could so I went to his dressing room with him and he closed the door. And I thought, “Oh, now he’s going to tell me how I can improve this.”

Two seconds later, the door opened and it was Lucy. And she was very angry and upset that I was in the room so I quickly excused myself and left. But, everybody that I talk to about that wants me to make something of it. But he was a perfect gentleman. He was very sweet to me. And I only bring it up because people realize that he had the wanderlust and I didn’t, I was just naive. But, he was just a perfectly sweet man.

That’s a great story.
Waldo: And you know, in the scene where they make themselves up to look older and he’s in a wheelchair and his legs are poised up on another chair, and he asks me to jiggle his legs. And he said, “Keep jiggling, Peggy, keep jiggling!” And now, when I go to sign autographs or when I see anybody who remembers that Lucy episode, they always say, “Keep jiggling, Peggy, keep jiggling!” (laughs).

What do you think? Do you remember Waldo’s appearances on the two Lucy shows?

 

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