I Love Lucy is unquestionably one of, if not “the” most beloved sitcoms of all time. We all have our favorite episodes of this black and white classic and have likely seen all of the zany adventures of Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel. Or so we thought.
Lucy began back in 1951 and ran until 1957, producing 180 half-hour episodes for CBS. Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley continued in 13 hour-long episodes of The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show that were released sporadically over three years. Likely due to the fact that Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960, the cast never reunited for any kind of reunion or new adventures.
It may surprise you to know that, in the early day’s of I Love Lucy’s popularity, the cast and crew produced a theatrical version of the series. The I Love Lucy movie consisted of three first season episodes (“The Benefit,” “Breaking the Lease,” and “The Ballet”) combined with new footage to make a cohesive story. The film was directed by Edward Sedgewick (an old friend of Ball’s from her MGM days) and gives the viewer a taste of what it would have been like to attend the filming of the show.
The movie opens with eight minutes of new footage shot on May 16, 1952. Arnaz speaks to a studio audience and introduces his costars, just as he did prior to the start of each episode’s filming. The three episodes follow, with additional new scenes intermingled to link them together. Five minutes of new footage finishes the movie with Arnaz thanking the audience and calling the cast out to take their bows.
This sort of project had never been attempted before and was possible largely due to Arnaz’s foresight. Unlike other programs of that era, I Love Lucy was recorded on film, like a movie. As a result, the television episodes would look just fine enlarged for the big screen. On top of that, TV shows weren’t rerun as they are today so audiences could only have seen the TV footage once, two years before the movie was made. A great idea. So why wasn’t it ever released in theaters?
The I Love Lucy movie was shown to a test audience in Bakersfield in 1953 and the reaction was very positive. Desilu (the studio owned by Arnaz and Ball) was going to release it but MGM prevented it. MGM was producing The Long, Long Trailer starring Ball and Arnaz and wanted to promote it as their return to the big screen. MGM didn’t want the I Love Lucy movie to contradict that claim so they demanded that it be shelved. Ball and Arnaz were contractually bound to promote Trailer and complied.
The film was largely forgotten and lost for many years but, was finally found in the Summer of 2001 by the film’s editor Dann Cahn. It was screened for a small group of “Loving Lucy” convention attendees that year and a few bits were included in The I Love Lucy 50th Anniversary Special. For the most part, few people have ever seen the entire movie — until now.
Paramount is including the little-seen film as a bonus disc with the I Love Lucy Complete Series Boxset on October 27th. Unfortunately, the set is a little pricey (it contains the complete series on 34 discs) and the movie’s not being sold separately right now. There’s no word if the studio will release it as a standalone item but it seems like a distinct possibility for the future. Stay tuned!