On Oct. 15, 1951, America first loved “Lucy.”
Actually, moviegoers and radio audiences already were familiar with Lucille Ball by the time she started what would become one of television's earliest and most enduring hits. The romantic misadventures of fame-craving Lucy Ricardo and her orchestra-leader husband Ricky – played by Ball's real-life husband at the time, Desi Arnaz – continue to entertain viewers on channels including MeTV, which marks the 69th anniversary of “I Love Lucy” today.
Hallmark Channel and Decades also have regular weekday berths for the sitcom (plus, it streams on Hulu, CBS All Access and CBS.com), a testament to its staying power and its ongoing popularity. With William Frawley and Vivian Vance (who reportedly did not get along at all) as neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz, the show also continues to service its original network CBS, which presents an annual Christmas special that “colorizes” a couple of episodes of the black-and-white program.
Certain “I Love Lucy” moments are so famous on their own, they surpass the overall legend of the series. Among examples: Lucy getting drunk on a health tonic called Vitameatavegamin while filming a TV commercial for it; Lucy and Ethel grabbing and devouring chocolates from a conveyor belt when they can't keep up while working at a candy factory; Lucy stomping grapes to prepare for a movie audition; and Lucy breaking the news to Ricky (while he's performing) that she's expecting, then being left behind when she announces she's ready to deliver ... sending everyone else out the door in a panic.
“I Love Lucy” transcended TV history on the night Little Ricky was born in 1953. An estimated 72 percent of viewers were tuned in, resulting in an overload on water systems in various cities when the show ended. Ball actually was pregnant at the time, and Desi Arnaz Jr. arrived (via Caesarian section) several days later.
From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, “I Love Lucy” also set milestones. Ball and Arnaz reduced their salaries to cover the cost of making the series on film, so that they could stay in Hollywood and not have to move to TV's principal production hub at the time, New York. That made them producers of the show, and its success made them quite wealthy – and made them the founders of the studio Desilu, where “The Untouchables,” “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” originated later. Also, “Lucy” rebroadcasts during Ball's pregnancy did much to establish the viability of series reruns.
While “I Love Lucy” rightfully is famous for the bountiful laughs it has given generations, its legacy reaches much farther ... great reasons to wish it a happy 69th birthday, indeed.