Radio: Sassafrassa, the Queen

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In 1944, Lucille filed suit for divorce. She won an interlocutory decree but never got around to filing for her final papers. The reason: she and Desi were in the midst of a new reconciliation. But all the old difficulties remained. Lucille would sit night after night at the clubs where Desi's band was playing, but that resulted in rings under her eyes rather than a new intimacy. She tried cutting down on her movie work by starring in a CBS radio show called My Favorite Husband, and Desi also took a flyer at radio. They worked out a vaudeville act and toured U.S. theaters with their new routines.

Lucille credits Desi with being the one who was willing to take a chance on TV. "He's a Cuban," she says, "and all Cubans gamble. They'll bet you which way the tide is going and give you first pick." But it was a real gamble. Movie exhibitors do not look kindly upon movie stars who desert to the enemy. If the show flopped, Lucille would have no place to crawl back to. They told CBS that they would give television a try only if both of them could be on the same show. At first, they wanted to play themselves. They compromised by turning Desi into Ricky Ricardo, a struggling young bandleader, and letting Lucille fulfill her lifelong ambition of playing a housewife.

The decision to film the show also made CBS bigwigs uneasy. It would cost four times as much as a live show, and the only interested sponsor, Philip Morris, wasn't prepared to go that high. Again there was a compromise. Desi and Lucille agreed to take a smaller salary in return for producing the show and keeping title to the films.

Real Plumbing. Long years in the practical business of orchestra leading had given Desi considerable organizing ability and business sense. He set up Desilu Productions (Desi president, Lucille vice president), and leased a sound stage from an independent Los Angeles studio. Because Lucille was "dead" without an audience, a side wall of the studio was knocked out to make a street entrance, and seats installed for an audience of 300. When a show is ready for the cameras, the audience laughter is picked up on overhead microphones and used in the final print.

Though I Love Lucy is filmed, it is more like a play than a movie. All of the lines and action are memorized and, whenever possible, the show is played straight through from beginning to end, and not shot in a number of unrelated scenes. The action takes place on four sets; two of them represent the Ricardos' Manhattan apartment, a third shows the nightclub where Ricky's band plays and the fourth is used for any other scenes called for by the script. Says Desi proudly: "We have real furniture, real plumbing, and a real kitchen where we serve real food. Even the plants are really growing; they're not phony."

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