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TV History: I Love Lucy

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Prof. Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2017. Check the commentary dropdown menu for a student's analysis of the clip.

The Legacy of Lucy

by Avery Wythe

The legacy of Lucille Ball is surely one that will be reverberated throughout popular culture for years to come as it is already evident in television history with the evolution of the domestic sitcom. Most individuals associate Lucille Ball with her lively portrayal of the character Lucy Ricardo in the hit 1950’s comedy I Love Lucy, but her influence on the industry spans far greater than just a ditzy redhead aspiring to be a star. Historically, this domestic sitcom is one of the most popular to have ever been aired— winning five Emmy Awards in its six running years (IMDb, 1). Lucille Ball’s comedic genius, supported by her win for best actress, definitely contributed to the shows popularity. However, the laughable story lines and animated expressions are not the sole source of popularity. The show’s ability to speak to social issues in a comedic fashion while simultaneously capitulating with accepted cultural norms captivated an audience searching for exactly what I Love Lucy had to offer. In a society obsessed with telling women exactly what their role ought to be, yet concurrently confused on what that role is, Lucy rose to the task of speaking for frustrated women everywhere. A woman's “role” went from being a happy homemaker to a hard-working riveter during World War II (Douglas 1995, 46). After the war, they were expected to return to their jobs as mom, wife, cook, and maid within home— just as it was before (Douglas 1995, 46). However, unlike before, consumerism was on the rise bringing about new spending expectations. In order to meet these expectation, women worked to supplement the family's income. Furthermore, some women desired to work and sought fulfillment beyond the home (Douglas 1995, 47). Media of this time was hard on working mothers; portraying them in a bad light (Douglas 1995, 44) suggesting that the freedom and democracy of America literally relied on women staying home raising children (Douglas 1995, 47). In the average episode, Lucy Ricardo pushed back against traditional gender roles. Longing for a career in show business, Lucy frequently devised elaborate plans for stardom in attempt to make her dreams a reality (Encyclopedia Britannica, par. 2). More simply, Lucy was not going to settle for life as a typical housewife; she longed to work outside of the home and made the effort necessary to achieve this goal (Douglas 1995, 50). In “Lucy’s Show Biz Swan Song” these typical characteristics of 1950’s female television protagonists are present. In Lucy’s battle against gendered roles, she often disobeyed her husband. Seen in this clip, Lucy verbally complies with her husband’s explicit command for her not to audition for his show (2:25). Regardless of her agreement, she goes on to audition any way. Lucy’s big dreams, desire to leave the home to pursue work, and constant battles against her husband's wishes make her a pioneer in portraying the ideas of early first wave feminism through broadcasted media. In this episode, Lucy’s attitude is very reflective of the dynamic times and of the feelings of women across the nation. Susan Douglas, in chapter two of her book Where the Girls Are, highlights the mindset of 1950’s women in regards to their role in society. She explains the excitement surrounding the safe returns of husbands from war and the eagerness to start families partnered with the desire to remain in the workforce (Douglas 1995, 47). In the beginning of the scene, Ricky runs into a dilemma resulting in the need for another act for his show. Ethel expresses concern that their conversation will entice Lucy to start plotting her way into this open spot on the show (1:05). However, Ricky is not worried; confident that Lucy’s “condition” (1:10) (pregnancy) will dissuade her from her usual tactics. Furthermore, Ethel adds that Lucy’s “figure” (1:18) has changed quite a bit supporting the idea, typical to the times, that Lucy would never want to be on television in such a state. Lucy, however, has the opposite state of mind. Instead of her pregnancy dissuading her pursuit of the limelight, it motivated her toward her shining moment (1:35). Additionally, Lucy refuses to blame her behavior on her “condition” (3:47). She separates herself and her actions from her pregnancy by not using it as an explanation for her demeanor. By doing this, Lucy is defying the stereotype of women as baby-bearing machines with one job only— having children. She is capable of actions and decisions not solely motivated by her pregnancy— a quality not common to the typical TV housewife. Regardless of the show’s pioneering plots, episodic closure was still found within fairly traditional values (Douglas 1995, 51). Lucy does not let her pregnancy hinder her from pursuing her dreams, but even she recognizes that once the baby arrives she will have to put an end to her days of scheming for stardom (1:53). A common occurrence in the series seen in this episode is failure on the part of Lucy in the pursuit of her dreams: she’s never quite able to quit her day job as a housewife (even if it’s a job she’s not necessarily the best at). She is also portrayed as loud and ditsy and her own husband even refers to her as talentless (2:15). These characteristics were often stigmas surrounding women’s personalities in the 1950’s (Douglas 1995, 58). Despite the remnants of stereotypical ideas and the tendency for conflicts to find resolution in traditional values, I Love Lucy made great strides overall in addressing social issues. The show was one of the first to portray an interracial couple and have a pregnant actress in a show (O’Keefe 2014, par. 2). Lucille Ball was also a producer of the show (O’Keefe 2014, par. 3)— a pregnant working woman herself overcoming stereotypes on and off of the screen. The dynamics of the times, as expressed by Susan Douglas, was seen in “our mother's acceptance and rebellion, conformity and iconoclasm, especially when it came to work outside of the home” (Douglas 1995, 58)— traits certainly seen in Lucy too resulting in the show’s relatability and immense popularity. Works Cited: Douglas, Susan J. "Chapter Two: Mama Said." Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. New York: Random House, 1995. 43-60. Print. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "I Love Lucy." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 27 Nov. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. Fernandez, Sofia M. "'I Love Lucy': 5 Things to Know About the Series." The Hollywood Reporter. THRnews, 06 Aug. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. "I Love Lucy (TV Series 1951–1957)." IMDb., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017. O'Keefe, Meghan. "Lucy’s Legacy: How Lucille Ball Shaped Modern Pop Culture." Decider. NYP Holdings Inc, 02 Sept. 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

"Lucy's Showbiz Swan Song," I Love Lucy

This clip contains two excerpts from the I Love Lucy episode entitled "Lucy's Showbiz Swan Song," which original aired on December 22, 1952, on CBS.

from I Love Lucy (1952)
Creator: CBS; Director:"William Asher; Writers: Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll, Jr.
Distributor: Daily Motion
Posted by Christine Becker