The groundbreaking television show I Love Lucy premiered on this day in 1951. Seventy years ago. It was the first tv show to air in ten million homes and has aired in over seventy countries since then.
I visited Lucille Ball’s hometown this spring and have written about things to see and do there as well as how the show changed television history. Their influence during these early years of television is remarkable. Lucy’s on-screen parter was also her real life husband and business partner Desi Arnaz. Together, they built an empire that gave us the studio audience, multiple cameras, syndication and even shows like Star Trek and Andy Griffith.
You can read about the impact that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had on television history here.
My Jamestown visit was loads of fun. The National Comedy Museum is located here and there’s a wonderful local history museum in addition to the Lucy attractions. Lake Chautauqua provides great opportunities for outdoor recreation and you’re close to Lake Erie.
I highly recommend staying at the Doubletree in downtown Jamestown because that puts you within walking distance of most attractions. You get free parking and it’s a good neighborhood. The Lucytown Tour takes you past Lucy murals, statues and landmarks including her childhood home. For me, the best part was seeing the recreated TV sets and watching their old home videos at the Lucy- Desi Museum.
Before you go, be sure to spend some time watching a few episodes of the show! I watched the entire series this winter and had a great connection to the sets, props and other artifacts on display at the Lucy Desi Museum.
It’s 12:34 a.m. on my birthday. I spent my last full day as a 43 year old person getting the gray washed out of my hair as the jingle told us, going on a failed adventure and watching undertakers carry my aunt’s lifeless body from her home.
I need my new year to be better than this.
I tend to get more philosophical around my birthday, thinking about what I have learned in the last year and what I think the next one should look like.
If I am to be completely honest with you and myself, I don’t really have it in me to do all that today. For the last few weeks, death and dying have been more prominent themes in my family than life and living.
That’s the season my family is in. It’s natural and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean we have to like it but that’s the thing about life – we don’t always have to like it but we do have to muddle through the best we can until conditions improve.
If anything, this time has been a superb reminder of why we should never complain about growing older.
After all, not everyone gets to do it.
Even with Covid limitations and even with family issues, over this last year I have managed to find enjoyment at home, to get out on adventures and to have some special experiences both near and far.
While hibernating at home this winter, I binged on I Love Lucy. I had bought the complete series and watched it in order- some episodes more than once. When conditions allowed, I visited her hometown and soaked in the recreated TV sets and had a few beautiful days wandering around western New York State.
I have walked hundreds of miles through parks and museums, wearing out shoes as I set out to see as much of the world as I can. This year found me exploring historic sites as well as natural places like a gorgeous sunflower field. I learned about Annie Oakley’s triumphant rise to fame from humble beginnings in Ohio. This year taught me that Buffalo Bill believed in equal pay and equal opportunities for women and Native Americans at a time that people still believed a woman’s place was at home and that Native Americans had no place in this country at all.
This year I cruised down highways in the Nerdmobile, floated down the Ohio and Muskingum rivers atop a paddle boat and soared high above the earth in a biplane.
The mountainside community of Thomas, West Virginia is where I learned about how immigrants of numerous nationalities lived and worked peacefully. Despite cultural and language barriers they were united by patriotism for their new home and the opportunities afforded to them in America.
This is where I saw the most stunning fall foliage of my lifetime.
I followed signs down country roads to find a working mill in Virginia, had a chance encounter with an artist and slammed on the brakes for many a roadside attraction or pretty scene.
I finally found a home for my pulpit, a family heirloom that I had been keeping safe until the right person came along and needed it for a church. When I couldn’t travel, I had books to keep my mind busy and I finally created a real office space for my work from home lifestyle with new furniture and decor.
When I did travel, I had the cutest little cat to come home to at night. Everyone should have someone in their life who gets this excited simply because they came home.
No, I didn’t leap from airplanes or fly off to exotic places. I flew to Denver and road tripped as much as possible. I daydreamed about all the places I still want to go and chided myself for not winning the lottery yet as that’s what it will take to fund the adventures I wish to take. Of course, I don’t actually play…..
For the last couple of months, I have spent more time getting to know my aunt and listening to her stories. Wednesday was my night to visit and to take something special for our dinner and dessert. It was far more fun and rewarding than I first expected.
As we have been bracing ourselves for the loss of this important person, we welcomed three small souls who have brought much joy and laughter to our lives. One of the most rewarding things you can do is to extend kindness to someone who has nothing to offer but their companionship.
This year has taught me to look more closely at what’s in my own area and that it’s ok to not plan, to just wander and make the best of things as they are. I have perfected the art of wandering this earth safely and appreciating whatever fun I’m able to find.
Friday’s adventure was a bust. I went with a friend to a hot air balloon festival where the balloons were grounded for weather, a detail event organizers didn’t mention until after we had paid for non-refundable admission. But we met a nice elderly man there and had a great dinner at Boston’s Restaurant upon his recommendation. We laughed a lot at the ridiculousness of our day and also got to see a gorgeous sky after sunset, a true gift at the end of a challenging week.
We had another chance encounter with a kind human when we experienced some trouble late in the day. I want to tell you about that experience but not today.
The moral of the story is that life is filled with sunrises and sunsets, with great fun and some disappointments. As my aunt slipped the bonds of this earth, somewhere else a child was born. As my trip around the sun comes to a close and another starts, there is both bitterness and sweetness.
If not for these things, life simply wouldn’t be life. What does the song say? We all want happiness but we can’t have a rainbow without a little rain.
The man who created the Marmaduke comic strip is from the same area of New York as Lucile Ball.
He isn’t celebrated on the same level as that famous redhead but there’s a really nice exhibit about him at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown and a statue outside the city.
His name is Brad Anderson. A World War II Navy veteran, Anderson spent years drawing dog characters for magazine cartoons before hitting on Marmaduke.
Anderson drew Marmaduke from 1954 until his death in 2015 at the age of 91. That enormous, messy but endearing Great Dane was an important member of the fictional Winslow family.
I think many people find Marmaduke relatable as so many who own pets treat them like family. We accept their quirks, demands and troublemaking as part of the package along with the cuddles and all their charms.
Anderson’s art studio was recreated at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown as part of an exhibit the celebrates comics and animation. Donated items include his drawing board and lots of other materials. The clutter and personal items make it seem like he just got up to refill his coffee and never returned.
The statue is located in the nearby town of Portland and shows a life size Anderson with his famous dog. The statue is surrounded by a sponsored brick path with personalized sentiments.
Many are in memory of dogs and people. Some commemorate families or local businesses. My favorite was this one. It is in memory of the purchaser’s late husband and says “Let’s see what Marm’s up to today.”
If you’re in the area for Lake Erie activities, to visit this lighthouse or to do the Lucytown tour (which I highly recommend), getting to the statue is a nice little drive through wine country and takes you past Ella the Elephant!
Jamestown, New York was my destination last month because of all the Lucille Ball stuff but there is a lot to see and do around the region. It’s a haven for winter sports and for folks who enjoy summer lake activities. There are breweries and vineyards, museums, an escape room and more.
For the last few years it has also been the home of the National Comedy Center. Back in the eighties, when the city approached Lucille Ball and asked how she wanted to be remembered, she suggested that the town become a destination for lovers of all comedy and not just her own.
The first order of business was to develop a museum, festival and other smaller attractions to get people coming here to celebrate her life’s work. In 2018 they finally opened the doors on her proposed celebration of all comedy in the form of the National Comedy Center.
It’s 37,000 square feet packed with countless interactive exhibits, some costume and artifact displays, and LOTS to see and do.
You start with a kiosk where you create a digital identity with your comedy likes and dislikes. You have a little digital thingamajig that you can clip to your jacket or belt loop that contains all your info. The idea is that when you arrive at certain places throughout the museum you scan that thing and the display will load content the computer thinks you’ll like based on your tastes. You can rate what you see too.
Since we are still in the midst of a pandemic, they give you a stylus for touching things. They also have plenty of hand sanitizer throughout the museum and employees are sanitizing the seats and other surfaces. They take your temperature at the door too.
Everything from early radio comedy sketches to late night television to sitcoms, stand up comics, internet memes and everything in between are represented here. They even have a room devoted to animation and comic strips. Do you still read the funny papers? I do!
There’s an area where you can generate memes and another where you can sit and watch Bob Hope give a USO show. There’s a film that addresses how truth has been stranger than fiction in American politics these last many years. It talks about how late night comedy shows became the gatekeepers for truth while the actual media often just reports what someone says even when it’s all lies or when they’re missing even the most flamboyant red flags imaginable.
My personal favorite area is set up with a retro theme of couches and many screens where you can watch longer clips from tv shows. This is one of those areas where they load shows based on audience taste. I sat on a couch to see clips from Roseanne, the Simpsons and a few others.
Another room is devoted to the archives and motivation behind George Carlin’s work. You can digitally rummage through his joke collection by topic and see notes written in his own hand.
I enjoyed the concept of this plaice but not necessarily the execution. To be honest, it felt like sensory overload. From any given place, you might hear a radio show from an overhead speaker, a tv show from another room and Fozzie Bear telling jokes. It’s hard to know where to focus your attention.
The things I enjoyed most were the areas that immerse the visitor in a topic. I loved sitting in a small theater and watching music videos of famous funny songs. Another corner with classic SNL clips was fantastic. Remember Chris Farley’s bit about living in a van down by the river?
They do display some original items like costumes, awards, props and the like. However, the focus is on the technology. Personally, I don’t want to stare at a screen with a scanned copy of a famous person’s note cards in a museum. This, I can do from home for free. If I pay good money to be in a museum, I want to see the actual notecard.
Perhaps I’m just turning into an old crank.
No offense to the hard working folks who put this all together. It’s a nice museum that someone spent a bucket of money and time to create. It has many good qualities and I’m glad I went. It just wasn’t for me. They do have a large, rotating collection so you may see different things if you go. I read recently that they will be home to the Carl Reiner archives. That’s a huge win for them.
With that said, if you are a connoisseur of comedy and if you are impressed with these artificial intelligence aspects, you really should visit. Also, if you’re in town for the Lucille Ball stuff, you can get a dual admission ticket for this museum and the Lucy Desi Museum just down the street. They’re close enough together you can walk there.
One more thing. It’s a safe place to take your kids. The comedy on the main exhibit floor is pretty clean. They keep the uncensored stuff in the basement.
No visit to Jamestown, New York would be complete without a stop at the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. Here you’ll find recreated sets, original costumes, props, home movies and more. They even have Emmy Awards representing the career of this famous pair and the show that catapulted them to television infamy.
I had studied up a good bit before going, making this less a road trip and more of a pilgrimage to pay my respects to Lucille Ball, the comedian who the writers of I Love Lucy said would do anything for a laugh.
Consequently, I was a complete nerd and fan girl over nearly every little thing. Mind you, it’s not a large museum but it’s well done and thorough enough.
There are some striking visuals and films to tell the narrative of their lives.
Then there was Lucille Ball’s 1972 Mercedes Benz.
Plus the saxophone she learned to play for the show and the burlap dress Ricky had made for Lucy in Paris.
One of my favorite features was the home movies of Lucy and Desi when they were young and happy. The marriage didn’t end well so it’s nice to think they were happy at one time.
They relate some of Desi’s story too. He was born into a family of political power and wealth – his father was mayor of his hometown and his mother was a Bacardi Rum heiress. Political upheaval forced them to flee and start a new life in this country where he faced racism while building an empire and influencing the future of television.
I also especially enjoyed the recreated sets of their New York apartment and the Hollywood Hotel where the Ricardos stayed while Ricky was filming a movie.
In all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience here. Because this was the most important thing I wanted to do in Jamestown, I bought my ticket online before I left and arrived when they first opened at 10 a.m. to avoid any crowds. Turns out, there was no crowd at all – just me and a handful of others who seemed happy to wear their masks, use the hand sanitizer provided and stay away from others.