So great was our devotion that some of us even worshiped at her son's throne: In 1953, a company called Moulded Products actually manufactured a Little Ricky potty seat, a multicolored toilet-training device decorated with caricatures of Lucy and Ricky.
I was too old to have enjoyed this particular aspect of the Lucy experience, but I was still young enough to saddle up Little Ricky's Brown Beauty Hobby Horse, marketed by the same company. I honestly can't remember if I ever jumped into the stirrups of one of these things but if I had, it's a cinch my trusty plastic palomino would have been galloping toward the black-and-white visage of America's favorite redhead.
Her painfully unfunny 1986 Life With Lucy comeback notwithstanding, I can't remember not loving Lucy. Why couldn't my parents be more like the Ricardos? Why couldn't my mother act crazy . . . or, at the very least, wear as much lipstick as Bozo the Clown? Why couldn't my father return from work at three in the morning wearing a ruffled babaloo shirt? And was it really asking too much to have a pair of bickering ex-vaudevillians like the Mertzes for neighbors?
When I wasn't watching Lucy, I was reading about her. Between 1954 and 1962 (a full five years after any new episodes of the show were produced), Dell Comics cranked out 35 issues of I Love Lucy--they now draw up to $60 apiece on the collectors' market. They weren't up to TV snuff (the artist's rendition of Vivian Vance looked more like Aunt Bee than Ethel Mertz), but they helped pass the long hours while I waited for that televised satin heart.
Flash-forward to Sunday afternoon, September 30, 1962. Fuming in solitude after being sent to my room for some long-forgotten prepubescent infraction, I decided to show my parents who was boss . . . I'd kill myself! But I suddenly realized that if I bit the bullet, I'd miss the premiere of The Lucy Show the following evening. I could commit suicide anytime; for Lucy, I'd wait a day.
When I tuned in the next night, I realized that this Lucy was a whole different Ball game. Although it was a novelty seeing Lucy and Ethel reincarnated as a scatterbrained widow and an overweight divorcee, the whole enterprise was flatter than a spoonful of yesterday's Vitameatavegamin.
But I shouldn't have been surprised. The early Sixties were confusing for I Love Lucy lovers. By this time, Desi had abandoned both his wife and his conga drums in favor of the producer's chair from which he oversaw that trailblazing bit of TV brutality called The Untouchables. Meanwhile, William Frawley was now masquerading as "Bub" on My Three Sons. Richard Keith, the erstwhile Little Ricky, had by then been reduced to playing one of Opie's pals on The Andy Griffith Show. And out of nowhere, Gale Gordon (fresh from a stint as Mr. Wilson, Dennis the
Menace's next-door nemesis) suddenly showed up as blustery banker Theodore J. Mooney. The new Lucy and her follow-up, Here's Lucy, were no laughing matter. Several years later, I was behind the cast of Laugh-In 100 percent as they smugly signed off every Monday night with a snide "Good night, Lucy!" Still, I felt vaguely guilty last week after her death when a friend and I improvised a few verses of a song we called "Lucy in the Sky With Desi."
Why? I never met Lucille Ball nor have I ever grappled with a grape-stomper at an Italian winery or wrestled with a runaway conveyor belt in a candy factory. Barring any future brain damage, I don't foresee the day when I'll ever don a Martian outfit and scale the Empire State Building. But somehow I felt an affinity for the woman, and so will TV-watchers for generations to come.
Case in point: Several months ago a three-year-old relative and I sat in front of the TV trying to figure out what to watch. "Well, what will it be?" I asked after scanning through several channels. "Lassie or Lucy?" Without missing a beat, my nephew grabbed the remote control. "Not Wassie!" he announced firmly. "Wucy!