Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Love Lucy


A world record was likely established Saturday on what would have been Lucille Ball's 100th birthday -- and 915 people have got some 'splainin' to do.
Organized by the Jamestown-based Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy, the Be a Lucy event drew hundreds of fans of the 1950s classic TV show "I Love Lucy" to this community of about 30,000 people where Ball was born a century ago.
Exactly 915 Lucy look-alikes were counted Saturday afternoon, and pending verification, the record will be entered in next year's Guinness World Records for "Most People Dressed as Lucy Ricardo in One Place at One Time."
To be counted, the 915 men, women and children needed to be sporting at least three Lucy trademarks: her iconic red, updo hairstyle, her signature red lips and an outfit worn in at least one of the 194 episodes of the original "I Love Lucy" series.
Of course, that didn't stop some participants from going beyond that.
Sue Timblin of North Tonawanda wore a black-and-white checkered dress and a black hat she bought at an antique shop and carried a bottle of "Vitameatavegamin" -- a reference to a classic episode in which Lucy performs in a commercial for a new vitamin formula and ends up drinking too much of the elixir, made up of 11 percent alcohol.
"I have met people from all over -- Hawaii, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota -- and we've just been having a blast," Timblin said.
True, Timblin's trip from Niagara County paled in comparison to the journeys of those who came from as far as Japan and New Zealand. There was a large contingent of people who have frequented Lucy conventions and festivals for years, including Barb McArthur of Cleveland, who reconnected with fellow Lucy fans from Grand Rapids, Mich., whom she first met at a California convention in 2002.
"Lucy is good, clean humor, and I have eight grandchildren and I can sit and watch it with them without worrying about the language," said McArthur, who noted she owns a home that is filled with Lucy memorabilia, including plates and salt and pepper shakers. "It gets a little depressing because there's nothing left for me to buy!"
Saturday's world record attempt was just one component of the five-day Lucy Fest: Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy, which started Wednesday and featured a performance Thursday night by comedienne Joan Rivers.
Ball died in 1989 and her one-time husband Arnaz died in 1986, but their fans have remained loyal through the years.
"She's such a cultural icon of our age group, of all of us 60-somethings," said Scott Phillips, who drove from his home in Cleveland to dress in Lucy's classic polka-dot skirt.
Younger fans took part in the celebration, as well.
Clinton Bittle of Littlestown, Pa., sang a catchy barbershop-style version of the "I Love Lucy" theme song with his brother, Clifton, shortly after the count of 915 was finalized.
"Lucy was somebody who did what makes a celebrity a celebrity -- she never forgot that she came from somewhere, never focused on the glitz and glamour, she realized she had a home, here in Jamestown," said Bittle, 21.
It was a day of celebration for the Bittle brothers, who were asked to travel to Manhattan and sing for a radio station's coverage of the day's events.
It also was a day of celebration for a young man who proposed to his girlfriend in front of the entire crowd with his bride-to-be dressed as Lucy. She said yes, of course.
Why is it, though, that after all these years, so many people still love Lucy?
"I can only speculate that it is because of her talent," said Journey Gunderson, executive director of the Lucy Desi Center, who organized the centennial celebration. "Her kind of humor was classic. In hindsight, 'I Love Lucy' seems like a dated show to some people, but when you watch it, you can watch the same episode over and over and it's still hysterical. The themes were always pretty progressive, the theme was Lucy wanting more, and I think everyone can watch it, and it's relevant to this day."
That ongoing relevance is something Lucie Arnaz, Ball's daughter, knows very well.
"Every place I go, every country I'm in, I hear, 'If It wasn't for your mother, I wouldn't have gotten through cancer,'" Arnaz told the Associated Press. "Or, 'I was in a low point of my life and watched [the show] and laughed so hard, and if I can do that I can make it.'"
Comedienne Paula Poundstone was scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Saturday.

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