What Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s Daughter Lucie Learned From the Masters

August 6, 2018

Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of the legendary performers Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, grew up absorbing many insights about comedy and the entertainment industry as a whole. After all, her parents forged prolific and celebrated careers and indeed are recognized as pioneers when it comes to television. It sounds intriguing to be raised in a household with the comedic duo who portrayed the red-haired, zany housewife, Lucy, and the Cuban-born bandleader and husband, Ricky Ricardo, in the classic TV sitcom I Love Lucy. But in this Archive of American Television interview, Lucie says that her mother was actually nothing like the famous slapstick character she played. Rather, Lucille set very high standards at home and was very responsible, on time, and organized.

That punctuality was especially important because her parents had pioneered filming before a live audience using multiple cameras with related sets that were adjacent to each other. This meant there was only so much time to rehearse, and then they had just one chance at their performance. Lucie adapted to these strictures when she was given opportunities to appear on her mom’s second series, The Lucy Show, and later, while portraying Kim Carter–a character based on herself–on her mom’s third series Here’s Lucy from 1968 to 1974. Lucie says, “One of the things I learned was to just play the situation, speak up, enunciate so you don’t lose the joke … that’s comedy, that’s what you learn from great comedians, and it has never changed.”

In addition to grasping acting fundamentals about lights, cameras, blocking, and preparation, Lucie reflects, “I think the most important thing I came away with was how to behave with other people to get the job done in a timely manner.” From Carol Burnett to Jack Benny, a steady stream of famous guests made their way into the plotlines of the sitcoms. And, without naming any names, Lucie recalls how a few of them acted in unbecoming ways while on set–and Lucie realized she herself did not want to behave in these ways. She says, “There were so many professional people that worked on that set. Really smart, good people who did their job well. Sometimes a guest star would come in, and you’d say, ‘How come it’s taking us so long?’ It was because somebody was making it all about them: coming in unprepared … any number of things that really upset the applecart. My way of acting with other people has set a very high standard, and I don’t screw around.”

But what really stands out in Lucie’s mind are two phrases her mom often repeated: “Take care of Lucie,” and “Be kind to Lucie.” This advice always struck Lucie as a bit odd when she was growing up, but as an adult, she came to understand the wisdom of her mom’s words. “It means, you have to be really aware of your time, your health, your rest, people you surround yourself with, your stress level … It was so not-show-business advice, but so totally good for show business–especially show business,” Lucie reflects.

Additionally, Lucie proudly describes her mom, as well as the many other masterful talents from the shows, as people “who totally believed what they were doing.” As a comedian who was ready to immerse herself in hilarious storylines, Lucie says her mom’s mentality with the writers was, “If you’re going to put me in something outrageous, you better get me there in a totally believable way.” If the writers succeeded in crafting a plausible situation, Lucy was all onboard. And learning from the master, Lucie followed suit. “But once they got you there, you had to believe it. You couldn’t do it like it was funny–like ‘Here comes the joke,’” Lucie says.

After six seasons of playing Kim Carter, Lucie would go on to receive a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Molly Bell in the 1980’s film The Jazz Singer; she played the murder victim Elizabeth Short in a 1975 NBC telefilm Who is the Black Dahlia?; and she made several appearances on popular television shows such as Murder, She Wrote and Law and Order. More recently, Lucie won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Information Specialist in 2009 for her revealing documentary about her famous parents entitled Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie.