[Author's Note: All quotes and commentary that appear in this article were culled from interviews the author conducted with those individuals mentioned.]
Here’s Lucy, which originally aired on CBS from 1968 to 1974, was the third of Lucille Ball’s four weekly half-hour sitcoms, following I Love Lucy (co-starring her real-life husband Desi Arnaz, and airing on CBS, 1951-1957), and The Lucy Show (CBS, 1962-1968), and before Life with Lucy (ABC, 1986).
As with The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy co-starred Gale Gordon as Ball’s comic nemesis. But Here’s Lucy stands apart from all of Ball’s sitcoms, such that it featured the famous redhead's two real-life children, Lucie Arnaz, and Desi Arnaz, Jr., playing Lucy Carter’s teenage children, Kim, and Craig Carter.
Although as Desi, Jr. once said, “I had always thought that I was a part of I Love Lucy, as I was born on the same day as Little Ricky.”
He was referring to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo's on-screen son, played by Keith Thibodeaux, who remains a close friend to the Arnaz family, and whose alter ego made TV history as the first baby born in a weekly sitcom. TV Guide even ran a cover story about the episode, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” which aired on January 19, 1953, the actual date of Desi, Jr.'s birth (coordinated by a planned cesarean).
In several I Love Lucy episodes before the “Hospital” segment, however, Ball was seen as pregnant which is exactly what she was in real life with Desi, Jr. “That was my first job as an actor," he muses. "I like to call it ‘fetal performing,’ as I was in my Mom's stomach.”
While Desi, Jr. had made an actual visible cameo appearance on I Love Lucy (in “The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue,” originally airing May 6, 1957), he performed with an even more noticeable presence on The Lucy Show.
He played Billy Simmons, the on-screen friend to that sitcom's Jimmy Garrett and Candy Moore, who played Ball's children, Jerry and Chris Carmichael, and Ralph Hart, who portrayed Sherman Bagley, son of Vance's Vivian Bagley.
Although Lucie Arnaz did not appear in the “Statue” segment, she also performed on The Lucy Show, as Cynthia, another friend to Moore's Chris Carmichael. “I pulled my hair back into a ponytail with my little chopped-off bangs,” Lucie recalled, “and I played a soda-jerk, as they called them in those days. And I thought, ‘That's really a grown-up thing for me to do. I look really grown-up.’ And if you watch the show, you'll laugh hysterically because I was only 11 years old and had buck teeth. But Mom gave me a shot, and I learned how to catch those sodas as they came running down the counter, and put them on a tray, served them, said my lines right, and I didn't fall down.”
"Those spots were fun," Lucie continued, and she was excited when her mother recruited her to portray Cynthia. But she was still wet behind the ears and preparing for bigger fish to fry.
Lucie would always perform shows in her backyard in Beverly Hills, where she operated a small theater group. She was headed toward doing live theater, wanted to be on the stage, and grew up listening to soundtracks and Broadway cast albums.
“I just knew I wanted to be in musical theater,” she said. “So, those little bit parts on The Lucy Show were good training for me. They were filmed in front of a live audience, like theater. And I had to memorize lines and see if I could perform in front of an audience and not choke.”
While attending Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, Lucie invested herself in that facility's theater department. “I wanted to learn more about the stage,” she said.
She, and her brother, however, would also soon learn more about television. It was around Lucie's sophomore year that her mother decided to transform The Lucy Show into Here's Lucy.
“She had completed six seasons of The Lucy Show,” Lucie recalled, “and that's all you needed for syndication. And it's suggested that sometimes it's better to begin a brand-new show, and you can have syndication for that show, as well, as opposed to having 12 years of one show. They don't do that so much now, but in those days they did.”
But when Ball offered Lucie and Desi, Jr. regular roles on Here's Lucy, they were initially hesitant to comply. For one, Desi, Jr. had found success with the rock group, Dino, Desi & Billy, which featured Billy Hinsche and Dino Martin, son of Dean Martin (a good friend to Ball who guest-starred on The Lucy Show episode, “Lucille Ball Dates Dean Martin,” 2-14-66).
“We were doing extremely well,” Desi, Jr. said of his involvement with the early ‘60s musical trio, which was one of the first boy-bands in history. “But we were coming to the end of that because we all wanted to go to college, with only two years left in high school,” which was Beverly High for him, while Lucie was attending Immaculate Heart.
“I had tunnel vision,” Lucie said on her Immaculate theatrical conception. She wanted to graduate high school and attend a university such as Northwestern, where she could study theater. “That was my plan. So, when Mom asked me to do Here's Lucy, I immediately said, ‘no, no, no, no!’”
Lucie feared backlash from the industry. Both she and her brother had no desire to be perceived as privileged. “I didn't want anyone to think I was cast on the show because my mother was the star,” Lucie said, “which would have been the absolute God's honest truth.” So, she told her mother forthrightly, “I don't want to go down that road. I want to learn how to be really good before I get big jobs.”
To which Ball replied, “Well, you can learn a lot on the new show.”
“She tried to talk me into it,” recalled Lucie who, along with Desi, Jr. ultimately agreed to do the series. But not before they requested a special promise from their mom:
If after one year, or even just two episodes, if the industry buzz was not promising; if all they heard were comments like, “The kids are cute…but what are they there for?” or “They're not ready” or “They should have hired real actors,” then they wanted to be written out of the show.
Lucie, in particular, told Ball, “You would have to find a way to send Kim away to school or something. I won't want to continue in the part. I would want to go back and learn my craft.”
In the end, Ball agreed to her children's terms, and Lucie and Desi, Jr. went on to perform winningly on Here's Lucy. “I guess we were okay enough for that first season,” Lucie said modestly, “where we didn't look like we shouldn't have been there. And then I think we gradually got better and better and learned how to do more.”