The fun part about working in television and movies is the addictive thrill of making things. Step one? Get an idea! Stand in your kitchen and get an idea! If you get an idea for a novel or a painting, then you can just stroll into the other room, put on a beret (I assume) and get to work. An idea for a movie or a TV show requires a few extra steps. For that, you have to stand in your kitchen, get an idea and scribble it down onto a napkin. Then get into your car, drive around Hollywood and shove your napkin into everyone's face until someone gives you a big bag of money. And - get ready - nobody ever does!
One thing I've learned is that making things is always difficult. Making things that are worthwhile is always very difficult. Y’ever see someone try to have a baby? Forget it! Showbiz is like trying to have a baby while the doctors and nurses stand around saying things like, “I’m not crazy about the face.” And, “We love what you’re doing, but does it have to be a boy?”
The smartest people are those who, after getting their ideas made, use their newfound clout to help other people get their ideas made. Sure, it's great to be a successful actor, but it's better to be a successful actor who is also a producer. Producers hire actors. The smart actor is the actor who has become the producer who hires himself as an actor. Trust me. I know.
But no one did it better than Lucille Ball. Lucille Ball came to Hollywood in the 1930’s. She pounded the pavement like everybody else, going from The Three Stooges to an audition for Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. In 1948 she was cast in the radio comedy My Favorite Husband. It was a hit, and she was asked to develop the series for this newfangled thing called television. Lucy agreed and in a bold move, insisted that her TV husband be played by her real-life husband, Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz. The network was reluctant. Lucy was white and Desi was Cuban and this was America in 1950.
To convince the network that it could work, Lucy and Desi performed the show live as a vaudeville act. They produced it themselves, combining their first names to form Desilu Productions. Needless to say, it did work, and in October of 1951, I Love Lucy, produced by and starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, premiered on CBS and became a television classic.
Lucy and Desi were not only brilliant comedic actors, they were also brilliant television producers. Desi worked closely with the show’s director of photography, Karl Freund, and pioneered many of the methods that are still used in shooting sit-coms today. Fun fact! In addition to shooting I Love Lucy, Karl Freund also shot 1931’s Dracula starring Bela Lugosi and Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic Metropolis.
Not so fun fact! Lucy and Desi divorced in 1960. Lucy bought out Desi's holdings in Desilu and became the first woman in Hollywood to run a major TV studio. And she was no figurehead. By all accounts, Lucy was very active in Desilu’s business. She had been in showbiz for years and had a keen sense of what audiences wanted. In addition to I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show, Desilu had already produced The Untouchables and Our Miss Brooks. Under Lucy, they would go on to produce Mission: Impossible, Mannix, and the little project that could, a troubled script that would go through several incarnations and even a fully rejected pilot film before finally, by the skin of its teeth, becoming a TV series. It was a show that would need a lot of support from Desilu’s world famous, red-headed president. A woman who, according to Desilu executive Herb Solow, initially thought the show was about a group of Hollywood stars traveling through the South Pacific with the USO. After all, what else could a show called Star Trek be about?
I’ll tell you about Star Trek’s most difficult journey, from the one-liner, “Wagon Train to the stars," to actually getting onscreen, next time.