Posts Tagged ‘Lucille Ball’

“‘Girl-writer’ is honestly what they called me. This was because comedy shows for people like Bob Hope and Jack Benny were usually written by groups of men who were known as ‘The Boys.’”
Madelyn Pugh Davis

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Madelyn Pugh Davis was kind of the Diablo Cody in the early days of sitcom television, back when there weren’t many female writers. She majored in journalism at Indiana University and got her start in radio before eventually moving to Los Angeles and becoming a staff writer for the entire run of  I Love Lucy. 

”I had come to Hollywood from Indiana not too long before [meeting Lucille Ball], and she was the first real celebrity I had ever met besides Hoagy Carmichael, the Hoosier composer of “Star Dust,” and everyone in Indiana had met Hoagy or claimed they had. Bob [Carroll] and I had written lots of radio scripts as staff writers at CBS for Pacific Network, but this was the first full network script we had ever written. We rehearsed all day and did the show in front of a studio audience in the late afternoon. The two of us sat upstairs in the glassed-in clients’ booth during the show, and I hate to admit it, bit we counted the laughs—ninety two. This was it! We were writing a network show for Lucille Ball, and we got ninety-two laughs. We were on our way to The Big Time.”
Madelyn Pugh Davis
Laughing with Lucy: My Life with America’s Leading Lady of Comedy
(On working on the radio program My Favorite Husband )

“For four of its six seasons, ‘I Love Lucy’ was the most popular show on television; it never ranked lower than third in any of those seasons. It received two Emmy Awards for best situation comedy and two nominations for best comedy writing.”
Dennis Hevesi
New York Times (April 21, 2011)
Madelyn Pugh Davis, Writer for ‘I Love Lucy,’ Dies at 90

It’s estimated that over their career that Davis and her writing partner Bob Carroll write a total of 400 radio shows and 500 TV shows. In 1992, they were given the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award from the WGA.

They weren’t known as joke writers but specialized more in visual comedy. Watch this video of classic I Love Lucy visual comedy moments.

Ken Levine points out on his History of Sitcoms podcast that through the entire run of I Love Lucy (181 episodes) that they only used five writers. And only two of those writers are credited on every episode— Bob Carroll Jr and Madelyn Pugh Davis.

Not bad for a boy writer from Florida and girl writer from Indiana.

Related link: Interview with Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll Jr. 

Scott W. Smith




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“I will never forget one day [Lucille Ball] sort of walked out of the studio and then came back, and came up to me and said, ‘you’re very good,’ and then walked on. That was the greatest gift I ever received in this business. I don’t think I have another moment that compares with the impact of those words.”
Mary Tyler Moore
Archive of American Television interview in 1997

Since Oct 15 is National I Love Lucy Day, I thought I would round up some Lucille Ball interviews, shows, and tributes for the occasion.

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When I was first starting out as an actor, I was under contract to Lucille Ball at Desilu Studios, which was owned by Lucy and Desi Arnaz. Lucy knew I had this passion for movie history which at that time was not a normal thing. Most people weren’t interested in movie history. She said, ‘You know, you would have a happier life as a writer than as an actor. You should be writing about movies, because nobody is.’ She told me that she thought being an actor would never make me happy, but writing would. She knew I was a journalism major at the University of Washington. She told me that if I took up writing as a profession, the first thing I had to do was write a book because people would look at you differently if I did. She told me it didn’t even have to be a good book, but that everyone is impressed with anyone who writes a book because most people lack the discipline to do it. I knew she was telling me this for my own good, not some other agenda, so I quit being an actor and became a writer.
Film historian Robert Osborne (1932-2017)
Cinema Retro interview with Lee Pfeiffer

85 Years of the Oscar: The Official  History of the Academy Awards
Turner Classic Movie Essentials: 52 Movies and Why They Matter


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Only three more days left in my Month of Marhsall, where I’ve been finding bits of wisdom from writer/director Garry Marshall. Long before his success in films (Pretty Woman), or as the creator of TV shows (Happy Days, Mork & Mindy), he was a comedy writer for some of the biggest names in the 60s; Lucille Ball, Danny Thomas, Joey Bishop, and Dick Van Dyke.

One cost cutting technique he learned from the world of sitcom writing (that some filmmakers today would call “containment”) Marshall calls the ‘stuckinna” plot.

“Another favorite formula of sitcom producers was the ‘stuckinna’ plot, in which the main characters would get ‘stuck in’ something because it helped reduced the number of sets and kept production values down. These stories might find characters stuck in a bath tub, a basement, an attic, a bus, or anything that would be conducive to physical humor. Jerry [Belson] and I wrote a two-part Dick Van Dyke episode called ‘8 1/2’ in which Dick and Mary got stuck in an elevator and were held up by a thief played by Don Rickles. The episode was nominated for a Writers Guild award, which goes to show you that just because an episode is cheap productionwise, it’s not without merit.”
Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
Pages 81-82 

It worked for Charlie Chaplin when he got stuck in a cage with a lion, or in a cabin with a bear.  It worked for Hitchcock in Lifeboat.  And it worked for Rodrifo Cortes in the film Buried based on Chris Sparling’s script, where Ryan Reynolds is the sole actor on screen set inside a coffin. Embrace your limitations.

Update 6.23.13—The Stuckinna plot worked when Lucy was stuck in the assembly line.

P.S. Another more subtle comedy tip in that Marshall quote is the title 8 1/2. While it wouldn’t resonate as much today, back in ’60s it would have been instantly recognizable as a humorous play on the 1963 Fellini film 8 1/2.

Related links:

Screenwriting Quote #124 (Chris Sparling)

Writing for Low Budget Films (includes a list of films shot on one location)

Scott W. Smith

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