Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Man Who Didn't Love "Lucy"

The late John Crosby (1912-1991) was widely considered one of the most knowledgeable and respected TV critics, his newspaper column syndicated nationwide in the 1950s and beyond. His name came up often as I researched five books about show business history. So I was interested by his November 2, 1951 column, in which he expressed a less-than-delighted reaction to a new CBS television series called I Love Lucy.

Lucy gets some marital advice in "Be a Pal."
Lucy had aired only three episodes ("The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub", "Be a Pal", and "The Diet") when Crosby called Lucille Ball's now-classic series "a terrible waste of her talents and her husband's." In Crosby's view, the show was typical of much Hollywood output in the early days of TV, drawing on shopworn ideas about married life carried over from radio: "The endless cliches into which these people are thrust, and what I'm afraid is the spirit of contempt or, at very least indifference, toward television which seems to imbue the actors, robs them of a great deal of their personality and of their appeal." While acknowledging that the show was "very competently put together" and "written almost too professionally," Crosby found it an inferior offering.

Happily for Lucy lovers, Crosby did come around somewhat; a year or so later, he wrote, "At its best, the show has some of the manic informality and improvisation of the early silent film comedies." Of its star, he said with unqualified admiration, "She's a really great clown." And if, overall, he still wasn't the show's most uncritical fan, he wrote with a certain air of resignation, "Who am I to argue with 12,000,000 families?"

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