Monday, August 08, 2011

The Woman and Writer Behind Lucy
by Janet Lawler

August 8, 2011
New York

Unless you spent last weekend under a rock, you know that it would have been Lucille Ball's 100th birthday. Tributes flooded the Internet and airwaves.

Lucille Ball was an original -- a true American icon and legend.

We still love Lucy Ricardo. Thankfully, Lucy lives on forever on TV and through our laughter.

But have you ever wondered who wrote all those hysterical skits and lines for Lucy, Ricky, Ethel and Fred? Think about it. Those shows were hilarious from start to finish, line to line.

The classic comedy ran for six years on CBS. It never won an Emmy for comedy writing. Imagine that? One of its writers was a remarkable "girl writer" (that's what they called women on writing staffs in TV then) named Madelyn Pugh.

Years later, she became Madelyn Pugh Davis.

In the 1980s, I had the pleasure of corresponding with Ms. Davis through snail mail. I still have the letters saved. She was one of my idols in the television writing world. She wrote I Love Lucy for heaven's sakes. At the time of being pen pals, she was writing and producing for the CBS TV Show "ALICE" starring Linda Lavin. Ms. Davis knew of my passion for writing. She sent me Alice scripts to read and study with a note to "let me know your progress."

She was a sweet, refined lady on paper and in interviews. Her letters came typed, professional in tone, but yet closing with warm words of advice and support.

Ms. Davis, along with her longtime writing partner, Bob Carroll, Jr., wrote for every one of the 179 episodes of I Love Lucy. They also went on to write for all of Lucille Ball's TV Specials and shows.

Before TV, Ms. Davis started writing for Lucy on the radio... caught the actresses' attention and was plucked to help with writing I Love Lucy.

It was a match made in heaven -- not just for Lucy and Ricky, but for Lucille and Madelyn. According to articles, the female pair weren't best of pals -- Lucille Ball wasn't Lucy Ricardo off-camera -- but Lucille Ball respected solid, funny writing. She was smart to keep Madelyn close by and she always gave credit to her writers.

Ms. Davis noted in interviews that before putting Lucy through the famous skits, she would run through the scenes herself with her writing partner -- making cigars, flipping pizzas, milking a cow, swimming in the shower, working in a chocolate factory, getting tipsy filming a vitamin commercial, stomping grapes... and much, much more.

As hard and fast as Ms. Davis clanked on her typewriter, the bigger the belly laughs came for Lucy and Ricky.

And for us watching at home.

So this week we celebrate Lucille Ball, but hats off to Madelyn Pugh Davis too -- a great woman, writer and producer. She died in April. She was 90. She lived a life filled with love, success and laughter.  Who could ask for more?  She was the woman behind Lucy... and that's saying a lot.

After all, I'm certain Lucille Ball wouldn't want us to forget the "girl writer" behind all the classic belly laughs.

(Here is one of the longest live TV studio laughs in television history:  Lucy Learns to Tango.  Episode 172.  Aired in March 1957.)

Until next time.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

I too always give credit to the writers...they are always in the background but without them there would be no entertainment of any kind...but we only idolize the actor...oh well...Hey if you ever want to you should scan those letters...and if you want to share them I would love to read them...Thanks:)