A life of loving 'Lucy'

Hello. My name is Tim. And I'm an "I Love Lucy"-holic.

Think less of me, if you must. It won't bother me. I have no intention of ever being cured, even if it means lifelong membership in The Friends of the Friendless (a "Lucy" reference, of course).

It all started when I was a little boy (sorry, another "Lucy" reference). I discovered the greatest sitcom ever made — please, "Seinfeld" fans, do not even try — and that was that.

Thanks to omnipresent reruns on Channel 5 in Washington, I would catch the show after school, after dinner, whenever. I knew I was totally hooked when the picture tube on our TV gave out but the sound still worked, and I just sat there in front of the set as if I were in the old days of radio my parents talked about.

My fixation on "I Love Lucy" continued through my high school and college years. When I went to Los Angeles for grad school, I rented a room in a modest little old home owned by a modest little old lady, Mrs. Laflin. She and I often watched the 6 p.m. "I Love Lucy" rerun on her TV set as we ate dinner. Sometimes, I can still hear Mrs. Laflin laughin' in my head.

When I got back to Maryland, instead of outgrowing my attachment to the Ricardos and Mertzes of 623 E. 68th St. (as true "Lucy" fans know, there is no such address in New York — it would be somewhere out in the East River), it only intensified.

In between working for the Census Bureau to earn a living (if I told you what my job was there, you'd think I was even weirder) and doing freelance music reviews for papers in and around Washington, I rarely missed "I Love Lucy," which was still running on good old Ch. 5. It proved especially therapeutic whenever I felt down.

I regularly peppered my conversation with lines from the show, much to the annoyance of others. "It's so tasty, too." "Quaint, to say the least." "Well, I've got to eat, too, you know." "She might be 'people,' but she's not like you and me." "What with one thing and another, there just wasn't room for all of you." "I think you're all horrid."

And one of my all-time faves: "If that's the kind of hat you wanted, you sure got a good one." Very easy to substitute any number of things for "hat."

It's not my fault that everything that ever happens to any of us can be related to a "Lucy" episode, triggering me to respond in the words of Lucy, Ricky, Ethel or Fred.

The brilliant writers at the start of the series, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr. and Jess Oppenheimer, created something real, not just something fun. And Lucille Ball, with her mix of glamour and down-to-earth-ness, perfect timing and infinitely expressive physical comedy (she had a great mentor in Buster Keaton), created someone inimitable.

The coolest thing about "I Love Lucy" is that it's not just Ball's vehicle. The show is unimaginable without her three colleagues.

Desi Arnaz didn't just make a perfect Ricky — he never got the credit he deserved as an actor (check out the "Equal Rights" episode for an example of his craft). He also revealed uncanny instincts in the production of the show, insisting, for example, on multiple cameras shooting on film (the system would be used ever after for sitcoms).

No one else could possibly have played Ethel but Vivian Vance. Over the decades, I think I started loving Ethel more than Lucy, just for the marvelous way she could deliver a line, create a wealth of facial expressions and always keep things so very human. It never gets old watching her ego trip in "Ethel's Home Town," when she's the belle of Albuquerque again ("Ethel Mae Potter: We Never Forgot Her").

And good old Fred, a role William Frawley had to play. He learned only pages of the script that included him, but you rarely sense any disconnect. In the end, he couldn't be more amusing or endearing. (That he and Vivian didn't get along at all only makes the two of them more interesting.)

Over the years, people humored me when I started going all "Lucy" on them. I suspect some of them worried about me. But it sure paid off being such a fanatic.

After moving to Fort Lauderdale for my first full-time newspaper job, I got to try out Lucy shtick on a new set of people. Among those who indulged me was a guy who told me, "You should meet Robert. He's as crazy about Lucy as you are."

I didn't particularly like or trust this potential matchmaker, but I agreed to meet him at a club where he would introduce me to this other Lucy nut.

What do you know? We hit it off. A sitcom addiction might not be enough to sustain a meaningful relationship, but it sure did break the ice. And we discovered a lot more in common, which explains why, 30 years later (the past 14 in Baltimore), Robert and I are still together.

We continue to watch the show (we have all of "I Love Lucy" and the inferior, but still fun, "Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour" on DVD, of course), and hardly a day goes by that we don't quote some bit of dialogue from it.

We once had a doorbell programmed to play the "I Love Lucy" theme song. (Sure it was tacky, but Ricky dreamed of owning a Cadillac with a horn that played "Babalu," so why not?) A few unsuspecting souls even heard us performing our version of the Lucy/Ricky "Auf Wiederseh'n" number from "The Benefit" episode. (Luckily, no blackmail-able evidence survives.)

I am constantly amazed at how much a 1950s TV sitcom has affected my life, not just making me laugh for so long, but helping me in such an unlikely way to find the wonderful person who is now my spouse.

So I don't just love "I Love Lucy." I'm endlessly grateful for it.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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