Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lucille Ball - Style Setter - In Honor of Her 100th Birthday

This is first of several special posts on The Flaming Nose celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Lucille Ball

In celebration of Lucille Ball's 100th birthday! Lucy was born on August 6, 1911, so here is a tribute to her great sense of style or should I say Lucy Ricardo's great sense of style. Happy birthday Lucy!

Joan Crawford's big shoulder pads (remember those came back in the 1980's and thank God they went the way of the big hair bands of that era - they were gone relatively quickly), Katherine Hepburn's slack suits (long before women wore slack suits, - well Marlene Dietrich wore them), Audrey Hepburn's little black dress (well, Audrey in general), Jane Fonda's "Klute" shag cut (my sister had the shag cut like millions of others), Diane Keaton's "Annie Hall" men's baggy look. All of these women were style setters of the cinema.

We often overlook the style setters of television. Farrah and Jen's hair certainly had their fair share of publicity and magazine covers. Mary Tyler Moore's Mary Richards character was certainly a style setter. I went into the media business for one reason and one reason only - I wanted to be Mary Richards. I wanted to work in the media (check), I wanted to drive a Mustang (owned two of the them, so check), grew to love hats (I still wear them - I own about 20 hats); and of course have a great friend like Rhoda (check - I have several wonderful friends). The one woman who clearly never gets her due re: style is Lucy Ricardo. Lucy was the first and certainly most prominent style setter in the history of television. I'll splain!

Lucille Ball has been credited with many things. She is clearly one of the most iconic names and faces of the twentieth century. She remains to this day the most significant television presence of all time. "I Love Lucy" is still seen on a daily basis literally all around the world. She was the top female executive in the entertainment industry (pretty much in any industry and pretty much the only female executive in the media at the time) long before it became the norm to find women in top positions in the industry (and no, I haven't forgotten Mary Pickford's dominance in the early days of film). She was a stunningly beautiful woman (and long and lean too) who had the best comic timing of any woman or man ever to act in front of a camera. I could keep going, but we pretty much know the range and depth of Lucille Ball's talents. Brilliant is an overused word in our society, particularly as it is used and overused in show business circles, but Lucille Ball was brilliant. Her timing was perfect. Not near perfect, but perfect. Her facial expressions are not matched by any other actress attempting comedy (Diane Keaton may be the only actress who even comes close). She had a unique ability to show unease; and of course she displayed true emotion like no other actress before or since her time. (the episode "Lucy is Enceinte" is the greatest example of this talent). Her experience awash in tears at the close of the episode is touching 59 years later. As a viewer, you feel the joy of her pregnancy!

Lucy is never credited with her style. Lucille McGillicuddy Ricardo was a style icon several years before we even ventured near the Breakfast at Tiffany's little black dress. I have been watching an endless number of Lucy episodes in recent months and I want ---- no I demand her wardrobe. Her clothes from the show can be worn today and quite frankly, I want all of them. Nothing is dated. The Lucy outfits are timeless and classic; and of course the former leggy model wears them with perfection and there isn't a red pump in that apartment. She didn't need them - she was five feet nine inches tall in flats!!! She wears the ballerina shoe and yes, those are all the rage today as well. Her style is so effortless it just walks in with her usual grace and elegance and that alone makes a statement. It is the anti-statement of style. If you try too hard it doesn't count. Lucy never tries. She just is. She is one of those women who looks better in jeans and a tee shirt than most women look in formal attire.

In the episode, "Lucy and Ethel Buy the Same Dress" both Lucy and Ethel wear an amazingly lovely dress that I quite frankly wish I had for my prom and that's if my prom were being held this weekend. It's not, but if I were going I'd want that draped floral arrangement on my formal. Forget the Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League - give it to me, so I can be the best dressed girl at the senior prom!!!! Remember the gorgeous black lace collar dress she put on during the "Fan Magazine Interview" episode. It's gorgeous and totally desirable in 2011. I have a cocktail party event coming up and I want it!!! Her open toed shoes were the perfect shoes for the dress and I know Jimmy Choo wasn't around at this time. Lucy just had a knack for selecting the right accessories. Now please don't tell me someone else picked them - it wouldn't be the point either way. She wore them and in the words of Rod Stewart she wore them well! Another find would be the 3/4 sleeve coat she dons in "Getting Ready." The white button down blouse and the fabulous hunter jacket she chooses in her hen raising experience are too much for this lover of clothes. I need the jacket for my long walks in the woods and that button down is a killer. I must have it! Theory couldn't have designed a better silhouette for a blouse. Then there are the capris she wears while golfing. The black skinnies she dons in "Lucy Tells The Truth." I could keep going! Of course, my two all time favorite Lucy outfits are the white dress with the black weaving (again, I have no idea if it was black or white) along the collar. She wore this dress in several episodes (our redhead was one smart chick) and every time I see it I think you could wear that right now. Without a doubt the Lucy outfit worn repeatedly in her series that works and works and works and no one would question why she was wearing the same outfit again (that's life - we do wear the same outfits again and again, but when you have style it always works). Did you guess the black slacks with the V-necked striped collar top. Now I really have to have that outfit! Lucille Ball was brilliant and stylish.

When I was 12 years old I wrote her a fan letter and I never received a response. I forgave her long ago. She was Lucy and she will always be the best thing that ever happened to television. Long live the redhead from Jamestown!


Jane said...

Judith, what an absolutely AWESOME premier post! Absolutely fascinating take on Lucy fashion. I too loved the black skinny slacks she wore, but especially when it was with that long jacket dress that came all the way down to her ankles, but was open at front. Very cool. I hope you don't mind, but I added some pictures to your post. I will send you another email on how to do that for yourself. Great job!

Dean Treadway said...

Very cool post. As someone who wears ties and suits one day (fashion plate) and bummy t-shirts the next (fashion victim), I know next to nothing about haute couture. But I consider myself edumacated now. Lucy was exactly as you portray her: graceful, with-it, and timeless.

One note about your post--just a small criticism: watch the lengths of your paragraphs. A long paragraph is fine, but always go through and see if you've drifted into another thought that could be sent off with a paragraph of its own. But a fine debut, nonetheless, and very fun to read! Thanks, Judith.

Scott said...

Way to go Judith, and welcome! I think you will find contributing to TFN cathartic and energizing and absolutely wonderful. Writing about what you want in the way that you want is the best. All hail the blogosphere!
This was a great first post and I look forward to many more! You've now inspired me to do a dissertation I Love Lucy's home decor! Watch for that post soon!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your post, Judith, and look forward to reading more from you. By the way, but did you know that Lucy's ghost haunts the Desilu studios? The medium James Van Praagh recently hosted a tour of Paramount studios to locate ghosts from Hollywood's past heyday. He had a conversation with Lucy and she even "showed" him her personal apartment at the studio. She told Van Praagh that she likes to horse around there, knocking papers to the floor and opening and closing doors. The person working at the office now confirmed that strange things like that happen all the time!

Dean Treadway said...

By the way, one thing I loved about your post was its ending--your confession about writing Lucille a fan letter, and then forgiving her for not writing back. I thought that was incredibly sweet. I had a similar experience with Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts; his secretary wrote me, and I was disappointed (but at least I got the initial thrill of a reply letter). I was wondering if Jane, Lisa or any of your wonderful readers have such tales to tell. Who did you write fan letters to?

Jane said...

Dean, what an incredible idea for a blog thread. My inspirations have always been authors. I wrote a fan letter to Ayn Rand, and never heard back. But I also wrote a letter to Pat Conroy about "The Prince of Tides". And he did write back to me and it was a very personal note sent from Italy where he was living at the time. It lives in my treasure box now.

Anonymous said...

Very entertaining and educational missive, Judith! And I'm quite honored to be mentioned. Can't wait to read more - I've always been awed at your insights - Shirley

Lisa said...

Looking back at Lucy, a factor that I really think makes "I Love Lucy" timeless -- more than other sitcoms -- is that Lucy so often wore pants and looked completely contemporary, relaxed and gorgeous, to boot. Her savvy fashion sense -- and those slacks -- helped give her long-lasting appeal.