‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball Almost Died Filming Show’s Iconic Grape Stomping Scene

One of the biggest shows and cultural influences in the 1950s was I Love Lucy. The show managed to win five Emmy Awards. The lead actress, Lucille Ball, became one of the most well-known actresses in the country.  

While the show became a household name, Ball earned roughly $2000 a week per episode that aired. Her salary likely increased as the series continued. Yet, her time on the I Love Lucy set did not come without any safety risks. 

What is ‘I Love Lucy’ about?

Lucille Ball, left, and Vivian Vance in a scene from 'I Love Lucy'
Lucille Ball, left, and Vivian Vance in a scene from ‘I Love Lucy’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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Britannica reports that I Love Lucy first aired on CBS in 1951, and it would run for six seasons. The show is about Lucy Ricardo (Ball) and her husband, Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz). Lucy is a housewife who wants to be a part of the show business, and her husband is an entertainer at a nightclub. 

Lucy will get up to all kinds of shenanigans due to her schemes. Like in many sitcoms, her plans often lead her into trouble. Sometimes she or another character will have to solve the episode’s conflict. 

To understand how popular I Love Lucy was, it created a phenomenon of timing bathroom breaks. Before TVs had a pausing feature, many people would have a limited time to do anything during commercials. Millions of people rushed to the toilet in an attempt to make it back before the commercials ended. 

The show is episodic, with each episode having a self-contained plot. However, some storylines carry over to other episodes. There are several iconic episodes that many remember today. 

The grape stomping episode

Lucille Ball in 'Lucy's Italian Movie'
Lucille Ball | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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One well-known episode is “Lucy’s Italian Movie.” For most of the season, Lucy is traveling Europe with her husband, and she spends a couple of episodes in Italy.  

According to the episode’s IMDb page, Lucy is planning to play in a film titled Bitter Grapes. So, she heads to a vineyard, thinking winemaking will be involved in the movie. There she helps manually make wine by stomping on the grapes that are in a vat. 

Squeamish at first, Lucy begins to have fun with grape stomping until she gets ordered to get back to work. At some point, she gets into a fight with another worker. Eventually, she slips and falls in the vat. 

The two of them continue to wrestle among the grapes. Later, Lucy returns to the hotel covered in stains and gets informed that the film has nothing to do with winemaking. In the end, she loses her minor role, which would have been of an American tourist. 

I Love Lucy often uses physical comedy to draw laughter from its audience. However, it can get a little too physical for some of the actors. 

Lucille Ball almost suffocated during the fight scene

Lucille Ball in 'I Love Lucy'
Lucille Ball in ‘I Love Lucy’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

There are plenty of things that happen behind the scenes of a popular favorite show. Some of them have the potential of harming an actor. One example is that there was an incident that almost cost Ball’s life while shooting “Lucy’s Italian Movie.” 

It occurred during the scene when Lucy gets into the vat with the other worker. According to Ranker, the show’s producer, Jess Oppenheimer, states that they did not entirely script the scene. It would seem that the actresses may have decided to add in the fight on their own. 

During the fight, Ball claimed that she had almost gotten drowned while shooting. She explained during an interview on the David Cavett Show that the fight soon turned into a real one. Ball accidentally hit the Italian actress, who spoke no English. 

Things quickly turned ugly, and Ball states how she got held down by the throat and had grapes up her nose. She almost suffocated, but she was able to get the woman off of her. Despite the almost tragedy, that one take made its way into the final product.