‘I Love Lucy’ Star Lucille Ball Had Specific Rules for How the Other Cast Members Could Act
Many modern comedians look back to Lucille Ball‘s work on I Love Lucy as an inspiration. However, many former cast members — and others who worked on the sitcom — said that Ball didn’t work like other comics of her time. Apparently, the famous actor had tight control over the set — and even over how other cast members could act with her.
On ‘I Love Lucy’, Lucille Ball was no-nonsense in her approach to comedy
Over a series of interviews with Television Academy Foundation, former cast and crew members of I Love Lucy and Ball and Desi Arnaz’s follow-up series, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, described how Ball exacted control over the sets.
Keith Thibodeaux, who played Lucy and Ricky’s son, Little Ricky, on the shows, says the sitcom star was “very passionate [and] very complex.”
Thibodeaux shared that Ball treated him nicely, but in her approach to the work, she would be “very tightly-wound, and no-nonsense.”
Edie Adams, the actor/singer/comedian who appeared on the Comedy Hour with Ernie Kovacs, agreed that Ball was a total “stickler.” This was especially in comparison to other comics that Adams had worked with, who liked to keep the energy “up” and light.
‘I Love Lucy’ director said that Ball became an expert in a variety of different skills throughout the seasons
Jay Sandrich was an assistant director on I Love Lucy; he would later direct such iconic series as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Cosby Show. Sandrich confirmed Ball’s nature in his own Television Academy Foundation conversation. Everything on the show that Ball did, she did with a high level of precision and meticulousness.
Each week, Ball had to pick up a skill that her character would portray. The sitcom star studied each of these activities intensely.
“By the end of the week, she could do it as well as anybody,” Sandrich recalls. He remembers one week where she had to make pizza dough, and stood outside an Italian restaurant, perfecting her dough-throwing.
The level of control allowed the I Love Lucy star to bring in the humor.
“Whatever the project was she was doing, she had to be an expert at it by the end of the week so she could relax and be comedic,” Sandrich shared.
The director describes Ball as “so technical,” with every tiny element of what she did incredibly “thought-out.”
Lucille Ball wanted other cast members to rehearse for the episodes in a particular manner
However, Ball’s highly-controlled environment extended even further than developing her own skill-set. She wanted each other actor in I Love Lucy to keep the energy the exact same in every rehearsal.
“… the rest of the cast … the guest actors, had to do the same line-readings to Lucy every time so she could get her timing,” Sandrich recalled. Even on the comedic set, there was no room for improvisation or re-interpretation.
“Somebody couldn’t come and ad-lib or do it slightly differently,” the I Love Lucy AD explained.
“She wanted to know exactly,” Sandrich continued, what was going to happen in each moment, so she could rehearse and perfect every tiny little thing.
While Ball’s methods sound intense, it must have paid off; I Love Lucy stands the comedy test of time.