Emmy flashback: ‘I Love Lucy’ debuted 64 years ago today

Like everyone else, we love Lucy and celebrate the fact that Lucille Ball‘s landmark laffer “I Love Lucy” debuted on CBS exactly 64 years ago today on Oct. 15, 1951. The show won the Emmy for Best Situation Comedy twice (1953, 1954) and Ball claimed two trophies as well (Best Comedienne, 1953; Best Actress, Continuing Performance, 1956). 

Ball went on to win two more Emmys for the last two seasons of her second series, “The Lucy Show” (1967, 1968). In 1967, she edged out “Bewitched” stars Elizabeth Montgomery and Agnes Moorehead and “That Girl’s” Marlo Thomas. By the way, Montgomery never won an Emmy, despite nine nods, including five for her work as that witch with a twitch. The following year, in what was to be her final Emmy race, Ball prevailed yet again. Her competition:  Montgomery and Thomas, as well as Barbara Feldon (“Get Smart”) and Paula Prentiss (“He and She”).

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Below, watch that moment from the 1967 Emmycast when Ball wins. As her name was announced by Carl Reiner, she was stunned, saying “I don’t believe it.” At the podium, she became visibly moved during her acceptance speech. While she mixes up her wins from the 1950s — thinking that her second Emmy came “because I had a baby” when that had been her first — she is clearly grateful for this honor from her peers.

Ball should well remember that first bid in 1951, as she also hosted the Emmycast. When her one-time on-screen love interest Red Skeleton picked up the prize for best comedian or comedienne, he quipped, “You’ve given this to the wrong redhead.” And his show also beat the debut season of hers for best comedy series even though “I Love Lucy” was the most buzzed-about show in America.

The next year, just two weeks after giving birth on both the show and in real-life on the same day, Ball would win her first Emmy as Best Comedienne while the show took Best Situation Comedy.

In 1953, the show won again and Vivian Vance took home the first supporting actress Emmy ever awarded. Ball lost to one of her Desilu employees — Eve Arden of “Our Miss Brooks” — and William Frawley was edged out by Art Carney, who won the first of his five Emmys for “The Jackie Gleason Show.”

In 1954, the show lost to another Desilu production, “Make Room for Daddy,” while Ball lost the Best Actress race to Loretta Young for her self-titled show. Vance and Frawley lost to “Jackie Gleason” regulars Audrey Meadows and Carney.

In 1955, Ball skipped the Emmycast when “I Love Lucy” was not nominated for Best Comedy Series. In her absence, she won Best Actress (Continuing Performance) but lost the comedienne race to Nanette Fabray (“Caesar’s Hour”). As she was not there, perhaps that is why she forgot this win during her 1967 acceptance speech.

While the never-nominated Desi Arnaz hosted the 1956 awards, his three costars all lost their races as they did the following year for the last season of the sitcom. And none would be nominated for the hour-long version of the show that aired sporadically for the next three years.

Following her divorce from Arnaz in 1960, Ball starred in a Broadway musical, “Wildcat.” The rigors of the Rialto soon sent her packing and she headed back to TV in 1962 with “The Lucy Show.” For that show’s first season, she lost Lead Actress in a Series to “Hazel” star Shirley Booth. Not nominated the following two years, she was back in the race in 1966, losing to Mary Tyler Moore for the final season of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

While Ball was never nominated during the six seasons of “Here’s Lucy” or for her subsequent television appearances, she was the second inductee into the TV academy’s Hall of Fame in 1984, following Mr. Television himself, Milton Berle. And, five months after she died in April 1989, the Emmys honored Ball with the Governors Award. Her frequent costar Bob Hope saluted her with a montage of memorable moments and her husband, Gary Morton accepted the honor with some heartfelt words. 

More than a quarter century after her death, Ball is still a ratings winner for CBS. The Tiffany net has aired colorized episodes of “I Love Lucy” at Christmas for the past two years as well as this spring. 

Photo: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in “I Love Lucy.” Credit: CBS

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