Lucille Ball, Star of “My Favorite Husband”

“I’ve been asked, as I suppose every actress’ mother is, how Lucille ever got into show business. The answer to that is easy – you find it in our early home life, in the way Lucille was brought up. “If,” I tell them, “you’d seen our house in the old days, with play acting all over the place, day and night, you’d know it would have been a minor miracle if Lucille Ball turned out to be anything but an actress.” – Desiree Ball, mother of Lucille on the famous comedian’s early home life in Jamestown, New York.

Desiree (Dede) Ball and her daughter, Lucille

I found a terrific article in the Old Time Radio Club publication from June 2011. The article was written by Mrs. Desiree Ball in 1949, but I can’t find where it was originally published. In any case, I thought this a lovely way to pay tribute to Lucille on what would have been her birthday. I’m spending the day listening to My Favorite Husband while I do chores and it’s simply not fair not to share the wealth. But first some more from Mrs. Ball on Lucille’s radio success on My Favorite Husband before her popularity hit the stratosphere on television.

“Lucille made a lot of radio appearances before she got the show, as many movie personalities do. But this is the first time in her career that she’s been starred in a series like this. The break wasn’t anything she sought. As a matter of fact, it came to her quite by happenstance. Lucille’s agent, Don Sharpe owned the My Favorite Husband idea (package, they call it). Don needed a good record to play for the radio people and he asked Lucille to cut a record for him, to put the character over. CBS heard the record and liked it. They decided to put it on the air one time, to test the audience reaction. They liked that first try so well they decided to make it a steady thing and it’s been on the air ever since a year ago last July. It’s wonderful being the mother of a radio star like Lucille.”

 

My Favorite Husband ran for 124 episodes, from 1948 to 1951. Lucille Ball starred opposite Richard Denning as Liz and George Cugat in early episodes and later Liz and George Cooper to avoid confusion with then popular bandleader, Xavier CugatMy Favorite Husband was based on a series of short stories written by Isabel Scott Rorick, which were published in newspapers and magazines across the country. In 1942 Rorick compiled the stories, added material and published a hugely popular book entitled Mr. and Mrs. Cugat: The Record of a Happy MarriageThe book was so popular that it became the basis for the 1942 Norman Taurog big-screen vehicle, Are Husbands Necessary? starring Ray Milland and Betty Field. You can read much more of the history of the show at The Digital Deli.

With the popularity of the source material and radio as a medium of entertainment, it’s only natural that the story of the Cugats would make the transition and – needless to say – it works quite well. The premise of My Favorite Husband is familiar as it tells the zany exploits of a madcap housewife and her more serious husband. The radio show also featured a host of popular radio voices whose names you’ll recognize from later TV shows. There are too many recognizable names to mention, but here are a few to whet your appetites: Hal March, Doris Singleton, Joseph Kearns, Bea Benaderet, Hans Conreid, Sandra Gould and Sheldon Leonard. If you’ve never listened to My Favorite Husband it’s time you remedied that. Here’s the show about two people who live together and like it…

Ball and Denning in My Favorite Husband

 

“The Cugat’s Tenth Anniversary”

 

“The Charity Bazaar Kissing Booth”

 

“Liz Has her Fortune Told”

 

“The Quiz Show”

 

“Hair Dyed”

 

“George is Messy”

 

“Women’s Rights Parts 1 and 2”

 

“Liz Changes her Mind”

 

“Television”

 

“Liz Stretches the Truth”

 

 

“My Favorite Husband has some of the longest rehearsals in radio, simply because Lucille likes to spend half her time clowning for the orchestra and cast. (Shades of Jamestown!) She brings some of her personal life into her radio characterization. When she and Desi were married they made it a rule never to go to bed on a quarrel. You’ll notice that neither do Liz and George on the radio. The reason why My Favorite Husband is a successful show, if you want my opinion, is that the people in it are real people. There are no melodramatic situations. She has budget troubles and does foolish things that any woman might do. George is always the stronger (people seem to like that), but in the end she’s the one who straightens things out.” – Desiree Ball

In 1950 CBS asked Lucille Ball to do a television version of My Favorite Wife. Both the network and the show’s sponsor, Jello-O said they intended to keep both the premise and Lucille’s co-star, Richard Denning. Lucille refused the second part of the arrangement, however. She wanted her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz to play her husband on the show, a proposal everyone found ridiculous. Who would believe that Lucy was married to a Cuban bandleader? Well, to prove the premise was acceptable Desi and Lucille went on the road and when they showed that audiences responded to the Arnazes as a couple CBS reluctantly agreed. The premise of the TV show was reworked into I Love Lucy – and the rest is television history.

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