True Classics is hosting a blogathon salute to Lucille Ball on the occasion of the centenary of her birth on August 6. In Caftan Woman's universe Lucy has a prime spot on the ruling counsel.
A few years ago, Carlton Cards issued a Bob Hope Christmas ornament that featured Bob dressed as Santa with three gifts. One was labeled for Dolores, another for Bing and the third for Lucy. In my memory it seems Bob Hope was always popping up on one of Lucy's programs and she was was always popping up on one of his. They always seemed as delighted with each other as the audience was to see them. While their output as a big screen team doesn't rival that of Loy & Powell or Rogers & Astaire, Ball & Hope made four movies together from 1949 - 1963.
Lucy and Bob's first movie was 1949s Sorrowful Jones, a remake of the Shirley Temple vehicle Little Miss Marker based on Damon Runyon's Markie in which an orphan girl is left with a bookie as collateral and changes everyone's life. I'm a sucker for a Runyon story and while the earlier version has a raw originality, this version has an adorable Mary Jane Saunders and Lucy and Bob working their magic.
In her posthumously published autobiography Love, Lucy, she wrote:
This year was the beginning of my great association with Bob Hope. Going to Bob's set every day was like going to a party. I couldn't wait to get there. And I loved working with him.
Bob is predictable and never moody. He's fun, sweet, kind, good; a gentleman and a trouper. I can bounce vitriolic remarks off his big chest and they come out funny, not like acid. Because he's such a strong male figure, he makes me appear more feminine.
Like everything Damon Runyon wrote, Sorrowful Jones had pathos as well as comedy, and Bob at first was rather afraid of the straight scenes. "What if the audience laughs in the wrong place? he worried. He was feeling his way, and so was I. And this was the first movie I'd ever made with Bob. But after a few days, when he still seemed a bit uneasy, I found the courage to take him aside and say, "Don't be afraid to play it straight. If you believe in the scene, the audience will, too."
The following year saw the dynamic duo in another remake as Fancy Pants turned Ruggles of Red Gap on its ear. The director was George Marshall, a Hope veteran of The Ghost Breakers and Monsieur Beaucaire, who had worked with Lucy on Valley of the Sun. He would also work on her series Here's Lucy.
The 1935 movie starred Charles Laughton in a funny and touching story as a misplaced butler finding a new sense of self in the new territory of the old west. In Fancy Pants Hope is an actor pretending to be a butler and turning tomboy Lucy into a lady. It's loud, garish and filled with zany slapstick. Lucy rides, ropes, tumbles and fights. It's also very funny by not trying to ape the earlier classic. John Alexander has a chance to trot out his Teddy Roosevelt impersonation. They even throw in a couple of songs by Livingston and Evans of Buttons and Bows fame. Lucy is dubbed by Annette Warren, but Bob gets to do his own singing.
My favourite of Lucy and Bob's collaborations is 1960s The Facts of Life, a movie I call "Brief Encounter with Laughs". This is my slightly worn review first posted 2008.
Directed by Melvin Frank and written by Frank with Norman Panama, The Facts of Life is an adult love story that will surprise you.
Kitty Weaver and Larry Gilbert are two perfectly nice suburbanites. If Kitty's husband (Don DeFore) seems a little preoccupied with work and his gambling habit, and Larry's wife (Ruth Hussey) a little too caught up with the kids - well, that's life. They have no thought of straying. They certainly have no thought of straying toward each other. However, Fate (in that way of hers) forces these two perfectly nice people to spend time together. Kitty discovers that "the jerk who tells the lousy jokes at the country club" is a genuinely warm and funny fellow. Larry sees a softer side to that stuck up Kitty. Love blossoms with the added complications of vows and conscience.
How Larry and Kitty deal with their feelings, their need to be together and the realities of their lives is played out in a frank, touching and very funny manner. It is wonderful to see two actors who happen to be bona fide comic geniuses working together in such perfect sympathy. The humour of character and situation also involves some gut grabbing slapstick, and some quiet moments that will make you smile or sigh a sentimental sigh for two perfectly nice people.
Lucy and Bob's final movie is 1963's Critic's Choice based on a Broadway play by Ira Levin. Lucy is Angie, a devoted wife and stepmother. Bob plays her husband, Parker Ballantine, a renowned and ascerbic theatre critic. He treats Angie's playwriting ambition as a whim to belittle. Sweet Angie turns stubborn at this and the household routine is thrown to the wind in the cause of art. Parker pans the completed play and scathingly backs up his opinion. Angie forges ahead by taking the play to their producer friend (John Dehner) and while he thinks it needs work, he also thinks it is doable. Family life becomes more unsettled with a little sideline help from Parker's ex, an actress played by Marilyn Maxwell and an egocentric director played by Rip Torn.
The climax of the story concerns whether or not Parker should or will review the play on opening night. He has already stated he doesn't like it. He has also turned down a plea for help from Angie. Parker looks upon it as a matter of self-respect. For Angie it is all about love and support. Our couple finds common ground by the end, but how this is achieved left me a little unsettled, however I think the movie is still a worthwhile watch. Lucy is marvelous in the role of a loving and determined woman trying to come out of her shell. The funny stuff is mostly left to Bob with nifty one-liners and a drunk scene.
Lucy's legacy of movie work is a tribute to her talent, her versatility and her commitment as an actress. All this can be found in the four movies she made with her most felicitous co-star, Bob Hope.