For Lucille Ball, the question was “What do you do for a second act?“ I Love Lucy ran from 1951 to 1957, and virtually invented the situation comedy. The impact of the show was enormous, not only did it basically define all that would follow, but it instantly boosted Lucy and Desi to the celebrity “A” list. Desi was an notorious womanizer, which ended both their marriage and their television show. Lucy was nowhere near ready for retirement though, so in 1962 she reappeared with The Lucy Show, which ran for six seasons, 1962-1968.
The Lucy Show: The Official Sixth and Final Season has just been released as a four-DVD set containing all 24 episodes plus bonus material. The Lucy Show was based on the book Life Without George by Irene Kampen. In the book, the character is a divorcee, who is raising her children as a single mother. For the show, the marital status of Lucy was changed from divorcee to widow, which was thought to be more acceptable to the television public. There were a great deal more changes to come in the six seasons, the most significant of which saw Lucy going to work as a secretary for banker Mr. Mooney (Gale Gordon).
As the first woman to head a studio (Desilu), Lucy was one of the most powerful people in Hollywood at the time. One of the perks of this was that a lot of big stars were willing to appear on the show, a situation which was exploited mightily in the sixth season of The Lucy Show. As the cover art of the DVD package proclaims, it was an “All Star Season.” Among those who appeared that year were Milton Berle, Joan Crawford, Sid Caesar, Ken Berry, Buddy Hackett, Robert Goulet, Frankie Avalon, Jack Benney, and Carol Burnett, among others.
The Carol Burnett appearance was a two-parter, titled “Lucy and Carol Burnett.” In it, Lucy takes a leave of absence from the bank to try to become a stewardess. Carol Burnett is also trying out, and the two become fast friends. The second half is devoted to the variety show that the girls put on for their bosses, which allows both women to show off their various talents in singing and dancing.
In “Lucy and the Lost Star” Lucy and Vivian (Vivian Vance) get stranded and wind up at Joan Crawford’s house to make a phone. In a typical series of misunderstandings, they believe Joan to be penniless, and come up with a scheme to get her working again. As usual, it is just an excuse for everyone to strut their stuff, in this case at a charity benefit. Joan Crawford’s performance in this episode is pretty wild; she seems really out of it. Maybe she was, because the production notes for the episode say that she was extremely uncomfortable working in front of a live studio audience. The notes also reveal that the episode was written as something of a homage to Sunset Boulevard, and Gloria Swanson was the first choice for the role.