John Wayne and Lucy Ricardo.

After the sensational success of I Love Lucy's first three seasons, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball wanted to hit the big screen. While Ball had been the self-proclaimed Queen of the B's, the studios never really knew how to best illustrate her talent. Arnaz, meanwhile, was hardly given a chance in Hollywood. After the fateful Too Many Girls, the film that introduced him to Lucy, Desi was only in a few more movies before I Love Lucy, partly because he had enlisted for WWII and partly because, like his wife, he wasn't handled properly. Once television made them instant icons, the powerful duo looked to Hollywood to expand their empire. It probably didn't hurt that they were returning to Tinseltown as huge successes, either.

Released in 1954, The Long, Long Trailer proved that audiences were willing to pay to see the couple that they could just as easily see for free in the comfort of their living rooms. MGM studio head Dore Schary offered Lucy and Desi an irresistible two-picture deal: the first film would be shot at Desilu's studios, increasing their profits and giving the company a chance to slide into producing feature films, and Desi would produce the movie, which would make it a joint production of
MGM, Desilu, and Zanra, another Arnaz-Ball company. The deal wasn't entirely one-sided, of course -- MGM would receive lots of publicity in the fourth and fifth seasons of I Love Lucy, courtesy of the Ricardos and the Mertzes going to Hollywood while Ricky shoots a film for MGM. With this plotline, a multitude of stars were able to stop by, including many friends of Lucy and Desi: Eve Arden, William Holden, Van Johnson, Hedda Hopper, Cornel Wilde, Harpo Marx (Lucy's favorite Marx brother), Richard Widmark, Rock Hudson... and John Wayne.


Unlike the other guests, Wayne is the center of two episodes. Like the other guests, though, he only appears in one. Season five's first episode, "Lucy Visits Grauman's," finds the gang getting ready to go back home to New York. Ricky has finished his movie and needs to return to his job at the Tropicana, but Lucy, Fred, and Ethel insist that they haven't seen everything they want to yet. When Lucy laments that she barely got any souvenirs, Ricky points out the box full of "junk" that she has collected: menus from the Brown Derby, a decaying orange with Robert Taylor's signature, a can that was crushed by the back wheel of Cary Grant's car (just because they don't show up doesn't mean you can't name-check them!)... Ricky gives his wife and friends one more week. First stop: Grauman's Chinese Theater. There, Lucy discovers that the block containing John Wayne's footprints has become loose. Seeing it as the ultimate souvenir, Lucy, Ethel, and a hesitant Fred steal the prints, only to be discovered by a horrified Ricky, who orders them to return it. That becomes difficult to do, though, when Lucy and Ethel accidentally drop the block, shattering it.

With that set-up, our next episode, "Lucy and John Wayne," is the payoff. While calling Ricky in for breakfast, Lucy notices the morning newspaper's front page, which features a story about the missing prints of John Wayne. Not wanting to make Ricky angrier than he already is, Lucy throws the paper off the balcony and tries to act normal. It doesn't work very well, especially when the room below keeps throwing the newspaper back up. Lucy thinks she's got a handle on the situation until Ethel
bursts in with her own copy, causing Lucy to throw her toast up in the air out of exasperation. Ricky reads the article out loud, including the eyewitness account from a couple that saw a "middle-aged dishwater blonde" and a "wild-eyed frowsy redhead" leaving the scene of the crime. Hoping to put an end to the ordeal, Ricky calls Grauman's and explains the situation to them. They aren't pleased, but if Lucy can return the block, they'll keep the story hushed up. Oh, and they need the block that night
because of the premiere of John Wayne's new film, Blood Alley. (Such a subtle plug.) How are they going to return something that was destroyed? Leave it to clever Fred. He wheels in his own forgery of the block, but there's no way it could be used -- he used Ethel's shoes for the footprints instead of cowboy boots and he spelled "Wayne" as "Wain." Come on, Fred! Before Lucy can get one of her trademark ideas, she and Ethel remember they have salon appointments and dash off. Worrying about what to do, Ricky decides to call Duke Wayne himself; after all, he and Ricky met a few times at the studio and he seems like a guy who would understand.

After preparing the cement for Wayne, Fred goes to get Ethel's autograph book. While he's gone, our big, handsome guest star finally makes his appearance. Ricky thanks him for coming and Wayne admits that he knows about Lucy's shenanigans already: "I've heard a lot about her from Bill Holden. I accused him of making it all up!" You'll soon find out, Duke... Just then, Fred saunters in with his version of Wayne's inimitable walk. Trying to match the actor's tough persona, Fred gruffly introduces himself and shakes the man's hand. Playing along, Wayne acts like the power of Fred's handshake brings him to his knees. Once he is finished doing his footprints, though, Wayne astonishes Fred by picking up the cement block with ease to sign his name.

Coming back from the commercial break, Lucy and Ethel return to the now-empty room with their curlers still in their hair. Seeing the block, the girls assume it's another forgery attempt and Lucy smooths it out. Fred excitedly comes in to show Ethel her new autograph, but when she doesn't believe him that it's really John Wayne's, Ricky backs him up and says that Wayne is downstairs getting his shoes shined right this minute. He goes to point at the block and is completely dismayed
to discover what Lucy did. As he rushes to bring Wayne back to their room, Fred brags to Ethel that compared to Wayne, Fred is "bigger, stronger, and ruggeder!" He then tries to demonstrate his mighty handshake, but Ethel is able to bring him to his knees without blinking an eye. "Like that?" she deadpans. "Yeah, you big bully!" he whimpers. Was there ever a better secondary couple than these two?

 
As they wait for Ricky and Wayne, Lucy starts to laugh at the curlers in Ethel's hair when she realizes that she still has hers, too. Before they can do anything, Ricky and the actor arrive and the girls scramble to cover their hair. Wayne is a little frightened as Lucy quickly empties her purse and sticks it on her head. "I'm afraid I owe Bill Holden an apology!" he quips. Ethel and Lucy barely give Wayne any room to breathe, so it's no surprise that he gets out of there as soon as he can. Too bad the gang turns around to find Little Ricky has ruined the block by playing in the cement!

At Wayne's studio dressing room, Ricky has been able to get him to do yet another block and mentions that Lucy doesn't know he is there. They're interrupted by a shameless advertisement for Blood Alley as a guy brings in a giant poster for Wayne's approval. Just then, there comes a call from the front gate that Lucy and Ethel are there, asking to see him. As a joke, Ricky encourages him to pretend to be mad at Lucy by refusing to see her. After hanging up, Wayne is called to the set
while Ricky stays behind to clean up. Having sneaked in, Lucy and Ethel drag in a block and place it outside of the dressing room door so Wayne will step in the wet cement on accident -- remember, the girls think he is upset with them, so they think they have to trick him.

They weren't counting on Ricky exiting the room, though, and he definitely wasn't counting on stepping into the cement while carrying his own block,
causing him to smash his face into the new footprints. Too angry to even talk to Lucy and Ethel, he storms off. Lucy sees a silver lining, however, when she notices that Wayne's signature is still intact. While Ethel carries off the block they brought, Lucy creeps into the dressing room to borrow Wayne's boots to make the prints. As she reaches the door, Wayne comes back for a massage and she is forced to hide in the closet. When she tries to tiptoe out, Wayne, laying down with his head turned,
mistakes her for his masseur, George. Rather than hightail it out of there, Lucy affects a deep voice and goes along with it. When he tells her to remove his robe, she covers her eyes in mortification and is relieved to see he is wearing shorts. He then begins to tell a dirty joke as Lucy frantically massages his back. When he is called back to the set, Lucy throws the robe over his head and runs. Luckily, you can catch this scene on YouTube here.

Back at the hotel, everyone is wondering why Ethel hasn't returned yet. "Let's just hope for the best," Fred says. When Ricky assures him that his wife will show up, Fred retorts "I said let's hope for the best!" Not a second later, Ethel comes strolling in, and she brought John Wayne and a new block with her. Just to be safe, Duke is actually providing them with "a six month supply!" Lucy and Ethel try to give him a kiss on the cheek, but when they prove to be too short, Wayne picks them up at the same time, earning him a whole mess of kisses.

Like all of ILL, this episode is a whole lot of fun. Wayne is a delightful guest and he fits in perfectly with the cast and the tone of a sitcom. The fact that two episodes were devoted to his story tells you just how big of a star he was, and it's wonderful that he appears in practically every scene rather than just one moment. While not my favorite Hollywood episode (that would be a tie between "L.A. at Last" with Bill Holden and "Dancing Star" with Van Johnson), "Lucy and John Wayne" is an incredibly hilarious piece of entertainment.













With love,
Michaela

___________________

This is my entry to the John Wayne Blogathon. Show the Duke some love by reading the other tributes here.

Comments

  1. You're right – if I Love Lucy devoted TWO episodes to John Wayne, that meant he was a superstar indeed.

    This sounds like a fun pair of episodes. Your descriptions had me laughing. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for reading! This show is my absolute favorite. I love sharing episodes with people. I wish they were more easily available online so everyone could see them!

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  2. Great write-up on one (two) of the funniest episodes in one of the funniest series of all time.

    Duke must have loved Lucy because he also showed up on The Lucy Show as himself. More funny stuff. Lucy as stuntman Iron Man Carmichael is a hoot.

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    1. I must admit I haven't seen many episodes of The Lucy Show. It hasn't been as accessible to me as I Love Lucy and Here's Lucy. But Iron Man Carmichael sounds amazing! I see that YouTube has a clip, so I'll have to start there.

      Thanks for stopping by, as always! :)

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  3. What a great write-up! If you can believe it, I've never seen this whole episode, just snippets. (But I've seen the ep of The Lucy Show he was in -- taped it off cable years ago.) Thanks for providing a link to the massage scene -- that was great fun :-D I got a big kick out of how far off the massage table his feet and legs hung off -- just a tiny thing, but so funny.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon!

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    Replies
    1. Haha, I didn't notice that about how big Wayne looks on the table! It's funny to see him standing next to the cast, though -- he was such a tall, brawny guy. No wonder Lucy and Ethel fawn over him!

      Thanks for having me!

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    2. So true -- plenty to dream about :-)

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  4. I love this episode! Everybody is in high spirits and I especially love the sequence in Wayne's dressing room where Lucy has to pretend to be his masseuse. It's rather daring and adult, actually, with Lucy facing the possibility that Wayne might be naked under his robe -- something that's not stated outright but the audience and Lucy certainly knew what could have been under there -- which provided a hilarious tease though of course viewers would know nobody's going to see John Wayne's butt on TV or in the movies of that time, but still...so funny. And when Wayne starts in on that dirty joke -- actually extra great when you think that it's sort of tarnishing Wayne's heroic image although really polishing his as a man's man -- and Lucy knows what's coming -- she's a lady but everybody knows all about dirty jokes, even the audience at the time -- and has to rush out before he gets to the punchline. Really an astonishing sequence when you come right down to it and I'm always amazed in a way that it got by the censors. It really is completely risque! Brilliant!!!

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad you pointed that out! When I was watching it for this post, I thought "Hey, wait a minute! That's pretty tricky stuff!" The fact that Lucy, a married woman, gets to rub her hands all over THE John Wayne is kind of amazing. Lucy Ricardo got away with a lot of things like that -- kissing Bill Holden, dancing romantically with Van Johnson, flirting with Charles Boyer...

      Thanks for the comment!

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