Already have an account?
Get back to the

Behind-The-Scenes Secrets of the 10 Funniest ‘I Love Lucy’ Episodes

Geoffrey Mark, Lucille Ball's friend and author of 'The Lucy Book,' shares what really went on behind the camera!


There are classic TV shows and then there are epic classic TV shows, and I Love Lucy episodes definitely fall into the latter category. It’s never been off the air since its original 1951 to 1957 run, and the vast majority of its 180 episodes would indeed fall into the category of — here’s that word again — classic. And so much of that has to do with the writers, directors and, of course, the comic chemistry between Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley as Lucy, Ricky, Ethel and Fred, respectively.

While there have been many lists of Top 10 funniest episodes compiled, this is a different tact as we turn to Lucille Ball friend and author of the critically-acclaimed The Lucy Book, Geoffrey Mark. to go behind the scenes of 10 hand-picked episodes for which he has intriguing anecdotes to share. As he wryly notes, “I have anecdotes on 180 episodes of I Love Lucy.”

1. ‘Be a Pal’

Ethel convinces Lucy that her marriage is growing stale and that Lucy needs to glamorize herself. When that doesn’t work, she needs to learn about some of Ricky’s pastimes and tries playing poker with him, which, not surprisingly, is a disaster. Then, reading out of a book, she’s told that she needs to remind him of his childhood.

“And that,” says Geoffrey Mark, “leads to the whole rest of the show with Ms. Ball miming to a Carmen Miranda record singing ‘Mama Eu Quero.’ But then the record’s slowing down and she’s trying to follow it. It’s very funny, but what makes it seem more amazing is that Carmen Miranda herself was in the audience watching her do this. She was brought in on purpose to watch this. Rosalyn Russell was in the audience; I think Eve Arden was in the audience. It was not unusual for I Love Lucy to have celebrities in the audience, especially the first few years where it was new and getting such great ratings.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucy does her best Carmen Miranda to put the spice back in her and Ricky’s marriage in the 1951 episode “Be a Pal.”©CBS/YouTube

“Other people came to the show to see how they were doing it,” he adds, “but in this case it was because she was doing this bit. And you can hear the audience go crazy, but that’s partially because there’s Carmen Miranda in the audience watching Lucille Ball brilliantly imitate her so brilliantly, both in how well she does it and how well she does not do it. And the audience’s reaction just heightens Ms. Ball’s performance level.”

2. ‘The Audition’

In many ways, Lucille Ball’s radio show My Favorite Husband was a forerunner — or a pilot of sorts — for the I Love Lucy television series. But when CBS expressed interest in bringing the show to TV, Lucy wanted to replace radio husband Richard Denning with real-life husband, Desi Arnaz. The problem was that the network didn’t want what they considered a “mixed marriage,” believing the television audience would never go for it. In response, the couple created a vaudeville live comedy/music act that they would perform between films in movie theaters.

Pepito was a brilliant Spanish-speaking clown, very popular back then,” says Geoffrey, “and he helped them put together the physical aspects of this act. If you remember, she’s dressed in a kind of old-fashioned professor’s outfit and has a big bass fiddle and hat, and, again, the physical comedy was worked out with Pepito. So they took what they were doing in the vaudeville act and wrote a script around it and that was the pilot for I Love Lucy. It was never aired until the late eighties and was not rerun constantly, but they did want to use that script as part of the series, so they rewrote and filmed it with three cameras and the live audience.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in bed in the pilot episode of television series I Love Lucy, 1951. CBS/Getty Images

“But what’s interesting to know,” Mark elaborates, “is that that pilot is what convinced CBS that he could play her husband successfully, because audiences in the live theaters loved them and loved the act. They probably could have become big time stage and nightclub performers doing that, but Ms. Ball got pregnant. In fact, she’s pregnant in the pilot. In any case, CBS decided that America would accept Desi Arnaz as Lucille Ball’s husband, even though they’d already been married for 10 years.”

3. ‘Pioneer Women’

In a nutshell, Lucy and Ethel met Ricky and Fred that they can live the same kind of existence that that their ancestors did, which culminates hilariously when the ladies try baking a loaf of bread that gets out of control.

Reflects Geoffrey, “Part of the episode has Ethel and Lucy baking their own bread. The gimmick is that they misread the cookbook and instead of putting in two cups of yeast, they put in 12 cups of yeast. This didn’t occur to me until I was a grown man and really began researching the first Lucy Book: I don’t care how much yeast you put into dough, or how big the dough is when you put it in the oven and it cooks, it does not come out of the oven three times longer than the oven is deep. Nor does the oven rack grow that long because of the yeast. But this is not a trick, it’s art. It’s an actor really being an artist.”

Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy
In 1951’s ‘Pioneer Women,’ Lucy loses the battle with the yeast.©CBS/courtesy

“It’s most true in this episode,” Mark explains, “but it applies to almost every episode: Lucille Ball so believed that this could actually happen, that nobody ever questions where this giant oven rack came from. Or that Ethel somehow on their back porch actually has a saw they use to saw through it. There just happens to be a saw outside the back door of a New York City apartment waiting for that moment. Lucille taught Vivian, and tangentially taught Desi and Bill, that all of this silliness won’t make sense unless we as our characters believe that it’s possible. If we believe it’s possible, so will the audience. And this is the best demonstration of that.”

4. ‘Ricky Thinks He’s Getting Bald’

A comment from Lucy about getting older triggers paranoia in Ricky that he’s going bald, so Lucy decides to hold a “bald party” to show him what bald men really look like. But when Ricky doesn’t show because he’s stuck at the club, she reverts to using terrible smelling solutions and a device to rub it all in — the comic highlight of the episode.

“It’s the only episode of I Love Lucy where they shot it one way and had to recut it and do some inserts,” reveals Geoffrey. “The problem was that the original script had it backwards where she goes to the store, they do all the hair restorative things and then they had the bald men’s party. So what they had was a hysterical second act that wore the audience out, so the bald men’s party onky got some nice little chuckles instead of laughs. What they realized was that they had to put the bald men’s party in the middle and save the hair restorative scene for the end. Then Vivian and Lucille had to reshoot the ins and outs of those scenes so that it made sense.”

Vivian Vance, Desiz Arnas and Lucille Ball
Original Caption: I Love Lucy gained an Emmy as the best situation comedy. Showing their joys are Vivian Vance, (L), who got an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the show, which included Lucille Ball. That’s Desi Arnaz in the happy middle. This all took place at the Palladium Theater as the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded “Emmys” at the annual award dinner.Bettman/Getty Images

“If you watch the show very carefully, it looks like she’s about to do the hair restorative things, but doesn’t and Ethel asks, ‘What happened?’ ‘Oh, I didn’t have the heart to do it’ — that was a new piece they put in. Then they put in the bald men’s party that Ricky doesn’t show up for and a new insert moment has Lucy saying, ‘Well, Lucy Ricardo’s torture system, here we come.'”

And they cut that into what had been the middle scene and made it the last. In rehearsals, although they used the machinery, the goop never was, so Desi Anraz is reacting honestly to what’s going on. The script says he needed to react, but he took it further than the script did and it’s a brilliant piece of comedy for both of them.”

5. ‘Job Switching’

When Ricky and Fred grow annoyed at the spending habits of Lucy and Ethel, the ladies decide to work in a candy factory while the guys do the housework. This episode has one of the show’s most famous scenes, with Lucy, Ethel, an overzealous forelady and a conveyor belt of chocolate.

At the candy factory, the forewoman sternly instructs Lucy in the candy-dipping department. Lucy watches the woman next to her as she deftly picks up a cream center, drops it into a puddle of chocolate, rolls it, covers it with chocolate and sets it aside, making a swirl design on top. With a big smile, Lucy tries to imitate the woman and smears her fingers in the chocolate on the slab of marble with the abandon of a child making mud pies.

Lucy finally manages to complete one and drops it into the finishing tray with a flourish. It’s a misshapen mess. “Hey, this is fun!” she says. A fly then lands on the other woman’s face, and Lucy, her hand covered with chocolate, takes a swipe at it, leaving a brown splat on the woman’s face. Her coworker promptly smacks Lucy back, leaving her face completely covered with chocolate. All of this before the conveyor belt bit.

Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball
Ethel and Lucy battle the chocolate line in 1952’s “Job Switching.” ©CBS/courtesy

“Back in the days of the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax Boulevard in Hollywood, it was even bigger and more popular than it is now,” says Mark. “And in Southern California, the big candy company was called See’s Candies, and at the Farmer’s Market they actually had candy dippers doing it in a window for you watch them, and then they would sell you boxes of See’s Candies.”

So they got this candy dipper, her name was Amanda Milligan, and hired her to play the woman that Lucy Ricardo works next to. “She wasn’t an actress, she didn’t understand the mechanics of acting or the fact that she wasn’t supposed to hurt Ms. Ball doing it,” Mark explains. “But she ended up slapping her right across the face; Ms. Ball took a wallop from that woman.

Lucille Ball
During filming, Lucille Ball rode with the punches, quite literally in the episode “Job Switching.”Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

“They recut it with a couple of camera angles so you get twice the laughs as it looks like she’s slapping Lucy twice. It hurt, but Ms. Ball was an incredible professional who understood that the cameras are rolling, and unless there’s an earthquake or someone drops dead, you keep going,” Mark explains. “And if there’s any problem, they can edit it out later. She understood that there was an amateur on the set.”

6. ‘The Girls Go Into Business’ I Love Lucy episodes

When they discover that their favorite dress shop is being sold, Lucy and Ethel, behind Ricky and Fred’s back, buy the shop and, not surprisingly, things go catastrophically wrong. Behind the scenes that week, there wasn’t much to laugh at: newspaper columnist Walter Winchell decided to let America know that in the 1930s Lucille Ball, to please her grandfather, had registered to vote communist.

The American Activities Committee had brought her in for a private session, interviewed her, she explained why she did it and they later said it wasn’t worth investigating further. But this made headlines.

Walter Winchell
Circa 1955: American journalist Walter Winchell sits at a desk strewn with loose sheets of paper during an ABC radio broadcast. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“They didn’t know if there was going to be I Love Lucy episodes that week, because people’s entire careers were being ruined,” says Mark. “Our country was foolishly ruining people’s lives on rumors and innuendos. So Walter Winchell lied by omission. He knew this was old news, but printed it as if it was brand new. And this was a big deal.

I Love Lucy was the number one television show on the air, they were the number one television production company, Lucille and Desi were CBS’ fair-haired people and their sponsor, Phillip Morris, was, I think, the number one cigarette company at the moment,” says Mark. “So a lot was riding here. Mr. Arnaz made some phone calls to people who were able to convince Mr. Winchell that he needed to end this.”

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz arrive at a CBS party in honor of Johnny Carson, 30th June 1955. Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“Desi always did the warmups with the audience before filming of the episodes began,” he continues, “and that week he called Ms. Ball his favorite redhead, adding, ‘Even that part is not legitimate.’ And then, in front of the audience, it’s been reported that he took a phone call and played it over a microphone as he was being told that she had been totally cleared; that this is a non-issue.’ So the audience could hear it, the fear being that that audience would boo her. After the shoot was over, she just emotionally collapsed and cried. It was a tremendously unhappy week and a very unhappy night for everyone involved.”

7. ‘The Fashion Show’ I Love Lucy episodes

Sheila MacRae, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball ,Desi Arnaz and Sheila MacRae at Fancy Dress Photographers bBll circa 1956. I Love Lucy episodesScreen Archives/Getty Images

Lucy is determined to have a beautiful Dan Loper gown for her very own and winds up being part of a “Hollywood Wives” fashion show. This was, it should be noted, one of the California episodes that aired in the fourth season. As Geoffrey explains it, actor/singer/TV host Gordon MacRae‘s wife, actress Sheila MacRae, had suffered a miscarriage and was falling into a genuine post-miscarriage depression.

“So Lucille,” Mark says, “had an episode written where she could play herself, but give her a reason to wear a Don Loper original and to put on the makeup and get her hair done and be in front of an audience to get a laugh and buoy her spirits. That’s the whole reason for the episode existing.”

8. ‘Lucy and Harpo Marx’ I Love Lucy episodes

Lucy has to deliver on a promise she made to friend Carolyn Appleby that she introduce her to some real Hollywood stars. By hiding Carolyn’s glasses — the only time the character’s worn them on the show — she tricks her into believing that she’s met Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. For a final “performance,” Lucy dresses up as Harpo Marx from the Marx Brothers when the real Harpo shows up. This leads to the brilliant “mirror” sequence (which you can check out in the video above).

Pointing out that Lucille Ball actually appeared in the Marx Brothers film Room Service, Geoffrey details, “At this point, Harpo had retired to Palm Springs because he had already had a couple of heart attacks, so his family was keeping him low key and he was only working once in a while. This episode was written for him.”

The problem was towards the end of it, Harpo has to pick up Carolyn in a fireman’s carry. Well, by the year this was made, Harpo had been on stage for practically 50 years already, and despite his health issues. “But once you’re doing your thing, you’re filled with adrenaline,” Mark says. “So he picks up Doris Singleton, who was the actress, and his hat falls off. With her on his shoulder, he leans down to pick up the hat and makes an exit, after which he has a heart attack. It was a minor heart attack and he was able to come back for the cast party later that evening, but that convinced his family that he shouldn’t do physically strenuous things anymore.”

Harpo Marx and Lucille Ball I Love Lucy episodes
Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx behind-the-scenes on their episode, which aired as part of Season 4 in 1955.From the private collection of Geoffrey Mark

Another thing he mentions is that the mirror routine between Harpo and Lucy was actually inspired by a similar sequence between Harpo and Groucho Marx in one of their films. “In the previous version, he’s trying to convince Groucho that he’s seeing himself in the mirror when he’s really seeing Harpo, so he would follow Groucho’s moves. Here he would be following Lucy.”

9. ‘The Lucy Christmas Show’ I Love Lucy episodes

New sequences frame clips from other shows as the Ricardos and Mertzes remember Christmas holidays past, doing so as they decorate the tree. Considered a special episode, it was never made part of the syndication package and was rebroadcast, in color, in 1990 and part of the series’ DVD release. This was television’s first “clip show,” which became a staple of the medium for many years to come.

Desi Arnaz I Love Lucy episodes
Desi Arnaz’ Ricky Ricardo dresses as Santa Claus for the 1956 Christmas I Love Lucy episodes©CBS/courtesy

“I got to ask Ms. Ball why the show wasn’t rerun for so many years and her answer was twofold,” shares Mark. “One was that it was the early days of syndication and the fear was that the Christmas show might air in July or February or wherever the cycle would bring that show that day. They learned later that nobody cared; they just wanted to watch the show.”

On top of that, she said there was something she found creepy about the final product. “It bothered her that there were references in the script to the fact the four of them were getting older,” Mark adds. “There’s even a reference in the script where the Lucy character is admitting that her voice is not what it used to be. I don’t think Ms. Ball liked the reference to her voice getting older, which had the very beginnings of getting a little deeper.”

As a result of this, even today, when whatever platform is showing all the I Love Lucy episodes, the Christmas show still is not in it.

10. ‘Lucy and Superman’

In one of the most brilliant I Love Lucy episodes, Lucy promises that Superman (as portrayed actor George Reeves on the Adventures of Superman television series) will attend little Ricky’s birthday party. When it doesn’t seem like it can happen, she dresses the part thinking she’ll fool a group of kids.

Waiting outside their living room window on the ledge, she’s stopped from coming in when the Man of Steel actually does show up, leaping through the shutters from the kitchen into the living room. At the end, when Lucy gets stuck on a drain pipe in a rain storm, Superman steps out there, frees her and laughs as Ricky proclaims that in their 15 years of marriage, this is the craziest thing she’s ever done.

Superman looks at him and says, “Mr. Ricardo, are you saying you’ve been married to this woman for 15 years? And they call me Superman!”

Lucille Ball and George Reeves I Love Lucy episodes
“Super Lucy” meets the Man of Steel in this 1957 episode.From the private collection of Geoffrey Mark

“Ms. Ball tried to plug into what she thought was very important to young people and knew that she had a huge audience of children,” Mark says. “She wasn’t stupid — she wanted those children to grow up and be Lucy fans, too, but she also really wanted to entertain them.”

There’s the moment where Superman leaps through the shutters. They got special effects supervisor Sol Simonson from the Superman TV show to come in; he was the only person George trusted. “What he did was built this bar inside the kitchen set, they had George in there with the shutters closed up and he was on the bar so he could swing into the living room,” Mark explains. “They had to rig the shutters so that just by barely pushing on them, they opened up. They put special casters on the piano so that a child could move the piano if they wanted to. So it looks heavy, but Superman is able to just shove it aside. The audience loved it.”

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.