Saturday, April 28, 1990
by Jay Bobbin, Tribune Media Services
Just when you thought you’d seen every episode of “I Love Lucy” in existence, here comes one more.
In 1951, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz did a portion of their nightclub act as a pilot for CBS executives, in the hope that a series would be commissioned from it.
One certainly was, and it has been on the air someplace virtually every day since it premiered. The original episode, however, was thought to be gone forever, until the network’s airing of a little-seen “Lucy” holiday episode last Christmas had an unexpected outcome.
Former CBS programming executive Bud Grant was contacted by [Joanne Perez] the widow of the vaudeville clown Pepito, who said that she still had a copy of the 34-minute pilot that Lucy and Desi had given her husband as a gift.
CBS presents “I Love Lucy: The Very First Show” as an hourlong special on Monday, the night of the week on which the progran enjoyed huge success for six years. The couple’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, hosts.
Though the two stars appear in their familiar roles as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, some differences are evident. Since the roles of Ethel and Fred Mertz hadn’t yet been developed, there are no traces of Vivian Vance and William Frawley, but the aforementioned Pepito is on hand.
Also, there’s more emphasis on music in the pilot than the actual show eventually had, though Arnaz certainly had ample chances to sing on the series.
[Madelyn Pugh] Davis and [Bob] Carroll. who also worked for Desi Arnaz when he produced the late-1960s series “The Mothers-In-Law,” will be featured in Monday’s special in interview segments.
“I thought it was probably somewhere,” Davis says of the long-missing pilot. “I couldn’t believe (the various copies) had all been destroyed, but I never had it. In those days, they did throw away everything without even rerunning it, so I was kind of tickled that they found this.”
Legend has it that Pepito’s widow kept the film stored under her bed for the past 39 years, but Davis spoke with her recently and reports, “It really was under the bed for a while, but she then put it in the attic, along with other big boxes.”
The special commemorates the anniversary of Ball’s death on April 26, 1989.
“I Love Lucy, The Very First Show’ airs at 9 p.m. Monday, April 30, 1990 on CBS.
“’I Love Lucy’ Pilot Airs,” Tribune Media Services, 1990.