The Only Surviving Behind-the-Scenes Footage of I Love Lucy, and It’s in Color! (1951)

The enduring popularity of comedian Lucille Ball’s 6-season sitcom, I Love Lucy, has resulted in so many full-color collectibles, occasional viewers may forget that the show was filmed in black and white.

More ardent fans may have tuned in for the special colorized episodes CBS aired a couple of years ago, but the only existing color footage of Lucy and her husband and co-star, Desi Arnaz, was captured by a stealthy studio audience member.

The ubiquity of smart phones have made unauthorized celebrity shots commonplace, but consider that this regular Joe managed to smuggle a 16mm movie camera into the bleachers of producer Jess Oppenheimer‘s tightly controlled set. This covert operation on October 12, 1951 shed light on the true colors of both the Tropicana nightclub and Ricardo apartment sets.

Oppenheimer’s son, Jess, eventually obtained the footage, inserting it into the appropriate scenes from “The Audition,” the episode from which they were snagged.

The Harpo Marx-esque Professor character Lucy plays is a holdover from both the pilot and the vaudeville show she and Arnaz created and toured nationally in 1950, in an attempt to convince CBS that audiences were ready for a comedy based on a “mixed marriage” such as their own.

In addition to Arnaz’ unbridled conga playing, the home movie, above, contains a lovely, unguarded moment at the 2:40 mark, of the stars calmly awaiting slating, side by side on the soundstage.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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