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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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Watch the First Com­mer­cial Ever Shown on Amer­i­can TV, 1941

Watch Dragnet’s 1967 LSD Episode: #85 on TV Guide’s List of the Great­est Episodes of All Time

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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