Mar 5, 2013

I Love Lucy



When I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, I found I Love Lucy a gay favorite. Though it had been off the air for nearly 30 years, drag queens recreated Lucy routines.  You could buy Lucy gifts at Dorothy's Surrender in West Hollywood, like Lucy and Ricky dolls, or a photo of Desi Arnaz in the pool.  Ricky's Cuban-accented "Lucy, I'm home" was a common catchphrase.

What was the gay connection?

The premise of the venerable sitcom (1951-57) was aggressively heterosexist, with no hint of satire or critique.  Nightclub performer Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz, left) and his wife Lucy (Lucille Ball) were lovebirds, neighbors Fred and Ethel (William Frawley, Vivian Vance) grumpy but affectionate.


No beefcake.  Granted, Desi Arnaz was handsome, and occasionally a cute friend showed up, but they were always fully clothed, usually in one of those 1950s business suits that hid everything.  Even the Ricky doll was somewhat lacking in musculature.

No gay characters, not even by implication.

No gay connections in the actors' other roles, though Lucille Ball came out in favor of gay rights later in her life, and her son Desi Arnaz Jr. starred in some gay-subtext movies.






And no hint of homoromance.  Though Lucy and Ethel were buddies, they displayed no passion, hanging out mostly to complain about their husbands and scheme to get more power in the relationship.

Maybe that was the gay connection.  As a 1950s housewife, Lucy was powerless, treated as a child (she got an allowance, and Ricky threatened to spank her if she misbehaved).  Her domain was the home, serving coffee to Ricky as he read his morning newspaper.   To get what she wanted, she had to resort to subterfuge.

The wild schemes that we enjoy watching all resulted from "Ricky won't let me do X" or "Ricky won't let me have X."  Groups with no power, like gay people and 1950s housewives, always have to work behind the scenes, appropriate what is meant for someone else.  And, in spite of her mishaps, Lucy was often triumphant.