Reading I LOVED LUCY, especially by listening to it as read by the author Lee Tannen, was an immensely satisfying experience. In no particular order, firstly, the author really KNEW Lucille Ball, and in his authentic, New York accented voice, talks (not reads) about his first hand experience as a the best friend to Lucille Ball in the last ten years of her life. Secondly, this is a privileged bird’s eye view of the life of a real celebrity, a true star – very possibly the biggest television star of all time – and what it was really like to be with someone SO FAMOUS that she could never take a walk outside her Beverly Hills home. And, thirdly, this is also a story about their unlikely/likely friendship: Lee was a distant relation, and an avid ‘fan’ who later became her best friend and companion of choice, and what that friendship meant to the highly complex, immensely talented, and incredibly loyal Lucille Ball.
I LOVED LUCY recounts her last ten years. It vividly brings to life the fascinating story of how much America loved Lucy. Lucille Ball was showered with adoration from nearly every person that she came in contact with – a phenomenon even in our celebrity conscious times that was unprecedented, and, in today’s deconstructed times, now unmatchable. For many decades – long after her incredible comedic talent was showcased in a single 1950’s television series - Americans LOVED, LOVED Lucy. (And not only Americans – I remember reading a while back that the ‘sun never set on ‘I Love Lucy’ ‘ – that the original series is playing somewhere in the world, 24 hours a day. The world’s love affair with Lucy will most likely continue as long as the series keeps playing.)
This unique book brings to life what life as a real start is really like. It is riveting to hear how a star of such accomplishments had the same insecurities as we have, and what she really wore, and what she really thought. And, kudos to Lee for telling us so much unvarnished truth about her in a way which just adds onto, and never detracts, from our beloved memories of her.
Besides being an hilarious, and sometimes, poignant, account of her life, there is another equally intriguing story: the transformation of how the author, Lee Tannen, went from being a distant relation and ‘fan’ to becoming her best friend. Unusually witty and acerbic, and with an encyclopedic knowledge of all of Lucille Ball’s oeuvre, Lee endeared himself to Lucille Ball and he was able to play a unique role in her life. Imagine having a best friend who had memorized every episode you ever recorded, and could play back lines whenever life imitated art? Lee’s memory and wit must have added an extraordinarily gratifying dimension to Lucille Ball’s last ten years of life. Who would not want a companion who truly knew your career highlights, what you went through, was curious about what ‘really happened’ during that time, and who you could re-enjoy the best times of your life with? No one, not her family, not her husband, not her managers - only Lee. She had a true appreciator/foil/counterpoint in Lee, and he must have provided an unusually fulfilling relationship for her.
In this book, Desi Arnaz said of their eponymous series: ‘It was ALWAYS all about Lucy’. He, and Ethel and Fred were just the supporting characters to the star Lucy. Desi loved Lucy until the day he died. Lucy loved Desi also until the very end. This book makes that knowledge crystal clear and is every reader’s reward for reading this book.
Lee was lucky to have known Lucy, and Lucy was fortunate to have had Lee in her life when she did. Lee loved her - and this book reminds us of how much we all love her.