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Still In Love With 'Lucy' On Her 100th Birthday

Lucille Ball with husband and I Love Lucy co-star, musician-actor Desi Arnaz. Ball, who died on April 26, 1989, would have celebrated her 100th birthday on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. (AP)

Lucille Ball was born 100 years ago in Jamestown, N.Y. She died in 1989 — but appearing on screens all over the world has made her immortal.

Ball made movies, starred in musicals, and ran her own major studio. But for millions of people — perhaps even billions by now — she was simply Lucy of I Love Lucy, the 1950s sitcom she created with her husband, Desi Arnaz.

Ball, who was an accomplished dancer, plays Lucy Ricardo, a showgirl who marries Ricky, a Cuban bandleader with a nightclub act (you may remember his signature entrance, "Loooooocy, I'm home!") Their best friends, Ethel and Fred Mertz, are old vaudevillians who live down the hall, and although Lucy says that she's happy to be a 1950s homemaker, she spends many episodes looking for ways to break into show business. (In one episode, she has a chance to do a commercial for an elixir — but discovers during rehearsal that it contains a little alcohol.)

I Love Lucy became popular all over the world because Lucy's lovely, rubbery face, exquisite timing and expert pratfalls needed no translation. The studio that she founded with Desi Arnaz, Desilu Productions, created many signature sitcoms, including The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show.

In many ways, I Love Lucy was the sitcom that created the form that survives today: three cameras rolling before a live audience, and the cast of likable characters thrust into unlikely situations. (Like the time Lucy and Ethel took jobs in a candy factory, couldn't wrap chocolates fast enough — and tried to hide them in their mouths.)

A number of years ago, a producer and I went to a village in India for a story, in a place where reruns of I Love Lucy were on for much of the day. We might have been the only Americans the people in that village had ever met. Perhaps because of that, they called us "Lucy and Ricky."

We never corrected them. Who wouldn't love being confused with two people who made so many people laugh?

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE LUCY")

DESI ARNAZ: (As Ricky Ricardo) Lucy, I'm home.

SIMON: Lucille Ball was born 100 years ago today in Jamestown, New York. She died in 1989, but appearing on a lot of screens all over the world has made her immortal.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE LUCY")

LUCILLE BALL: (As Lucy Ricardo) Ricky, promise me something.

ARNAZ: (As Ricky Ricardo) What?

BALL: (As Lucy Ricardo) Promise me that until our child is at least 19 or 20 years old, you won't talk to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ARNAZ: (As Ricky Ricardo) What? What's the matter with the way I talk?

BALL: (As Lucy Ricardo) Well, I haven't told you this before, dear, but you speak with a slight accent.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Lucille Ball made movies, starred in musicals, and ran her own major studio. But for millions of people - maybe billions by now - she was simply Lucy of "I Love Lucy," the 1950's sit-com she created with her husband, Desi Arnaz.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE LUCY')

ARNAZ: (As Ricky Ricardo) You can understand me, can't you?

BALL: (As Lucy Ricardo) Well now, yes, I've learned to listen with an accent.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Lucille Ball, who was an accomplished dancer, plays Lucy Ricardo, a showgirl who marries Ricky, a Cuban bandleader with a nightclub act. Their best friends, Ethel and Fred Mertz, are old vaudevillians who live down the hall, and though Lucy says she's happy to be a 1950's homemaker, she spends many episodes looking for ways to break into show business.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE LUCY")

BALL: (As Lucy Ricardo) Hello friends, I'm your Vita-Meata-Vegamin girl. Are you tired, rundown, listless? Do you poop out at parties?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE LUCY")

BALL: (As Lucy Ricardo) Hello friends, I'm your Vita-Meata-Vegamin girl. Are you tired, rundown, listless? Do you poop out at parties? contains vitamins and meads and megetables and vinerals...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Like when she has a chance to do a commercial for an elixir — but discovers during rehearsal it contains a lot of alcohol. And Lucy rehearses a lot.

BALL: (As Lucy Ricardo) Vita-Meata-Vegamin contains vitamins and meads and megetables and vinerals...

(SOUNDBITE OF HICCUP)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: "I Love Lucy" became popular all over the world because Lucy's lovely, rubbery face, exquisite timing, and expert pratfalls needed no translation.

The studio that she founded with Desi Arnaz, Desilu Productions, created many signature sit-coms, including "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Andy Griffith Show."

I L: three cameras rolling before a live audience, and the cast of likeable characters thrust into unlikely situations. Like the time Lucy and Ethel took jobs in a candy factory, couldn't wrap chocolates fast enough, tried to hide them in their mouths.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE LUCY")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Fine, you're doing splendidly. Speed it up a little.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: A number of years ago, a producer and I went to a village in India for a story in a place where reruns of "I Love Lucy" were on for much of the day. Might have been the only Americans the people in that village had ever met. Maybe because of that, they called us Lucy and Ricky. We never corrected them. Who wouldn't love being confused with two people who made so many people laugh?

(SOUNDBITE OF "I LOVE LUCY" THEME SONG)

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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