The fact that there was so much more to Lucille Ball’s life than I Love Lucy is no surprise, especially given her extensive film career, stage performances and three subsequent TV series. But what may be relatively unknown about the beloved star is that in 1964 she served as the host of her own radio talk show, Let’s Talk to Lucy, which brought her together with a wide variety of guests, many famous and some not so much.
“At the time,” explains pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, who is also the author of The Lucy Book: A Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television, “CBS still had a radio network. People think that around the time I Love Lucy started in 1951, that network radio just disappeared. That wasn’t the case. A lot of the country didn’t yet have television, so there was still a good part of America that still went to the radio for a talk show or a comedy show or a singer. All of the big-time radio shows were gone and were supplanted by talk radio and deejays playing music, but both CBS and NBC still had celebrities who hosted radio shows, more during the day than at night. CBS had a lineup of people including Arthur Godfrey and Garry Moore who had radio shows.”
Among her guests were Danny Kaye, Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, co-star Gale Gordon, Dinah Shore, Mary Tyler Moore, Andy Griffith, Frank Sinatra, Eve Arden, Dick Van Dyke, son Desi Arnaz Jr., frequent costar Vivian Vance and many more.
Looking back at the show, a number of episodes of which have been released as extras on DVD collections, Geoffrey comments, “She was prepared as host and didn’t talk off the top of her head. Certainly, all of the celebrities had something to plug, but she tried to personalize things. If she knew they had children, she’d talk about them. She’d ask, ‘As a woman, blah, blah, blah …,’ because she could speak from that point of view. Same thing with other producers, and if it was a singer, she’d put her own voice down, but asked them about theirs. Miss Ball was not stupid. She was not well-educated, but she was an intelligent woman and tried to relate to the other celebrity she was interviewing peer-to-peer. What’s interesting is that because she’s not having to project her voice like when she went on stage, she sounds perhaps a little more feminine and younger than on her shows. Now they’re not wonderful interviews, mostly because the time didn’t allow for wonder. It’s like in the early days of Johnny Carson, if you were a guest you might get a 10 or 15-minute segment and they could develop something out of that. Now when you’re on The Tonight Show, you’re on for four minutes, you plug something and once you’ve plugged you move on for the next guest.”
As to how Let’s Talk to Lucy came about in the first place, he relates, “There opened up an opportunity for a 15-minute interview show and Miss Ball felt that she wanted to let the public know who Lucille was as opposed to the Lucy character; that she had a brain and that she could talk. And because she was Lucille Ball, she was able to get people like Barbra Streisand and Doris Day to be on the radio show with her. And the truth is, it didn’t last very long, because she became too busy to do it right. But she literally took a tape recorder with her and went places and would say, ‘Hey, can I do a show with you?’ And then they would go off into the studio afterwards. Her husband, Gary Morton, would record an introduction, added opening music and edited it.”
“The problem is that when the idea for the show came up,” Geoffrey explains, “she was starring in The Lucy Show while running Desilu Studios and appearing on other television shows and specials. Additionally, she had two children to raise and had a new husband, all of which meant that she had taken on a little more than her schedule would allow. Let’s Talk to Lucy gave her a chance to do something that she thought was fun. Until it wasn’t fun and she stopped doing it.”
Be sure to check out and subscribe to our Classic TV & Film Podcast for interviews with your favorite stars!