Sunday, December 15, 2019

John Wayne on Lucy

The Collision of Two Worlds!

The ever popular western movie star, John Wayne--commonly called Duke--enjoyed playing comedy and was always game for some laughs with his friend, Lucille Ball. On two occasions, John Wayne memorably guested on Lucy’s popular TV shows, which you may or may not have seen (we featured one of them on WMD a few months ago). In any case, if you’re a fan of either of these entertainment legends, a look back will undoubtedly provide a few laughs and some enjoyable reminiscences.

I Love Lucy

While Lucy and hubby Ricky (Desi Arnaz) are living in Hollywood, Lucy perpetually screws up matters with high-profile showbiz types, many of whom Ricky must maintain suitable business relations with. Lucy’s rendezvous with Wayne was actually set up in the previous episode, thereby priming its audience for Wayne’s inevitable appearance.

This time around, the hi-jinks revolve around a slab of concrete outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with Wayne’s famed hand and boot imprints (Forty years later, Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan use the same slab as a meeting place in Rush Hour).

First, Lucy and gal pal Ethel (Vivian Vance), noticing that the portentous chunk of concrete is loose, break it after lifting it out of its proper setting. The episode that actually features Wayne begins with the missing slab and the buzz it starts to create around town. The ladies continue to botch up the block as Ricky attempts to smooth things out with Wayne at the studio.

The whole debacle coincides with the premiere of Wayne’s new picture, Blood Alley, in reality, a movie Wayne initially tried to produce with his friend, Robert Mitchum as the lead, costarring with Lauren Bacall. (Side note: problems erupted between Wayne and Mitchum, leading to Mitchum’s dismissal and making Blood Alley another starring vehicle for Wayne).

The episode’s memorable scene occurs when Lucy wanders into Wayne’s dressing room to sneak out his boots in an attempt to forge a new cement block. There she finds him with his head under a towel, waiting for a massage as he takes her for the masseur. She plays the part as he starts in on a dirty joke with Lucy pretending to be a jaded male acquaintance going along with it all. Despite the obvious peculiarities (her voice and unfamiliarity with giving massages), he inexplicably fails to peek through the towel to check if anything unusual has happened. That might cut the knee-slapping hilarity short, after all, and we can’t have that!

Once the tangled web of deceit has commenced weaving, the broken block matter is resolved with Wayne accepting their apologies and going on his way. But… this legendary match-up wasn’t quite over yet.

The Lucy Show

Eleven years later, Lucy was starring in another successful prime-time sitcom, this one simply titled The Lucy Show. Again there was a fifth season and again it featured an episode titled Lucy and John Wayne where Lucy meets the Duke during the production of one of his pictures. This one amasses slightly more value for western fans. Not only is Wayne’s current project, The War Wagon, but the majority of the story concerns the shooting of a scene from that western. An evolving story line is notably scrapped this time around in favor of a basic framework for comedy gags.

After Lucy’s boss instructs her to drop off some papers at John Wayne’s office, she uses the material as a bargaining chip of sorts to snag a meeting with the actor. Her chance arrives when she stops in the studio commissary with her friend, Mary Jane (Mary Jane Croft). While they are there, Milton Berle literally does a walk-on for a brief burst of applause.

As a side note, I would have assumed he stuck around for a second block of shooting so they could do “Lucy and Milton Berle” with the same hackneyed plot. In actuality, she had already gone through the perfunctory bumbling star-struck fan routine with Uncle Miltie in a previous episode, Lucy Saves Milton Berle. Why did the comedian not remember her, and don’t you miss the days when a television personality of no biological relation, who you had never met, could qualify as a member of your family?.

After Wayne makes his grand entrance, Lucy invites herself to his table for some small talk and soon ruins his outfit and movie script with a condiment on the table. Wayne exits politely but unceremoniously as Lucy stays, retaining his script. She soon lucks out with a chance to return it when Mary Jane arranges for Lucy to stop by the movie set. There she meets Wayne’s director who has to remind her to stay out of their way which proves to be a project in itself.

Wayne and some other actors run through a typical saloon brawl scene but Lucy interrupts when a heavy played by Morgan Woodward throws a fake punch at Wayne. As the director loses all control of the scene, Wayne assures Lucy that he and the other actors are only pretending to fight and they have actually known each other for too many years to mention, having started out in the business together.

Note: Although some of the other performers shooting the scene worked with Wayne on several films, including the real War Wagon, Woodward did not. His true claim to fame was having appeared in more than 250 TV shows and movies with the record for guest appearances on Gunsmoke and Wagon Train! The six foot three, deep-voiced Woodward would certainly make for an ideal physical opponent. For authenticity purposes, however, Bob Steele would have been the proper choice as Wayne and Steele made many pictures together and went back as far as the silent days. Bob’s father, Robert North Bradbury, directed many of Wayne’s ‘Lone Star’ Monogram Pictures.

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Of particular curiosity is the director and crew referring to Wayne as “John,” a name every John Wayne fan knows he didn’t go by. Additionally, though The War Wagon is notable for pairing Wayne with Kirk Douglas, he is conspicuously absent, with The War Wagon’s production depicted solely as a ‘John Wayne’ picture.

Artistic liberties can certainly be forgiven as it’s all in the name of humor. Most of the jokes, in fact, involve Lucy talking after the crew begins shooting a rehearsed fight scene or squirting ketchup on Wayne’s costume. Okay, so these weren’t her most brilliant comedic moments. One will have to seek out Lucy and Ethel’s adventures in a chocolate factory and Lucy’s mishaps with a bread oven for real laughs. For sheer, once-in-a-lifetime, star-mingling and golden-age-TV posterity, however, these two television items won’t disappoint. Check them out and see for yourself. You’ll remember why we loved Lucy… as well as JW, her famous friend.

Happy Holidays
Christopher Robinson

For those who love to hear western movies up close!
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