This month I have been obsessed with Channel 104 on SiriusXM that has been playing a wonderful, insightful CBS radio show that Lucille Ball did back in the 1960’s called “Let’s Talk to Lucy.” Premiering on Sept. 7, 1964 and airing five times a week for about a year, this is the first time these shows have been heard in 56 years.
These radio shows are revelations primarily because in short 10-minute segments Ms. Ball was able to bring out personal insights from her guests that went beyond the superficial conversations they normally occur on TV talk shows.
Unlike many interviewers, Ms. Ball listens to her guests which is why so many of the questions are spontaneous based on what they have to say. What’s remarkable is how cultured these people were back then. So many of today’s celebrities seem illiterate or crass.
One of the unique features of the show is the minimum production values. It truly sounds like Ms. Ball walked into a star’s dressing room with a tape recorder in hand and recorded everything herself without much assistance. The programs seem to be only sparingly edited so that the natural conversation comes through without manipulation.
The fact that the medium is radio brings an intimacy to these conversations that could not exist with visuals. It’s like we are eavesdropping on a private conversation between Lucy and her guest.
Ms. Ball’s enthusiasm and interest in her guests shine through. Whenever she is particularly tickled, she has this warm “ha-HA” laugh that naturally flows out of her. Adding to the immediacy of the moment, one can often hear Ms. Ball strike a match to light a cigarette.
Sometimes a guest is on for up to five programs. It is fun how Lucy and her guests pretend to return the next day to continue the conversation when it is clear they only met once, the taping edited into multiple segments.
These shows are so refreshingly real and offer listeners a peek into a time capsule of thoughts and opinions of those who were adults and parents back during a tumultuous time in America when the Vietnam War was raging out of control as were young people in terms of their music, dress and morals.
You gain a sense of how lost some parents must have felt in grasping for any help on how to protect their teenaged children from this so-called revolution. When guest Ruth Berle, comedian Milton Berle’s wife, espouses the virtues of a man who claimed to have the answer to the parents’ angst, Chuck Dederich, founder of Synanon in Santa Monica, it sounds too good to be true—and it is.
Dederich was viewed as a guru who could magically rescue children from alcohol and drug addictions. Within years, however, Synanon’s true purpose was revealed: a religious cult which mandated members shave their heads, and for married couples to divorce and form new unions. Anyone outside the group who tried to expose the organization faced harsh retaliation. By the end of the 1970’s, the government shut down Synanon.
Many conversations revolve around pressing issues of the day, most of which remain prevalent today.
Andy Williams talks about population growth. There were 3 billion in 1964 and he said that “in 35 years it is projected the world will have 6 billion”—which turned out exactly correct: 6.1 billion in 2000.
Betty Furness talks about the importance of pre-school children getting enrolled in the new Head Start programs to provide them with a strong education footing.
Ms. Ball cares about the elderly. During her conservation with Vivian Vance, she recalls a time when she was part of an apple festival parade and noticed old people upstairs in houses who were unable to come down to see the parade and how sad that made her feel.
Her strong beliefs in education, discipline and God come through. It is uplifting to hear how opera singer Mary Costa (now 90 years old) deals with her loneliness on the road by invoking the 91st Psalm. I can’t imagine hearing any famous person today talking about their faith without people viewing them as weird.
Often you can pinpoint the date of the recording when a guest talks about a child born 5 months ago or a 10th wedding anniversary. For example, Lucy attended the 1964 New York World’s Fair. She was mentioning specific events she saw during her 15-hour visit including a funny anecdote about how the jewels of China placed on her head kept slipping down her face. I went to YouTube and found a 12-minute video documenting Lucy Day, Aug. 31, 1964. And part of it shows her with the crown.
Arlene Dahl (still alive at 96, her birthday of August 11 coincidentally the day I am typing this) talks about a book she wrote in 1965 called “Always Ask a Man.” This was a reaction to what was happening at that time when women were starting to dress and act more like men such as wearing pants and having short haircuts.
I can imagine a younger person hearing this with today’s sensibilities and wanting to “cancel” Ball and Dahl as dinosaurs in their view of females back then, but that would be disrespecting the time period that these two glamourous actresses lived in. It much have been a shock to see these changes unfold during their lifetime.
Even the more mundane discussions on what to wear and how to apply make-up are fascinating to hear.
Of all the topics, however, the welfare of children comes through as Ms. Ball’s primary concern.
She is very interested in how her guests relate to their children, and how they balance work and parenting.
In a program focused on school dropouts and juvenile delinquency, Lucy talks with Los Angeles Unified School District administrator George Smith who says that “attendance is a very serious problem” that remains true today.
Lucy bemoans the lax parenting that was already evident in the mid-1960’s and blames adult-themed movies and music in bringing standards down.
“We have drifted into something unhealthy almost to an extreme and I wish we could get out of it.” That sentiment could not be any truer for today’s times.
Listen to how she compares her role as a parent to that of a ship’s captain. She is very aware of how limited her time is to positively affect her children.
“I do know that I don’t have much longer to be captain of this ship. Pretty soon my crew will take off on their own so I am trying to make good use of the time that I have.”
Ms. Ball was a strong believer that children craved discipline, something that I could attest to in my 31 years as an educator.
“Parents should realize their responsibilities immediately and take over with a very firm hand. And I think that you’ll find millions of teenagers who would be grateful for that.”
What comes through after listening to hours of Lucy talk is that she was a true humanitarian. She really cared about the world around her.
Beyond being a brilliant entertainer and business woman, she was that rare celebrity: smart, savvy and all around decent. Boy, we could sure use more people like her nowadays.