Lucille Ball and Star Trek

In addition to being a comedienne whose work is still appreciated over 60 years later, Lucy had quite an influence in television. It could be said that I Love Lucy, started in 1951 with the dawn of television, became the template for the modern sitcom.

I had heard it said years ago that this show pioneered the 3 Camera Approach in filming. But others are saying not so fast – it was invented 4 years earlier, in 1947. Perhaps because the show was so groundbreaking and popular – it is still in syndication today – it got the credit.

You see, in the early days of television, shows were filmed with just one camera, just like a movie.

Then, for many years, television shows (well, sitcoms, at least) were filmed with three cameras. The idea was simple, with three cameras going at once (or switched back and forth between three cameras), you could get close-ups and wide shots and different angles all at once so that you could just quickly edit them together later rather than having a single camera have to set up to get each of those different shots. As you might imagine, it saves a good deal of time. Nowadays, if you’re filming something live, like a sporting event, multiple cameras are pretty much a necessity.

But by the time that I Love Lucy started using three cameras in 1951, though, the set-up had been used already by a few shows, including another sitcom on the same network as I Love Lucy, Amos and Andy!

Desi Arnaz and cinematographer Karl Freund might have really perfected the practice (and they came up with the idea of doing it with 35 mm film rather than 16 mm film and they were the first to use the system with a live studio audience) but the idea was invented in 1947 for NBC by Jerry Fairbanks, a short subject film director (he had won an Academy Award for the area before Paramount made him choose between film and TV – he went with TV) who came up with the idea with the help of director/producer Frank Telford.

Reminds me of something else completely unrelated to television history but same idea.

Because the Mercedes-Benz 300SL became such an iconic and revolutionary car in 1954, capable of 160 mph, just about everyone credits it with being the first gasoline car with fuel injection.  They worked with Bosch to create a fuel injection system for their aviation engines, and that technology was transferred to their auto engines. Before the 300SL however, they used it in their diesel engines.

Even heard Jay Leno make this claim in talking about his 300SL. And I have come to realize that Jay knows cars.

But our Mercedes-Club magazine some time ago had an article stating that no, that honor went to some obscure and forgettable little German car that came and went. It is late I am forgetting the name but if you really want to know, I will try and dig up the name.

[an hour later] OK, I can’t make a claim like this and then just leave it.

It was the Gutbrod.

In 1952, as Germany began postwar recovery in earnest, Bosch introduced an automotive version of their mechanical direct injection that made its debut in the Gutbrod Superior 600 and Goliath GP 700, both powered by 2-stroke engines.

So perhaps it was the fact that I Love Lucy became so dominant and this system was used to effectively that it got the credit?

Starting to get off track again, but Lucille Ball and her husband at the time, Desi Arnaz, formed Desilu Studios, which through the 60s was an industry powerhouse.

And a Lexican on the Facebook page brought up something about the original Star Trek that in all these years, I was unaware.

In the 3 years it ran on Network TV, from 1966-1969,  I don’t believe it was ever a huge hit but it did have an audience (including me). It was only after in syndication did it develop a huge world-wide following.

But apparently, it came close to being cancelled before anyone saw one episode.

…The iconic redhead, best known for her groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy, was a television pioneer and inventor of the situation comedy. Ball is remembered for her comedic genius, but did you know that she singlehandedly saved Star Trek: The Original Series?

Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz formed Desilu Productions, which was responsible for several popular television series like The Andy Griffith Show, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and The Dick Van Dyke Show. After the couple divorced in 1960, Ball took over control of the company, which was almost unheard of for a woman at the time.

Upon hearing the pitch for Star Trek, Lucille Ball took a shine to the concept and its creator, championing them when other executives said no.

At the time, science fiction series were few and far between, and no one thought that a genre show like Star Trek could garner mass appeal. NBC ordered the series pilot, “The Cage,” but were unhappy with the results, deeming it “too cerebral.” NBC planned to cancel the pilot, but Ball still thought the show was something special. She pushed NBC to remake the pilot and do a series overhaul (a move unheard of at the time), and they ended up with “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” And the rest is sci-fi legend.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that Ball took to Roddenberry’s vision. A future where women and people of color are treated as equals totally jibes with her ethos. I Love Lucy broke similar ground when it became the first series to feature an interracial couple, then the first series to feature and discuss pregnancy based on Ball’s real life pregnancy. Lucille Ball was an innovator both in front of and behind the scenes, and her work will be remembered for years to come.

In 1996, I was driving across Nevada and being interested in history, stopped at the Wendover Airport right on the Utah border. During WW2, it was where all heavy bomber crew, including the crew of the Enola Gay, were trained. Today the only remnants of that past are some signs and building foundations.

But I learned they are famous for something else.

Movie productions.

I came across a very large fenced-off tent (movie sets are apparently a lot more boring than one would imagine). I started talking with a man along the fence with a dress shirt and a tie, who I assumed was a studio exec.

I mean, who else would wear a dress shirt and tie out in the Nevada desert?

They were filming Con Air  and I had to ask him, “Don’t you think so many producers rely on special effects and not good writing in the current movies?

Looking back I suppose that was a loaded question but he smiled and had to agree with me.

I believe what has made Star Trek TOS so enduring is the writing.

Like any good design, be it the 300SL of 1954 or a Star Trek episode, if it still fires the imagination today, if it seems timeless in its creation,  then it is good writing or design.

How many shows of the 50s and 60s now look dated?

I had heard that the producers had a small budget to use, but cruising around the Net tonight I have gotten mixed opinions on that.

But I think William Shatner felt that the budget was small. His opinion ought to count for something 😉

With the limited budget we had…I was very proud indeed. 

May be symbolic of nothing or illuminating, but the first time I saw this picture I was fascinated.

It’s Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy) posing with his Buick Riviera. This series (Buick) was in my opinion one of chief GM designer Bill Mitchell’s best. The first time I saw this it just…..looked strange.

Lucille Ball and Star Trek

Besides 2 subjects seemingly unrelated in time and space, the thought came to me that Spock’s car is a ’63 or ’64. As evidence of more useless information that my mind has accumulated over the years, the ’65 had headlight covers.

Star Trek TOS started in 1966.

Is he proud of his car that he has had for up to 6 years? (1969-1963)

Did he just buy it used and is proudly showing it? (my opinion FWIW).

Lots of assumptions which can get you in trouble, but I thought it was interesting. I don’t think the actors made a lot of money in the original series.

Star Trek is enduring after 53 years.  And we have Lucille Ball to thank.

What is your favorite episode? Mine is City On The Edge of Tomorrow.

A good friend’s is City On The Edge of Forever, written by the great Harlan Ellison.

It’s the writing.


H/T to Comjam.






Filed under Hollywood, Media, Other Stuff

2 responses to “Lucille Ball and Star Trek

  1. Tom Beck

    Good day sir. I enjoyed your article. You know a lot about cars. I have a 1963 Lincoln Continental Convertible that was originally owned by Lucille Ball, or her husband Gary Morton. They traded it in at the Palm Springs Lincoln dealer where it was purchased by Martin Victor, a furrier who drove it back to Fairbanks, AK. I purchased the car from Martin’s friend, Jack Ivory O’brien, so I am the fourth owner. Do you have any ideas how I can get more information and documentation or photos relating to Lucy’s ownership of this car. Can you email, call or text me as I am not very web-savvy and may not ever get a message then. Thanks, Tom (907) 299-8667

  2. Pingback: Being the Recardos – Review | The Lexicans

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