The Plot Thickens: Lucille Ball

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


Today, October 12, marks the premiere of season three of the Turner Classic Movies podcast “The Plot Thickens.” Previous seasons have covered the life and career of Peter Bogdanovich as well as the making of the 1990 film The Bonfire of the Vanities. This season, TCM will shift to elaborating on the adventurous life of someone who is truly one of America’s national treasures: the incomparable Lucille Ball.

I got the chance to listen to this wonderful first episode before its premiere, and was immediately drawn in by the way it is so thoughtfully edited. If this episode is an example of how the entire season will play out, we are definitely in for a treat. Season three opens with Lucille herself sharing an anecdote about her struggles as a young teenager living in New York. Although times were difficult for her and her family, she emphasizes that she “wasn’t a quitter,” something I myself have always admired about Ball. 

What I appreciate most about the structure of this podcast season is the integration of real audio clips that authentically represent the heart and personality of the woman that has been making audiences double over with laughter even decades after her passing. Through these elements, you can really get a feel for what she was like as a person, not just through her captivating sense of storytelling and imagery, but from those closest to her who knew the Lucy behind the lights, cameras and makeup.

You are given a substantial amount of background information on where Lucy was born (a small house in Jamestown, New York), as well as the life of her parents and grandparents, where they lived together, and what their relationship was like. The tragic death of Lucy’s father is a focus, and she wistfully recalls the day he died as if it were yesterday. Podcast host Ben Mankiewicz then goes on to explain Lucy’s first love: a bad boy named Johnny, whose family illegally smuggled liquor across the Canadian border and likely had connections to the mob. We also learn that the small town of Jamestown, where everyone knew about everyone, was very disapproving of this relationship, and always had opinions about Dede’s (Lucy’s mother’s) parental decisions.

Those unfamiliar with Lucy’s childhood story may not be expecting the way this first episode wraps up. Without giving too much away, the ending was one of the most engrossing moments in the episode, including a retelling of the events of one fateful summer day in 1927 that is enough to give you goosebumps. It was an accident that would change the course of the lives of those involved forever.

I do not believe Lucille Ball gradually learned her comedic timing and style. A gift like hers is something that you have to be born with. I am very much looking forward to what future episodes of this season have to offer, and I am certain that Lucy fans young and old will appreciate the sentimentality of the interviews from her loved ones, as well as the work TCM has put in to uncover more anecdotes and insight into the accomplished life of the world’s most beloved comedienne. “The Plot Thickens” is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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