If I Love Lucy beating Mad Men in the ratings several years ago indicates anything, it’s that the Ricardos and Mertzes still have what it takes to please audiences two decades into a century they didn’t even live to see. It also probably means that TV viewers are more interested in actual people from the ’50s than modern actors in vintage clothes puffing on fake cigarettes. But there’s perhaps no better time to be a fan of Lucy than now, because without today’s technology, we wouldn’t be able to own and watch most of the cast’s televised adventures whenever we felt like it. The complete series DVD set (or whoever’s voice is tacked onto the commercial for it) claims to offer “the whole McGillicuddy,” but there were plenty of other times that the cast members appeared on other shows — sometimes even in character — that didn’t make the cut. Ahead of CBS airing the I Love Lucy Funny Money Special on April 19, here are ten rare cast appearances that have been hiding from you right here on the internet (for the most part).
10. Stars in the Eye (November 15, 1952)
This rare special about the opening of CBS’s Television City stars Jack Benny and kind of, sort of features the entire cast of I Love Lucy. Desi Arnaz appears solo as himself on the live broadcast and threatens to sue Jack for interrupting the filming of I Love Lucy. Since Lucille Ball was too busy not being allowed to say she was pregnant at the time, she, along with Vivian Vance and William Frawley, is seen in a series of staged outtakes that Desi screens for Jack during their segment together. What follows are Jack’s (I guess successful) attempts to ask the cast to appear on his special by disguising himself as a waiter in a restaurant scene, intercepting a kiss between Lucy and Ricky, and even hiding in their shower.
9. Dinner With the President (November 23, 1953)
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Anti-Defamation League, an hour-long variety program was shown on three of the three total television networks that existed in those days. The Paley Center’s listing for the show boasts appearances from Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ethel Merman, and Jackie Robinson, and in perhaps the vaguest description possible, it claims to include “comedy with Vivian Vance, William Frawley, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz.” Sadly, the only footage that’s made its way onto the internet so far is a brief clip of Vance and Frawley singing “Carolina in the Morning” as Fred and Ethel. What that song has to do with defamation or the prevention of it is anyone’s guess.
8. Texaco Star Theatre (May 4, 1954)
The only entry on this list that might truly be lost could also very well be the strangest. While Vivian Vance and William Frawley (who famously hated each other) performed without Lucy and Desi in the clip above, the Arnazes were still evidently a part of the show in some way — that is, if the people hoarding it from us are to be believed. According to IMDb, that wasn’t the case with this particular episode of Texaco Star Theatre, which apparently featured just Vance and Frawley. They played the Mertzes and were for some reason renting out a rehearsal hall to Milton Berle (I’m sure the fact that Berle moved his show to Hollywood in 1955 is a complete coincidence). It’s unclear how much screen time they had overall, but hopefully it was slightly more than their only other Ricardo-less appearance on Shower of Stars the following year — where they couldn’t even manage to stay in the same shot for a full 30 seconds.
7. The Ed Sullivan Show: “A Salute to Lucy and Desi” (October 3, 1954)
Most TV shows, even crappy ones, have to be on the air for a minimum of five years — or, you know, get canceled — before anyone considers doing a retrospective. Unless they’re named I Love Lucy, of course, as Ed Sullivan clearly felt that three years was enough time to warrant dedicating an entire episode of his show to paying tribute to someone else’s show. This one’s not completely online either, but thankfully, the Paley Center’s description of it opted not to skimp on the details this time around. It starts out with a sketch in which Ed visits Lucy and Desi at home, followed by clips and speeches by a bunch of guests who presumably say mostly nice stuff. One segment on YouTube that looks like it was uploaded by someone trying to create a modern-day kinescope gives us a glimpse at a heartfelt moment in which Lucy praises the cast and crew and Desi reminisces about his early (undoubtedly less enjoyable) days cleaning canary cages.
6. The Bob Hope Chevy Show (October 21, 1956)
If you own one of the I Love Lucy box sets or even just cheaped out and bought the sixth season individually because it’s all you felt the need to own, this Bob Hope special might sound familiar to you. As a thank-you for appearing on their show, the Lucy cast did yet another group guest spot for Bob Hope where they showed us what things could’ve been like if Bob had played Ricky instead of Desi. Desi eventually turns up as Fred, but they still found a way to squeeze in William Frawley — in addition to a live seal, for whatever reason. Nearly 4 minutes of “highlights” from the 14-minute sketch were used as bonus material for the season-six DVDs without any explanation as to why we needed a diced-up version of something that’s likely public domain. Maybe there wasn’t enough disc space, or maybe they were concerned with Bob Hope’s use of the word wetback (belated spoiler alert), but that still leaves nine minutes and 59 seconds unaccounted for, so here’s YouTube to the rescue once again.
5. The Jackie Gleason Show: “At Sixty-Five” (January 12, 1957)
In what could easily go down as one of the biggest missed opportunities in comedy history, Lucy and Desi flew to New York along with George Burns and Gracie Allen in January of 1957 to be on The Jackie Gleason Show (home to The Honeymooners at the time). The catch? Gleason was on vacation and the others were only in town to celebrate guest host Eddie Cantor’s 65th birthday. The two real-life couples celebrated by doing what anyone else would’ve done in that situation: performing totally separate sketches … on one of the only occasions they had to work together that decade. Lucy and Desi play themselves, but Lucy Ricardo is definitely there in spirit when she presents Eddie with the lopsided birthday cake that she accidentally baked for him. Unfortunately, this footage isn’t available online or officially on DVD, though it is available unofficially, if you know where the copyright holders don’t want you to look.
4. Make Room for Daddy: “Lucy Upsets the Williams Household” (January 5, 1959)
After Danny Thomas and his TV family appeared in a memorable episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, it was only a matter of time before the favor was returned. And that matter of time was barely a month because both shows happened to be filmed at a studio owned by a certain Cuban guy and his redheaded soon-to-be-ex-wife. The result basically plays out like an I Love Lucy episode with the wrong opening credits and no Mertzes: Danny Williams (Thomas), knowing good and well what kind of insane character he’s dealing with, encourages Ricky and Lucy to stay at his apartment so Lucy’s money-wasting habits can be curbed by spending time with Danny’s more disciplined wife. Guess how that works out — or just watch the full episode above and fantasize some other time.
3. The Ann Sothern Show: “The Lucy Story” (October 5, 1959)
Lucy Ricardo pays a surprise visit to her old friend, Katy O’Connor (Ann Sothern), and immediately gets involved in her personal life — because what else were you expecting from her at this point? It takes Lucy all of not even three minutes to start concocting a plan to set the unmarried Katy up with her own boss, and predictably, things don’t go according to plan. This guest spot was yet another thank-you since Ann Sothern had also previously appeared on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, though as her character from her earlier sitcom, Private Secretary. Oddly, this would mean that Lucy knows two different women who look exactly like Ann Sothern, but who aren’t Ann Sothern, and who certainly haven’t had any luck changing their names and addresses to avoid running into her again.
2. Sunday Showcase: “The Lucy-Desi Milton Berle Special” (November 1, 1959)
Milton Berle’s Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour appearance might’ve left him unconscious in a wig, but it somehow didn’t stop him from crossing over into the I Love Lucy universe for a third time. In this recently released NBC special from 1959, Berle finds himself sharing the pleasures and displeasures of Las Vegas with the two people he was probably least enthusiastic about seeing again: Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Leave it to reliable ol’ Mrs. Ricardo to get Berle’s wife’s ring stuck on her finger and figure out a way to get the two of them pursued by armed gunmen. She eases him into all this craziness by helping him lose $1,500 at a casino, as seen in the trailer above (it plays out a lot better when you don’t question why one of the highest-paid TV stars of the day would care about losing such a small amount of money). It’s definitely worth picking up on DVD for the measly few bucks it sells for — unless of course you’re not a fan of I Love Lucy, in which case you should’ve stopped reading this a long time ago.
1. Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse: “The Desilu Revue” (December 25, 1959)
Desi Arnaz hosted this 1959 Christmas special that ended up being not only the second-to-last time he’d work with Lucy, but the second-to-last time all four cast members would work together. Or, in Vance and Frawley’s case, the second-to-last time they’d have to pretend they weren’t disgusted with one another — though, arguably, the same could probably have been said about Lucy and Desi, who divorced not too long after this aired. Anyway, the cast members play themselves, mostly in flashbacks, as Desi tells gossip columnist Hedda Hopper about the chaos that ensued the time Lucy produced a Christmas revue for up-and-coming performers. Her nervousness ultimately led to Desi banning her from backstage, but he was seemingly unaware that it was just as impossible to keep the real Lucy out of a show as the fake one. Nicknamed “The Red Hornet,” she pops up periodically in between musical performances, occasionally crossing paths with celebrities like Danny Thomas, actual Ann Sothern, and some descendant or another of Lassie’s. The show within a show went on as planned despite Lucy’s shenanigans, though regrettably, that’s more than can be said about the show it was spun off from — but hey, we got a little more Lucy to love out of it, right?