Monday, August 1, 2016


August is SUMMER UNDER THE STARS month on Turner Classic Movies.  This is a clever and entertaining TCM programming gimmick for the summer season.  In August, each day from dawn through the prime time hours is devoted to one particular star.  I want to give you a quick tip on a movie.  It features a star who became a comedy legend.  In this drama, the star portrays a character who displays some downright ugly behavior.  Later, she'll break your heart.  In playing that raw and unappealing side of the character, the actress played the truth and what was sorely human about that woman.   The actress found the heartbreak and found the character.  It's excellent acting.  The star is in peak performance showing her dramatic skills.  She's Lucille Ball as a hard-boiled bitch of a nightclub entertainer.  This woman is ambitious.  She plans to get to the big time and she doesn't care whose feelings she hurts along the way.  She's angry at life.
The 1942 drama is called THE BIG STREET and airs Tuesday, August 2nd, at 1:00p Eastern.  THE BIG STREET is a Damon Runyon story so it centers on Broadway in New York City.  We see Lucy in her RKO years.
Keep in mind Lucille Ball had bit parts in the 1930s Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers RKO musicals TOP HAT and FOLLOW THE FLEET.  Lucy then showed her wisecracking comedy chops as one of the struggling young stage actresses living in a Broadway boardinghouse in STAGE DOOR (1937).  Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn were the stars of that one.  Lucy and Eve Arden were wisecracking sidekicks who, like Ginger and Kate, would go on to become stars themselves.  Lucy became such a major star on the small screen with her groundbreaking 1950s TV sitcom, I LOVE LUCY, that she and husband Desi Arnaz bought RKO and turned it into Desilu Studios.  Lucy rose to head of Desilu in the early 1960s. This made her the first woman to head a major studio in Hollywood --and that studio was the very one where she'd worked as a bit player in classic Astaire & Rogers musicals.

Henry Fonda is Lucy's co-star in THE BIG STREET.  He plays "Pinks," the kind and unassuming nightclub busboy who falls falls for the haughty entertainer named Gloria.
She winds up disabled.  Gloria can't walk.  When she's down and out, "Pinks" stays loyal to the beauty who's now bitter, broken and alone.  Gloria must learn humility.  She must have a heart.
If you've read my posts here for some time, you know that one of the highlights of my life was being invited by Lucille Ball to come over to her Beverly Hills home for cocktails.  This was in 1989 when I worked on VH1.  I was in Los Angeles doing a few days of taping for my talk show at the time.  Lucy had seen and liked my celebrity talk show.  In her comfortable home, she and I chatted about a few of her old movies.  I told her how much I love THE BIG STREET.  I added that, if I ran a revival movie theater, I'd put it on a double bill with MIDNIGHT COWBOY.  Why?  Because both are New York City stories of love and friendship in which one character winds up disabled and the other character gets the crippled friend to Florida.  Lucille Ball really liked that movie connection I made.  She gave me a huge smile.  Lucy was extremely proud of that performance -- as well she should have been.

If I was a TCM Guest Programmer for a night, one of my selections would be THE BIG STREET.  Lucy is exceptional in this drama.  She truly gets the soul of that character.  She acting strengths were not limited to comedy.  And I'll admit it -- her final scene in THE BIG STREET makes me cry every...damn...time.

If you can, spend some time on THE BIG STREET with Lucille Ball.  Aug 2nd is her SUMMER UNDER THE STARS day on TCM.  At 8p ET, there's another one of my favorite Lucille Ball movie.  Again...not a comedy.  It's a brisk, well-played Manhattan murder mystery called THE DARK CORNER.  Mark Stevens plays the private eye being framed for murder.  Lucy plays his smart, devoted secretary.  She hits a home-run in that role.  Clifton Webb co-stars in this 1946 film from 20th Century Fox.  After that comes YOURS, MINE AND OURS, a 1960s comedy that reunites Lucy with Henry Fonda.

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