Berle and Ball

Times Staff Writer

Milton Berle, a.k.a. Uncle Miltie, a.k.a. Mr. Television, recently was going through the 390 hours of his legendary TV se ries, specials and shows and came across a real treasure: a one-hour special he did for NBC starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and not seen since it first aired in 1959. The special, "Milton Loves Lucy," features Lucy and Desi as themselves, not as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.

TV viewers will get the opportunity to see the comedy for the first time in 31 years Tuesday night on KTTV Channel 11.

"It is still in good shape," Berle said the other day. "It has nothing to do with 'I Love Lucy.' We shot it in Las Vegas. I was appearing there at the time at a hotel called El Rancho Vegas.

"It is very, very funny. If you notice, the writing is completely different than the writing is today for sitcoms. They had more time, and it's Lucy, myself and Desi. It is a story of intrigue. And she is the brilliant Lucy. I think it is one of the best shows we ever did together."

Arnaz also directed the comedy. "I have to compliment Desi a lot," Berle said. "He was really the big brain behind the Desi-Lucy setup. He was a wonderful comedy director, and when I did the Lucy shows he directed a few. So I said, 'Hey, Desi, I want you to direct this show,' and he did an excellent job."

Berle met Ball during the mid-'30s when both were under contract to RKO. "She was gorgeous," Berle said. "We met each other at parties and we had a few dates, but nothing serious. She is basically the funniest woman I have ever known and a wonderful actress."

And how many times did the two work together?

"Oh my God," Berle said, laughing. "I guested on 'I Love Lucy' about nine times and then I did 'The Lucy Show' about 10 times. And I don't know how many times she guested with me."

Ball, Berle said, was a tremendous perfectionist. "She had to do it right," he said. "She would rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. When you see the show, you will notice the glibness and rapport between Lucy and myself."

After "Milton Loves Lucy," KTTV Tuesday night is airing "Lucy Hides Milton," an episode of the one-hour "Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show" that followed "I Love Lucy."

"That is the one when I was in drag," Berle said.

Berle suddenly became quiet. "I don't know if you want to use this, but when my wife Ruth was in the hospital over a year ago, she was in Cedars (Cedars-Sinai Hospital) on the eighth floor," he said. "Lucy was a close friend of Ruth's. When Ruth got sick, Lucille Ball was there four days a week in her room and stayed for hours and hours making her laugh, throwing lines and talking girl talk.

"When Ruth passed away, Lucy entered the hospital (where she died eight days later). When they were taking the gurney out with Ruth after she passed away, they were pushing the gurney in with Lucy in the same room. It is ironic that a woman like Lucille was suffering while she was trying to make Ruth laugh. No one knew it. It is kind of poignant, I think."

"Milton Loves Lucy" airs Tuesday at 8 p.m., followed by "Lucy Hides Milton" at 9 p.m. on KTTV Channel 11.

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