The family and friends of Lucille Ball, as well as lots and lots of press, turned up at Universal Studios on Monday night for a cocktail reception honoring the late comedienne.
It was the official unveiling of “Lucy: A Tribute,” a studio tour exhibit that daughter Lucie Arnaz called “tasteful, and fun, and forever.”
The comments seemed to be a reference to last month’s CBS TV movie about her parents’ private lives, because Arnaz has made no secret of the fact that she found that project tasteless and no fun whatsoever. “Lucy: A Tribute” is the way the family prefers to have Ball remembered.
The attraction, which opens to the public next week, is part of several new expanded exhibits on the Universal Studios Tour, and the event was more of a publicity stunt and photo opportunity than a party. Reporters, camera crews and Universal Studios officials outnumbered guests.
Ball’s frequent co-stars, Gale Gordon and Mary Wickes, were on hand, along with Steve Allen. They and others mingled outside the exhibit, listening to a 16-piece conga band and sampling Cuban-themed hors d’oeuvres.
“Everybody’s asking me what I think of the exhibit, but I haven’t even seen it yet,” said Desi Arnaz Jr., walking into the heart-shaped pavilion that contains “Lucy: A Tribute.” Once inside he ducked camera crews and reporters for a while, staring into the cases and greeting old family friends.
The interactive attraction encompasses all manner of Lucy memorabilia and arcana, including original costumes, scrapbooks, awards, video screens broadcasting “I Love Lucy” trivia questions and replicas of the Ricardo apartment and the den of Ball’s Beverly Hills home.
The pavilion also houses such smaller items as Lucy’s 32 TV Guide covers, Desi Arnaz’s conga drums and the sheet music to “Babalu.”
Lucy’s widower, Gary Morton, saw the exhibit for the first time just before the press and party guests. He said he was shaken by the experience.
“I’d just started watching the shows again last year,” Morton said, “and I haven’t seen some of the things in here for decades.” Morton said his favorite “I Love Lucy” moments were Lucy’s pantomime with Harpo Marx and the episode in which she gets in a fight in a vat of grapes.
Both of these clips, and other famous moments from Ball’s TV career, were being broadcast on a giant video screen. There was a good-sized crowd watching them for the zillionth time and still laughing.