After all the hard work and the planning, the opening ceremonies finally arrived Friday for the throngs of faithful who traveled from around the country and across the globe.
But not for the Olympics. For Lucy.
The fans who descended on the Burbank Airport Hilton came to Southern California for Loving Lucy '96, the country's first-ever national convention celebrating one of the most popular television shows ever, "I Love Lucy," and its beloved star, Lucille Ball.
The three-day gathering marks the sitcom's 45th anniversary, and is expected to attract more than 500 followers of the wacky redhead whose antics have been beamed into living rooms around the world.
"I've been watching Lucy since I was old enough to watch TV, and it's always funny," said Jimmy Scichilone, an estate liquidator who flew in from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Maya Dolder came all the way from Brugg, Switzerland, to attend the festivities, which include panel discussions by "I Love Lucy" writers and cast members, a sold-out auction today of Lucy memorabilia and an "I Love Lucy" 45th birthday banquet. For Dolder, a secretary, the convention also provides an opportunity to mingle with other Lucy fans, whose numbers are much smaller in Brugg.
"It's not just about Lucy--it's about making friends," she said.
The convention officially kicked off Friday night at the Academy Plaza Theater in North Hollywood with rare clips of Ball throughout her long career.
But most of the attention centered on "I Love Lucy," the show that made Ball a household name and that still plays in syndication locally seven days a week.
Scichilone says he knows all the episodes by heart and partakes in a ritual whereby he "talks in codes with friends using lines from the show." He admits it drives everyone crazy.
Many of the fans who showed up Friday to register for the convention had similar passions--or, some might say, obsessions.
Glen Charlow, 36, a Broadway singer, dancer and actor from Brooklyn, fell in love with "I Love Lucy" more than two decades ago as an 11-year-old.
Charlow began collecting audiotapes he recorded from the show's singing numbers. But after he moved away from home in 1983, he says, he graduated to major collecting.
Charlow estimates he has spent $300,000 on Lucy pictures, posters and even a three-piece lilac pantsuit for his Lucy mannequin. His New York apartment "is a shrine to Lucy," he says.
"I Love Lucy" appeared on CBS for six years, from 1951 to 1957. Ball also went on to star in "The Lucy Show" from 1962 to 1974, "Here's Lucy" from 1968 to 1974 and the short-lived "Life With Lucy" in 1986.
As the son of an appliance dealer from Logansport, Ind., the convention's organizer, Tom Watson, is a longtime Lucy fan who worked at CBS and even did public relations work for Ball herself, he said. In 1977, Watson founded the "We Love Lucy" fan club.
"At least with Lucy, you know what you're getting," he said.