A lot can happen behind the scenes. A lot. And a screenwriter, like Aaron Sorkin, is always looking for trouble (pun intended). Conflicts, as per se, are the building blocks of drama. It is also the single biggest reason why the majority of films suffer from a thin plot. It’s the conflict in their tale that isn’t believable or captivating enough. But what’s peculiar about Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos is that it portrays a terrifying week in Lucille Ball’s life, which is efficiently packed with drama and filled with conflicts.
Being the Ricardos depicts the shooting of Episode no. 204 (Season 2, Episode 4) of America’s one of the most popular SITCOMs, I Love Lucy. The film begins on September 8, 1952, and ends on September 12, 1952. It follows a non-linear narrative that follows the preparation of Episode no. 204 while also delving into the lives of its two prominent characters: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Though the film is titled, Being the Ricardos, it majorly focuses on Lucille Ball, who struggles in both personal and professional life. At one point, Jess Oppenheimer, the executive producer of I Love Lucy, tells Desi that he is the “I” in the show’s title. But even Desi and all the people in the world knew that I Love Lucy was all about Lucille Ball. So without any further ado, let’s explore the skin of Lucille Ball through the lens of Aaron Sorkin, performed with grace by Nicole Kidman.
‘Being the Ricardos’ Plot Summary
Aaron Sorkin is a filmmaker who knows the rules of the script. Hence, at precisely 2 minutes, he brings the inciting incident to the screen. On the evening of September 8, 1952, gossip radio broadcaster Walter Winchell declares, “Lucille Ball is a Communist.” But that’s not all. Lucy’s publicist sends her an advance copy of “Confidential” magazine. She finds her husband, Desi Arnaz, a Cuban, on the magazine cover with another woman. Desi stays away from home for long periods, and Lucy suspects that he is cheating on her.
During the table read for I Love Lucy Episode no. 204 (Season 2, Episode 4) on Monday, the crew and CBS (the television broadcaster) team feels the tension of acquisitions made on Lucy. However, none of the newspapers picked up the news. Desi lies to the producers that Lucy accidentally checked the box during her growing years and affiliated herself as a Communist.
As the conflict seems to settle, Lucy and Desi announce that Lucy is pregnant with their second child. I Love Lucy was a “family” show, viewed by the majority of Christians. In the show, Lucy and Desi slept in different beds, and going as per the depiction, CBS couldn’t afford to show a pregnant Lucy on screen.
As the film progresses, Lucy deals with these three apparent conflicts. She eagerly yearns for a “home,” but that wasn’t possible if her husband was cheating on her. Lucy wanted to become a serious actor, but she wasn’t “young” enough. A happy ending for an artist is a myth, and hence let’s plunge into the tragedies of “Being Lucille Ball.”
Why Was Lucille Ball Accused Of Being A Communist?
It’s still hard to understand how some people judge an artist based on their political ideologies. Nevertheless, as suggested in Being the Ricardos, Lucille Ball’s father died when she was young. She and her younger brother were raised by her mother and grandfather, Fred C. Hunt. Fred was a Communist Party member because he cared about workers and the working man. In 1936, when Lucille Ball registered herself to vote, she ticked the box and affiliated herself as a Communist to please her grandfather. But according to her, she never attended any party meetings or made contact with its members. Hence, the committee investigated her and cleared her name, until gossip columnist Walter Winchell made accusations on his radio show.
The entire crew and producers of I Love Lucy were terrified of the rumors because if it had caught fire, they would have lost their “television family audience” in no time. After all, what happened with Charlie Chaplin still worries us.
Lucy and Desi felt relieved for a time, until on September 12, 1952, the Herald Express “believed” the rumors and published the “gossip.” They printed the headline in a four-inch type font garnished with red ink to make a statement. Aaron Sorkin is unquestionably a genius when it comes to depiction of subtle political satires through his dialogues.
The city editor, Agness Underwood, published a copy of the affidavit of Lucy’s voter ID registration certificate, issued in 1936. However, after the authorities cleared her name, they stamped “cancelled” on the same certificate. Many newspapers published the canceled card while the Herald-Express cropped the word “canceled” out of the document altogether.
At the end of Being the Ricardos, Desi called the reporters to the set to prove his wife’s innocence. He used his power and contacted J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director. In front of a studio audience and the reporters, Hoover confirmed that the FBI didn’t have any evidence to believe that Lucille Ball was a Communist. As Hoover cleared Lucy’s name publicly, the audience cheered in happiness. Their star was safe in Hollywood.
The Struggle Of Being A Serious Actor
Lucy rose to prominence as the queen of “B” movies while working as a contract artist for RKO Studios. She did dozens of minor roles in pictures just to be in pictures. And that was how she met her husband, Desi Arnaz. The two worked on an RKO screen-adaptation of an awful stage play, Too Many Girls.
Though Lucy was kicked out of acting school, she never left the pursuit of being a serious actor. As a contract player for the RKO, she had to play whatever role was offered to her, but Desi could see the “kinetic energy” and the burning passion in Lucy’s eyes.
Her big break came through when she was offered a leading role opposite Henry Fonda in The Big Street (1942), produced by RKO. But even with all the critical acclamation, the film bombed at the box office. According to Charles Koerner, the head of the production at RKO, Lucy wasn’t young enough to bring in a young audience to the theater. At the age of 39, RKO dropped her contract. Her dreams of being a serious actor shattered.
Lucy started working for CBS radio production, “My Favorite Husband.” Her dynamic acting skills and mannerism impressed the CBS Television department, which decided to turn the radio show into television production with Lucille Ball in the lead. The show was later renamed “I Love Lucy.”
Though Lucy got exceptional fame and a name through a CBS TV show, her pursuit of becoming a serious actor never ended. Many creative people have the opinion that a comic character has to act funny, silly, or dumb to make people laugh. This in itself is a stupid notion until and unless an actor is doing slapstick comedy. When a screenwriter writes a character, he or she makes the character believe that he or she is the hero of their world.
The majority of the creative differences that happened in Being the Ricardos during the shoot of Episode no. 204 followed this similar conflict. The writers and executive producers wanted to portray Lucy Ricardo as a dumb comic character, but Lucille Ball rejected the notion. Lucy fought for her character’s dignity because that was all she had, but in the end, she gave up. She gave up because Lucy lost her home at the end of Being the Ricardos. And when she lost the only thing she cherished in life, Lucy lost her artistic conviction too.
Many people believe that an actor is narcissistic. But I personally feel narcissism is their defense mechanism. And when an artist is defending himself/herself, they tend to harm people around them. When Lucy got pregnant with the second child, she thought people would notice her co-star, Vivian Vance (who played Ethel), more. Hence, she tried to sabotage her dieting routines.
On the other hand, Vivian wanted to look beautiful. Her character, Ethel, was married to an older man because of a joke that implied she wasn’t attractive enough. Bringing it up again, every villain thinks he is a hero in his own mind. Thus, at times, an actor ends up taking an insult to his character, very personally. What Lucy went through when Koerner fired her based on her looks and age, Vivian felt the same in Being the Ricardos. In the end, Lucy realized her flaw and made amends.
‘Being the Ricardos’ Ending Explained – Why Did Lucy Freeze during the shoot of Episode no. 204?
When Lucille Ball met Desi Arnaz, she told him that her ambition in life was to live in a “home.” As “Being the Ricardos” began, Lucy suspected Desi of cheating on her. The suspicion traumatized her throughout the entire scary week, which I feel was the most crucial conflict in the film.
For Lucy, acting in films was always secondary. And being close to her family, under the same roof one calls home, was all-important. Desi, on the other hand, was ambitious and yearned for success. His 1943 film, Bataan, got him some recognition, but he had to leave the limelight to fight in World War II. After his return, he failed to get even the minor parts that Lucy was getting. Desi was falling apart, and Lucy could see its repercussions on her marriage. Hence, when CBS decided to turn “My Favorite Husband” into a television show, Lucy fought for the husband’s role and demanded that Desi should be cast in it.
Lucy’s reason for acting or creating “I Love Lucy” was as clear as crystal. She wanted to stay close to Desi. She even told Vivian and William that she wished that the construction department had built a tiny apartment on the set where they would have lived most of the time.
However, as the rumors of Desi’s adultery came to light, Lucy started picking up clues. William thought Desi was missing a sense of belonging on the show. Hence, he suggested to Lucy that if Desi gets more recognition and credits on set, then he probably won’t distance himself from her. To save her marriage, Lucy asked Jess Oppenheimer to share his EP credits with Desi, but the idea didn’t work out.
The tragedy hit Lucy when one night, during the scary week, she found a handkerchief smeared with lipstick in Desi’s pocket. This revelation broke Lucy’s heart. In the end, she confronted Desi and revealed the two handkerchiefs, one of which belonged to Lucy, while the other belonged to another woman. Desi was in a fix. He was caught, and thus he confessed to Lucy that he had slept with other women.
During the show, the team first shot Lucy’s version of the opening sequence. Desi used the dialogue “Lucy, I’m home” during his entrance. Lucy was frozen in the scene because the home didn’t exist. It had collapsed. Inevitably, the team had to reshoot the scene, and the original version (written by Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr.) was aired in the end.
Even though the birth of Lucy’s second child, Little Rick, became one of the most-watched episodes of the show, it failed to save Lucy’s marriage with Desi. On March 3, 1960, 8 years after the scary week, Lucy filed for a divorce after their final performance together. In the end, the couple got separated.
Being the Ricardos is a 2021 Biopic Drama film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin.