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Lucille Ball tapes debut as Sirius XM podcast

By Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times
Published: August 5, 2021, 6:00am

In 1964, Lucille Ball was starring in her second hit CBS sitcom, “The Lucy Show,” while serving as chief executive of Desilu, one of the largest independent TV production companies in Hollywood at the time.

But the comic actress, whose legacy was already solidified by the wildly popular “I Love Lucy,” still found time to do a daily 10-minute radio program for the CBS radio network called “Let’s Talk to Lucy.” Using her own portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, Ball sat and chatted with the biggest stars in show business at the time, many of whom were her friends.

Starting Thursday, all 240 episodes of “Let’s Talk to Lucy” will be heard on a SiriusXM satellite radio “pop-up” channel, the first time they have been publicly available since airing on the radio. After a limited three-week run, the shows will be presented as podcasts that can be downloaded or streamed through the SXM App, Stitcher, Pandora and other platforms.

The cache of shows features conversations with major stars of the era, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Mary Tyler Moore, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Barbra Streisand, and behind-the-scenes figures such as costume designer Edith Head and makeup artist Hal King.

The unearthed programs are the latest iteration in a Lucy renaissance that has bubbled up in recent years. Aaron Sorkin is directing “Being the Ricardos,” a feature depicting a week in the life of Ball and Cuban bandleader husband, Desi Arnaz, when “I Love Lucy” was the most-watched show in prime time during the 1950s. The film stars Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem.

Imagine Documentaries and White Horse Pictures has an upcoming documentary about Ball and Arnaz directed by Amy Poehler. It looks at the couple’s personal and professional relationship. Both films are being made with the cooperation of Ball’s estate.

There is plenty to explore. “I Love Lucy” revolutionized TV by being the first sitcom filmed with three cameras in front of a live audience. Its success enabled Arnaz and Ball to launch their own studio that turned out such network hits as “The Untouchables,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek.”

The “Let’s Talk to Lucy” tapes surfaced during research for the documentary, according to Ball’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz. In between her own stage and concert performances, Arnaz has managed the voluminous archives of her mother and father since their deaths more than 30 years ago, digging through garages, basements and storage facilities on both coasts.

“It’s been my nemesis and the greatest joy of my life for 30 some years,” Arnaz said in a telephone interview from her Palm Springs, Calif., home.

Arnaz recalls her mother taping the “Let’s Talk to Lucy” interviews in a room on the Desilu lot that is now part of Paramount Studios in Hollywood. At times, Ball would haul the bulky tape machine to meet a celebrity off-site. The conversations went beyond show business commiserating.

“She asks them about life in general, or ‘If you could be anyone in the history of the world, who would you want to be?’” Arnaz said.

The tapes were never lost. But until recently, Arnaz never thought there would be a market for them. This time around, she called her parents’ longtime attorney, Dixon Dern, for advice. Dern connected her with Judy Pastore at Spotted Dog Entertainment, who recognized how “Let’s Talk to Lucy” could reach a new audience through streaming and podcasting.

The program was quickly snapped up by SiriusXM, which will present them on Channel 104 before making them available in podcast form. Along with the original episodes that aired on CBS for a year, contemporary celebrities including Poehler, Tiffany Haddish, Debra Messing, Rosie O’Donnell and Ron Howard will be heard in new segments answering actual questions asked by Ball on the program.

Ball is one of the few stars who crosses generational boundaries, as “I Love Lucy” continues to find audiences on streaming platforms such as Paramount+, Hulu and Amazon. The series was a major hit in broadcast syndication and cable for decades after its six-year run on CBS.

Arnaz has her own theory on the enduring popularity of her parents’ creation.

“It’s not just funny,” she said. “It’s so full of unconditional love. When we turn it on, we can laugh, but at the end, we also feel like it’s OK to screw up and somebody is going to still love you anyway. ”