The 'L.A. at Last!' Episode of I Love Lucy


Lucille Ball and William Holden in the "L.A. at Last!" episode of I Love Lucy.

This article is part of The Third Golden Boy Blogathon: A William Holden Centenary Celebration hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema, The Flapper Dame, and Love Letters to Old Hollywood.

The classic TV series I Love Lucy featured a bevy of old Hollywood stars in its landmark fourth season. Leading man and all-around dreamboat William Holden appeared in the memorable 17th episode "L.A. at Last!," which features two of the funniest moments in TV history.

When "L.A. at Last!" begins, bandleader Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz), his wife, Lucy (Lucille Ball), and pals Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) have just arrived in Hollywood, where Ricky is going to star in a musical version of Don Juan. While Ricky gets to work at the studio, Lucy, Fred, and Ethel decide to go star-hunting at the famed The Brown Derby restaurant when, much to their excitement, William Holden sets down in the booth next to them. Lucy's gawking soon gets on Holden's nerves, so he decides to turn the tables with hilarious results. Later, Ricky, who doesn't know about the embarrassing incident at the restaurant, brings Holden home to meet Lucy, who dons an elaborate disguise in the hopes that the movie star won't recognize her.


By its third season, I Love Lucy was a TV and cultural juggernaut, but writers Bob Carroll, Jr., Jess Oppenheimer, and Madelyn Pugh were having difficulties coming up with fresh material based on the domestic situations that were the show's bread and butter. Also, a two-episode guest stint in season three by singer and TV host Tennessee Ernie Ford was a ratings winner (Ford would return for season four episode "Tennessee Bound"), and CBS executives were pressuring I Love Lucy's producers to have more high-profile guest stars on the series. The runaway success of the comedy film The Long, Long Trailer (1954), in which Ball and Arnaz played characters very similar to the Ricardos, also made it seem natural that Ricky would one day go to Hollywood to make a movie.

With that in mind, the writers decided to move I Love Lucy to Hollywood for the second half of the fourth season with the first celebrity guest star being Holden. The actor, who was then one of the biggest box-office draws in Hollywood, agreed to take on the part for free -- he and Ball were old pals who starred together in the 1949 romantic comedy Miss Grant Takes Richmond -- but Paramount Pictures did insist that the actor promote his new film The Country Girl (1954) during the episode (I've often wondered how effective those promos were amidst all the hilarity, but, it certainly didn't hurt anything: Holden's costar Grace Kelly won a surprise Academy Award for her performance in The Country Girl a little over a month after "L.A. at Last!" aired. BTW, you can read my review of The Country Girl here).

Director Bill Asher, Lucille Ball, and William Holden on the set of I Love Lucy.
The episode was an immediate sensation with congratulatory telegrams flooding in to Desilu studios, including one from silent star Colleen Moore, according to The "I Love Lucy" Book by Bart Andrews. "Your program last night was the funniest I have ever seen anyplace, anywhere, and your scene with the putty nose should go down in history," Moore opined. In fact, "L.A. at Last" would become something of a touchstone for the series with later guest stars often referring to what "Bill Holden" told them about Lucy Ricardo's antics.

Although Ball and the writing team were the comic geniuses behind "L.A. at Last!," Holden certainly deserves a lot of credit for the episode's legendary status. First of all, it takes a special kind of person to gamely submit to being splattered with applesauce pie (explanation below), but his guest-starring turn also has to be considered as one of the great straight-man performances in TV history. It says a great deal about Holden's often underrated acting skills that he withstands probably THE funniest performance in TV history without ever breaking character; only a really, really good actor and true professional could have gone through those two scenes without collapsing into helpless laughter. Incidentally, Holden was often recognized in later years for his guest appearance on I Love Lucy, especially when he was overseas, according to The "I Love Lucy" book.

Here's some more information about "L.A. at Last!"

The Brown Derby


Lucy, Fred, and Ethel's celebrity-spotting site was the legendary Hollywood watering hole The Brown Derby (there were several locations in the L.A. area, but the North Vine Street restaurant is depicted in the show). The eatery was near the Hollywood studios, and it attracted a starry clientele through the years because of its homemade comfort food, clubby atmosphere, and table-side phone service.
The spaghetti and meatballs that Lucy orders were on the menu in 1954, but the restaurant's signature dish was the Cobb salad, which is what Holden orders. The Brown Derby's best-known dessert was grapefruit cake, but the pastry that splattered Holden was a specially designed pie made of applesauce and whipped cream.

Eve Arden


The beloved character actor Eve Arden was filming the sitcom Our Miss Brooks on the soundstage next to I Love Lucy when producers asked her to pop over for a cameo scene in "L.A. at Last!"

Lucy's Nose

Lucille Ball has her prosthetic nose adjusted for the "L.A. at Last!" episode of I Love Lucy.
I Love Lucy makeup artist Hal King designed Lucy's fake proboscis out of cement, plastic, and putty, and he fashioned a wick at the end so it would catch on fire when Holden attempts to light Lucy's cigarette. Ball was understandably nervous that her real nose would catch on fire, but, ever the trooper, when the night of filming came she pulled it off without a hitch and even ad-libbed the hilarious moment when Lucy dips her nose in a cup of coffee.







Comments

  1. Hahah I love the gif at the end! This is my favourite I Love Lucy episode! William Holden was so hilarious as...himself! Your post was entertaning but aslo very informative! I had forgotten about Eve Arden Cameo! Thanks so much for this great contribution to our blogathon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for hosting! It was a lot of fun to write this article.

      Delete
  2. I love the whole Lucy series, but this episode is one of my favorites! It never fails to make me laugh. I don't know how Holden avoided breaking out in laughter while filming with Lucy. It's also nice to know that there are loyal people in Hollywood who remain friends long after their initial meeting, much like Lucy and Bill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It speaks very highly of Bill that he appeared for free and didn't pull any "I'm a big movie star" stunts while making the episode.

      Delete
  3. "Well, maybe at sundown they all gather at the same watering hole."

    Colleen Moore was certainly right about the episode and Lucy's performance going down in history. I can't even think about it without starting to laugh.

    You are so right about William Holden - how he managed to keep it together is a most admirable feat. Bravo!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There were Brown Derby restaurants in Ohio when I was a kid, and I used to think it was so fancy to go there. I had seen L.A. at Last and I thought that's where all the movie stars went.

      Delete
  4. I finally got to see this ep a few years ago and I realized we are Lucille Ball- and Lucy represents all of us in this situation- as wouldnt we all have the same reaction if we kissed Bill? Its too bad celebs dont do guest stints like this anymore- whatever happened to the days where "Guest star" actually meant something? Thank YOU so much for sharing your Love of Bill Holden with us!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. I would have acted as silly as Lucy if I ever saw Bill Holden let alone kissed him.

      Delete
  5. I love this episode of "I Love Lucy." I believe it is the first episode of the show that I ever saw and the one that got me hooked on not only "I Love Lucy," but Nick-at-Nite.

    These are my favorite parts of that episode:

    1) Lucy and Ethel see multiple stars (offscreen) at the Brown Derby: Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and Walter Pidgeon. Fred razzes them until Ava Gardner is called to the phone. "Where?!" "Where?!" he asks while desperately trying to find her.

    2) At The Brown Derby when Lucy takes a huge bite of spaghetti and can't bite through all the pasta. It's Ethel to the rescue with her manicuring scissors!

    3) When Lucy trips the waiter and pie ends up all over William Holden--he sits there, motionless. Lucy stands there, gawking. Ethel and Fred have to pull her out of the restaurant.

    4) The look on William Holden and Desi Arnaz' faces when Lucy turns around after "fixing" her nose. This is hands down the funniest part of the entire episode.

    5) "I kissed Bill Holden!"

    I also love in the "Lucy Visits Graumans" episode (aka Part 1 of the 2-part John Wayne episode arc) when Lucy and Ethel are trying to hide John Wayne's loose block. Ethel is sitting on the ground. Another pair of tourists are also looking for John Wayne's block.

    MAN to ETHEL: Pardon me, are you sitting on John Wayne?

    LUCY: She's sitting on Bill Holden. She's president of the Bill Holden Fan Club. Once a year she comes here to sit on his signature.

    Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for mentioning The Grauman's episode. That's another one of my favorites from the Hollywood episodes.

      Delete
  6. LOVE this episode! Holden is fabulous and I enjoyed all of the behind-the-scenes tidbits. Honestly, I think Holden might have been the best guest star the show ever had. (Except maybe Edward Everett Horton. His episode "Lucy Plays Cupid" rates high in my book.)

    Thanks for bringing this quintessential TV episode to our blogathon!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment