UNITED STATES

Jamestown, NY

Museum Shows Hometown Still Loves Lucy

Scene from the Lucille Ball Museum in Jamestown, New York

Visitors to the Lucille Ball museum can recreate the famous scene from I Love Lucy where the star tries to make a commercial for the tonic Vitameatavegamin.
MITCHELL SMYTH/Meridian Writers’ Group

“VITAMEATAVEGAMIN.” The word brings an instant smile to people of a certain age, the people who grew up with I Love Lucy on television, either in first-run or in the endless repeats. They smile again when they reach the Vitameatavegamin table in the museum here in star Lucille Ball’s hometown, an hour’s drive southwest of Buffalo.

They remember the famous episode in the long-running sitcom, where Lucy tries to make a commercial for the titular tonic, not realizing that it contains alcohol, and gets more soused by the minute. Visitors are encouraged to “remake” the commercial, aided by a teleprompter.

Yes, Jamestown loves Lucy, the girl from Stewart Avenue who conquered Hollywood and the hearts of TV viewers with her shows—variously called I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy—from 1951 to 1974. “They’re still being screened in reruns, somewhere in the world, every day, dubbed into something like 20 languages,’’ a guide tells visitors.

The museum is called the Ball-Arnaz Center. (Desi Arnaz was Ball’s husband and her co-star in I Love Lucy. They later divorced.) It has three components. The main one is the Desilu Playhouse, which is devoted to the various television series. Included are costumes, memorabilia, exact replicas of a couple of the sets and, of course, the Vitametavegamin table.

The second component is the Lucy-Desi Museum, which covers the personal lives of the couple and reminds us that Lucille Ball was anything but the scatter-brained redhead she played on screen. In fact, she was a shrewd businesswoman, the first woman to head a major Hollywood studio (Desilu). Visitors learn how Ball, from an Irish-Scottish-French family, left Jamestown at 15 to make it in show business. It was a long haul: the Broadway chorus line, Chesterfield cigarette advertisements, and 68 B-movies before she became a radio star with My Favorite Husband. This came to TV in 1951 as I Love Lucy.

Exhibits on bandleader and actor Arnaz tell how he and his family fled Cuba when Fulgensio Batista seized power in 1934, and how he and Lucy met and fell in love on the set of the movie Too Many Girls in 1940. They wed the next year; the marriage lasted until 1960.

And finally, the Lucy-Desi Gift Shop is everything you’d expect, crammed with every conceivable Bell-Arnaz doodad: faux Vitameatavegamin tonic bottles, a dozen biographies and picture books, DVDs, magnets, t-shirts, shot glasses, board games...

At the museum you can pick up a map for a self-guided tour of other Lucille Ball sites, such as the Stewart Avenue house where she was born and the family plot in the cemetery on Lakeview Avenue.

Every year, on the first weekend in August, Jamestown stages the Lucy Birthday Celebration. (She was born on August 6, 1911.) There are parades, street performances, trivia contests, movie screenings and much more.

 

ACCESS

For more information on the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center visit its website at www.lucy-desi.com.

For information on travel in New York State visit the New York State Tourism website at www.iloveny.com.