“I learned so much from my mother,” says Arnaz on the phone from her home in New York. “Not just about show business and how to survive in it, but about what really matters in the way you live your life.”
"My mother was a clown, and she could turn funny, brilliantly funny written things into magic...But she didn't think funny," Lucie Arnaz said.
The Ball centennial has suddenly brought out all kinds of long-hidden biographical material on the comedian, who died April 26, 1989, and Arnaz finds it fascinating.
“I just finished reading a bunch of letters from Marian van Black, her best girlfriend in Jamestown, N.Y. They were school chums and later modeling chums. She sent her over a hundred letters and Marian saved all of them.
“My mother was way more metaphysical than I ever thought she was. She kept saying, ‘I stop all day long to say I am so grateful for my life and my career.’ She seemed so happy in those letters. I didn’t see that woman. Too many years of the business.”
But don’t think Arnaz is one of these celebrity children who wallow in angst and point fingers at their parents for what went wrong.
Even though the Lucy-Desi marriage ended very publicly and painfully at the height of their fame, Arnaz won’t paint the past in shades of grey.
“It was a fabulous romance and a fabulous marriage that was destroyed by many things. The stress of success. My father’s wayward eye.” She laughs. “My father was Latin and had a lot of ladies on the side. They can be so charming these Latin men. Dad would come home and say, ‘Lucy, what’s the problem? They mean nothing. You know I love you the best.’
“And so my mother learned to live with it. That is, until it got into the papers too often.”
Another problem was her father’s drinking, but Arnaz says that only became an issue later on in the marriage.
“All Cubans drink and they can hold their liquor like crazy, until they suddenly cross a line when it’s too late to do anything about it.
“A lot of people thought my father drank because of trouble with my mother, or career pressures, but I think it was because of his own mother. He took very good care of her and she didn’t give anything back to him. It made him very unhappy.”
Arnaz appeared on one of Ball’s later TV series, Here’s Lucy, but during her summer hiatuses, took the advice of her mother’s former sidekick, Vivian Vance, and began a theatre career that she’s succeeded in all her life, most notably opposite Robert Klein in the original production of Neil Simon’s They’re Playing Our Song.
“You get your own career together and then you get your own life together and before you know it, you’re raising your own children. Was I as close to Lucy as I am to my own daughter? No. The times were different then. You’ve got to start early and get in the habit of opening up to each other. I have and I’m happy I did.”
But finally, why does Arnaz think the memory of her mother and I Love Lucy have such an enduring legacy?
“She left behind laughter. Why is a funny show something that people remember 60 years later and want to talk about? Because it was also about unconditional love.
“You can get into all the trouble you want but at the end of the day, someone is going to give you a hug and say, ‘That’s alright, I love you anyway.’”