Transcript:

Interviewer: And I want these. So we're here today to talk about Lucille Ball. And you had a wonderful position of being her director.

Bill Asher: Exactly.

Interviewer: Had a very interesting time of television, early life. Three camera in front of us, live audience television. What's a little bit about what was exciting about shooting in front of a live audience, whether you stopped and started or whether you wanted to run it without any mistakes?

Bill Asher: Yeah, well, what we did was I wasn't sure I was familiar with the three camera and audience because I didn't love television, which everybody had. And it was three camera the. The cast is a scene from there. And they were all comfortable as far as stopping and starting. We didn't stop. We had to stop for big changes and so on. But other than that, we didn't stop. I mean, I I'd talk to them and I said, we're doing theater here. If you get in a jam, get out of it and you can and. And they did. And we did this show and, oh, baby. Fifteen or twenty minutes longer than that. Than the actual. And that we were. Well, of for the only show doing that, so. Input.

Interviewer: All right. It must have been from a director's point of view. Very exciting and also very nerve racking to do a show like with three cameras at the same time. Do you tell me a little bit about your feelings when it came time for Showtime?

Bill Asher: Well, I was ready to throw up. It was nerve wracking. And. But once the show started, I was so into it that it didn't bother me. I just went for it. I looked for mistakes, I looked for, you know, anything that might be wrong. We had the I mean, my experience had been a lot of live television, which was really long and hard live audience. And that was a little more nerve wracking. It was. That was scary. But.

Interviewer: Well, tell us about your very first day of directing Miss Ball. You're coming in and you're not known to her, I guess, at that point. Mark Daniels is gone now. It's the second season. And I want to know if she was easy on you or if she gave you a hard time. And you can start the sentence by saying the very first day I came to work on the show.

Bill Asher: Well, the very first day was very good. Went very well. I was nervous, you know, and she was. And as comics or comedians, as they're very, very self-conscious and I don't blame them, they're taking direction from somebody who is not going to be on the film. And so that was I understood that. And it went very well. We had no trouble. It was on the second show. That I had trouble. We she was telling. Giving directions to the cars. And. Telling people where to go and do it. Vine's. The map backstage and I get everybody together for runs through Unsane, and they were doing different things, which I couldn't understand. And I asked them about it. They didn't know what to say or nervous was. And finally, Lucy said, well, I gave some suggestions and I. Said Lucy. This can only be one director, and that said. And you want to direct it, you direct it. I mean, why pay me? Yourself and you? Go ahead and take over. And she broke into tears and ran off the stage and everybody disappeared. I'm standing there myself wondering what was going to happen. Jesse wasn't in the scene. He was in the office. And I had I was only the second show and I had no office. I was that's why I don't know where they hope to go. So I went to the men's room and I sat there and I shook and I thought, God, what stupidity? I mean, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. I hadn't done. Very many things. And although I had done the Varden show just before that and I. I finally waited as long as I could. And I went back on the stage and that's who was there. And in his as only deaths he could do. He started yelling at me in Spanish and English and I could understand what the hell he was saying. Does the. Let me tell you what happened. Which is what you want to know. And. I told him it was, as Lucy is directing stunt people what to do. And if that's the way it's going to be, it's going to be with me because I just can't. Just not the way to work. And he said, you're absolutely right. You go back. In Lucy's dressing room, she's there, she's crying and talk to her and smiles. So I went to Liz and I told her I was sorry, but. It's got to be that way if you're inclined. Do it the way I. It won't work. And she said, oh, no, I didn't mean it. I was. And what it was, is she was insecure. She didn't know me. She I don't know if she was just insecure. And wanted to do things and so. But after that, we never had a problem. I mean, she had many suggestions and some good, some bad. And the. I think she did after we had the reading and discussion and changes, so on, which was started the day. We'd start staging the show, and she'd come in, sat in the middle of the set and say, OK, now what do I do? She knows what to do. Sizably. Started the plays, phone rings, Cresson phone, and he did blah, blah, or whatever it was, and he'd say, Oh hi. And she started every show that way. She was. She wanted to know, I guess I knew what I was doing if I had planned, I was ready to. Two to work. And that was that was in the wee wee. And that's the only thing that annoyed me a little bit. And. But it became it was fun. She. That was her way of doing it.

Interviewer: You're not the first person who has described the offscreen woman as insecure and not always kind in her remarks. Do you have any sense from her past, her background, her family, where these feelings of insecurity might have come from?

Bill Asher: No, I think it's all comedians in comics. Earns a cure. They're all that way. I've worked with so many and they're all that way. And it's understandable. You know, you rise and fall on a line. Or a few lines all the way through the show. And if it doesn't work, I mean, you do ya. Furnival's people and. The unlike dramatic things were somebody has got cancer and some dramatic thing. People aren't really looking at the terms of every line and but in comedy, that's what you're doing. As they say. Come on. Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. And that's true. Very difficult.

Interviewer: And why do you think she was so incredibly good at what she did?

Bill Asher: She was a natural clown. She was a she was. Something of her own. I don't know who to compare her to. She was a very good dramatic actress. She was a very good comic. She was a very good clown. And should try anything. I mean, some of the stuff that we wrote for her was. Three. Pretty hard to take off the page, it read ridiculous. So what she did on the occasion is where we had difficult stuff. She would ask me to work with her at night so she would not be embarrassed for the crew and we did that. And it worked well. She asked to do something. I forget what it was, but she said I was married to actress and she said, Bill, would you ask your wife to do this? And I said, I'm not married to Lucille Ball. And she. Kind of thought that was amusing and tender around, and it did it very well.

Interviewer: All right. I want you to take a fake moments in your career with Lucille Ball, and the first one is the week before you shot the girls go into business. This is the first episode of the second season. Or is it the third season? Sister Candy is the third third season. Sorry. This is the week that Walter Winchell came on the radio and told America that the top comedian in television was a communist.

Bill Asher: Oh.

Interviewer: So tell us about that week and the strain that Lucy was under and the fears that you all had about the show that Friday night.

Bill Asher: Well, that particular week was memorable. We were shocked to get this report that Winchell had said, those are the headlines of all papers. And we didn't know what to do. Dessy, it was on a Thursday, I think. That's he tried. He called the network and couldn't get. Couldn't get anybody called Thursday and Friday. He and. Nobody was around. And we looked at all of the possibilities. I mean, the nuts there are around who would be apt to do anything. We're in on that. That was real. That was the real concern. I mean, there was no concern about her being a communist, and that was ridiculous. I mean, it was true. She had signed on. Oh. Years before and. That that that that it was that part of it was just silly. The dangerous thing was what would happen with an audience. We really didn't know. We had no way of knowing. So we put decided to do this show. We were going to do it. And we decided we'd go ahead. And then the. Before the show started, what we did, we put some guards on the door and I think we. The first people came in and. Everybody was settled. Seated there. He came out. And he said this, as you all know, but. Lucy being called communist and nothing. Read about Lucy except your hair, which is fake. And they laughed and it just seemed to relax everybody. And when? The show started. Lucy came out. She said she started the show. She came out and her. Well. She was scared to death. But anyway, she came out. Big smile on her face over the storyline was, I forget, but the crowd just roared with approval and she could get she couldn't seem to get started. They would wouldn't wanna stop the their applause and so on. And finally, they did. And she went back. And started again. And there was still a little bit, but as a. And we went out and we just did the show and it was uneventful. I think we got more laughs. Bear laughs and. No more enthusiasm in the audience. I think they really wanted to respond. And that was the sum total of it.

Interviewer: Now, I'm going to take you to the pregnancy episode where she's trying all day to tell Ricky that she's going to have a baby. And finally she finds herself at the club and he gets a note that says somebody in the audience is going to have a baby and he's going around trying to figure out who it is. And this moment where they come together were.

Bill Asher: Well, what happened was she was pregnant, which is a story in itself. We weren't at that time allowed to use the word pregnant on the show, and we didn't know what to do about that, we couldn't figure how harder. Talk about that, saying it. And finally came up with the sun, which is Spanish and the.

Interviewer: Right. Right. The moment that we're going to use in our film is where Ricky kind of figures out that it's actually Lucy and both of them become very emotional. And it looks like even they're crying. Yeah. And tell us about how you felt about that at the time and how the audience responded.

Bill Asher: Well, by that time, I was kind of used to it. We rehearsed. And, you know, the four days and the when she came out, she'd been trying to tell him all through the show and something would come up or you misunderstand. And she couldn't seem to tell him. So she came down at the club and she sat there in the chair. And. He was singing the song or having a baby. And going around the audience. And then someone sort of a note. Well, which was Lucy? Ask for that song. And he went around the audience and came to her and. She said yes. And he didn't pick up on it, and then he went to the next table and started to. Next table, and it hit him and he came back to her and said, we really do. And she said yes. And there was it was very emotional. They got up. They danced. And he sang a song to her. And it was terribly emotional. It really was. The audience was. Just. Interrogators. Love, tears and humor.

Interviewer: And were you concerned that it might be too sad and that you wanted to do a second take?

Bill Asher: There was talk of a second take and I said absolutely not. I said this was so perfect in every way, even if there were little glitches. It didn't matter because it just wouldn't be right to do it again. It wouldn't be as good. We should just go with what we had and. And that was the decision we made.

Interviewer: Now, is it true that you had to take these scripts to a rabbi, a priest and a minister? Can you tell us why?

Bill Asher: Well, function was well, we were for instance, they couldn't sleep in one bed, so we had twin beds and there were many things we couldn't say, like pregnant, because what they were now, but. There was a lot of censorship. And things, and we went to, as you say, a rabbi and a priest and. Anyway, we would do did go to them and ask them. About the beds. And this was after the pregnancy. And they all as these first places, people are married. And they knew that. And we had a discussion with them and they were as puzzled as we were. And they got together and went to the network with Dessy, and they. The network accepted their decision and we were a lot of things loosened up. I say a lot of things.

Interviewer: I want to take you forward now after they divorced. She continues with the Lucy show. And I believe you come back and direct some of those later episodes. How did you find her once Dessy was gone? Do you feel she was changed?

Bill Asher: No, I didn't do those.

Interviewer: I think your name is on someone.

Bill Asher: No, I. What I did was I left and did a couple of pictures. In the fifth season, I guess, and I kind of had it, I was just tired of it and came back last year. And they're still married. And that was I did the last season, and that was. For me, but I didn't do any of the shows without Dessy. I know. How she felt, how she acted and which was. It was very strange. She really took over with I'm gone. This is gone. Nobody's around. And she just took over and she became very difficult to work with. She was. She. How to put it? She was, she was. It's gonna mean. And wouldn't be. Contradicted. And did all of staging an. All of the. Dialogue and. They had a hard time with directors. But. Maura, you stayed on and he was the only one mory. She became very friendly with more and more. It was you know, he had a great sense of humour and he didn't take part in any kind of. Decision on her part at all? She was huge. Just say she's wonderful. And be funny. It was very funny guy. And how is that? That was about it. And, uh. She. There were other things, too. It is very difficult issue is. This. Unpleasant rule, the crew was a mess. I was in on those shows. I didn't get any. The only information that I got and how I know this is the directors would call me and say, how did I handle her? And I'd I'd say, I don't know what you mean. She was wonderful. I never had any trouble with her and then realize that that's not there. I'm not there. And she became kinda mean. Took over the. You said you had one. One more question.

Interviewer: Yeah. I think I would just like to ask you to describe their Dessy and Lucie's relationship, sort of what was good about it and what worked about as well as obviously on some level it didn't work because it didn't last. Can you just tell us from your perspective how you saw them as a couple?

Bill Asher: Well, they. I think there's no question that they were a. Their love affair was very deep and they cared for each other. You know, before the show started, they had separated and then went back again and they. After they came back, it evolved around us, they did the Lucy show. They would be. Perfectly wonderful on the stage. Enjoying the show. Matter of fact, on this stage all the time, they were loving and caring as you could as you could want the when things got a little. Tougher. The last couple years. As there were two things on this show that she was drinking and he was involved in very, very Duff's business was buying kale. And it's a matter of fact, when there was a period of time when he was really involved in the buying of kale. And I would do his part. I would in the rehearsals I would stage. Lose, see? And when? He was. For me, he come over and look at it and step in. No. He had an amazing memory. You're an amazing guy. He was the reason for. He was she was the great comic. And she was all those things. But he was the reason for Lucy. He was the. His sense of values, terms, the scripts, everything. He was get into it. We'd have our readings. Nobody would see the script until Monday morning when we read and then we discuss it and get into it. And he he was right. We made a lot of changes and he was generally right. Good business. He. Would well, things like RKO put that whole deal together. It was smart from the time that I came on the show. He was I knew immediately that he was the one. And the whole here range is the whole I love the concept to work doing it on film. And. In front of an audience and so on. But what happened was the sponsors wanted the show in New York because the one that covered more of the country. The rest the country got. I forget where the cutoff was with. Got the tapes. And they just with those kinescopes were not good. And he didn't want to do that. And they almost didn't do the show. And when he said, Mom, what is wrong with doing it on film? Or so we'll always look good. And they nobody had thought of that. And he described the audience and three cameras, which wasn't new in live television, had been around for a long time. And now there are multiple camera and audience comedies. Dramas is all kinds. And. But anyway, he was credited to credited with this new concept. And actually that was true. Never been done on film. But. Which was different. But it was. Not that different, but he was a he had a thing about being the reference was always Lucy and Darcy. And about the time that he was buying RKO, it became became Desi and Lucy. And it seemed as if he had no where to go. He had. Had that to strive for. They didn't like it. Lucy does. And when it changed, it seemed he changed. He didn't. Drank more and. He became. He fooled around the women was. He was banned. Not a good boy at that time I was at. Okay, so I went over with him and had a. That phone bother?

Bill Asher: Yeah, we should pay a price.

Interviewer 2: You shouldn't be it might be the Farnsworth.

Bill Asher: Lucy was wonderful. It was a great experience. We everybody on the set got along great. Bill and Vivian were they were nagging each other. But in a comic way. And everybody kind of laughed at it and that they used to drive her crazy because she's she's really a perfectionist. And Bill, would we have the reading? And he would fill all the pages that he was on out of the script and vote up and stick it backwards. Back in. And that was that brought certain things like readings that were strange. Because of what had happened earlier now, and you'd have to staff him and say, look, Bill, what's happened is so-and-so and you have said this way and he's OK. And he does it. I used to drive her crazy. He would do that. But that's why he worked. And he. It was just a great guy. I loved him. Everybody did. I mean, it was. He doesn't like her and Vivian didn't really like him. It was. They go along with every great show and they did bicker on the show. And so that helped. And. It was. It was interesting, the See Lucy relationship was always highly professional and. Never in the years that I did the show. Never did they. Reveal any kind of. Negative feelings toward each other. And at. That wasn't necessarily the way it was. At home. But they would as long as they at the studio. They're fine. They live together. Mary. Until after the show and quite a bit after the show. But he at say he did shows of his own that were. I did shows for him. Did the Danny Thomas show? The December bride did. Several, several different shows. All four DLC, Lou. As Brooks was saying. But I did more than that. I just can't recall offhand what they were. And I would the schedule would be a be arranged by Jesse that I could do because I would do the pilot. And then the first 10 shows and we work it out so that I would work. We thought we'd split the week. We're. Half the week with Lucy and. The other half with the other show. And it worked fine. It was it would be hard to explain how exactly it worked, because mainly it had to do with when we needed the cameras and the cameras would come in on the third and fourth day and I'd have to work that out with the other show so that they come in fifth. I forget how we did it. But anyway, we we do work. And I did all those shows that way. And they were. It worked. It was.

Interviewer: It's interesting because Maury today was telling us and he may feel this even more than you. Then it was like being part of a family. Did you. I like that.

Bill Asher: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Does he live? Can you tell me that?

Bill Asher: Absolutely. It was like a family.

Interviewer: Quiet, please. I'm sorry. We had some background noise. Please. Again, it was.

Bill Asher: It was that. It was always a. It was. It was always a happy, sad. And it was like a family. There were. Quibbles. There were differences of opinion and there would be, but they were very light and very. Family like they were. And it was it was interesting. To see for. And the writers and Jess and myself and we all had this sort of camaraderie that was. Very, very effective and. Jill. I got. Kind of tired of this show that I think in the first year, fourth year, I got so I was. I just I have felt like I didn't want to come in. I was driving in from Malibu and I'd get to about Highland, which is a street that a couple of blocks later the studio is on and began looking for accidents, you know, minor broken leg or something. Any anything that might be there. But, uh, and that's when I took the fifth year of. And then came back into the sex, but it was all so. Finally in. If it went away after the show or that kind of camaraderie, even though Lucy. Here's Lucy and the other ones she had with the kids. They were unpleasant on the set. It wasn't friendly at all. Vivian, Gwen. Shouldn't the. Get the show with the kids and. It was. It changed. They really shouldn't have done those shows. They really shouldn't. But Lucy learned a word, and that was the only thing she could do. She was so used to it, so easy. So. And those shows the advise. I mean, the the absence of Dessy was always covered by Gail Gordon, who would be your boss and other people and should always be under that pressure. It was it was the same show. I mean, they used their scripts. And matter of fact, the writers sued collected for all the materials used. They just would use race spreads like they owned an. And. But by that, when I say that writers, I mean Jess Oppenheimer, he was the only one who didn't stay. And Bob and Madeleine and as I said, they would use our scripts and they would. Just sued and he won a lot of money. And. The. I thought when I looked it in the sand that the baby shower. I thought you were going to ask him about the birth of the baby. And that was I was a lot of fun. It really was the when she had the baby, when she came out and said, no, they rehearsed everything. The clothes were packed. Everything was organized. You do this, you do that, you know. Everything went well and they ran out. I left her. Chouest. And he said, look, you've got me, and death came rushing over and. He had that crazy African makeup on and. It was wild when he saw the baby. He passed out. Wow. And those were very happy days. The babies were born. And matter of fact, when the babies were born, she was pregnant. And this happened before. I worked as desis. Played this is part I would play her part when she got big and. I just rehearse it with somebody else. You know, I think I know and I know that three. That's it with me. And then she'd come in. Look. Step in it. And she had a remarkable memory to. She had there was only one instance. As a matter of fact, when we had to stop. Which we. Didn't do. Except for the changes saw the shoes in the middle of a scene sitting at the desk. And suddenly. She stopped. And she just stared. And I don't know what to think that she had a. Stroke or No one? Yes. And I'm cut and ran down and people had gathered around her and she's there's a lamp there. And she would always have in the script one line that she just couldn't seem to remember. And we'd put that line on a piece of furniture or on something that would be available in front of her, the scene. And we were the. And we tape and what had happened is the in the middle of the show, the middle of the show. But in the dress rehearsal, the prop. Bro. I think it was a lamb. And so we replaced it, we put it another way. And that. Why they didn't Getz's. I don't know. But that lamp line for a of 10, 15 shows ago. And she looked at it. And couldn't. It realize what word that came or what do I say this? And that's what stopped her. And we gave her the line and explained it to the audience and who enjoyed it. And. And then we went with the Shah. That was the only time we stopped the.

Interviewer: I may have to interrupt you, I heard some fluttering outside. So we're just going to have to take a look at that. And I'm also worried about the time daughter. And he was the wind a little bit. Yeah, I think we're in good shape. You.

Bill Asher: Where's that's sheet. There was you had the run derby on and now was the scene in which she went to the Bounder B and met Bill Holden. And when I say meet him, she made a terrible scene somehow. I forget where it was, but a whole plate of spaghetti fell on his head and his these and. I. She ran off and I don't know. But he didn't he didn't know who it was. Who? And Lucy Brown. I mean, that's he made the point where he left the house and he does he wasn't there yet. And she was scared to death. So she made a nose for herself. Sky real long. Pointillism knows and. It was a chance for Bill Hall, this comedy, to be acting strange looking person. And she took out a cigarette. And he. Live it in the lighting of a. At the end of her nose on fire shoes. Talking that this was going and then finally she felt it and. Knocked it off. And that was all those shows with Hollywood people were very good. The one with Harpo Marx.

Interviewer: Remember the one with dead.

Bill Asher: Yeah, he was.

Interviewer: We interviewed Van last week,.

Bill Asher: Did you?

Interviewer: It's called the Dancing Star, right down by the pool pretending to know them. And then she memories a van on that set.

Bill Asher: Yeah. Well, no, not even in this week of. But I remember how is that? He's got a very old. But yeah, I know. But I don't remember any specifics. The. Who are the other people we had on this show? We had several, but those were the two incidents. I think with most using and thing with Harbel Lucious. Brilliant. I don't know if you remember that, but she did. And then finally, surprise, move laughter. It was that was a good show. All the more. Some are better than others. But for the most part, the writing is good. The. And she was a very much part of the writing to you would get in there, make some big changes. And or suggest the writers were doing and they were good. He was right. Most of the time and, uh.

Bill Asher
Interview Date:
1999-11-20
Runtime:
1:00:04
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-x05x63bx0p, cpb-aacip-504-7659c6sk2d
MLA CITATIONS:
"Bill Asher, Lucille Ball: Finding Lucy." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 20 Nov. 1999, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/601
APA CITATIONS:
(1999, November 20). Bill Asher, Lucille Ball: Finding Lucy. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/601
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Bill Asher, Lucille Ball: Finding Lucy." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). November 20, 1999. Accessed May 22, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/601

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