Posts Tagged ‘American Icons’

For our next American Icon, Studio 360 is headed to Southfork Ranch…via Estonia!

After the premiere of nine new stories this fall, our second series of American Icons episodes is nearly complete.  There’s just one more show left to make – yours!  Throughout the broadcasts, we’ve been asking listeners to nominate their own Icons.  We got some great ideas, but none impressed us more than Laura Detre’s suggestion of the television series Dallas, which ran from 1979 – 1991 on CBS.

The original cast of Dallas.

Laura says Dallas presented an alluring, glamorous vision of capitalism that may have had an even larger impact abroad than here at home.  Especially in the old Eastern Bloc.

Movie still from "Disco and Atomic War" - courtesy of Icarus Films

How much impact could one American soap opera have?  A lot, according to Jaak Kilmi a film director who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in Tallinn, Estonia in the 1970s and 80s.  At one point during the Cold War, Tallinn began receiving Western television programs from a giant transmitter in nearby Finland.  Kilmi told us no television program was more loved or influential than Dallas:  “It was a substitute for a nice life that we didn’t have.  We wanted to believe that people live in skyscrapers and have beautiful cars.”

Jaak had even more to say about Dallas and the fall of Communism.  We’ll share that when our American Icons story is broadcast in the spring.  In the meantime, Jaak’s movie about American soft power in Soviet Estonia (including David Hasselhoff’s modest contribution)  is out now in limited release.  It’s called Disco and Atomic War, and it recently won Best Documentary prize at the Warsaw International Film Festival.

-Michael Guerriero

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This just in: Two-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis will play Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming biopic.

No doubt the English actor will hit it out of the park… But our heart belongs to David Strathairn, who played Lincoln throughout our American Icons episode about The Lincoln Memorial. His stately performance of the Gettysburg Address (engraved on the Memorial) is a sober, powerful end to the hour.

You can listen to the entire program below – Strathairn’s reading starts at 44:35.

The new movie is based on the book Team of Rivals by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was also part of our hour.

By the way, we found Stathairn such a compelling commander in chief, we recently asked him to play our 3rd president for this season’s Icon Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

– Jenny Lawton

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Edith Wharton in her early twenties. Credit: Bettman Corbis

So, it’s mid-autumn and if you’re done reading the it-novel of the fall of 2010 –Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, natch– how about cracking open the it-novel of the fall of 1905? Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.

It’s set in 1890s New York City society, and follows 29 year-old Lily Bart on her search for a husband while trying to keep her footing in the upper class. Lily has a very bumpy ride.  Don’t let the chick lit description scare you.  It’s a savage satire, a tragic romance, and a vivid snapshot of turn-of-the-20th-century America. It’s also the subject of our  latest episode in our series on American Icons where we ask: why, after 105 years, do readers still identify with Lily Bart?

Jonathan Franzen Credit: Greg Martin

For Jonathan Franzen The House of Mirth is a book that keeps inspiring him. Earlier this fall he told Kurt  he’s still in awe of Wharton and “how modern and how refreshingly unashamedly dark she is.”

Hear Franzen on Wharton here:

Listen to the American Icons feature on The House of Mirth here:

– Michele Siegel

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What do Lucille Ball and Malcolm X have in common?

They’re both part of Studio 360 American Icons series.  This fall, we’ve traced the impact of The Autobiography of Malcolm X on race relations and glimpsed the dawn of the American sitcom with I Love Lucy.  Last week we visited Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia – and in wandering the building and the grounds, confronted some lingering questions about the country and its founding.

Monticello (photo by Geoff Kilmer / Monticello)

Now we’re turning to you for a little “listener support.”  No, it’s not a pledge drive (though we encourage you to support your local station…).

Tell us what we’ve missed. We’ve produced nine new Icons — we want you to decide the tenth.  If your pick is selected, we’ll make a radio story about it — and you could be a guest on an episode of Studio 360.

We put out the call a few weeks ago, and our listeners have already come up with some surprising and impressive ideas. They range wide across America’s cultural landscape: from My Antonia and The Sound and the Fury to Bugs Bunny, from the Airstream Trailer to Apollo 11.  Daniel Leathersich, of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, suggested Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” because it’s a “quintessential song of the dreams of youth, the wonder of escape, and what people become from their memories.”

We need to hear from you.  Tell us your ideas…and listen for our tenth American Icon!

– Michael Guerriero

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On Monday, we started our Week of Lucy with a pop quiz. Here are the answers:

Question #1: Which was not in the contract for the cast members?

A. Desi Arnaz could only perform a song when it was deemed by the writers to be essential to the plot.

B. Bill Frawley was allowed to miss performances if the Yankees were in the World Series.

C. Vivian Vance’s weight had to exceed Lucille Ball’s by 10 to 15 pounds for the entire run.

D. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were given 100% ownership to the rights of I Love Lucy.

Answer: C


It has long been rumored that Lucille Ball contractually required Vivian Vance to weigh more than her, but it’s not true. In 1975, during an appearance on a daytime talk show, Vance poked a little fun at this persistent piece of gossip by reading from her supposed employment contract. This is a snippet of what she read:

  1. Party of the First Part [Vance] must promise to never dye her hair within five shades either way of the Party of the Second Part [Ball], also known as the lovable natural red head
  1. Party of the First Part must also agree to put on an additional five pounds per month for the next year and retain her rotundity.
  1. Party of the First Part must strive against all odds to never garner more laughs in any given situation w/in the structure of the Lucy show. There is, incidentally, a penalty if this occurs.


Question #2: Which notorious dictator had reels and reels of old I Love Lucys?

A. Pol Pot

B. Idi Amin

C. Kim Il-sung

D. Robert Mugabe

Answer: B

When fleeing Uganda, Idi Amin left behind his stash of several racing cars and loads of old film reels of I Love Lucy and “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.


Question #3: Upon seeing the I Love Lucy pilot, what cultural luminary said, “Keep the redhead. Ditch the Cuban. No one will understand him.”

A. Oscar Hammerstein

B. Truman Capote

C. Dorothy Parker

D. Carmen Miranda

Answer: A

Oscar Hammerstein was good friends with Milton Biow, the ad man who helped I Love Lucy find its sponsor, Philip Morris. When Biow explained that the Cuban came with the redhead as a package deal, Hammerstein said they shouldn’t let him sing. As a result, it went into the contract that any performance by Desi had to be essential to the plot. (As the show became a huge hit, Arnaz did as much singing as he pleased.)


Question #4: What did William Frawley not do on the set of I Love Lucy?

A. Pause rehearsals in order to place a bet on a horse race.

B. Rip out his pages from the script, so that he’d know his lines and nothing more.

C. Get in a fistfight with cameramen who he thought were shooting him at  unflattering angles.

D. Nap.

Answer: C

William Frawley played the curmudgeonly landlord Fred Mertz.  Frawley was an old vaudevillian, a gambler, and a drinker – a good time guy, not a particularly diligent worker, and certainly not worried about looking pretty for the camera. Sometimes, when Frawley would be napping on the set, Desi Arnaz would give him a “hot foot,” a kind of old timey prank when you set someone’s shoelaces on fire (watch out, Kurt). The writers of I Love Lucy knew that if they wrote too many lines of dialogue for him, Frawley would pull them aside and give them a talking to. Number one hit show be damned, he needed time to play the ponies.


Question #5: During the second season of I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball was pregnant, and so was her character on the show.  Which of the following is not true:

A. The word pregnant was never used during on the show.

B. The twin beds of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were pushed further apart.

C. A priest, a rabbi, and a minister vetted the scripts.

D. Philip Morris dropped sponsorship during the pregnancy.

Answer: D

Philip Morris did not drop its sponsorship during the episodes of I Love Lucy in which Lucy was pregnant. But Lucy Ricardo did cut back on her smoking while she was carrying.


Question #6: Who played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy?

A. Richard Keith

B. Keith Richards

C. Desi Arnaz Jr.

D. Keith Thibodeaux

Answer: A or D

Most people assume that Desi Arnaz Jr. played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, something that bothers Desi Jr. Little Ricky was actually played by Keith Thibodeaux, a child actor who could play the heck out of a conga drum. In the credits of I Love Lucy Thibodeaux is listed as either “Little Ricky” or “Richard Keith.” And at one time, he was even listed in an encyclopedia of TV as Keith Richards. (That’s a show we’d like to see.) Thibodeaux left acting and later co-founded Ballet Magnificat!, an arts organization “dedicated to presenting the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world.”


This weekend’s episode of “Studio 360” is dedicated to singing the praises of the latest American Icon in our series, I Love Lucylisten to the show HERE.

– Chloe Plaunt

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Lucille Ball knew however big the star, TV was a writer’s medium.  There was just no time for lots of takes to figure it out.  Every gesture, every glance, and every step was written into the script – and that’s the way Lucy wanted it.

Gregg Oppenheimer, the son of creator, producer, and head writer Jess Oppenheimer, reads a bit of the stage direction from the classic episode “Lucy is Enceinte.” (Which is French for what may happen if you don’t use birth control.)  Feel free to pantomime along:

We go behind the scenes of I Love Lucy this weekend – find out how to listen here.

– Chloe Plaunt and Stephen Reader

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Pity the television writer. If 30 Rock is to be believed (and why wouldn’t it be?), TV writers are creatures fueled by bad food and the always-looming deadline. Every week, a new show must be written and it must be funny…or funny enough.

For I Love Lucy, three to five people churned out a whopping 39 scripts a year.  How many didn’t make the cut?  Writer Bob Schiller said, “Nothing was ever wasted. It was like a slaughterhouse.”

Today’s sitcoms have large staffs and 22-episode seasons.  Still, there are good weeks and worse weeks, and then the week when the only idea around the table is to throw the female lead in a Lucy wig, and force the male lead to nationally broadcast his bad Cuban accent. Yes, it’s the I Love Lucy parody episode, where everything is black and white and stinks all over!

Our pick for worst I Love Lucy parody goes to Lois and Clark.  Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher seem to be locked in a battle for who can do the worst impression of this Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Ay-yay-yay!

But a not-so-distant Runner Up goes to “That 70’s Show“:

And Reba McIntire’s Southern-accented Lucy gets an Honorable Mention:

My TV, my abattoir.

This weekend’s episode of “Studio 360” delves into I Love Lucy without once doing our bad Cuban accent.  Or maybe just once.  Find out how to listen to the show here.

– Chloe Plaunt

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Producing our American Icons story on “This Land Is Your Land” allowed me to meet some great people.  As I trawled through Woody-land, I spoke with his daughter, Nora, and sang with his friend, Pete Seeger.  I also stumbled upon this cool project by the folk-rock band Akron/Family called “Woody Guthrie’s America.”

The band members asked a bunch of their friends and fans to create music for lyrics they wrote about Guthrie, and versions poured in from around the world.  My favorite is Jane Cramer’s simple, jazzy version, the only one to really nail that slightly awkward chorus line.

-Pejk Malinovski

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Long before US Weekly had us guessing if Angelina Jolie was pregnant, not pregnant, insane, evil, sainted … there was Confidential Magazine, a scandal rag big in the 1950s that was hell-bent on exposing Hollywood’s dirt.

In 1955, Desi Arnaz’s supposed philandering became front-page fodder for Confidential. Dartmouth Film and TV professor Mary Desjardins explores the less desirable side effect of being a celebrity couple.

This weekend’s episode of “Studio 360” takes a look at Desi, Lucy, and the costs of mixing the personal with the professional – find out how to listen here.

– Chloe Plaunt

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Mindy Kaling — writer, producer, and star of The Office — grew up thinking that I Love Lucy was “square … one of the many black and white things that people keep telling you is so great and then you watch it and you’re just sort of bored and annoyed by it.” Then her Office boss Greg Daniels ordered her to watch it. She came away with a changed mind and a pretty serious crush on Ricky Ricardo. And she wasn’t offended by jokes about his accent:

This weekend’s episode of “Studio 360” explores how a Cuban dreamboat and his American sweetheart helped shape television as we know it – find out how to listen here.

– Chloe Plaunt

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