Saturday, November 09, 2013

To Tell the Truth

"It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place."

H.L. Mencken

It's hard to tell the truth. Just ask any politician.

On this night 60 years ago, Lucille Ball's character in I Love Lucy found herself in the uncomfortable position of having to tell the absolute truth or else lose a bet with her husband (Desi Arnaz) and the Mertzes (William Frawley and Vivian Vance).

It was a great opportunity for Lucy to show everyone — once again — why she was the queen of comedy.

Ricky, Fred and Ethel were telling show business stories, and Lucy, who had none to tell, nevertheless felt compelled to invent stories about her own experience. When the others called her on it, she insisted that she had "never told a fib in my life." Ricky, Fred and Ethel cited examples of her deceptive statements, which she dismissed as "social" lies; she contended that those really didn't count.

And thus a bet was born. Lucy had to tell the truth for 24 hours. If she didn't, she lost the bet.

Ricky started out to make the bet alone but then Fred and Ethel wanted in on it — much to Lucy's dismay.

"My friends!" she said.

"Oh, it has't anything to do with friendship," Ethel replied. "It's just that there are so few sure ways of making a buck these days."

The minute the 24–hour clock began ticking, Ethel reminded Lucy that they were going to join some friends for bridge the next day.

"I can't spend the afternoon with three women and have to tell the truth," she protested — and then she almost blew it. "I'll call Caroline and tell her I'm sick!"

Anticipating a much quicker resolution of their bet than they had expected, Ricky, Fred and Ethel leaned forward to hear Lucy's end of the conversation. But she caught herself just in time.

The next day, Lucy managed to insult her companions by telling them what she really thought of things like the host's new furniture and the hat that the fourth bridge player was wearing. After Ethel explained about the bet, the other three decided to ask Lucy about personal things (age, weight, actual hair color), knowing that she was bound to tell the truth. Seemed a shame to waste such a golden opportunity.

And she surprised them by answering truthfully — "Thirty–three, 129 and mousey brown!"

Her disappointed companions sat down at the card table, and Lucy triumphantly observed, "It feels wonderful to tell the truth."

(In the interest of full disclosure, Lucy actually was 42 when she made this episode.)

Of course, Fred and Ricky were disappointed when they learned that the bridge game had failed to win the bet for them. And Fred and Ethel were insulted when Lucy said what she thought of some of their personality traits. But Ricky pointed out that they had forced Lucy to tell the truth because of the bet.

Ethel retorted that Lucy hadn't said anything about Ricky yet, and he said he wasn't afraid to hear his faults.

"I think you're the most handsome, the most wonderful, the cleverest and the most talented man in the whole world," she said. Ricky was pleased — until Lucy added, "You're hammy, you're stubborn and you're a coward."

Lucy explained that he was a coward because he was afraid to give her a chance to fulfill her show business ambitions.

To prove that wasn't true, Ricky told Lucy he was going to an audition for a TV show and invited her to join him. She accepted, and the Mertzes were incredulous.

"I know how they conduct these auditions," Ricky told them. Lucy would have to lie about her experience to get an audition, and they would win the bet.

If she didn't lie, she wouldn't get the audition.

But Lucy double–crossed them. She told the truth and was about to be dismissed when she wrangled a part in an audition for an Italian entertainer who didn't speak English. Lucy said she spoke Italian, which astonished everyone, but that, apparently, was a lie. The only times she said anything in Italian were when she was parroting him. Mostly, she just smiled and nodded whenever he said anything.

He positioned her in front of a board ringed with balloons, and suddenly Lucy realized he was a knife thrower.

She stood there for 10 throws before breaking down and confessing that she couldn't speak Italian.

"I'll pay the bet!" she told Ricky, who had a confession of his own. No knives were thrown. The balloons were popped by knife handles that came from the back.

Ricky told Lucy he would pay the bet, and Lucy dissolved into her trademark wailing cry.

By the way, an interesting side note here. When Lucy was answering the pre–audition questions about her experience, she claimed to have appeared "in 3D." The interviewer nodded and said, "Third dimension," and Lucy shook her head and said, "No, 3D."

The bewildered interviewer asked, "What is 3D if it isn't third dimension?"

"Our apartment," Lucy replied truthfully.

Until that time, the number on the Ricardos' door was 3B. For this episode, though — the one that dealt with honesty and deception — the number was changed to 3D.

Seems fitting, doesn't it?