Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Fashion Plate

"What an inspired use of burlap!"

Lucy (Lucille Ball)

On this night in 1956, Ricky (Desi Arnaz) and Lucy (Lucille Ball), along with Ricky's band and the Mertzes (William Frawley and Vivian Vance), were in Paris in an episode of I Love Lucy titled "Lucy Gets a Paris Gown." See, after attending a Paris fashion show, Lucy had made up her mind that she had to have a dress designed by a leading French designer (who apparently was fictional). Ricky said he wouldn't spend the money. After all, he had invested in a Don Loper original in Hollywood the previous year. (Loper was not fictional.)

Lucy went on a hunger strike and resolved not to eat again until Ricky got her the dress.

Lucy was faking the hunger strike, though, and Ethel was her supplier. Now, I know that Ethel was Lucy's accomplice in just about everything, but, even though their actions clearly were intended to benefit Lucy, there was usually some residual benefit for Ethel, too. In all the times I have seen that episode, I have never figured out what was in it for Ethel. It couldn't have been because she expected to get a dress, too. After all, Lucy might have succeeded in wearing Ricky down, but Fred would pinch a penny until it bled. There was no way he would spring for a Paris original for Ethel.

Anyway, Ethel kept providing Lucy with food during her alleged strike.

Probably the biggest problem with faking a hunger strike is, at some point, it will become obvious that you have not been depriving yourself after all. Somehow, though, Lucy managed to look so gaunt by the third day of the strike that Ricky could bear it no longer and broke down, buying her a Paris original. But then he discovered that the strike had been a phony. Ethel had smuggled in a roast chicken that Lucy had hidden in a camera bag. When Ricky went to get the camera to take a picture of Lucy in her new dress, he discovered the chicken. He took the dress away with a renewed determination not to give in to Lucy's tactics again.

Earlier in the episode, Ricky and Fred had mocked the Paris fashions, saying the dresses looked like potato sacks and the hats looked like feedbags.

Away from their wives, Ricky and Fred plotted to get even for the phony hunger strike by having dresses made from actual potato sacks with designer labels sewn inside. They would make up some story to explain to their wives why they had decided after all to give them these original dresses.

Oh, and the hats. Lucy's hat was a horse's feedbag and Ethel's was a champagne bucket.

Lucy and Ethel were skeptical. The outfits were strange — but they were Paris originals, or so they believed, and they wore them in public, reveling in the attention they were receiving from the patrons at the cafe, including the fictional French designer. Ricky and Fred could stand it no longer and confessed to their wives what they had done. Beyond humiliation, Lucy and Ethel wrapped themselves in a tablecloth as if covering their nakedness and retreated from the cafe.

Well, Ricky and Fred apologized for what they had done and agreed to give their wives genuine Paris originals. On their way to the dress shop, they stopped at the same cafe, and, while they were there, some models came strolling by wearing the same burlap outfits the girls had been given.

Ricky and Fred saw an opening. They wouldn't have to buy Paris originals after all, they said, because the girls had the originals.

But the girls had to confess that they had burned those dresses as soon as they could.