Friday, May 05, 2017

It's Good for What Ails You -- and It's So Tasty, Too

"Well, I'm your Vitavigavegivat Girl. Are you tired, run down, listless? Do you pop out at parties? Are you unpoopular? — Well, are you?"

Lucy (Lucille Ball)

When I was a child, I loved watching I Love Lucy reruns with my father when I got home from school.

As I recall, the bus I rode to and from school each day typically deposited me at my home right around the time that I Love Lucy was starting in the afternoons. Dad was a college professor and seldom had a class that late in the day. He was usually home by the time the episode began, and I remember spending many pleasant afternoons with him in our living room watching the syndicated reruns of I Love Lucy.

I saw a lot of classic TV in that living room. Some of it was generated by I Love Lucy, and some of it was from other programs, but the episode that first aired on this night in 1952 was one of the most classic episodes in not only I Love Lucy's illustrious history but in the history of television in general. It was called "Lucy Does a TV Commercial," but it is better known as the Vitameatavegamin episode.

And it is, without a doubt, my favorite I Love Lucy episode even if it was first shown long before I was born. It lives on in reruns, no doubt gaining new fans with each showing.

It is my understanding that it was Lucille Ball's favorite episode, too, and why not? It was a very simple story based on an ongoing element of the series — Lucy's desire to be a star — and it gave Lucy a chance to do what she did best — physical comedy.

Now, there have been many physical comedians over the years. You can quickly run out of fingers and toes trying to count the physical comedians who have been on television or in the movies, but the list of the truly great physical comedians is considerably shorter — and Lucy is definitely on that list. Some would even put her at the top of that list. I would — even though I equally admire the work of the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Don Knotts, Dick Van Dyke, etc.

Lucy's character in I Love Lucy always saw Ricky (Desi Arnaz) as an obstacle to her objective, and that may well have had its roots in this episode. It was, after all, the first season of I Love Lucy, and the running jokes were still being defined. In this episode, Ricky was going to be on a TV special, and Lucy desperately wanted to be a part of it, but Ricky wouldn't allow it.

Then there was an opening for the pitch girl. At that time, TV commercials were frequently performed live on television, and the pitch girl for Ricky's show would be promoting a product called Vitameatavegamin. The pitch girl was supposed to take some, smile and remark about how tasty it was.

Lucy was the one who showed up for the tryout, having manipulated things so the legitimate applicants didn't show up. In her tryout, believing the tonic was truly made of natural ingredients — and not realizing it was 23% alcohol and apparently tasted awful — Lucy took a big gulp and grimaced at the taste, managing to squeak out the words, "It's so tasty, too! Just like candy!"

But if Lucy didn't have a taste for alcohol when her tryout began, she quickly acquired one. After a few more takes, her speech was noticeably slurred, and the physical shtick was in charge of things, riding a wave of momentum all its own. The laughs got louder and louder.

In truth, everything in the episode was done to set up Lucy for her moments in the spotlight.

Everything Lucy did in that episode was funny — and it is still funny 65 years later. I never tire of watching it.