- Associated Press - Saturday, August 6, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) — We loved Lucy and we still do.

On the 100th anniversary of her birth Saturday and 60 years since “I Love Lucy” first aired, Lucille Ball’s legacy remains remarkable — and her talent remarkably fresh and watchable.

Consider other popular sitcoms that aired alongside Ball and Desi Arnaz’s show during its 1951-to-1957 life span on CBS. “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” and “Father Knows Best,” among others, are period Americana that evoke sweet nostalgia far more than laughs.

But “I Love Lucy,” in all its black-and-white glory, remains a draw worldwide for viewers who certainly weren’t around for its debut. Over the past five decades the sitcom has won new audiences — and introduced Lucy to younger generations — over and over through TV syndication and video sales.

Lucie Arnaz, Ball’s daughter, was asked by a Chinese interviewer to explain why her mother and the show are so popular in China. It’s a “phenomenon,” Arnaz offers.

“I think of her as mom most of the time. Then I switch … and try to see her as the rest of the world does. It’s almost too big,” Arnaz said Friday.

Who could have predicted that the most timeless and international of all TV talents would be a fortysomething woman who, taking the structured role of a homemaker in mid-century New York City, stretched into it the stuff of classic comedy?

Picture this: Lucy swigging down awful Vitameatavegamine, with a grimace and a wannabe-pitchman’s smile fighting for custody of her face before the boozy patent medicine begins to take control of her. Can you recall the scene, let alone watch it, and not get at least a small jolt of pleasure, even if it’s the umpteenth time?

Or consider Lucy vs. the industrial revolution, as a conveyer belt outpaces her candy-processing skills and desperation and poor judgment join ranks.

“All right, girls, now this is your last chance. If one piece of candy gets past you and into the packing room unwrapped, you’re fired,” the plant supervisor barks at Lucy and partner-in-crime Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance).

That’s the setup. The delivery, in the most rewarding Ball fashion, is mostly wordless.

As the belt speeds up and chocolates slip by en masse, Lucy and Ethel try stuffing the evidence in their mouths. Down their dresses. In their handbags.

Lucy, eyes wide and lips puckered, looks as guilty as a kid cheating big-time in class.

Another winner: the Italian grape-stomping scene, which turns an oversized barrel of fruit into an arena with Lucy the poseur versus a diligent worker. Lucy turns their task into a pas de deux that goes from a square dance to a grape-flinging battle.

Dialogue? Forget about it. No need, given Lucy’s adroit physicality and gleeful mugging, all dignity and beauty be damned. (She credited masterful Buster Keaton for teaching her timing and how to move, and fall.)

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