of the Titans
everyone loved Lucy.
mother, for example, couldn't stand her. And Lucy returned the favor.
fact, they had a showdown on the set of The Lucy Show that
remains the most artful display of bitchery I ever witnessed.
all started when I was about six years old. I remember my dad getting
off the phone and yelling for my mother. He had just been given
a recurring role as Lucy's Grandfather, and he was as excited as
I had ever seen him.
was a demanding part. He had to dance quite a bit, and even learn
to play the violin. And since he was only about 45 at the time,
he had to do it all wearing heavy old age make-up and a full wig.
He spent hours under the hot lights, sometimes getting lightheaded
in his three-piece tweed suit. All things considered, it was probably
one of the hardest jobs my father ever had.
he loved every minute of it.
dad, Paul Winchell, was a ventriloquist, and by this time, he was
already a very successful man. He had been a radio star for years,
segued into his own variety show on ABC in New York, and was currently
the star of his own syndicated kids show.
a lot of people don't know is that he absolutely hated his damned
puppets. His success was bittersweet, because it was clear he would
never get away from them. For an actor who worked on the stage with
Peter Lorre and Angela Lansbury, being forever chained to a couple
of fiberglass mascots was incredibly depressing.
a puppet-free gig like this was important to him, and he took it
very seriously. He rehearsed difficult dance routines in our garage
at night, and worked long days on the set without complaint. And
along the way, he and Lucy developed a lasting friendship based
on mutual respect, a common work ethic and a shared affection for
my father loved his drugs. He had a tackle box full of pills in
his Cadillac, and his own prescription pad for unlimited refills.
He smoked pot every day, and I often found small plastic baggies
full of white powder hidden around the house. It drove my mother
aren't really a good idea for anyone, but an especially bad choice
for an unpredictable bi-polar manic-depressive. They magnified and
distorted every emotion, and made my father even more volatile.
My mother, determined to save their marriage, began watching him
vigilantly, and attempted to rid him of every acquaintance he used
she couldn't broom Lucy from their lives. And so the three of them
tried to find an uneasy peace, which was impossible.
all came to a head during rehearsals for an episode called, "Lucy
Puts Main Street on the Map". This was a big two-parter, with
lots of guest stars.
this particular day, my father was rehearsing a parade scene. This
was a big, complicated musical number with close to a hundred people
on the soundstage. There were majorettes, townspeople, a marching
band, and of course, Gale Gordon, Vivian Vance and Lucy herself,
wearing white go-go boots and a white patent leather vest.
mother and I sat in the bleachers that would later hold the studio
audience, watching my father work. And he was working very, very
hard. Over and over again, he would run out into the middle of the
street, do a jig, play a violin solo and disappear back into the
father had polio as a kid, and one of his legs was shorter than
the other. All the standing and dancing was taking a toll, so when
Lucy stopped the action to look through the camera, he politely
asked her if he could take a break.
was very understanding, and told him to sit with us for a while.
She asked if he was thirsty, and when he said yes, a glass of orange
juice instantly appeared.
made his way over to the bleachers, and we watched the scene for
while. After drinking about half of the juice, he handed the glass
to my mother, who took a sip.
Lucy stopped the rehearsal.
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