As we approach the 60th anniversary of I Love Lucy in October, loyal Lucy fans have plenty of places to celebrate, from Lucille Ball's birthplace in Jamestown, N.Y., to Los Angeles, where the famed redhead became TV's Queen of Comedy.
"She's more than just an icon," says Bruce Bronn, president and CEO of Unforgettable Licensing in Chicago, which represents Ball's estate (as well as Desilu, the company she founded with her first husband, Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz), and CBS, which owns I Love Lucy. "She's a symbol of America."
Let's start our Lucy tour in Jamestown, about eight hours by car northwest of New York City.
The official Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center opened here in 1996, seven years after Ball died at age 77. The museum and its nearby Desilu Playhouse are treasure troves of Lucy memorabilia. Visitors can view video clips, walk through replicas of I Love Lucy sets and see original costumes from the classic sitcom, which originally ran from Oct. 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957.
"We have the professor's . . . cello costume donated by Pepito, the Cuban clown who appeared in the (I Love Lucy) pilot," said Susan Ewing, a staff writer at the center.
Among her favorite displays: Ball's gold 1972 Mercedes. "It has her monogram, LBM, on the driver's side door," Ewing said. (Ball married comedian Gary Morton in 1961, after she and Arnaz divorced in 1960.)
Fans can re-enact classic Lucy bits on the set replicas, Ewing says. "People can do the 'Vitameatavegamin' commercial right there in the playhouse. That's a pretty popular feature of the playhouse. Everybody wants to be Lucy," she says.
Each August during Ball's birthday week, the museum holds Lucy Fest: The Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy. This year was special, as attendees celebrated the star's centennial.
"We had a huge celebration," Ewing said. "We believe we have set a Guinness Book of World Records, having the most people dressed as Lucy Ricardo in one place — 915. Men, women and children. And a dog. There was a dog dressed as Lucy, in blue polka dots."
Every year, up to 30,000 people trek to the museum, which is open 12 months a year.
A museum memento not seen on television: the desk belonging to I Love Lucy's creator-producer-writer, Jess Oppenheimer. Atop the desk is Oppenheimer's original Rolodex, opened to Ball's phone number.
Oppenheimer, who owned 10 percent of I Love Lucy, died in 1988. His son Gregg, who donated the desk and Rolodex, has carried the Lucy torch ever since.
"Nobody compares to Lucy," said Oppenheimer, who finished his father's autobiography, Laughs, Luck . . . and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time. "You had this superb cast, you had great writing, timeless stories."
Oppenheimer spent seven years restoring the series for DVD. On Nov. 5, he will direct his own play, I Love Lucy: The Untold Story, based on his dad's book, in North Hollywood, Calif.
The play coincides with a major Lucy exhibit at the nearby Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles: "Lucille Ball at 100 & I Love Lucy at 60." On display through Nov. 30 are scripts, costumes and memorabilia spanning Ball's film and TV career.
The Paley Center for Media, located both in Los Angeles and New York City, also is celebrating Ball with "We Love Lucy" public screenings through Oct. 30.
Even Florida has a tourism stop for Lucy fans: Universal Orlando Studios in Orlando with its long-running "Lucy: A Tribute" exhibit, which screens classic TV clips and displays props from I Love Lucy and costumes worn by Ball.
"The main thing is it's funny,'' Oppenheimer says of the TV show. "There was never anything deep or ironic. The humor was never dry."