Teri Orr: Lucy and Desi and … me | ParkRecord.com

Teri Orr: Lucy and Desi and … me

Teri Orr

My mother hated being compared to Lucille Ball. My mother wasn’t funny and she hadn’t acted since she and Shirley Temple were toddlers in the same Busby Berkeley dancing/acting school in Los Angeles together. Her parents were living pretty much on the Los Angeles river bottom then, in The Depression. And though in photos my mother, Jean, looks exactly like Shirley, long blonde ringlets and all — she never landed any meaningful parts. My grandparents eventually gave up on struggling to pay for the expensive lessons.

Park Record columnist Teri Orr.

But later in her 30s, when my grandparents had done well in real estate and working for Standard Oil — and it was the ’50s — my twice-divorced mother looked just like Lucille Ball. She had the same figure as Lucy with a larger chest. She had reddish short curly hair and the same cheekbones and blue eyes. And the same big, overly bright, red lips. In the ’50s it seemed everyone dressed like movie stars when they went out somewhere special.

My grandparents had a box in those years at the racetrack in Del Mar. Having a box there was nothing like sports boxes of today. You can see it in old photos. They had red checkered table clothes over kinda card tables with sorta camp chairs and no solid divisions between the roped off “boxes.” My grandparents, who had partial ownership in a few racehorses then, loved dressing us up in the summer to go to The Track. You wore your best clothes there. My grandmother appears in a photo in a stylish fitted suit and high heels sinking into the grass in the Winners circle with one of their horses. My grandfather, in a full suit, is in a separate photo with another horse of theirs that won a race. Our box was wedged between two others. One belonged to Lucy and Desi and on the other side was Jimmy Durante and beyond him — the Lennon Sisters. There was no “cult of celebrities” back then. They were movie stars who came to watch the horses run and bet on them and the studios made sure they were seen, of course, and photographed, but it is hard to explain — it was still rather low key. When other kids came home from summer camps with popsicle stick crafts I came home — back to the Bay Area — from my summer adventures — with a fistful of para mutual tickets. If you didn’t win, place or show — it didn’t matter what kind of race your horse ran. I was 5 when my grandmother made me do an impression of Jimmy Durante — for him. I’m sure I was the first kid to do that (hardly). But it resulted in him autographing my racing form and it is framed in my living room with some black-and-white photos from the track with my grandparents and their horses. And a bunch of Del Mar para mutual tickets.

All of these memories, I had packed away for decades, came flashing back when I watched the Sundance festival film “Lucy and Desi,” produced by Amy Poehler. And what I learned from watching that film was just what a boss Lucy was — about her career and her life. And how damn smart and light years ahead of the industry Desi was. Or “That Cuban” as so many folks tried to reduce him to.

In the Sundance film you understand how the modern system of shooting scenes with multiple cameras, no stopping and in real time — had been Desi’s idea. And how, when they divorced, it was Lucy who took over Desilu Studios that Desi had built — and kept it going. Desi decided to buy a home then, in Del Mar. Unlike the terrific Nicole Kidman film — “Being the Ricardos” — that covers just one week of Lucy and Desi’s complicated life and was a bit fictionalized — this is the real reel deal. It covers a period from to 1940s until the narrator in the end — their daughter Lucie Arnaz — tells the poignant story of their last conversation together. That telephone call happened in 1986 — decades after they had been divorced and both remarried. At the time of his death, Desi was still living — in Del Mar. And it all made me smile in some kind of tender remembrance of a magical time in my young, young life … when we would be seated at The Track next to their box. And we all had on our Sunday best, even if track days were Saturdays.

Good movie making can do that. Remind you of pieces of your life you’d tucked away. Make you imagine who the real people were who lived those glamorous-looking lives filled with messy backstories.

Truth is, a lot of us, really most of us, have messy backstories. Some bet on the horses too much. Colored outside the lines of their marriage. Drank too much. And some precocious 5-year-old little kid walked right up with a racing form and didn’t directly ask for an autograph but performed a dumb impersonation and expected an autograph in return. Somehow, I saw that moment between the other film moments and remembered all those colorful people who were kinda just folks. Like the kinda just folks who decades later and now decades ago — hung out in Park City — coming to the festival and shooting hoops at the Alamo. And sitting alone at a counter stool at the Mt. Aire and ordering up a greasy morning-after meal because their premiere had been the night before and the celebration had just ended.

Sundance films shake us up — force us to look at uncomfortable truths — make us remember wars and marches and how we are messing up our environment. They call out to us from the ghosts of our youth and/or just the ghosts of a former sliver mining town that welcomed the Sundance Kid and his idea for showing movies his friends were making — to a bunch of very, very, very average folks first.

Thanks Bob, for not giving up on us … for making — Park City — home of the Sundance Film Festival — all part of the same continuous sentence. For being one of the very first donors to the Eccles Center so that community space could serve as the very best movie theater for two weeks a year and then simply as the very best performing arts theater the rest of the year. We all look forward to gathering again, in person, to laugh and cry and gasp out loud in the same shared space. But until then, we are so grateful for all the stories that keep coming — those which define us and remind us. And push us — to be aware. And a reminder, even amid a global pandemic, we have original storytelling being delivered here — first. On all the January weekdays, of course, but also on two screen-worthy Sundays in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.

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