'I Love Lucy's Original Opening Credits Showed Lucy & Ricky Climbing A Box Of Cigarettes
Dancer/actress Lucille Ball posing in strapless black lace evening dress, holding lit cigarette on couch. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
If you grew up watching I Love Lucy in reruns then there’s a piece of the show that you’ve never seen. Most fans of the show are used to the Valentine Heart opening of the show, but the I Love Lucy original opening credits sequence was actually changed when the series went into syndication. The original sponsor of the show was Philip Morris - the tobacco giant - and anyone watching the original broadcast of the episodes had a completely different experience than anyone watching it on TV Land. Why change the introduction? And more importantly, why have a huge ad for smoking at the top of I Love Lucy? Short answer: the early days of television were wild.
The Original Opening Had A Giant Box Of Cigarettes
Even if you watched I Love Lucy the early 1960s, you weren’t actually seeing the original opening credits. The satin heart image that opened the show was designed for daytime rebroadcasts on CBS from 1959 to 1967 and all following syndication. It’s a timeless visual that you can picture right now - but that’s not the way the show originally began. For the first three years of the series it opened with an animated version of Lucy and Ricky sauntering down a pack of Philip Morris cigarettes. Once they make their way down, the first four episodes feature an additional ad for the brand that features a bellhop named Johnny Roventini who sings the company’s jingle, “Call For Philip Morris” and only then do we get to the comedy.
Even Without Intro Philip Morris Is All Over The Show
It was through Phillip Morris that I Love Lucy made it to air. The tobacco giant wanted Lucy to film in New York instead of Los Angeles in order to cut down on costs for filming, but Lucy and Desi didn’t want to leave the west coast. In order to strike up a compromise the duo took a pay cut (but kept ownership of ALL the episodes) and agreed to heavily promote the cigarette company. Because Philip Morris was the sole sponsor for the show for a few years Lucy and Ricky had to smoke a lot. Like A LOT a lot, and they weren’t just smoking cigarettes, they were smoking Philip Morris cigarettes.
The brand was worked into the dialogue whenever it made sense and if they could be worked into the plot then that was all the better. During commercial breaks the actors from the show all appeared in ads to promote Philip Morris and remind the audience that the only way to really watch the show is to do so while puffing on a Philip Morris cigarette.
Aside From The Obvious, Why Change The Opening?
It’s rare that a TV show changes its intro in such a drastic way. Obviously if a new actor joins the cast or something needs to be shaken up it happens but this an alteration on a major scale. When I Love Lucy moved into syndication in 1959 the the entire opening was reworked to remove all traces of their original sponsor. When the show was sold to syndication the heart on satin opening was edited in to avoid any overlap with new sponsors. Aside from not wanting to offend new sponsors it makes sense that as the years went on that the distributors would want to move away from sponsoring a tobacco company.
The Intros Are Available On DVD
So much material from early days of television has been lost: entire episodes of Doctor Who, literally everything on the DuMont Television Network, and even the first 10 years of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show (and most of Jack Parr’s run as host). Ball and Arnaz were forward thinking enough to keep control of their master tapes and to put them in storage so they could make money off the shows in syndication. And rather than destroy the 16mm and 35mm footage of the original introductions they were just trimmed and locked up. The original intros have been floating around the internet for a while, but they were restored in their full glory for the DVD and Blu-Ray release.
Both Lucy And Desi Died Of Complications From Smoking
The sad truth of life in the mid 20th century is that smoking was a normal thing. The habit was advertised as healthy and celebrities like Ball and Arnaz who were encouraged to smoke as much as possible to make their corporate sponsors happy. The two stars of the show lived long lives so it’s not like someone from Philip Morris broke into their homes and knocked them off or anything crazy like that, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Arnaz passed away from lung cancer in 1986 and Ball passed away from heart disease three years later.
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