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Lucie Arnaz cover shot from 'Latin Roots.'

Lucie Arnaz

Returns to Her Roots

By Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 11, 2010.  

Many of us remember Lucie Arnaz as the mini-skirted, go-go-booted sidekick on Here’s Lucy (1968-1974).  Despite being the offspring of legendary entertainers Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lucie has managed to carve her own indestructible perch in the family tree.   Multi-talented and unfamiliar with the word “quit,” she has conquered everything from film, television and theater to cabarets and recordings.  She has also done much to keep her parents’ legacy alive and iconic. 

Her new CD, entitled Latin Roots, is a nod to her musical heritage via her Cuban-bandleader father. It was not only a labor of love, but a family affair too: she pays respect to her father's music and collaborates with her son on one track, called The Music In Your Heart.  

In this frank conversation, Lucie opens up about the challenge of being the child of superstars (it’s not the easy breeze you might think), as well as how her brother, Desi Arnaz, Jr., almost destroyed himself early on. She also describes the shaky balancing of a demanding showbiz career with attempting to raise a “normal” family. 

In addition, she mentions a mean nun and Super Nanny

How did your Latin Roots CD take root?

I recorded a CD about fourteen years ago [Just in Time, released in 1993], and I fully intended to follow it up with a Latin-themed CD. But life just got the better of me. I was in Broadway shows, I was seeing my kids through college, and I ended up going to London for a year and a half. Things just got in the way. 

Lucie Arnaz at the 2009 Tony Awards.Then I realized that the style of music that I was doing had sort of evaporated from Billboard and all the regular charts. There weren’t even that many radio stations in those days for these kinds of easy-listening pop standards, so I wasn’t going to find out if my song was a hit or not. I was just going to do it for the love of doing it. So I didn’t focus on it a whole lot. I focused on other things. 

Then I was at the 92nd Street Y Lyric and Lyricist event, hosting an event for Ira Gershwin. I got to talking to the artistic director there, about great arrangements and the people who have had the opportunity to sing with just fantastic arrangers. All of these vocalists have passed away, the Peggy Lees and the Frank Sinatras and the Dean Martins and the Rosemary Clooneys. And I wondered, ‘what happened to those charts? Where did they go?’

My father’s orchestra charts were in my garage for ten years. Michael Feinstein told me that I really ought to deposit them somewhere where they can be cared for over a long period of time. The Library of Congress does that and they do it very well. So I did. I offered it to them. They were great. They took them and they cataloged them and protected them. 

My father’s music is what inspired me to put a nightclub act together years ago. I have like 300 charts, and some of them I had never heard. 

For ten years, I’ve been talking about doing this Latin music CD, and if I don’t do it now, to coincide with this big show [BABALU: The American Songbook Goes Latin - Featuring the Music of the Desi Arnaz Orchestra. This premiered at the 92nd Street Y in January 2010], I’d be crazy, because it’s the perfect time.  So I did, simultaneously, while putting together this huge mammoth show of Dad’s music, fifteen-piece orchestra, two singers and two dancers. 

You were able to collaborate with your son on this CD as well. What was that experience like? 

My son, Joe Luckinbill is a wonderful guitarist. I asked him, “Do you think you will have anything that your old mother would want to record? That might lend itself to a Latin thing?”  He sent me a track [which eventually became “The Music in Your Heart”], and it was really good, a great feel. I just wanted to get up and dance to it. 

I wrote lyrics to it, about Joe, about my father, and the muse and the music that passes between the generations. Joe was with me when my father passed away. He was only four and a half. He has just a tiny memory of that.  He grew up to become a guitar player and a musician and he says that it’s a shame that grandpa isn’t here to hear him. And I said, well, he is, sort of, he is here. This song talks to that. When you think people who you want to be with your forever are gone, it’s really not so. They are here. 

So you do have a life philosophy. 

You’re never on this road alone. There is a part of you that is always connected to that higher thing. I do have a spirituality that I trust in, and I try to tune my kids into, to help them when I’m not here. 

Lucie Arnaz and family at Birdland in 2007. l to r: daughter Kate Luckinbill, husband Laurence Luckinbill, Lucie and son Joe Luckinbill.Do you see your parents in your own kids? 

I see me in them and I see my parents in them. Not just the facial features, but the tenacity and the creativeness and the stick-to-itiveness.  And the adventuresome qualities. 

How has it been for you to balance raising kids with building a career? 

My husband [actor Laurence Luckinbill] and I had made a decision to really be there for the kids. To take shows does not always mean that you can still be available for a family. I’m asked, for instance, “Do you want to go to London for six months and do such-and-such a play?”  I think, wow, that’s great, but then I had just put my kids in a new school and my daughter has a piano recital. That’s like a big deal. Once you make the decision to have a family, you have to include those decisions in other decisions. 

Your parents had to make those decisions when raising you, and I’m sure it was especially difficult for them. 

My mother tried to be there for me, but she wasn’t always there and I missed that. I lost a lot with that. I want to do better this time around. 

I work hard to try to understand what kind of mother I am, and how to be better at it. My mother intended to be the best mother in the world and tried very hard to do that, but the truth of it is, when [she’s] not home, things fall apart. 

It doesn’t matter what kind of great help you have. We had good help. We didn’t have au pairs from hell or crazy people.  We had good people. But that’s not the same as having your parents at home. We didn’t have the same kind of bonding. And I don’t have the memory that teaches me how to be a parent when my kids are small, because I don’t remember having a parent who was there with me. 

I don’t have any animosity. When I put that documentary together back in 1993 [Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie, available on DVD from MPI), I had to put myself in their place and follow their careers, step by step. Where did they go? What did they do? What kind of decisions did they have to make? Wow, if I were them, with all that going on, shit, I would have done the same thing. I would have made the same exact decisions. 

So I don’t blame them for the decisions they made. They created a wonderful show and a great household and they had two great kids. The downside was they couldn’t be home.  It wasn’t great but it wasn’t tragic. In raising my own children, I really did not want to miss the growing up. 

Lucie Arnaz and daughter Kate Luckinbill at Birdland in 2007.So how do you grade yourself so far?  

I thought I was doing a great job of [parenting], but my kids started telling me otherwise. It still wasn’t enough. I wasn’t there enough.  And they started to act out weird, getting in trouble at school. A very wise child psychologist showed me what was going on. He asked me, “How much time do you really spend with them?”  And I bit his head off. I said that I spend twice as much time with them as my folks did with me. 

Then he asked, “So could you say that you spend fifteen minutes alone with your kids every day?”  And I had to think about that. Well, no, not exactly. But that’s what makes them feel worthy of love. And that blew me away. It totally blew me away. If you are not feeling worthy, and not feeling worthy enough for someone to love you, then you think something is wrong with you and you act out in all these crazy ways. 

I decided that I was going to have no part of that. Regardless of my profession, no matter how much I love the theater, I decided that I’m not going to do that anymore until I solve this. My husband and I, we left California, sold our house. We let go all of the live-in people who were working for us, as swell as they were. We came back to our little ranch house in Westchester. We built an office over the garage. We’re still working people. We still make our living in acting and in the theater. But if my husband gets a gig, I stay home. And if I get an event, then he stays home. And we did that for twelve years. 

How do you deal with being a celebrity in a town where there may be few if any celebrities?  

It’s not a big deal to me. I think I deal with it pretty well, but it’s not easy for the kids. It was a different world when I was going to school, in Los Angeles – Brentwood – where there were a lot of people in the industry. People did not make fun of me because of who my parents were. But today, kids are kind of cruel to one another for some strange reason. It was very hard for my kids to just be regular kids, because whatever they did that didn’t work out quite right, it would be, “well, you rich kids.” It was hard for them, and it still is.  

You had to deal with cruelty as a child?  

The only memory I have of that happening is not with kids, not with parents or friends, but with a nun at school! She was the epitome of the bad nuns you would see in Nunsense. We had a lot of kids in our class that were related to people in show business. The Catholics of Beverly Hills, where are they going to go but to Catholic school?  

She would pick on Dean Martin, Jr., God bless him, when he was talking too loudly in class, like kids tend to do. Instead of saying, “Shh, you, Dean, you’re talking too loudly,” she would say, “I guess because you think you’re so handsome, because you are Dean Martin’s son, that you can talk louder.”  

If I was cracking a joke or making people laugh, she would say, “You’re Lucille Ball’s daughter and therefore you must think that you are very funny, but you are not Lucille Ball and you are not funny.” This is a woman who had a lot of excess baggage.  

Well, I survived that, and I later went to Immaculate Heart High School, which was all girls and all nuns. It had the best drama department in all of Los Angeles. It proved to me that it isn’t the nuns who are wrong; it is just certain people who become nuns.  

Lucie Arnaz, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Jr. on 'Here's Lucy' in 1968.What was it like to be a regular cast member on your mother’s series (Here’s Lucy)? 

It was a good way to learn. You have to show up on time. You have to learn a certain amount of lines. You have to know what you are supposed to do, and to not trip over the furniture. You have to learn to be a good professional sport.  

It was like a variety show.  It was rather uncommon in those days and very uncommon now. Who can spend the money to do all those musical numbers today?  It would cost a fortune.  

It was a tremendous education for me. I had no idea how much fun it was going to be. Every week [she] had some kind of guest star, whether it was a famous-famous person or someone not-super-famous but who was a great actor. I learned from those people too.  

Every week I got to watch and learn. For instance, here’s the biggest star in show business and they are kind to everybody and they know their stuff and they memorize their blocking and their lines and it’s a snap. And yet here’s this other star who is angry all the time and blaming everybody and the show is taking longer. So I found out how to be and how not to be. 

Being Lucille Ball’s daughter, did you have more to prove?  

Absolutely. You show up at work, and if you are the troublemaker, that’s really bad news. You want to be good. 

Say you want to be a plumber or an electrician or a lawyer or anything else.  Maybe somebody in your family is already in that profession.  So you study a little bit, and then you want to try to make your mark. It’s rough to break in. It really is. There are a lot of people aiming for that job. If you know anybody, if somebody in your family can make a phone call, get you an internship, or anything, it helps. And so that’s great, and I had that. 

Once you get that job and you show up, and everyone knows you are related to so-and-so, there is an expectation that you are going to be as good as so-and-so.  They don’t allow you to fail anonymously or learn your craft as you go. There is a lot of judgment involved, and that makes things a little bit more difficult. 

You were fifteen when you started Here’s Lucy. How did you balance that and school?  

I did three hours of schooling a day and then did the show. It was kind of wonderful in a weird way, because you only have three hours of school a day, but you have a tutor, one on one. I went through three and a half years of French in a year and a half. I learned to speak fluent conversational French. Little did I know that I would never meet another person who would speak French in my life! But I learned a lot, a lot about art and history and English. It was great. I had a great education.  

Did you ever get good career advice from someone other than your parents?  

Vivian Vance wasn’t a regular on Here’s Lucy but was there every single year.  I used to wait for her to be our guest, because she was so good.  She was such a great mentor for me. She was a theater person at heart. She was the one who always reminded me, “Hey, when you’re not on TV, you’ve got to get back out there in the theater. Don’t become typecast as some TV person for the rest of your life. You’ll never get beyond it.”  

Did you always know you wanted to be an entertainer?  

I’m not sure that was true. It was fun, but I actually thought, “How much longer can I get away with this before I have to get a real job? Jobs shouldn’t be this much fun. Jobs are something tedious: ugh, time to go to work.”  But I never saw my mother and father do that. They loved what they did. I was sneaking in under the wire, thinking, maybe I can learn to do what they do, and I can somehow get a job doing what I love too. I just lucked out.  

Lucie Arnaz at the 2009 Tony Awards.You were steadily working and preoccupied during the height of the sixties cultural revolution. Did you ever feel like you missed out on any aspect of that era? 

I think I was as lucky as I could possibly be because, believe it or not, I was so involved in theater and my drama department in school. This was the start of the whole hippie thing, and drugs. I missed it entirely. Almost all of my girlfriends got totally involved with the whole drug scene. Most of them survived it. I was too interested in the show and getting the sets up. I didn’t have time. Somehow, I just never got involved. It’s almost like I didn’t get a sweet tooth, so I didn’t get cavities. I look back on it now and wonder if I’m some kind of prude, but in reality, I started my life sooner than [my girlfriends] did.  

Your brother, Desi Arnaz, Jr., co-starred on Here’s Lucy with you, but he did participate in the counterculture.  

My brother was not quite so lucky. He started earlier. He was in [the pop singing group] Dino, Desi and Billy when he was eleven. And then he was a movie star when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. He was already this heart throb. And he pretty much got into everything. He’ll be the first one to tell you.  He gave speeches around the country for years after that to say that he almost died. He was gone. And now he is, thank God, sober many, many years. It’s rough when you start that early. 

I am very proud of him. He went through a lot, and his head is in a very good place. He has a lot of spirituality about him. He’s not interested in all this hoopla anymore. He lives in a very small town. He runs a theater there. He lives a very simple life and he could care less about the rest of it. 

He came to New York to play percussion for me at the big tribute we did at the 92nd Street Y. I asked Desi to come in and play percussion, because I couldn’t imagine doing this without him. He’s the best percussionist I know. He doesn’t do it all that often but he’s still the best percussionist I know. And he did. He came in, which was HUGE. You have no idea how huge this was. He hates to travel. He doesn’t like to leave where he lives. He’s not interested in all this. But he did it. He did it for me, and he did it for Dad. He wanted it to be right. 

Do you get star struck?

Not too much. Sometimes I do. I used to live in the same building as Meryl Streep. We used to have Christmas parties together, and to this day when I see her, I don’t know what to say to her. I am in such awe of the talent that is there. 

The other night I went to see a Chris Walken play on Broadway and I met him several times. He’s kind of a wacky, wonderful, interesting guy. But once you see him do brilliance on the stage for two hours, if he would have come to say hello to me after the show, I wouldn’t have known what to say to him. I would have been completely star struck. 

Lucie Arnaz with Tom Jones at the Friars Club in 2009.What is it about being on stage that thrills and excites you?  

Because it’s all about your ability. I’m a good rehearser. My mother taught me that. Even in the four days we had to do our show, we really rehearsed a lot. And when you left the set at six o clock, you’d better go home and rehearse some more. You need to know this stuff like the back of your hand. So when the audience shows up on Thursday night, you’re going to do it once straight through and you’re not going to make any mistakes. No retakes, unless a set falls apart. Today, these three-camera shows keep the audience for seven or eight hours. It’s insane.  And people think nothing of retakes, again and again.  

Your very first Broadway show was a smash hit: They’re Playing Our Song.  What was that experience like for you? 

That was – can you believe it – thirty years ago. [Co-star] Robert [Klein] and I still go out and do symphony dates now. And it still works. We’re playing ourselves at this age. We’re not playing thirty year olds. It was a great experience for my first Broadway show to be associated with Neil Simon and Marvin Hamlisch. I was very lucky in this career so far. 

Of course, everyone remembers you in the remake of The Jazz Singer, with Neil Diamond.  

That came right at the end of They’re Playing Our Song for me. I had to leave the show in order to do that. That was okay, because I was about to get married anyway.  The day I left to do it, they fired the director of The Jazz Singer and I sat for two weeks in Los Angeles, not knowing whether I had a movie. I had left my Broadway show!  I was thinking, okay, this was a terrible idea. But then they hired Richard Fleischer and the movie turned around and it was quite fun to do. 

The critics killed it but the people loved it. There is an award given out every year called the Cinema Scope Award. They award it by polling people leaving the theater, taking surveys.  That year, The Jazz Singer won above Ordinary People, because the people liked it.

Laurence Oliver, they crucified him, and poor Neil, he’ll probably never want to do another movie as long as he lives. I escaped with my skin intact. They did not burn me at the stake. It doesn’t really matter, because the CD went triple platinum, and to this day, people come up to me and say that The Jazz Singer is their favorite movie ever. 

Lucie Arnaz at 'Broadway Cares' in 2002.Are you computer literate? Are you on the internet?

I don’t know how computer literate I am, but I am on the internet. I do email. I sit here way too many hours. When I finally got into all of this, a friend of mine emailed me and said, “Welcome to the end of life as you knew it.” 

Sometimes I think it is really rude when you go to dinner and someone with a cell phone or an iPhone is with you, and you’re talking to them and they’re checking [their devices]. It’s wrong. There is some etiquette that we have to learn to incorporate into our lives if we’re going to have this stuff so that we don’t lose normal civility. 

What do you think of the world of entertainment today? 

It’s moving so fast that I can hardly keep up with it. But if you hang in there, there is good that can be made from all of this. 

I think there is some great reality TV to go along with all the wacky reality TV. There is a reality show called Super Nanny that I think is one of the best shows out there as far as saving the planet. Truly!  I think, damn, why wasn’t she there when I was raising kids? Because it’s true, kids can be so screwed up. The parents are not on the same plane.  When you start watching that show, you go, “Oh, my gosh, look at those kids! They are such terrors!  Oy, you want to smack them! “ And then ten minutes into it, you realize that it has nothing to do with the kids. The kids are begging, “Please, someone, show me how to be a human being!”  And it is usually the parents, with all their goodwill and good intentions, sending them such mixed messages that they have created little monsters. 

The kids are tomorrow. If we don’t get our kids right, the world is doomed.  So there is a great reality show right there. And there is a great reality show in Extreme Home Makeover, because it’s everybody pitching in to make something better. Yes, you get your product placement, but that’s called the barter system: I do something good for you and you do something good for me.  That’s how farmers started way back when:   I give you get a chicken, you give me a chair. And it’s a wonderful thing. It makes you feel good. Somebody helping somebody. 

We can be kind to one another. We can’t do much else in this crazy world, but we can be kind.  

 To keep up with Lucie, and to order her CD, go to www.luciearnaz.com.

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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2010. Courtesy of luciearnaz.com. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2009. Courtesy of luciearnaz.com. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2007. Courtesy of luciearnaz.com. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2007. Courtesy of luciearnaz.com. All rights reserved.
#5 © 1968. Courtesy of luciearnaz.com. All rights reserved.
#6 © 2009. Courtesy of luciearnaz.com. All rights reserved.
#7 © 2009. Courtesy of luciearnaz.com. All rights reserved.
#8 © 2002 Greg Price. Courtesy of luciearnaz.com. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 11, 2010.  

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Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 11, 2010.