Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Arts Insider: Lucie Arnaz, An Original

”I’ve never been to the Kentucky Derby before and am very excited about attending this year’s race! And as a matter of fact, as I’m talking to you for this interview from the lobby of The Carlyle Hotel, I’m standing directly under a beautiful portrait of a racehorse.” -actress/singer Lucie Arnaz

By Gioia Patton

I can’t help but be impressed by the show business career Lucie Arnaz has forged for herself in the 45 years since she began acting professionally in 1962. She started acting at age 12 with a recurring role on television’s The Lucy Show opposite her mother, Lucille Ball, followed by six years as a series regular on Here’s Lucy during its 1968-’74 run.

As a matter of fact — although it’s obvious Arnaz inherited her mother’s spot-on comedic timing and beautiful long legs, as well as the singing and showmanship talents of her father, Desi Arnaz — the label ‘the daughter of….’ has never popped into my head as a way to define this artist, whom I’ve seen perform on the Broadway stage multiple times. I was also in the Kentucky Center audience the last time Arnaz performed in Louisville (1986), when she and Tommy Tune starred in the national touring company production of Ira & George Gershwin’s My One and Only.

Rather, what comes to mind is that Lucie Arnaz is someone who became a bona fide Broadway musical star on her own artistic merit at the age of 27 (originating the lead role of Sonia in the Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager musical They’re Playing Our Song, as well as starring in such other notable productions as the television cult classic Who Killed The Black Dahlia? and the motion picture The Jazz Singer opposite Neil Diamond). And she also proved as recently as last month that she’s still at the top of her game with the opening night reviews of her nightclub singing engagement at Manhattan’s famed Café Carlyle.

In fact, within New York Observer critic Rex Reed’s raves about Arnaz’s Café Carlyle debut are statements that bring home my un-defining her as only someone’s daughter: “…you can forget about calling her a chip off the old blockhead. She’s hip and smart and musically well-schooled and learning more by the year. Hitting the cabaret circuit, she has never been better. Lucie Arnaz’s time has come. …Isn’t it time somebody smart created, polished and produced a Broadway show just for her?”

On May 3, Lucie Arnaz will headline the sixth Silks in the Bluegrass event, which benefits Open Arms Operations Inc., a Louisville-based nonprofit organization founded by Cathy and Irv Bailey that provides care for children whose mothers are incarcerated.

Last month, Today’s Woman was lucky enough to score a 40-minute phone interview with Arnaz just days after the opening of her Café Carlyle engagement.

Today’s Woman: Tell me about your Silks in the Bluegrass concert.
Lucie Arnaz: “I’m doing an eclectic set of about 40 minutes… some Broadway and American Standard songs. Mostly, have it be just the most fun we can have. I think it’s a night where (people) will just want to kick back and celebrate. So, it’s not going to be so heavy. I’ll have a seven-piece band with me, and the music will include a little bit from The Latin Roots show, which is my musical tribute to my father’s Cuban heritage.”

TW: I can’t imagine better examples of how to be a show business professional than your parents.
ARNAZ: “I think that’s probably true. I feel like I was trained by people who really knew their stuff… they were extremely professional and reliable. And when I say ‘professional,’ (people) don’t even know what that means anymore. Being professional means that you show up and do what ought to be done by you. And you don’t complain about a million things, unless something is really going wrong. And you show up on time… you know your bit. Don’t show up drunk, don’t blame anybody else for your mistakes, and you’ll see how much better the whole day goes. And I learned that not just from my parents, but from everybody who worked with them, from the cameraman, makeup and hair people, right on down to the craft services people. There wasn’t anybody around there who wasted time or who blamed their shortcomings on other people. It was a team. Teamwork. And that’s why the shows worked as well as they did.”

TW: Because you began your professional acting career at such a young age, was it always a given that you would continue with that career as a grownup? Or was there a solid Plan B in the back of your mind?
ARNAZ: “My Plan B was always my Plan A! I wanted to go to college and study theater, but when I was 15, Mother said, ‘Well, I’m changing my show to a new format, and I think it would be great if you and your brother Desi would play my kids on the show. I think it would be a great experience for you.’ But I had an agreement with Mother from day one that if the show didn’t fare well or if the powers that be didn’t like us, then I would be written out of Here’s Lucy right away, graduate from high school, forget all about television and go to Northwestern University to study theater. That was my goal. But Here’s Lucy did work out, and a few years into it, I started doing summer stock, eventually leaving the sitcom after six years because I’d landed a six-month summer stock tour. In fact, my leaving Here’s Lucy caused Mom to stop doing the show. It had already run for six seasons, plus my brother had already left the show a few years before. My plan for my career was always to go into the theater, and even though working on Here’s Lucy was a wonderful stepping stone in learning, in some ways it was a hazard by my not going to college. Because I never learned the classics, and I didn’t study literature, nor have those great teachers. And when I went into theater, I had to learn to break a lot of bad habits — good habits for working in television, bad habits for working in theater. But still, I wouldn’t trade that time on Here’s Lucy for anything!”

TW: Considering the worldwide media attention that was focused on your parents while you grew up in Beverly Hills, I’m amazed I never read any news about you having a troubled childhood or young adulthood.
ARNAZ: “Well, you never know what’s happened to people when they act out. Sometimes it’s because of their parents, and sometimes it’s just the way the kids are wired and the influences that they have, and the fact that their parents are just unaware or too busy trying to bring home the bacon. Desi and I both grew up with problems, although different problems. My brother nearly lost his life to drugs and alcohol, and I had the same parents he did. I never went into the whole drug scene, but I had relationship problems…. self-esteem problems.”

TW: What’s your opinion about those people in the news over the last few years who’ve been labeled ‘stars’ although their fame is a result of no particular talent or skill, such as ‘reality stars’?
ARNAZ: “I think most of them have a label of ‘celebrity,’ rather than ‘star.’ And I think that’s the truth. A celebrity is someone celebrated, and it’s the problem of the culture that we celebrate the wrong things. It’s not the people’s fault, really. The culture is skewed. And I think the end of empires started with things like this, so we have to be very careful at what we put our attention to. I don’t think ‘stars’ are a good thing either. I don’t think it’s good to celebrate as if someone is more special than we are. It’s all silly.”

Just as Arnaz’s interview is about to conclude I spontaneously ask if she’d describe her backstage pre-show ritual. I’ve found over the years that sometimes the answer to this seemingly simple question reveals something about the person on a soul level — something that, when I play back the interview tape hours later, makes me stop a beat and say, ‘This, in addition to having a lot of talent, explains why this star’s performances always affect me so deeply.’

In Arnaz’s case, I’m really glad I asked the question.

ARNAZ:“If I have a dressing room to go to, I’m always there at least an hour and a half before the show. I then have an easy vocal warm that I do, followed by a peaceful time enjoying my tea while putting on my makeup and thinking about my part. I then give thanks before I go out on stage and give my god vibrations by sending out to the audience, ‘This is not about me. I just want to send this energy out to the audience, so that if there’s anybody out there who really needs to be healed by what we’re doing tonight, I hope we touch you.’ And that’s it. By taking the focus off myself, I seem to be able to walk off the stage without ‘Did they like me?’ popping into my head. Taking the focus away from me means that I can instead just give the gift.”

What: The sixth annual Silks in the Bluegrass event, with Lucie Arnaz as the 2014 headliner.
When: Saturday, May 3rd @ 7pm. Cocktails begin @ 7:30pm
Where: Crowne Plaza Louisville Hotel, 830 Phillips Lane
Tickets: $250 per person
Contact: 502.493.5007 or

Gioia Patton is an arts & entertainment celebrity profiler and in-concert photographer.

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