I Love Lucy: Lucy Does the Tango
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The episode aired on March 11, 1957, #172, if you're counting, and it was in some ways a continuation of the action from the previous episode Lucy Raises Chickens. The situation -- and this was the ultimate situation comedy after all -- was simple. After moving to a gorgeous country house in Westport, Connecticut, the Ricardos are financially strapped. Lucy decides to buy chickens and sell the eggs. When Ricky advertises for an experienced couple to handle the operation, the Mertzes appear and they're hired. By the end of Lucy Raises Chickens, the chickens are ruling the roost.
As Lucy Does the Tango commences, the 500 chicks are exchanged for 200 laying hens, but they're laying down on the job. A mere six eggs are produced in two weeks time and Lucy and Ethel fear that Ricky and Fred will put an end to the egg-tremely risky business if they don't do something drastic. They throw good money after bad by getting store-bought eggs, figuring they'll make the boys think the hens are up to snuff. But Fred nearly catches them in the act, so Lucy and Ethel stash the eggs in their clothes. Ethel stuffs her shirt and pockets with a couple of dozen, while Lucy fills her blouse with three more. When Ricky comes home to rehearse their dance for the PTA show -- the tango -- panic fills Lucy's eyes.
Amazingly, as the dance progresses, Lucy successfully keeps from breaking an egg. You watch with wonder as she moves, sure that something's gotta give. Of course it does -- right at the dramatic conclusion of the dance. She spins and Ricky pulls her into his arms. Splat! The eggs explode. The laugh is beyond a belly laugh, greater than a guffaw. It's perfectly punctuated and timed for maximum comic effect.
The reactions of Ethel, Fred and Ricky are precise and on target -- Fred is baffled, Ethel is crestfallen and Ricky is shocked. And Lucy, well, she's a mixture of ticked off and disappointed. Ticked off that she didn't get away with her deception, and disappointed that she's swimming in egg yolks and whites.
This one instance was the longest sustained laugh in the history of I Love Lucy! For 65 seconds, the live TV audience could not stop laughing. The reason wasn't just that initial moment of Ricky and Lucy's bodies slamming together and cracking the eggs. It was more than that.
What made this moment -- and therefore made this episode -- classic was two elements. The first was the anticipation of the laugh. From the moment Lucy and Ethel started putting the eggs in their shirts, you knew the eggs were goners. It was just a matter of how and when. Watching the scene unfold, you're on the edge of your seat waiting for it. When the suspense is released, the laugh is all the more enjoyable because of what you felt in the buildup.
The second element was something that even the writers -- Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll, Jr. could not have predicted: how Lucille Ball would elongate the moment. She milked every chuckle, playing the scene like the complete comedienne she was. She wiped away the slime, rested her hands on the mess, smiled that crooked, guilty smile and tried to make Ricky think that it was no big deal.
Interestingly, Bob Carroll, Jr. credited Vivian Vance with making the moment. In Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, he told authors Tom Gilbert and Steve Sanders, "When Lucy danced with three dozen eggs in her blouse, Viv's face tells you that someone is doing the tango with three dozen eggs in her blouse -- 'My God, she's not really going to do that, is she? Uh-oh!' You watch her face. She was magnificent."
After the dance scene, the rest of the episode is fun and sweet, with Little Ricky actually saving the day by saving the hens. All's well that ends well, and it's the laughter that lingers on. To this day, I can't watch a tango without thinking of those three dozen eggs. Hmm...wouldn't that be a new twist on Dancing with the Stars?