Sporting perfectly coiffed red hair and a 1950s-style swing skirt, Lucille Ball look-alike Diane Vincent mingles with a crowd of Lucy fans in Jamestown, N.Y., laughing and joking in the sassy, wide-eyed style of the character she portrays.
“I don’t become Lucy until I’ve got my Max Factor lipstick on,” says Vincent, 47, of Los Angeles, while attending the annual Lucy’s Birthday Celebration last August.
As the hometown of the late Lucille Ball, Jamestown (pop. 31,730) celebrates the life and humor of the comedic actress with two annual festivals, three downtown wall murals, and an array of attractions and historic sites dedicated to preserving the legacy of the town’s most famous resident.
Ball, who co-starred as ditzy housewife Lucy Ricardo alongside her on- and off-screen husband, Cuban-born Desi Arnaz, in the popular 1950s television series I Love Lucy, was born in Jamestown on Aug. 6, 1911, and lived in a house on Eighth Street, now Lucy Lane, in nearby Celoron (pop. 1,295), until she left to pursue an acting career at the age of 15.
Known to generations simply as “Lucy,” Ball created one of the most beloved TV characters of the 20th century and together with Arnaz founded the Hollywood production studio Desilu Productions. “How could she grasp that fans would be loving her 56 years after the original I Love Lucy?” asks Ric Wyman, 38, director of the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center.
Housed in several renovated buildings in downtown Jamestown, the center consists of The Lucy-Desi Museum, which displays priceless memorabilia such as costumes, photographs and awards from the estates of Ball and Arnaz; a gift shop offering original Lucy portraits, T-shirts and souvenirs; and the Desilu Playhouse, which re-creates familiar settings from the television show, such as Lucy and Desi’s New York apartment and Desi’s Tropicana nightclub, with full-size soundstage replicas.
“I can still see my grandmother on the couch watching Lucy,’’ says one visitor dreamily as she gazes at the famous scenes.
For the last 11 years, Jamestown has welcomed thousands of fans from across the world to the Lucy-Desi Festival, celebrated every Memorial Day weekend, and Lucy’s Birthday Celebration, scheduled Aug. 3 to 5 this year to observe the 96th anniversary of her birth.
During both festivals, Lucy impersonators roam the streets and pose for photographs, and special guests such as Lucy’s longtime chauffeur, Frank Gorey, share memories of working with the queen of TV comedy. Writers and film editors of her various TV series discuss her work, and buses take visitors on tours of various Lucy-related sites, including the two-story home at 69 Stewart Ave. where she was born, and Lake View Cemetery, where the comedienne’s ashes are interred alongside her parents.
Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi, 47, thinks Lucy’s enduring popularity has a simple explanation: “Lucy always put a smile on people’s faces,” he says.
Lucy look-alike Vincent agrees. “Her fan base, my goodness, it just grows every year,” she says. “Because of reruns and DVDs, kids still have a chance to love Lucy.”