Jewish writer/director Aaron Sorkin takes too many liberties in “Being the Ricardos”

Lucy+Ricardo

BY NATE BLOOM, SPECIAL FOR THE JEWISH LIGHT

In 1951, “I Love Lucy” was the highest rated show on TV. It co-starred Lucille Ball and her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, as her TV-husband. On Dec. 22, Amazon Prime began streaming a bio-pic about the couple, entitled “Being the Ricardos” (the couple’s characters’ last name). It was written and directed by AARON SORKIN, 60.

The film has “crammed” three major crises the real Lucy and Desi faced into one dramatic week in 1951 (Desi’s infidelity; allegations that Lucy was a Communist; and how they would handle Lucy’s real-life pregnancy on TV.)  The latter two crises actually happened over three years and Desi’s infidelity only ended when the couple split in 1960.

Yes, this time frame takes liberties. But it ‘ain’t nothing’ compared with the way Sorkin depicts JESS OPPENHEIMER (1913-88), the only real-life Jewish character who is a big character in the film. You would think, from the film, that Oppenheimer was “just” the producer of “I Love Lucy.” You would never know that he was a top comedy writer before he (1948) was hired by a radio show starring Lucille Ball. Oppenheimer’s funny scripts and character development turned the show into a hit. That radio show led CBS to offer Ball a TV show.

Again, you’d never know, from the film, that Oppenheimer created the premise of “I Love Lucy” (band leader married to a funny housewife) and he gave the show its name. Oppenheimer never says anything funny in the film, so you never really “get-it” that he was not just the show’s head producer—he was the show’s head comedy writer and he co-wrote all the scripts for years (with Bob Carroll, Jr. and Madelyn Pugh. These two writers are in the film, but they never say anything funny, either).

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Years ago, I talked to Oppenheimer’s son, GREGG OPPENHEIMER, now 70, after reading a detailed and funny autobiography started by Jess and finished, after his death, by Gregg. The father Gregg loved and admired was not the dour Jess Oppenheimer that Sorkin created to fit his dramatic purposes.

Also made-up is Ball’s dislike of JUDY HOLLIDAY (1921-65) based, supposedly, on jealousy. There’s a flashback scene in which Ball says that Holliday can only play only one role (a dumb blonde). Ball says this as she is being fired (1942) by her movie studio. However, Holliday’s first dumb blonde roles were in two back-to-back hit movies made much later (“Adam’s Rib” in 1949 and “Born Yesterday.” The latter earned Holliday the 1950 best actress Oscar).

“The Ricardos” cast includes LINDA LAVIN, 84, as the “older” Madelyn Pugh and JOHN RUBENSTEIN, 75, the son of the great pianist ARTHUR RUBENSTEIN, as the older Oppenheimer.