Tales of Recovery examines how specific television programs once thought missing or lost have been recovered. Often, these recoveries were not well-publicized or took place so long ago that they themselves have been forgotten.
In March 1951, a 34-minute pilot episode for a proposed I Love Lucy series was filmed in an attempt to sell the series to CBS and potential sponsors. It worked, but the pilot itself was never broadcast. Its storyline was worked into an episode that was shown on November 19th, 1951 during I Love Lucy‘s first season . Although I Love Lucy would air for six years and reign atop the Nielsen charts, the pilot was eventually forgotten.
In the early 1980s, the Museum of Broadcasting (now the Paley Center for Media) began actively searching for the pilot episode. At the time, the curator of museum’s television collection, Ronald C. Simon, explained how all traces of the pilot disappeared during the 1970s. Not even Desi Arnaz or Lucille Ball owned or knew where to find a copy .
Then, in December 1989, a film print was found under the bed of the late Pepito Perez, who appeared in the pilot as a clown. Reportedly, Pepito’s widow, Joanne Perez, read about the long-lost pilot in TV Guide, recalled that her husband had been given a copy, and checked under their bed . CBS aired an hour-long special built around the pilot on Monday, April 30th, 1990. It tied for first in the week’s ratings with a 21.2/37 rating. Over 30 million viewers tuned in .
Updated Friday, February 20th, 2009
S.A.K. has informed me in the comment section that portions of the above story are incorrect. A print of the unaired pilot was given to Pepito Perez by Desi Arnez. It was never “lost” and certainly was never kept under anyone’s bed. It was even shown by Pepito and his wife, Joanne, to people taking their dance classes. Television historians and fans of I Love Lucy owe both Pepito and Joanne a debt of gratitude for hanging on to the print and later making it available.
2 “Broadcasting Museum Seeks TV’s Self-History.” 43.
3 Richmond, Ray. “Long-Lost Lucy TV Pilot Airs Tonight.” Toronto Star. 30 Apr. 1990: B4.
4 “Nielsens: NBC Barely Sweeping by CBS.” USA Today. 9 May 1990: 3D.
Last Revised February 19th, 2016
9 Replies to “How the Unaired I Love Lucy Pilot Episode Was Recovered”
This article has incorrect facts. I originally read about the search for the pilot episide in the TV guide and called Joanne (a long time dear friend and personal dance instructor). Joanne stated that Desi had said that he wanted Pepito to keep it, not ever give it to anyone. Desi GAVE it to Pepito after he was done with it. It was not under Pepito’s bed. It was on a shelf in Pepito’s closet. Joanne kept a very neat and clean house. She did not store anything under beds. When I first took dancing from Pepito and Joanne, Pepito showed the classes the “pilot” numerous times. It was a fun time. Pepito and Joanne were very special people. Everyone seems to get the “Pilot” story wrong. Amazing that noone prints the truth. I know even more facts about the pilot but you probably do not care.
Thank you S.A.K. I too was a dance student and remember seeing the pilot. Pepito and Desi were good friends. As I remember it, Desi helped Pepito come to the U.S. And you are absolutely correct about Joanne. Not only a was Joanne’s home in Santa Ana neat and clean, but she was also an accomplished professional dancer, a terrific dance teacher, a talented pianist, and together with Pepito arranged magnificent recitals. Joanne’s students are familiar with her home because part of her home was a dedicated dance studio. They were indeed very special people.
I assure you, I am very interested in anything you can share about the original pilot. And I apologize for getting the story wrong; I can only go with the sources I’m able to find.
Because I do not know you, I do not feel it would be fair to the deceased Joanne and Pepito to tell you some of the intimate details regarding the pilot.
I do know a lot about the pilot; however, I just can’t release the info right now. Who are you?
The original pilot was “kinescoped” on March 2, 1951, at CBS’ “Columbia Square” radio/TV facilities [“Television City” wouldn’t be completed and opened until November 1952]. The idea was, if and when the series was sold to a sponsor, it would be produced as a “live” series on the network, as almost all of CBS’ programs were at the time. It was because Lucy & Desi didn’t want to commute to New York to appear “live”, and sponsor Philip Morris’ insistance they appear “live” because they didn’t want their commercials “kinnied” west of Chicago (the coaxial cable which allowed live TV shows to be telecast from coast-to-coast wasn’t completed until September of ’51) that prompted Desi to suggest film- which was okay with Philip Morris, as they had previously sponsored a weekly filmed version of “TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES” starring Ralph Edwards in the 1950-’51 season. But unlike the network’s filmed “AMOS ‘N’ ANDY” series, which used pre-recorded audience reactions on their soundtracks, CBS wanted Lucy to appear before a live audience. Somehow, Desi got in touch with Al Simon, who produced the filmed “TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES” series before a live audience, using multiple cameras, for Edwards, and discussed the possibilities of using the same technique for “I LOVE LUCY”…and the rest is history.
“SAK” sounds rather like an Internet Troll. First says he/she has all kinds of additional knowledge about the “Pilot” but you probably aren’t interested (“…don’t care…”). Then when your response of, essentially, “of course I am, please, do tell…” she replies, (again, the gist of it) “I would never tell the ‘intimate details’ of my close friends and personal Dance Instructors private goings on about what happened with the copy of the Lucy episode that they hid under their bed for forty years that was NOT under the bed IT WAS IN THE CLOSET because Joanne was a immaculate housekeeper AND ADDITIONAL DETAILS ARE NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!!! […however if you wanted to talk compensation…]”
It would be kinda funny if it weren’t so sad. “SAK” probably never met the stars or even Editing-Room-Floor Pepito himself, but maybe attended a taping and got to shake hands with Pepito, and stretched that experience into forty years of dinner party stories, which by the time he/she last told it, she was Desi’s personal assistant!
I am choosing to believe the much-more-interesting story from today’s Millionaire Quiz Show, that it was UNDER THE BED (by the way, no one said Joanne didn’t clean under the bed occasionally). The contestant just got to $250,000 with the correct answer, I Love Lucy. YAY!
It was my understanding that after Miss Joanne died is when they discovered the pilot. Going through her estate. My family spent every Tuesday and Thursday with Miss Joanne after class for hours. We were students from the early 90s until well after she retired and ultimately passed away. It was a sad experience the events that led to her passing. I was under the impression that is when they discovered the pilot in the closet.
After reading through all the comments about differing stories on how the pilot was found I went to newspapers.com and did a search for “Pepito Perez.” In a article that appeared in numerous newspapers on April 30, 1990 I read that, after all the hoopla over CBS showing the long-unseen I Love Lucy Christmas special, Mr. Perez’s widow went searching for the pilot and found it in a film can marked “Lucy-Desi-Pepito Audition” that was stored in her attic. (Oh my, attics tend to get hot, and film shouldn’t be stored in hot places.)
So, what’s the true story about that pilot? Doesn’t matter the least bit to me. It was in the Perez home, and now the pilot is known to exist. I’ll let others worry over the details of the story.
I believe troobeez. His description is exactly what SAK sounds like.