Singer, Producer LUCIE ARNAZ
Tells A&U's Dann Dulin How She Survives The Loss
Of Loved Ones, And Why She Is A Mother On A Mission
Lucie Arnaz is deep in thought. She gazes
out the restaurant window at the London drizzle. "I made
a list one time for the AIDS Quilt. I had twenty names on the
list, and that was ten years ago," she says softly but purposefully. "And
those aren't just acquaintances or people that I used to know. These
are like my agents, a cousin, hairdressers, and directors. I've
lost track now. I've been touched by AIDS probably more than
a lot of people, oddly enough."
Arnaz is nestled at a corner table of an Italian
restaurant across from London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane where she
is appearing in a new musical production of The Witches of Eastwick. Inspired
by the 1987 film, which starred Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer,
and Cher, the show was adapted from the John Updike novel. The
production "flies high" according to one critic, and, indeed,
there's a mystical moment when Lucie's character, Alexandra Spofford,
flies out and eerily hovers over the audience.
Another critic hailed Lucie as having a "ravishing voice and
figure." Indeed, her debut album in the early '90s, Just
in Time, also received outstanding reviews. Seated across
from me, Arnaz looks quite dapper in her black cotton sweater, gray
granny dress, and suitable brown boots for this typically windy,
rainy day in the British capital.
turns fifty in July—hard to believe because she looks as though
she just stepped out of a high school pep rally. She still
has the youthful vivaciousness of Kim Carter, Lucie's character on Here's
Lucy, her first career break in the late '60s. She has
just finished her matinee performance at the Drury Lane and now has
a few hours to kick back and enjoy a seafood salad and some pasta
before she takes to the stage again for the evening performance. She
momentarily complains about her parched throat.
The show is physically demanding on her voice, yet she still delivers
a hell of a song. During our meal, she is forthright and down
to earth. I feel as though I am talking to an old pal.
Though Arnaz may always be known first and foremost
as the daughter of Hollywood legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz,
she's earned her show business stripes in her own right, receiving
numerous distinquished acting honors including the prestigious Sarah
Siddons Award. The Witches of Eastwick is just one link
in the long link of stage productions she's appeared in, including They're
Playing Our Song by Neil Simon and Marvin Hamlisch, Master
Class by Terrance McNally, and My One and Only with Tommy
Tune. Arnaz has made several acclaimed television movies and
films, as well. Last year, she portrayed the mother of Freddie
Prinze, Jr.'s character in the theatrical release Down to You.
Arnaz has also earned her stripes as a producer. She and her
husband, actor Laurence Luckinbill, formed Arluck Entertainment eleven
years ago, which produced the documentary Lucy & Desi: A Home
Movie. It took four years to produce and was honored with
an Emmy award. Still, with all these successes, she credits
her three children with Luckinbill, Simon, Joseph, and Katharine,
in addition to Luckinbill's sons from a previous marriage, Nicholas
and Ben, as her greatest accomplishments.
Another of Lucie's great accomplishments has been
her relentless effort for AIDS causes. Consistently lending
her name and talent to benefits, she donated a portion of her mother's
substantial estate to Caring For Babies With AIDS. The disese
first touched Arnaz's life in 1982. Richard Christopher, a
dear friend, co-performer in the Broadway production of Seesaw,
and roommate, was mysteriously and rapidly losing weight. "I
had been too scared to get an apartment by myself, so Richard and
I got one together!" she says with a laugh, momentarily reminiscing. "But
he kept getting colds, coughs, flus—and couldn't shake them." She
goes on, her voice turning fretful. "He couldn't say two
words without coughing. I remember looking at him and knowing
he wasn't going to make it. And they still wouldn't tell me
what he had." She pauses thoughtfully. "Richard
died Novemer 23, 1982. I remember it vividly because at the
time I was very pregnant with my second child, Joseph."
It's not just friends with AIDS Arnaz has lost. Her
grandparents are now gone, as are her in-laws.
Her father died in 1986, and her mother in 1989. "Mom
was so well known and so well loved by so many people," she
says reflectively. "I knew from the day I was born her
death would be private.
Sort of in my soul there was always a part of me thinking,
'Oh, brother, the day she goes...'
In one sense her passing was easier because the whole world was mourning
with me. It was like having the largest funeral in the world—everybody
putting their arms around me and telling me how much they loved my
mom. On the other hand, because she was so public I sort of
had to keep up a good front and put myself into the gear of taking
care of the world. It was interesting."
Arnaz peers out the window, which exhibits a grand
view of the Drury Lane entrance, and continues:
"People would come up to me and be crying so hard that I would
end up taking care of them. It was hard to get through
because there wasn't time to privately mourn. So I didn't mourn
mom's death for months. I postponed it somehow, and I think
probably I'm still working it out. I'm the kind of person that
if there's a job to be done, I say, 'Come on, let's get it done.'" Her
voice takes on a feisty verve. "I have a lot of my mother
in me. Her attitude was always 'Come on. Get over it. Move
In the past twenty years, the specter of loss has
been a frequent visitor in Arnaz's life. She has stood at the
bedsides of many people she loved as they took their last breaths. "It
gets more and more difficult but you deal with it. It's like
little drops of water in a glass. Sometimes the drops at the
bottom are people more important to you than even some of the drops
at the top. And then it's like for no particular reason, one
last drop goes in and you just lose it."
The last drop for Arnaz happened several years
ago when her agent, Erick Schepard, succumbed to AIDS.
"He was such a help to me in my life, and a great support," she
explains. "I remember I cried for days on end. It
was odd because there were other people I was just as close to who
had died, but Eric's death brought all the rest of the deaths back
to the surface. I just wanted to go on a rooftop and yell,
'Stop!'" She takes a sip of mineral water and continues: "There's
no easy way to deal with death.
You just have to feel it and go through it. Memorial services
help because then you can talk about the person. And if I know
their passing is near, I try to spend as much of the remaining time
with the person as possible and say my goodbyes."
What about her own demise? "Well, at
this point, since I've seen so much dying I guess I've gotten a bit
more immune to it than I should be at this stage of my life. But
I'm not particularly afraid of it.
I have been to a couple of mediums and those who talk to the
dead—I truly believe in that.
They have told me specific things about people I've lost. So
death has started to become a little easier for me because I'm quite
sure that these people are still around watching over me. I
do feel them around me and it's comforting. Death is a natural
process of living and none of us know when we're going to be there. Dying
bothers me only in the sense that I'm afraid I might die before I
can see my children through their most difficult years. And
it scares me because my husband is quite a bit older than I am.
I think about that sometimes and get depressed. I'd like to
grow old together but the chances are that might not happen," she
whispers playfully. "Of course, you never know, maybe
I'll get hit by a bus and go first!
You never know!" Her eyes pop and she smirks gleefully
then adds, "Gee, it could be a London bus.
Look left, look left," reminding herself of the Brits'
opposite-side-of-the-road driving, but not catching the blunder that
it should be "Look right, look right."
Lucie enjoys being a temporary Brit, but even though
her family visits London periodically, she misses them.
Talking about the kids, she notes that they are in their teens now,
which can be a risky time for children, especially in this age of
AIDS. Nevertheless, she says: "They know more than most
adults about the AIDS epidemic! I've had so many friends die
and they knew a lot of them. Plus, they themselves have friends
who are living with HIV and AIDS. We have this one friend who
we have said goodbye to four times. He has had all the
opportunistic infections and survived. He comes through every
time." She takes a bite of her Taliatelle alla Contadina
(Italian pasta with mushrooms and veggies in tomato sauce), then
continues: "As a family we talk about AIDS a lot. The
kids know that it doesn't just happen to 'somebody else.' They're
at an age where they're dating, and they take this disease seriously
enough. Are they wearing condoms? Let's hope so. I'm
not on their dates to watch. I just hope to God that they're
scared enough from everything they've seen in life to not be foolish."
Arnaz is now running late for her second show. She
apologizes, extends her thanks for the interview, and bids farewell
as she wraps herself in a light tan raincoat. Still pondering
on her last thought, she makes a final point before she dashes: "We all
have to be safe. AIDS can happen to any one of us."
Finishing my last bites of food, I watch as she
crosses the street, the gusty wind thrashing her hair and coat, then
glimpse at the theatre marquee with her name in lights. This
is not your usual assembly ilne, factory-stamped Made In Hollywood kid. Lucie's
learned her lessons well, and has overcome life's sorrows with compassion,
strength, and activism.
Lucie Gives A One-Word Answer For People
Who Have Been Close To Her
Vivian Vance — Inspiration
Desi Arnaz, Jr. — Indomitable
Tommy Tune — Soulmate
Desi Arnaz — Passion
Herself — Spontaneous
A word to describe your mom's character, Lucy Ricardo on I
Love Lucy — Healing
Favorite Lucille Ball movie — The Big
Favorite Childhood Sitcom — I Married Joan
Favorite Place To Disappear — Hawaii
On Keeping Fit
"I've promised myself for twenty-five years to go to yoga
class. Whenever I was in a show with Tommy Tune he was always
doing Temple To the Sun God and we all would do it with
him. It was good. And now I really need it because
we're on a raked stage [for Witches of Eastwick] that goes
up at quite a steep angle. People are dropping like flies
with neck and back injuries. I notice it with me too. I'm
not a great exercise freak, although I do take vitamins and eat
On Seeing Her First Broadway Show
"it was either Once Upon a Mattress [with Carol Burnett]
or Music Man [with Robert Preston]. Difficult to remember
as Mom was in rehearsals for Wild Cat, and I got to see
many shows all in the same week!"
On The CBS TV Movie About Her Mom And Dad
"This movie was an awful way for CBS to treat Lucille Ball
and Desi Arnaz when they put CBS on the map. It was a tabloid
version of their lives. They never explained why any of this
might have happened. At least in my documentary I tried to
find out who these people were, and hopefully shed some light on
why they were the way they were."
On Las Vegas
"In my twenties it was a real battery charge to go to the
old Las Vegas when you would spend the weekend seeing Frank Sinatra,
Dean Martin, Steve and Edie, Totie Fields, Wayne Newton, Keely
Smith. Then it wasn't hotel-magic, it was people-magic."
On Her Acting Career
"When I was fifteen, I went to New York and saw Angela Lansbury
in Mame. That was the deciding factor for what I was
going to do with my life. I said, 'That's it!'
Here's Lucie on the Web:
Read the full Lucie Arnaz interview on
A&U's Web site, www.aumag.org.