It was another sunny smoggy day in Los Angeles. The sun streamed in through Kay’s bedroom window as she pulled the covers over her face to stop the new day from waking her. It was Monday and the bleak thought of living another day as someone else again petrified her. She would again become the face, voice and body of a legend. A woman who has been outside of and inside of her for over fifteen years? To play a character twenty-four hours a day was two long a stretch. She was lost in the spirit of a dominating and highly strong willed force. The entire world loved Lucy, no one including the life in her own body, knew Kay even though she had been a professional stage actress in New York. It happened twenty years ago as she hopped onto a National Company tour of a Broadway Musical and pursued the film world of Los Angeles. She stayed there and for five years signing with one Agent after another. She worked a bit in commercials here and there. A day player on a series now and then but not enough to survive and pay the rental she had in West Hollywood.
Finally one day in the trade paper she saw an ad for actors needed to play celebrity look a likes. Out of desperation she attended the audition and with her keen ear for voices and between her physical nature and her vocal quality she was a natural to depict and become Lucille Ball at the theme park. The pay was union and she moved out to Toluca Lake where the rent was affordable and she could still pursue work in Hollywood itself. She could work around her schedule with the other Lucy’s and it was perfect. The freedom she needed. The first year was quite comfortable for Kay and even though the daily grind was exhausting she found it fun and enjoyed playing her character and then suddenly one day the demands of Lucy took over her life. She felt herself slipping away.
Occasionally short runs in a play fulfilled her need to play other characters but she found that Lucy wasn’t satisfied by her herself being shared with Blanche Dubois in “Streetcar Named Desire” and Lizzie in “The Rainmaker.” She wanted to be the only one inhabiting Kay. It was the thirst of Lucy’s will to be constantly reborn? Kay tried to pull away from it and even went on a leave of absence to recapture her initial desire to be an actress of many characters. The lure of the steady pay and the comfort and the contentment of a slightly cushioned bank account led her back to the prison of being “Just Lucy.”
Finally as she tried to get back to sleep she decided to call in ill for the day but Lucy would have none of that. Kay could feel Lucy’s cold yet strong hand lifting her up and even with her resisting the hand got her up from the bed. Kay’s body felt the chill and the force of the other woman that possessed her. It was obvious to her that she had no self will left. Her own life was in other hands. “My God she thought it’s time for some help. I can’t allow her or any one else to do this to me?”
She walked herself over to her dresser mirror and looked at her own soulless face. She saw a slightly haggard worn out person standing in front of her. Who was this woman? “Ah,” she sighed. Now a thin forty- two-year old woman who was almost removed entirely from reality. She was imprisoned by a dynamic force with a strong need to live on by the constant live presence of her being Kay. By her own gifted artistry was continuing the real life force of a woman loved by millions of people for her cunning and cleverness and great gift of comedy. She was the Star and Kay was her tool. While years of reruns have faded here at least in California, Lucy was alive and honored by her many fans.
Kay held a somewhat joy as being the recipient and such a beloved woman. But how much this demeaned Kay’s inside life. She did not exist anymore only as an imprisoned servant. She even stopped pursuing roles in some of the member theatres in Los Angeles. She gave herself totally to being Lucy. She did what she had to
do. As she walked, talked, and joked with her public as Lucy she was patted lightly on the back slightly content with her mentor’s approval.
A couple of short termed boyfriends were attracted to her because she represented Lucy. She was not the one really being romantically pursued but her immaculate impersonation of this beloved woman was who they were kissing and never really Kay. Rita Hayworth once said in an interview about her love life she said, “they were never really pursuing her the real Rita, they were attracted to was Gilda the movie image.”
Kay’s frustration was wide spread. She was getting more lost and alone every day. While looking now in the mirror, Kay brushed her own reddish and slightly grayish hair back and twisted it into a bun and then reached over to Lucy’s wig. She looked at it first with disdain and hopelessness but then too exhausted to fight her mentor she put it on her head gently and the continued again on the whole process. Despite her constant withdrawal, she would become Lucy and she would pretend to enjoy her role or she would suffer the consequences.
She learned over the last fifteen years that if you fight your character the character will win! Then she spoke as Lucy into the mirror. That gruffly belted out voice toward her giving her whole body chills of obedience and lack of self confidence. Lucy smiled knowing that again this morning she was taking over and her servant Kay has given in to her for another day. Lucy was delighted. She was a winner!
Then Lucy laughed and boldly tossed off a wry comment,“Get your ass going kiddo we got a show to do. Come on, the red hair, the popping eyes, my throaty famous voice, my brisk humor. Smile for the folks. For God’s sake deliver that glorious famous cry for them. You be ready today to bring me back to my fullest. The other namesakes are okay a couple are good but you darling YOU ARE ME! Now come ON you can do it sister. You lucky non-descript dull looking actress as me you sparkle. Why do you think you got to play me? I had instinct. I had a feeling about you… I picked you to be me. To look like me. Sound like me. Continue me. Go ahead prepare the day. Look over at me and see the Lucy wall that you have gained. There you are standing next to the Mayor of Los Angeles, the new president of Warner Bros Studio, the current head of CBS network. You are glorified as me. Never forget that. You sad…sad middle aged fading woman. You owe me for this shine of fame my image has given to you. Dress up for the fans and give them what they want. The theme park is ours to enlighten.”
The being of Lucy laughed at Kay in the mirror and Kay slumped on the padded chair by the dresser and tears flowed down her face as she obediently started to prepare her makeup.
This was only Monday and she was digging deep inside calling toward Lucy to live within her. She had sold her soul but still could rely on her artistry to become the life-force of a woman who has been deceased for many years. The brash, the strong, the powerful the legend.
She looked closely at herself as she applied more cold cream on her face. How much she had in common with the lead Marilyn Monroe at the theme park they sometimes lunched together in the character make up rooms and bonded somewhat like sisters. They discussed their characters and the Marilyn was just somewhat isolated and a bit innocent in manner but was still removed except for the look of her. With Lucy there was no way to do that and even if she walked through it she was dynamic and for all of those hours you had to be equally as powerful. SHE WAS A STAR! Marilyn was ever invulnerable and you wanted to help her and hug her because you saw the sadness. Lucy was in control…always.
The two girls Lucy and Marilyn after most of the day at the park couldn’t wait to have lunch hour together in the trailer and chat about their lives and could open themselves to each other like girl friends of many years. They would giggle sometimes about those thousands of tourists that admired them so and how much they in awe of those two women.
There were times that Kay wanted to abandon the sound of Lucy and just for once be herself to the tourists but she knew she couldn’t. Lucy would reprimand her. Kay was obedient almost all of the time. Kay would dismiss her own feelings to please the star. Kay wondered more and more about herself. Who was she? She had lost her own voice and her own gift. She had become a mask, a shadow and the New York then Hollywood that she had fled from that small town Holbrook, AZ was so totally in the past. Her family would think she was a huge star now and they’d be delighted. To herself she was nothing but a tool.
Through her tears she justified her life. Her reward. She knew she was the best Lucy. Every day people would stop her in the theme park and tell her how remarkable she was. She looked just like her, she sounded like her, she walked like her, she thought like her. One day an old woman stopped her and said, “Darling are you really Lucille Ball you are so real. You know darling you are scary.” As Lucy she coldly touched the woman on her shoulder and smiled back at her old fan as she uttered in perfect Lucy sounds, “I am real and I’m so hungry. I’m meeting Fred and Ethel, we’re dining at the commissary. Ricky’s at another band rehearsal but afterwards we’ll be having dinner at the Copa. Just one happy family. The Mertz’s and the Ricardos. By the way don’t breathe a word of this to Ricky, but The Mertz’s and I are doing our own vaudeville show tonight at the Copa, we arranged it with the band. You know how I love to sing. I’m doing a Carmen Miranda. You’ll love it.”
The woman was thrilled and yelled out, “Oh Yes Lucy, I remember that one. You were so funny. Oh Lucy…thank you for being so….so…Can you autograph my theme program.” Lucy took the woman’s hand and patted it. That sly smile of Lucy’s beamed down at the woman as she took the pencil and program sheet and signed it to: “My Dear and loving Fan. Always yours – Lucy.” The woman now was in tears of gratitude. She looked down at the autograph and in awe cooed her favorite star, “You are real. You’ve made my whole week. Thank you Lucy.”
Lucy & Kay bobbed their head in acknowledgement and quickly skipped off toward the Commissary, they waved back to the woman and as if with a giggle remarked. “Off to Fred and Ethel, I hate to keep them waiting.” Kay walked away then as tears filled her eyes and in the next few moments years of panic filled her. All those years of being haunted by someone had taken over her whole existence. “Who was she? Where was that passion for the theatre and for stretching that talent she felt was in her?”
Those years at the theme park had eventually helped her lose all desire to pursue anything else. Suddenly a chill filled her body and fright possessed her. She was brave to face thousands of people a day as Lucy but had lost almost all of her own identity. Now in a distance from her last Lucy encounter she started to breathe heavily and her body was shaking as she found her feet involuntary running and running trying to escape this play land. Like a frightened child she ran and ran and her feet pressed harder and harder on the cement. A madness took over, and as she continued running one of her heals broke off, but even thought she crumbled a bit she couldn’t stop running.
Faster and faster her breaths were shorter and her tears ran almost as quickly as her feet. She thought, “Don’t let anyone see me.” She felt the grasp of Lucy trying to stop her, to calm her but it wasn’t working anymore. She wanting so desperately to be free. Never as an actress has she had this domination of any of her characters. She was taught acting technique and having and knowing the separation of character and actress. She felt herself pulling Lucy’s hand away from her. From a distance she saw the theme Park’s fountain area where every tourist would request photos taken with the celebrity look-a-likes.
This is the area she always dreaded, but now it was her only escape. The broken heal had slowed her running and made her look like she was partially limping and became an almost desperate invalid. She slowed down a bit and focused on the fountain and the only thing she could see in her way was an older woman and a young ballerina sized child who was standing up on the fountain steps.
The little girl was posing in a slight curtsy instructed by her grandmother taking who was taking a flash photo. Kay’s first thought was to run past them and maybe they wouldn’t notice her. This way she could make it to the employee parking lot and she could quickly get into her car and leave this place forever. Tomorrow she would come back and resign then give the wig and apron and skirt to the wardrobe department. What she would do next was not even in her thoughts. There’d be no income, no comfortable apartment but she’d be free.
Something good would happen for her. She would once again regain her strength and pursue something else. She found herself getting closer and closer to the fountain. She saw the young girl doing another instructed ballerina pose. Kay stopped a second and watched the young girl. In wonderment she thought, “What could that little girl be her in thirty some years?” The delighted grandmother took another flash photo.
She stopped herself from running and the first sane thought took over her fear. She paused and sucked in a deep breathe and slightly tossed her head and pushed her shoulders back as if she were about to make an entrance on Stage. She started to realize that she had made a choice of strength for the first time in fifteen years. She suddenly felt a great urge to remove layers of Lucy’s costume including the Lucy Wig. She gingerly took off the wig and folded it and placed it into her small handbag. Then parts of the Lucy costume were skillfully removed. The apron and the cloth belt were being removed and with each gone she looked less and less Lucy, and she looked more and more Kay. She walked as herself toward the young girl and the grandmother.
She turned toward the smiling grandmother who she was soon aware was handing her over the camera. The woman sweetly said, “Could you take a picture of us, please?” Kay smiled a sigh of relief now. She held up the camera and softly as she spoke, “I’d love to. Can you and the child stand together on the steps?” Then again to the Grandmother, “Can you put your arm around her shoulder and hold her as she is who she is, and love her for being whatever in life she wants to be. Just to be herself. That will be very special.” She snapped the flash and gave the camera back to the grandmother.
They both looked at Kay curiously now. The grandmother in slight hesitation uttered, “We were in the park earlier and we saw you? Were you Lucille Ball?” Kay now regaining herself smiled and in her own voice said, “My name is Kay and I’m a stage and screen actress. Yes, today I was Lucille Ball.”
The grandmother offered her hand to shake Kay’s and spoke, “You were wonderful. I’ve been here before and you are by far the Best Lucy.” Kay shook the woman’s hand and graciously remarked, “Thank you I’m quite flattered but the best Lucy will always be…forever – Lucille Ball.”
With a slight tear starting to swell in Kay’s eye she turned away from the two of them, and with her finest moment of dignity she walked away as if in this short period of time she finally regained a new amount of respect for herself. At last she knew what path she wanted to follow. Lucy would and will with remain in films and reruns.
Kay will now tap her own image, talent and comic side. As soon as she regains the passion she once held as an actress she will again go back to playing one role after another. After an evening performance on a stage or playing a character on the camera, Kay will leave the performance behind, as she takes off her makeup and costumes and walks out of her dressing room and out to enter her parked car. Kay pops in a cassette to one of her favorite Broadway musical’s, and sings along with her very own voice as loud as she wants it to be.
She has welcomed herself back. She is now “I Love Lucy” from far away.
William Derringer is a short story writer and an award winning playwright. His short story “How Woody Allen Got My Notes” was published in Cooweescoowee Journal, and in 2012 his story “Destiny’s Roommates” was a finalist for the H. E. Francis Short Story Competition.