Bob Carroll Jnr

Pioneer of sitcom with 'I Love Lucy'


Bob Carroll, writer and producer: born McKeesport, Pennsylvania 13 August 1918; twice married (one daughter); died Los Angeles 27 January 2007.

Creating I Love Lucy and, with it, a vaudeville act for Lucille Ball made Bob Carroll Jnr and his long-time writing partner, Madelyn Pugh, pioneers of situation comedy in television's so-called Golden Age - and catapulted Ball to worldwide stardom.

The idea of women performing slapstick on screen was previously frowned on, but the actress - who had knocked around on film sets with the master clown Buster Keaton - was determined to make her mark after years of indifferent supporting roles in the cinema. Carroll and Pugh, as principal writers, along with their producer and head writer, Jess Oppenheimer, were responsible for turning Ball into television's Queen of Comedy, with fast and furious action for her scatterbrained character, Lucy Ricardo.

The star was joined on screen by Desi Arnaz, her Cuban-born bandleader husband - acting Ricky Ricardo, also a bandleader - and the comedy centred on the battle of the sexes. Carroll played a pivotal role in creating the marital conflicts that made the unsophisticated but winning comedy, usually based on Lucy getting her way with Ricky by cheating and conniving, often helped by her next-door neighbour Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance), whose husband, Fred (William Frawley), gave his support to Ricky. Inevitably, the women's wiles won out in the end. "Whaaaa!" Lucy would whine when Ricky tried to put paid to her plans, then a string of slapstick routines and raucous exploits followed.

Beginning in 1951, the show immediately went to No 3 in the American audience ratings and the following year topped the charts. However, in an effort to keep it fresh, Carroll and his fellow writers moved the Ricardos to a Hollywood setting for the fourth series so that Ricky could star in a film musical of Don Juan - with big-name guest stars including Harpo Marx - and then, a year later, to Europe for a tour by Ricky's band.

The sitcom, undisputedly the world's most popular television programme at the time and still repeated in many countries, was an instant hit with British viewers when ITV was launched in 1955 and Ball was pictured on the front cover of the first issue of its programme journal, TV Times.

With Pugh, Oppenheimer and others, Carroll worked on all 179 episodes of I Love Lucy (1951-57), which won two Emmy Awards as Best Situation Comedy (1952, 1953), and on Ball's subsequent hit sitcoms, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957-60, after which Ball and Arnaz were divorced), The Lucy Show (1962-68) and Here's Lucy (1968-74). Carroll and Pugh themselves were twice nominated for an Emmy, in 1956 and 1971.

Born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in 1918, Carroll was brought up in Florida and California, where his father, Bob Carroll Snr, bought and sold real estate. In 1940, after studying French at St Petersburg College, he broke his hip and, with time to spare while recuperating, put pen to paper and won a local radio station's scriptwriting competition. He then took a job as a front-desk clerk for CBS radio station KNX in Los Angeles and progressed through its publicity department to become a staff writer in 1943.

Three years later, Carroll teamed up with one of his CBS colleagues, Madelyn Pugh (later Davis). It was the beginning of a partnership that lasted for half a century, with the pair writing more than 500 radio shows and almost as many for television.

While scripting It's a Great Life for Steve Allen, they were so keen to work on another, forthcoming radio progamme, My Favorite Husband (1948-51), starring Lucille Ball, that they paid Allen to come up with his own script one week so that they could put together an episode for the new show. The result was that they worked on the whole run of the sitcom with Ball, who played a scatterbrained wife landing her husband (acted by Richard Denning) in one disaster after another.

It was a natural next step to transfer the formula to television for I Love Lucy, with CBS wanting to transplant Denning as well as Ball, but the star successfully held out for her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, to step into the husband role, with the couple producing the programme for CBS through their own company, Desilu.

As well as writing for Ball's subsequent series, finishing with her only flop, Life with Lucy (1986), Carroll and Pugh created two other television sitcoms, Those Whiting Girls (starring the real-life show-business sisters Margaret and Barbara Whiting, 1955-57) and The Mothers-in-Law (with Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard as neighbours feuding in the guise of protecting their respective children, who are married to each other, 1967-69).

The pair also produced some episodes (1978-80) of the sitcom Alice, were executive producers of Dorothy (1979) and storylined the film Yours, Mine and Ours (1968), starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda as a widow and widower marrying each other, with 18 children between them.

Anthony Hayward

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