"I Love Lucy" writer Madelyn Pugh Davis dies at 90
Sad news, we've learned that legendary comedy writer Madelyn Pugh Davis died on April 20th at the age of 90. Best known for her work on Lucille Ball's shows including I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Life with Lucy, she also wrote for Steve Allen, The Mothers-In-Law, Alice and more. The Archive of American Television interviewed Madelyn and her lifelong writing partner Bob Carroll, Jr. in 1997.
Madelyn Pugh Davis on being one of the first female writers hired at CBS radio as a junior writer
I wouldn’t have had any of the jobs I had, if it hadn’t been for World War II, because usually men were drafted, went in the Army and women were not working that much then, so that was the reason, I think, I got these jobs. Someone had to leave. I was the second woman hired at CBS, on staff. Mostly they only had men writers. They told me that they would make me a senior writer, they had me doing research for some show that they said, "well, you’ll do that for a few months and then, then we’ll make you a senior writer." So it was kind of a beginning. They didn’t even have an office for me and I worked in the supply closet with a writer named Jack Newman who was hired at the same time.
Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Pugh Davis on the development of I Love Lucy
Madelyn: As a television show, at first we weren’t asked about it, they had other people I, think. And NBC was interested. Actually they wanted her to go to television with My Favorite Husband with Richard Denning.
Bob: Right, yeah, she said no, I want to do it with my husband.
Madelyn: But they didn’t want to do that. They said, we don’t believe that you’re really, you’re married to a Cuban band eader. And she said, well, I am married to him! She held out. So, uh, they asked us to a write a Vaudeville act, a stage act for them, where Desi was going on the road and then she would interrupt and try to get into the act and come up from the back of the audience and all. Bob and I wrote that and hey went on the road with it and I think they played quite a few places and then they had network people look at it.
Bob: They had the great cello bit.
Madelyn: And of course, they worked beautifully together and they could see that he was funny and they said okay. So the they asked Jess [Oppenheimer] and Bob and me to do the I Love Lucy pilot.
Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Pugh Davis on their writing partnership
Bob: I didn’t really like to work.
Madelyn: We’ve been writing together, it’ll be 50 years, and he wasn’t sure it would work out.
Bob: She has all the discipline. I never typed a script in the entire fifty years. A final script ever -- I couldn’t type. I walk, I’m a pacer. I pace back and forth.
Madelyn: We found that we just wrote well together. We have the same sense of humor. And sometimes if you’re reading a script around a table, we would put the same word or the same joke, that it needed that word. We never had to argue about what was funny. We just argued about the temperature of the room!
Madelyn Pugh Davis on the power of the rerun
In studio A at CBS and then a kinescope was shown to people who were going to buy I Love Lucy. And that was the way you did things in those days. So doing it on film and no one knew there were ever going to be reruns. I remember Desi Arnaz or somebody saying, "why would anybody look at it if they’d already seen it?" No one thought it should be permanent and there was so many shows done live in those days, I think Burns And Allen were live in the early days, every two weeks, so it was, it was a wheel. It all turned out rather well.
Interview clip: Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Pugh Davis on the legacy of I Love Lucy
Full Interview Description:
Bob Carroll, Jr. (1918-2007) and writing partner Madelyn Pugh Davis, were interviewed for three hours in Los Angeles, CA. Davis and Carroll speak of their 50-year writing relationship that included writing for Steve Allen, as well as the decades of working with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and the classic I Love Lucy show. The interview was conducted by Tom Gilbert on November 24, 1997.
As a footnote, after Bob Carroll, Jr.'s passing in early 2007, Madelyn sent a letter to us about this interview. "I felt Tom Gilbert did an excellent job of interviewing us. It is probably the best and most extensive interview Bob and I ever had...." [K.H.]