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 Posted:   May 5, 2009 - 12:57 AM   
 By:   Steve Johnson   (Member)

From the WE LOVE LUCY site:

Remembering Marl Young...

Was saddened to learn of the death of musician Marl Young, who passed this past Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 92.

Young was the first black musical director of a major network television series, Here's Lucy, and had a working relationship with Lucille Ball that spanned some 16 years.

Check out the WE LOVE LUCY website for a detailed interview with the composer. Young took over after Wilbur Hatch died in 1969.

The following article and sidebar were originally published in "Star Notes," our We Love Lucy newsletter of Spring, 1993.


Marl Young recalls
working with Lucy

Loyalty and luck are two concepts that come up in conversation quite often when one speaks with musician Marl Young about his sixteen-year working relationship with Lucille Ball. “Lucy was very loyal, and I was very lucky,” he says with a broad smile. From the tone of the conversation, however, one can tell that he, too, is very loyal. “Lucy is the best thing that ever happened to television,” he says without equivocation.

Born in Virginia, Marl and his family moved to Chicago when he was “five or six.” He attended school and junior college there, and became entranced by the world of music. “Those were the days of the Big Bands,” he recalls. “There were nightspots on every corner, real nightclubs with real floor shows. I loved music and knew I wanted to be part of it. I started to work as a pianist, rehearsing with performers, sketching (writing the music on paper), arranging and, ultimately, conducting in the clubs. It was a lively, fast-paced world, very challenging for a fellow just starting out. I always managed to keep busy. When I was not writing the music for a show, I would be conducting someone else’s music, or would be working as a ‘show doctor’ to fix something in a show that wasn’t working… For a long time I worked at a club called the Rum Boogie, but at the same time was writing music for an act down the street. I became very proficient at this type of thing.”

If anything bothered Marl about Chicago, it was the Midwest winters. “I hated the cold weather,” he remembers. “In 1944 snow fell in November, and that same snow was still on the ground in March. I got pneumonia that year, and vowed that if I recovered I was going to get out of there.” When an early marriage fell apart, Marl took his cue and headed west.

Marl’s association with Lucille Ball and Desilu Productions started a few years later, in 1958, when a lady auditioning for the Desilu Workshop, Lucy’s in-house acting school, needed an accompanist. “Her regular piano player was not available, and he recommended me,” marl recalls. “We went in cold, without rehearsal, and did a couple of numbers. The audition people liked us and asked us to come back again. We did, and Lucy was there that day. She applauded when we finished and asked us for more. Before we left, the manager called me aside and asked if I would be available to work with the Workshop full time. ‘We had not planned on having a piano player,’ he said, ‘so I will have to get the budget approved… but if I can, are you available?’ I assured him I was, and he said I should be available to come in on a moment’s notice some morning. A few mornings later, the phone rang…

“So now I had a five-days-a-week job, working with the kids in the Desilu Workshop. They were doing scenes and numbers from things like ‘Guys and Dolls.’ Some had more experience than others, and we all worked together on things, which is really what a workshop environment is all about… Finally we gave a revue right there on the Gower lot. I played in the band and conducted three or four times when the regular conductor was not available. From this I got to know Lucy very well. We eventually recreated that revue as the 1959 Christmas show on the Desilu Playhouse television series.

“I remember one morning I was sitting there playing something on the piano, and I noticed someone standing in the shadows over to one side, listening. Pretty soon he walked over to me, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gawd, it’s Desi Arnaz. That man owns this place!’ But he turned out to be very nice. He smiled and introduced himself, and later on he said that he was doing a couple of shows in the Palm Springs area with a couple of girl singers, and he asked if I would rehearse with the girls, then come down and do the show with them. I did, and we all got along very well.

“Of course, Lucy and Desi’s relationship was unraveling about this time. She planned to leave television for a while and do ‘Wildcat’ on Broadway. One day she called and asked me to help her prepare for the show. I worked with her and worked with her, made her do all sorts of things that one might do on a live stage that one might not necessarily do on a television show or in a movie – like sing and walk at the same time. I knew this musical was important to her, so I became something of a stern taskmaster. Before we were through she was calling me the meanest piano player she had ever met. But she worked like a Trojan. Finally it was time for her to go back east and start rehearsals for the show. One day, out of the blue, my phone rang. I picked it up and a voice said, ‘God bless you…’ I said, ‘Who is this?’ and she said, ‘It’s Lucy! God bless you. Everything ou made me do, they have asked me to do, and after working so hard with you, it now comes easy…’ I felt very good about that – and about the fact that she cared enough to call me long distance and tell me.

“A couple of years later, when Lucy and Viv got ready to go back on the air with The Lucy Show, I got a call from Julian Davidson, who was Music Coordinator at Desilu. He said that he and Wilbur Hatch had written a new song, and they wanted me to come down to the studio and demonstrate it. (Wilbur had been with Lucy and Desi since the beginning… He had been with Lucy on the radio, and he had conducted most of the music on the original I Love Lucy series.)

“So I went in, and the music they wanted me to play was the theme song to the new show. The room was filled with ‘suits,’ executives from CBS, Lever Brothers, General Foods… The show had been sold without benefit of a pilot, so these fellows wanted to know what they were getting. Desi wanted me to demonstrate the versatility of the new theme music. He had me play it straight, as written. Then he said, ‘Play it as the blues,’ and I did. ‘Now play it as a tango… now as a mombo… not play it really funky.’ Everyone seemed pleased.

“Later, Desi, Wilbur, Julian and I were sitting there, and Desi started talking about getting a band together to play during the audience ‘warm up’ sessions before the filming of the Lucy segments. His band had always played at their earlier shows, and he intended to continue the tradition. At least two of his original musicians, Tony Turnin and Bill Shaeffer, were still with the company and would be part of this warm-up group. Desi knew I was versatile, so he suggested I be part of the band… just like that, just as casually as if he were asking someone to lunch. He indicated he also wanted to feature a new guest-vocalist in the warm-up shows every week, and that he needed a pianist who could work with these singers. I jumped at the chance. The punch line is that I stayed with the show 12 years, but the idea of using guest singers evaporated, and they never did present even one. That just shows how luck works!

“So for the first couple of seasons, I was there doing warm-up. Then, in 1964, Roberta Sherwood and her son, Robert Lanning, were guests on the show, and Bill Shaeffer and I wound up on camera in a musical number. Because of this, Wilbur asked me to do the recording session, (The recording session is the time when the final, edited film is screened, and the background music is recorded, with everything timed to fit each scene and/or moment in the show. It’s considered a very precise art.) They used a full orchestra for these sessions, and normally recorded two shows in a single sitting. I did the Roberta Sherwood episode, and after a break, assumed Ray Turner, the usual pianist, would come in and do the second show. But when it was time to start, I looked around and no Ray Turner. I walked back to the piano and did the second show, too. No one said anything, and about two weeks later I got a call to do another recording session… and then another… and it became part of my regular routine.

“In 1966, Jack Baker, who had served as choreographer on the Desilu Workshop Christmas revue, showed up back on the lot, and I learned that Lucy wanted to start doing more musical numbers in her show. Viv had left the series by this time, and although Lucy and Gale Gordon were now supposed to work in a bank, the writers always found ways to work music into the weekly plots. One of my favorites was one of the first, a show in which Ken Berry, who was also one of the Workshop kids, played a dancer who tried to convince Mr. Mooney to finance his dancing school. We had a lot of fun on that one. We used ‘Pick Yourself Up,’ an old Jerome Kern song that had been written thirty years earlier for a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers picture that had been made right there at the same studio. ‘Pick Yourself Up’ is a fascinating song with a very complex harmony. It changes keys every eight bars!

“It was during production of this episode that Wilbur Hatch asked me to start doing pre-scores for all the musicals. Pre-scoring, I should explain, included working with the choreographer and the performers, sketching out the notes musically, arranging the music, and getting it to the band. My experience with the nightclub floor shows back in Chicago really came in handy here. Often times we were working on two or three shows at once: rehearsing this week’s show, recording a show we filmed last week, and planning for a show we were going to be doing a week or two later. Quite an operation!

“In 1968, we segued from The Lucy Show to Here’s Lucy without missing a beat. Most of the same studio people continued right on into the new series. Lucy’s children, of course, joined the cast, and he husband Gary Morton became executive producer. Music continued to plan an important role in the weekly plots. One week little Desi would have a job with a rock group; another time the whole family would help put on a show for the PTA. One week, about mid-way through the second season we did a show titled, ‘The Generation Gap,’ which included musical sketches that harkened back to the Roman era, to the Gay 90s, and ahead to the Space Age. We all worked very hard on that one and were just exhausted.

“It was about this time that Wilbur Hatch became ill. He continued to work, however, and we did one show right after another. I remember Christmas fell on Wednesday that year (1969), and although we were not filming a show that week, a recording session had been scheduled for Friday. Wilbur knew how hard we had worked on the shows, and pulled me aside and suggested I take Christmas week off to recuperate. I made arrangements to visit family and friends in Las Vegas and San Francisco… made all the reservations, and was almost out the door when the phone rang. It was Howard Rayfiel, one of Lucy’s attorneys. ‘Wilbur Hatch died last night,’ he said. ‘You’d better get in here.’

“Howard and I met with Gary, who turned to me and said, ‘You are conducting on Friday. Of course, you have conducted to picture and clock…’ Well, I never had – but he did not actually ask me, so I did not volunteer anything. I figured I had four days… As usual we were recording two shows that Friday. Wilbur had completed the score to one and had sketched the other one, which I now had four days to orchestrate. So I got out my stopwatch and metronome and went to work.

“This was the show with Ann Margret, and one cue was very difficult. There was a scene with Ann and Desi, and she says that she is going to slip into something a little more comfortable, and he has all kind of visions of the evening that lie ahead – and I had to capture all this stuff in music. I worked on it and worked on it, and when I went in there on Friday, I had that whole show memorized. And it was really heartwarming for me because our production manager Bill Magginetti came by, and our cinematographer, Maury Gertsman, was there, just to cheer me on. Bill stayed for a while, then said, ‘Well, I see you’ve done your homework,’ and walked out, satisfied. When I got through that first session, played to picture and clock, I felt like I’d been working in the steel mills!

“But my real baptism of fire was still to come: I had to write background music for our next show, an episode filmed on location in Las Vegas with guest-star Wayne Newton. In the first scene, we had Lucy, Gale and the kids riding in an open convertible down the Vegas strip, with all the big hotels popping up. And this is my first cue… I started working on that, and worked on it for three days, trying one idea, discarding it, trying another. I finally settled on a jazz tempo, which Gary later said he liked very much. Gary was a former trumpet player himself, and was – is – very fond of jazz.

“Halfway through the show, there was a number, a vocal with Lucy, Gale, the kids and Wayne Newton singing ‘Tumbling Tumbleweed.’ As I said, this was filmed on location, and the number was shot outside, not in a studio. Well, the sound quality of the song was terrible. The guitar was out of tune with the piano, and the voice quality was inconsistent. It was a mess. The company had long since returned to Los Angeles, so there was no hope of getting a re-take. What I finally decided to do was erase everything from the track except Wayne Newton, bring in four professional singers with voices similar to the cast’s, and re-record the song.

“I’ll never forget that the show went on the air February 16, 1970, and the next morning at 10AM the phone rang. We always started work at 10AM, so I knew it was the studio. I picked up the phone and it was Terry Price, Gary’s secretary. ‘Mr. Morton would like to speak with you,’ she said. Gulp! The man got on the line… ‘We saw the show last night,’ he said, leaving a very pregnant pause… ‘It was great! We loved the opening… and what did you do with that vocal? I felt sorry for you when I saw the original footage – How did you clean it up?’ I told him my secret, and he said on the basis of that alone I deserved commendation. Instead, he gave me Wilbur’s job.

“For the next four years I was full-time musical director, composer, rehearsal pianist, and pre-scorer – the whole ball of wax – for Here’s Lucy, and I loved every minute of it. I have always been grateful for the faith Lucy and Gary had in me. This was a prestige show, one of the biggies. When Wilbur died, they could have hired any musician in town to replace him, and, believe me, a lot of heavyweights called them. But the Mortons gave me a chance, and we had a great four years together.

“Occasionally, I will run into a former associate from those Lucy days, and we always say we were in heave and didn’t know it… Today, background music on television is often done by three pieces or a synthesizer. We had a full string orchestra! And nobody today has a live warm-up band, certainly not one with ten pieces. But Desilu was founded and run by entertainers who cared about the product and the people who worked there. It was a great place to be, and I am glad I was lucky enough to be a part of it.”

 Posted:   May 5, 2009 - 8:06 AM   
 By:   Michael Condon   (Member)

Thanks for posting this article. Fascinating insight into this man and the world of music scoring. I'm from the generation that knew Lucy from "Here's Lucy," and the opening and end credit music has always been a a favorite.
I wrote Lucy in 68/69, and she sent me an autogrpahed picture. The day it arrived in the mail my mom came to pick me up at school, with the return address just peeking out of her purse. I remember how excited I was when I saw it and couldn't believe it!

 Posted:   May 5, 2009 - 1:13 PM   
 By:   Steve Johnson   (Member)

Thanks for posting this article. Fascinating insight into this man and the world of music scoring. I'm from the generation that knew Lucy from "Here's Lucy," and the opening and end credit music has always been a a favorite.
I wrote Lucy in 68/69, and she sent me an autogrpahed picture. The day it arrived in the mail my mom came to pick me up at school, with the return address just peeking out of her purse. I remember how excited I was when I saw it and couldn't believe it!

Cool story! I sent her a photo (as Lucy Ricardo) that she signed, too. It's in a frame...

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