Liz Smith: Everybody Loves "Breaking Bad" Star Bryan Cranston … Not Everybody Loved Lucy!

“’YOU CHICKEN?’ he asks, freshly razored scalp gleaming under a distant streetlight. ‘You a scaredy-cat?’ He’s not even Walter now … and in his pitiless blue eyes, I’m everything weak and human …

“He’s just Bryan Cranston, an avuncular 56-year-old actor at the end of another 13-hour day of playing what he calls ‘the role of my life’ — the one that’s won him three Emmys and counting.”


That’s Rolling Stone’s writer Brian Hiatt describing an interview with the cast and company of the hit show “Breaking Bad,” which is seen on the AMC network.

WELL, I — Liz — can glance down at my prized “Breaking Bad” wristwatch, sent to me by the star of the series himself. I had been writing about this incredible show and it became a focus of interest for me. Actor Cranston sent me the watch himself so ever since, I’ve felt I was a character in the show.

I’ve been watching it from the beginning five seasons ago.

When I mention “Breaking Bad,” people seem to shy and shudder like frightened horses. Or they don’t know anything about this TV phenomenon and believe they wouldn’t understand if it they tuned in late. (The New York Times recently published an entire article explaining one of the “miracles” of a scientific happening on an episode. Fascinating!)

I say, get in line, like members of the cognoscenti, and watch all of the series of “Breaking Bad” from the first — in relays.

I will quote writer Hiatt again who presents it as “ “TV’s Most Twisted Show.” He says, “’Breaking Bad’ is, at its core, a story of transformation — unlike nearly every character in the history of television, Walter White is changing beyond recognition over the show’s 62 episodes. It’s less a character arc than a plunge down a moral elevator shaft.”

I don’t quite know what to say about folks who don’t seem to know how great an actor Bryan Cranston is, or how good are his co-actors (Aaron Paul, to name just one) or how gifted the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan. People who just get TV from the big four networks are really missing out.

There are moments in “Breaking Bad” that are so startling that you simply never can forget them. A teddy bear floating in an Arizona swimming pool … a villain being killed by a drug lord, slowly, with a box cutter … a shootout between a detective and two Mexican drug thugs in a parking lot … a wife very very afraid of her mild-mannered husband … in-laws, druggies, handicapped children, a new baby, a poisoned baby. Yes — get on board!

THE TIMES also did a story last Monday about the town of Jamestown, New York which is seeking economic lift in tying itself to the late Lucille Ball, who is buried there. Jamestown has been saying and singing “I Love Lucy” since 1991, re-enacting favorite episodes in a regular Lucy Fest. The Lucy Desi Museum draws 20,000 visitors a year and they celebrated Lucy’s 100th birthday last year.

Well, I’m all for Jamestown raising money on Lucille Ball. But some of the celebrators would be “shocked, shocked” to find that everyone did not love Lucy. And they were some of the most celebrated guests ever on the “I Love Lucy” Show. I’m talking Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

In the new publication of his diary, Mr. Burton devotes at least four pages to hating Lucy and the experience he and his famous wife had in working with her. Richard says a lot more than the following, but just to give you the gist, written in May 1970, in the book compiled by Chris Williamsfor the Yale Press.

“She is a monster of staggering charmlessness and monumental lack of humour …. I am coldly sarcastic with her to the point of outright contempt but she hears only what she wants to hear …. She is a tired old woman and lives entirely on that weekly show which she has been doing and successfully doing for 19 years. Nineteen solid years of double-takes and pratfalls and desperate upstaging and cutting out other people’s laughs if she can, nervously watching the ‘ratings’ as she does so … I loathe her today but now I also pity her. I make a point of never seeing her again …. Milady Ball can thank her lucky stars that I am not drinking. There is a chance that if I had I might have killed her. Jack Benny, the most amiable man in the world, and one of the truly great comedians of our time, says that in 4 days she reduced his life expectancy by 10 years.”

And he goes on and on.

Well, I do love one of Lucy and Desi’s children, the talented Lucie Arnaz, but I didn’t love Lucy either. In fact, she is one of the rare big stars I was sorry I ever met.

It’s always horrible when the stars disappoint and disillusion us. What we do, is, I suppose equally bad.

At least so many of them think so.

This column originally appeared on on 8/8/12

5 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Life doesn’t always turn out the way we planned and Lucille Ball’s certainly didn’t and I suspect one thing she didn’t plan on was running a studio all by herself.  And it was her show and all the other shows she lived for. Successfully so one might add. She ended up one of the wealthiest women in Hollywood.  And several others did very well by her.  She was as a mutual friend put it a single mom who had very little time to be a mom. But still managed the time.  Successfully so again one might add. Both her kids ended up landing on their feet. Not everyone else’s did.  True that not everyone loved Lucy. But then Lucy didn’t love everyone back.  One can only wonder what she would have written about the Burtons.  Not everyone loved them either.  Either individually or as an “act.”  As for his performance on the show, well, it was probably the only time in his career that we wasn’t drunk.  He really should have kept his opinions to himself.  Others might have kept their opinons of him to themselves. In the end, the Burtons weren’t all that as they say.  But you know what Liz? Lucille Ball was. 

    • avatar Laura Ward says:

      Button did keep his opinions to himself. His real opinion was in a diary I doubt he knew would be published. Burton kept a diary from a very early age most of his life due to his love of writing. That’s in all his biographies.

  2. avatar Laura Ward says:

    Hopefully the immission of Desi Jr means you didn’t meet him and not that he’s like his mother. Milton Berle also found Lucy extremely difficult and he was a friend.

  3. avatar Lila says:

    Liz, it’s all about that disconnect between the human being who is a performer, and the public image.

    They cultivate a public image, the public falls in love.

    The public falls in love, and all too often the performer’s ego falls prey to all the flatterers, hangers-on, and the adoring public. The performer starts to believe – not the cultivated public image, but that the performer really is different, better, higher-class. Worse – they find that they really can’t trust anyone any more. No one loves them for themselves; no one is just a natural, equal friend. Even other celebrities want something from them, if only the publicity. They get hounded at every turn. Behavior and personality generally go downhill after that point.

    The behavior and personality go downhill, and the public is surprised to find that the performer is just a person after all. And too often, a jerk.

    And yep, the adoring public has something to do with that.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      The only public image Lucille Ball really cared about was the image of “Lucy” and was a perfectionist as many are but in her case she was star, director, producer and was a perfectionist in all three. But she had friends none of whom ever had an unkind word about her even when she occasionally had an unkind word about them although it was never spoken beyond the two of them, and her friends were always there for her. As she was for them. That in itself rare in Hollywood. Hedda Hopper, not the most pleasant of people herself at times, foremost among them. In terms of who she thought she was, she was who she was. A single parent who went through a divorce and ended up with all the community property. A studio. She may have been difficult, an outright bitch at times, but people were employed, paychecks were on time, and investors were happy. That was really Lucille Ball. Head of Desiilu.  Not a role she wanted. And not a “role” she “played.”  And I doubt you will hear anything unkind about her from her kids. She was a tough mother. But in the end, well, as with her friends, she was usually right. Quite a few of her friends landed on their feet as well. Her perfectionism by the way became a standard for other comediennes.  Most of them regarded as “difficult” as well by many.  But they were good at their craft. They learned from the master.  Just as the master learned herself early on. As for not trusting people she probably didn’t. But then she learned early on not to. When she found herself in the headlines being accused of being a communist.  She never did say who “named” her.  She instead decided to go on and forget it the best she could. But she never forgot.  And she became a standard for that as well in Hollywood.