By LYNN ELBER
AP Television Writer
Madelyn Pugh Davis, a screenwriter who co-created the lines and slapstick that Lucille Ball brought to life in TV’s classic comedy “I Love Lucy,” has died. She was 90.
Davis died Wednesday at her home in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles after a brief illness, her son, Michael Quinn Martin, said Thursday.
Davis and her longtime writing partner, Bob Carroll Jr., crafted all episodes for the hit CBS TV sitcom’s first four years before they were joined by two other writers, said Lucie Arnaz, Ball’s daughter.
Whenever her mother was complimented on her success, Arnaz recalled, “the first words out of her mouth were, ‘I have these wonderful writers,’ or, ‘I can’t do it without my writers.’ Most of the time she was referring to Davis and Carroll.”
In turn, Davis’ son said, his mother would pay tribute to Ball’s ability to turn physical gags described in a script into something “much more amazing.”
Martin and his mom often watched reruns together of the classic sitcom that still airs worldwide.
“She was always kind of flabbergasted that people were still interested in it after all these years,” he said. His mother always got a laugh out of the show, sometimes noting she’d “cranked out” so many episodes that she couldn’t entirely recall them.
Davis and Carroll had worked on Ball’s radio comedy, “My Favorite Husband.” When the show moved to TV in 1953 as “I Love Lucy,” Ball took Davis and Carroll with her and added real-life husband Desi Arnaz to the cast.
The writing duo remained with the show during its 1951-57 run and then wrote for “The Lucy Show,” “Here’s Lucy” and “Life With Lucy.” Carroll died in 2007 at age 87.
Ball, who died at 77 in 1989, is the subject of a one-woman show, “An Evening with Lucille Ball,” starring Suzanne La Rusch and directed by Lucie Arnaz.
Arnaz recalled Davis as “such a girlie girl, a lady,” someone who understood how to write for a woman.
Her nature, along with “her professionalism, wit and inventiveness,” made her an essential part of the success of “I Love Lucy,” said Tom Gilbert, co-author of “Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz,” slated for re-release in a new version in August.
“She softened the edges of the Lucy Ricardo character and made her more likable. I feel certain she was the force behind the marvelous interplay between the Lucy and Ethel characters as well,” Gilbert said, referring to co-star Vivian Vance’s Ethel Mertz.
The entertainment industry can be tough for women to crack but Davis, an Indiana native, got an unexpected assist, said her son: When she arrived in Los Angeles around 1944, male writers were scarce because so many were serving in World War II.
“On the flip side, if writers would come in to pitch a story they would always look at Bob, the man of the team, and that was a bit frustrating,” Martin said. After working with the pair, however, “they realized they were equals.”
Besides her son, Davis is survived by stepchildren, grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Services will be private.
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