Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill
Self Isolated Artists' Series
My conversation with Lucie Arnaz brought back so many wonderful memories of seeing her work whether it was on “Here’s Lucy” with her mother, brother Desi Jr. and Gale Gordon, or from seeing her on the Great White Way in Neil Simon’s ‘Lost in Yonkers’, or in London’s West End production of ‘The Witches of Eastwick’. Lucie has also appeared in her own television series: ‘The Lucie Arnaz Show’ and in the CBS critically acclaimed ‘Sons and Daughters’. Recently, she was seen in the Broadway revival and the national touring company of ‘Pippin’ a few years ago as Berthe.
To have this opportunity to speak with her via Zoom is a personal experience of a lifetime I will never forget, and I will be forever grateful that she took the time to chat with me for nearly an hour where the time flew by.
Yes, this interview is lengthy; however, I was fascinated where life has taken Lucie since this worldwide pandemic was declared and how she and her family are doing during this time. From some of her answers, Lucie had me in fits of laughter, and that is a wonderful thing to share with another person who lives far away in Palm Springs.
Thank you again, Lucie:
It appears that after five exceptionally long months, we are slowly, very slowly, emerging to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. Has your daily life and routine along with your immediate family’s life changed in any manner?
(chortles) Have you met anybody yet who said “No” to this question? Has my daily life…Yeah, A lot…First of all, when it happened, I was right in the beginning of ten concerts totally sold-out tour, and it all just went ‘bye-bye’. Of course, I don’t go out. My husband (actor Laurence Luckinbill) and I are very vigilant about staying safe. He’s a couple of hours older than I am. He’s got a few little underlying conditions, so we have to be really, really, really careful. Nobody comes in to clean our house. We don’t go to restaurants. I’m home and I do the work.
The good part is – even though life has changed drastically from what my calendar is like - my daughter and her family who lived in Los Angeles and just had a baby boy, my first grandchild, they don’t have childcare anymore because of Covid. They both work at home so it’s really, really difficult. When the riots started happening in Los Angeles, they got a little scared and said we gotta get out of here.
So, they rented a house here in Palm Springs, right across the street from where I am. I have been fully involved in helping her raise little J.D. which has been thrilling for me. It has changed my life considerably but I’m lucky for that. That’s one of the upshots.
My son, Joe, miraculously he and his lovely lady gave birth to a baby girl a month after Kate and Jeff had their baby. He lives way far away in Connecticut, so I haven’t seen him for a long, long time. The little baby girl is now over a year old and my husband has not even held her yet. We’re trying to solve that by having them drive here soon.
Just family, it’s been really been hard to keep in touch, to hug. Everyone’s going through the same things. We’re all in this ‘TOGETHER’ as they say.
You mentioned about slowly, very slowly getting back to a pre-pandemic normal life earlier. Not here, we’re not anywhere near that. Maybe up in Canada and Toronto. People here just aren’t paying attention. We have a lot of slothful people in the United States who are just out for what they want to do, how they want to do it. They have zero patience. Can’t keep these people in their house. They gotta go to the beach, they gotta get a new haircut, they gotta go shopping, they gotta go to restaurants with their friends.
And because we have the government we have here, they’re not insisting that we all do the same thing. They’ve left it up to ‘they’ and we know who ‘they’ are. The guy, that guy (and Lucie then does a hilarious imitation of Donald Trump. I can see where Lucie gets her humorous side from her mother).
‘That’ guy decided he wasn’t going to believe the scientists. God forbid he should tell us not to do certain things. He wasn’t even going to wear a mask because it doesn’t look good. So he left it up to all the states and the governors to do what they want to do. But of course, the funding to do this is not available; he’s not providing it. It’s just been a ‘cluster…hmmm….fuc%’.
We all did our parts, well, some of us did our parts religiously for months in the hopes that it was all going to work. But because other people didn’t, and there are cars that go to other states and planes that fly, we’re all still sitting here waiting for it to get better and it’s not going to get better because nobody’s all doing the same thing like the bright people of Italy, or the bright people of any other country with a leader who is paying attention.
So, it’s pretty scary. I don’t know when it’s going to actually get better. I know that our business, the theatre, and concert business, has dried up completely. Some of it will never come back because some of these clubs are going to go out of business and it will take a long, long time to find new venues.
The last place people should be right now is in a tightly enclosed area with lots of people around them without proper ventilation and having people breathe on them from the stage OR be on a stage, sing and dance and exerting so much energy and breathing on thousands of people, hundreds or 80 people in front of you. That’s the worst possible thing to do for you to catch this virus. When people decide when it’s safe to go back, I don’t know. It’s going to be a long, long time.
I’m making myself busy doing lots of other things.
Were you involved or being considered for any projects before everything was shut down?
Normally when I do concerts, I don’t do any theatre. It’s a major commitment for a theatre gig. If you do a theatre show for a really long time, there are some artists who feel comfortable enough to take a night off and still do concerts somewhere.
I’ve been really busy and booking these shows consistently for the last few years and that’s pretty much what I do. That’s how I make my living.
This is just an odd time because this is one of the first times where I thought, “This is incredible” because of the CD I put out, and the last few times I was at Feinstein 54 Below in New York. There’s a new Feinstein’s in Los Angeles. The buzz was great and we were selling out everywhere, and I thought “This was so cool knowing that you’re going to have a full audience wherever you go”, and wouldn’t you know that would be the time when all of this would go kaputz.
I pulled out two days before the whole nation shut down because I saw this coming, and I thought there’s no way people should be coming to my show. Even though some of the venues were a little reluctant to close, I said, “Ya have to close, are you kidding me?” Right after that, it’s like “Yah, we’re closed.” There were a few days where people’s noses were out of joint that people weren’t going to come and do their shows. I said, “Hang in there another 24 hours and you’re going to see, and it’s going to be bad. And it was bad.”
Describe the most challenging element or moment of the isolation period for you.
Well, it’s all been a challenge, the whole thing is the challenge. I don’t think there’s one moment. The only challenging moments, really, seriously, I don’t mean to sound political up the whazoo, but the only challenging moments for us have been listening to the person who should be at the head of our life raft telling us how to bail the water, who can eat the food, how much do we have to save, how many days until we get to shore, and we don’t have that person.
So challenging is turning on the news at night and saying, “We are in this TOGETHER.” Yah, all the rest of us are in this together because there’s nobody driving the boat. And that’s really a challenge because you are just flailing around, trying to take care of yourself, because you know that where the care should be coming from, nobody gives a f&%$. They don’t care.
In California, Governor Newsom did the best he could under the circumstances, and we did the best in following his instructions as were Governor Cuomo in New York who really for all intents and purposes was leading the country for a long, long time because nobody wanted to listen to the President and his erroneous bulletins for three hours, like a pep rally for his re-election, not information about how to save lives. No one wanted to watch any of those anymore.
When Cuomo was given airtime, we would hang on every word he said because he was invested in saving lives. He was listening to the scientists and the doctors and the first responders saying, “Alright, this is what we’ve got to do.” It was magnificent to watch as Cuomo would figure out how to do it. Yet he’s just the governor of one state and the surrounding states were listening to him and paying attention to him.
But the President of the US was saying, “Eh, a couple of people might die, it’s no big deal. They’re old anyway.” (And then Lucie indicated frustration on screen) This is the biggest challenge we’ve had to deal with. No matter what the problem if we had somebody leading us out of this tragedy with the best intentions, not greed, not trying to be re-elected, not revenged to somebody else, we would do whatever it takes to stay alive. We would. We would do whatever it takes. But this is not the case so it’s a challenge.
I’m telling you all this, Joe, because you’re in a different country and I want other people to realize I do not speak alone. Most of us here – 75% - 80% of the people in this country feel exactly as I do and what I just said.
There’s a very small percentage of whackadoodles who somehow look at this thing that has happened and go, “Eh, great, I never like them people’ as they’re just not thinking, or they’re very, very, (and Lucie mentions many ‘verys’) wealthy people. Wealthier than anyone you and I will ever come in contact within our entire lives They don’t care what he does as long as the money keeps coming in. And that’s almost worse because I can look at ignorance and say, “These people are stupid.” But these guys and girls are not that stupid. There’s a handful of them, a handful, and they are supporting the work that is being done by his kabala.
What were you doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown and isolation from the world of theatre?
A grandmother, but also executive producing a feature film for Amazon Studios, written by Aaron Sorkin, about my mom and my dad and that’s been in the pipeline for five years, but that’s finally got the green light from Amazon Studios. So that’s now happening during all these crazy things going on.
There’s a documentary Ron Howard is doing on the family and I’ve been helping him with that, and we have a reboot of a television show that I’m one of the producers on with my daughter.
We’re launching a new series of a restaurant chain that used to be ‘Ruby’s Diner’ and now will be ‘Lucy’s’ (if things go well). This is the hat that I never really embrace wearing the estates taking care of the parents because, God knows, they’re busier now than they ever were when they were alive, can I just say. I wear that hat because it’s the job that I have to do.
When the concerts went away and there was no way to make a living, and I haven’t made any money doing any of this stuff either, but it will eventually pay off in some way, I’m sure. When I’m not busy singing and dancing, then I put this other hat back on and, as Fate would have it, this stuff just came out of the woodwork, it’s crazy. And I looked up to my parents (and Lucie looks up to heaven) and say, “Thanks, guys, for the work” because it is keeping me busy.
A lot of my friends, young ‘Broadwayites’, have gone home because their salaries are meager, and they have to pay for dance and singing lessons. Because they’ve no work, they’ve gone home to their parents for help to survive, and that’s funny because I think I just did the same thing. It’s good that it’s there.
Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What about to the new theatre graduates who are just out of school and may have been hit hard?
Oh, God, this question is so heartbreaking because I can’t even imagine what the new theatre grads are going through. My daughter was a theatre major at the University of Miami when she first started out. You jump out of this and you want to go to Broadway or head to Los Angeles and get a movie or tv show. What do you do when there isn’t anything?
Well, even when you are an actor it’s almost impossible to make a living in this business. It’s one of the hardest businesses in the world. My daughter eventually quit and even though she got great reviews, even with her night club act, she realized that she can’t make a living doing this. She would have to hold two jobs on the side plus try to get to auditions, plus take classes, etc.
My daughter went into the corporate world where she did very well. She now works for Microsoft, Amazon, Snapchat.
I guess I have to say to all performing artists, including theatre grads, the same thing even if there isn’t a pandemic: “Have something else you know you can do.” Make sure you keep doing it as often as you can because there will be lulls in this business like you can’t believe. It’s easy to make a killing but it’s not always easy to make a living. You can do great and then there’s ‘SILENCE’. It’s really hard work, especially now I would say get yourself a real estate license or do something that is still happening. Find and go do something and come back to this later on if you want to.
I can’t give false hopes. It’s going to be a long haul. You can’t even get a restaurant job because half of these waiters that are working at restaurants have been fired or let go. If the restaurant had to rehire, they would take those who were let go first and not hire any new people.
You have to be creative and find other ways to make a living. I feel for people who were launched this year because these kids are worrying about survival.
Patience doesn’t pay the bills. Young grads and performers have to realize that it’s not all autographs and sunglasses because it’s not. It’s not even when things are good. Be realistic and find out what kind of jobs are out there and go get one.
Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic?
Even if I can’t see it yet, I know it’s there. I live my life that way. We don’t always know what anything is for. But there is a reason that things happen, and sometimes it’s years before you can look back in hindsight and realize, “Oh, God, isn’t that interesting?” If that didn’t happen then we wouldn’t have invented blah-blah-blah. Or, “I never would have met so and so.” Or “I wouldn’t be here if not for that.”
There are always reasons. For me, the bright side is having my grandchild so close to me which would normally not have happened. I would have seen him once in a while. I think it’s good that a lot of people are suddenly more concerned about what they’re doing in their lives and how it affects other people. We have to take care of one another. It’s not always me, me, me.
I wear my mask for you. I stay distant for you as much as for myself. We’re not good at that as human beings. We worry about ourselves an awful lot. It’s easy to want to have a good time.
I’m really noticing others and how they’re getting through this. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for certain people right now. It’s a good exercise for our empathy.
In your informed opinion, will Broadway and the Californian performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted on account of the coronavirus?
Broadway and the Californian performing arts scene will come back, but there could be another pandemic. Who knows? We have to be prepared for that. There are people like Tyler Perry who has a huge production facility on acres and acres of land and does a lot of film and television work which was all shut down. He’s got the money, so what he decided to do to get back into production as soon as possible was to make everybody live on the premises.
He put up housing for everyone from the cast and crew, anyone involved in the production would live there, sort of like on an old straw hat circuit summer stock tour. You have to be tested negative, then Tyler Perry would fly you on a private plane to the site, so he knows who you’re going to be around and not be around. You’ll be in a hotel/motel room that he has built, and you stay on-site with other people who have been protected and quarantined and safe.
Everyone in the production is safe because no one goes home, everyone stays at the hotel, food preparation is all done on the site. They learn, rehearse, shoot and pack as many episodes as they possibly can in a month period and then you can go home. Tyler Perry can afford to make a world where Covid doesn’t exist. That’s pretty cool.
All major studios are still shut in Los Angeles but I’m preparing for this film. We’re doing script stuff and directors, talking casting. They’re going to have to shoot something at some point this year in order to get the tax break that they ask for. Most of my friends who are running studios or are network bosses are saying things are still shut, they’re not running anything right now. We keep trying to have product when all this is over.
It’s weird how I’m meeting with some of the executives from Paramount, ABC, CBS, NBC on Zoom on this TV product idea and everyone is excited about it, but they know they have to wait until it’s safe to go. They can’t go tomorrow, but in the meantime, we’ll have something ready to go.
What are your thoughts about streaming live productions? Have you been participating, or will you participate in any online streaming productions soon?
It’s not live. We got into this business of concert or the theatre because we like the audience participation. One of the reasons I have yet to do anything from my living room like a lot of my friends are doing is a) I don’t play the piano and can’t accompany myself.
I don’t want to find a piano player that has to wear a mask or I’m going to have to be 8 feet away from him and pretend I’m singing to people while I’m in my living room. It just seems ludicrous to me. I don’t want to do that. I haven’t felt the need to ‘Hi! It’s Lucie and I’m back”
I rehearse to tracks all the time, and that’s how I rehearse my show most of the time. My music director lives in New York and the other lives in Los Angeles and it’s not easy for us to get together and rehearse. We always rehearse to tracks but nobody’s watching me. I don’t get how that’s a show and don’t want to do that.
More to the point of your question – It feels like what we’re doing now is more of a USO show. Keep the troop’s spirits going. ‘We’re still entertaining you’ but also so that a lot of people won’t be forgotten like “If I don’t do this, they’re not even going to know I’m alive.”
I don’t care. I got enough people who know I’m alive and I don’t want to give it away for nothing. And it feels like a USO show which is fine. We’re in a war here for our health and there are people who want to keep us happy. But when the war is over, do you really want to sit in the dirt, in the heat of Afghanistan to watch this show? I don’t. I want to go back to the way it used to be.
I’ve been asked to do lots and lots of online streaming, but I’ve turned every single one of them down. It’s one thing to do interviews and talk but to have someone get into my mindset after two months of “Oh, I have to do that again. I’m too busy. I can’t even focus on that as I have so many other projects right now.”
I’ll wait. I’ll come back in my wheelchair.
What is it about performing you still love given all the change, the confusion, and the drama surrounding our world now?
Listen, what I do is what I do. I love telling stories to people either through song or on the stage. That’s what I do for a living and I’ll never stop loving that. Nobody can take that away.
If I never do it again, it still means something to me. It’s missionary work to put great words to music, to comedy, to drama. Sure it’s low on the meager pay scale but we can change people’s lives through song and the spoken word by the emotion you bring to them, what you tell them about a song, how you make them see themselves differently by something you may have done that night. I love it. I love the camaraderie with the audience. The pay is a lot less, but I don’t like making movies where the pay is a lot more but it’s a long tedious process where you not in control of.
I guess I’m a control freak at heart because you make a movie and it’s there forever, but they could cut your ‘wonderful scene’ for any reason. You’re not really in control with movies but I will continue to love what I do with my concert tours.
With a respectful nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews:
What is your favourite word?
When James used to ask me this question, it would drive me crazy because I thought, “Who has a favourite word?” Favourite because you love saying it or it’s a really great word. I had trouble with this one so if I was a dictionary, my favourite word would be AMANUENSIS. Another good word – GALLIMAUFRY. (Note to Lucie: I really hope I spelled these words correctly)
What is your least favourite word?
TRUMP – well it’s an actual word and it will never mean the same thing to me ever again. I can hardly get it out of my mouth so I’ve only used it for you.
What turns you on?
Great music beautifully written or the lyrics just kill you. Always works
What turns you off?
Just literally? Body odour. You get into the cab with that guy and just (and Lucie mimics a reaction to body odour that has me in fits of laughter.)
What sound or noise do you love?
This I’m sure has changed over the years, but the sound of my grandson when he laughs. He gets the giggles and my heart leaps when I hear his laughter. I can’t even imitate it. It’s so angel-like, so God-like.
What sound or noise bothers you?
Leaf blowers. You know the really loud ones they don’t have to use but they do.
What is your favourite curse word?
Am I allowed to say whatever it is? “Fuck-me-in-the-tits.” It’s something that somebody said to me 40 years ago and I laughed so hard like you are right now. I use it sparingly but it’s genuinely my favourite curse thing to say.
What is your least favourite curse word?
I can accept any curse word when it comes from an adult in a funny way, but any curse word hurts me when it’s real. In other words, I try not to slip up in front of my children or grandchildren when I’m really mad. My least favourite word is a derogatory racist word towards somebody else. I can’t think of anything lower in life than that.
What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt?
My passion in a weird way is writing and research. I love that part of everything I do with research in the documentary, film, or TV production. So I would have to say Journalism, a journalist of some sort.
What profession would you not like to do?
Prostitute – that would be bad, stinky, it would hurt and get so boring after a while. Anything else I think I could handle.
If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
I always loved that question when he asked it – “You were a long shot. You got here, I didn’t think you were going to make it, but you were a long shot.”
To learn more about Lucie and what is happening with her, visit www.luciearnaz.com.