Son of "I Love
Lucy" Creator Remembers his Dad Jess Oppenheimer
By Beverly Cohn
1, Gregg Oppenheimer talked about his life growing up with
the man who created "I Love Lucy," the genesis of his
own play, "I Love Lucy: The Untold Story," and his
varied experiences including working on "The Debbie Reynolds
The following Part 2 interview with Gregg Oppenheimer
has been edited for content and continuity.
What was your mother, Estelle, like and what was
her role in your life?
Gregg: No one has ever asked me that before. She was
very nurturing and was the nicest person in the world. She was a great
mother and I loved her very much. She died a few years ago and I miss
The biggest record store in Los Angeles as well
as the original
recording studio for Capital Records. Courtesy Photo
One of the records played
on the "G.I. Jill" radio program. Courtesy
How did your mom and dad meet and was it love
at first sight?
Gregg: During World War II, there was a program
called "G.I. Jill," and Mort Werner, who went
to school with my dad, and later became head of programming at NBC,
was head of the Office of War Information. They were stationed
in the same building and every weekend Mort would go down to
Wallichs Music City, the biggest record store in Los Angeles,
and pick records he would play on the "G.I. Jill" radio
program for the servicemen. My mom was the Popular Records Department
Manager at Wallichs Music City and she would pick out records
for him. He told my dad that there was this girl he should meet. My
dad was taken with her and asked her out several times and she said
there was a rule against dating servicemen. But he persisted and they
finally went out and after several years they got married. She didn't
work after they got married, but she was a great entertainer and we
had a lot of parties at the house that I wasn't invited to. (Laughs)
They made me go upstairs.
What were some of the movies you admired growing
Gregg Oppenheimer with his sister
Jo. Photo Courtesy of Gregg Oppenheimer
Gregg: The first movie I saw was "Guys and
Dolls." I was pretty young, around four or five, and fell
asleep. (Laughs) When I was a kid, I loved "The
Great Escape," Michael Caine's spy thrillers, and James
Did you ever want to be an actor?
Gregg: No. No. I never had an interest in acting. My
dad started as an actor but realized he was too self-conscious. The
funny thing is, I love public speaking, which I hated when I was a lawyer.
I think the difference is the stakes are less. If you make a mistake
when you're a lawyer, there can be serious consequences for somebody.
If I forget to say something and I didn't get as big a laugh, it doesn't
really matter. Even after I started doing book tours I was reading from
notes and on these tours, you're supposed to read from your book and
I would do that and didn't really enjoy it and was stilted. If somebody
just came up to me and said tell me about your book, I could do it.
I didn't need notes. So I threw the notes away and decided if I ran
out of things to say, I would take questions and every since then I
"My dad had started his memoirs and I
decided I wanted to finish it."
You received degrees from MIT and Berkeley Law
School. What motivated you to give up practicing law and devoting yourself
to the memory of both your father and Lucy?
Gregg: When I started practicing law at O'Melveny
& Myers, it was more of a profession but as time went on, it
became a business. When I started in the 70s, you had relationships
with institutional clients, not just individual clients, but by the
1980s, when all the New York firms came to L.A.,
the competition became so intense that we had to do a presentation called
a "dog and pony show" or a "beauty contest" for
every new deal. It was about whom had the lowest price so I was spending
more than half my time in business development. After my dad died, I
went on sabbatical. He had started his memoirs and I decided I wanted
to finish it.
How did the creative gene you got from your father
Gregg: At M.I.T., I was in the Architecture
Department and was an Art & Design major. O'Melveny
& Myers had a newsletter that was like a newspaper and I was
editing that. I was also involved in the redesign of the lobby of O'Melveny's
downtown L.A. high-rise, which the firm owned and eventually,
I did all the intellectual property work. I was drawn to anything creative
and found that I liked that more than I liked the law, even though I
liked the intellectual challenges, but trying to get clients or salesmanship
was not my thing. I did go back to work after finishing the book but
it took me a couple of years to find a publisher and when I finally
found one, I thought maybe somebody else thinks I can write, not just
me. So, I quit after 18 years.
Lucille Ball and Richard Denning co-starred in "My
Husband," broadcasted on CBS Radio. Courtesy Photo
Did you have a big challenge to overcome in life?
Gregg: Do you mean walking in my dad's shadow? I'm not
really intimated being in my dad's shadow. I think it presents an opportunity
and also an obligation. When I was much younger, I got involved in politics
in Boston and I remember talking to the press secretary of the presidential
campaign on which I was working. He said you know you're always going
to be in the shadow of your dad. He's the guy behind Lucille Ball.
I like nothing more than to talk about my dad, but it's also a lot of
fun to actually create things yourself. I did a lot of recreations of
"My Favorite Husband," the show my dad wrote with Bob
Carroll, Jr. and Madeline Pugh. The first time I wrote some
lines that got a laugh, it was amazing.
Did your parents cheer you on?
Gregg: They were happy with whatever I wanted to do
except my dad didn't want me to go into show business because it's all
luck, being in the right place at the right time. He knew how lucky
he had been in his career.
One of the many awards bestowed on Jess Oppenheimer,
creator of "I Love Lucy."
Why did you finishing writing your dad's book
"Laughs, Luck and Lucy"?
Gregg: Part of the reason was because my dad seemed
to have been written out of television history. After he died, I would
go to the television section of bookstores looking for him in all those
books and he wasn't there. In fact, his name was left off as a writer
on "I Love Lucy," which I thought was bizarre. His
name was in the credits but for some reason he wasn't listed and someone
else was credited as the producer of the "I Love Lucy"
pilot. So, I started writing letters to authors of some of those television
books and finally decided that the only way I was going to get my dad's
name back into the history books was if I write my own book.
One of the sculptures created by Gregg Oppenheimer.
Photo: Beverly Cohn.
Besides writing, what other creative talents do
Gregg: I've done artwork and sculptures. When I was
taking sculpture courses, it was three hours a week. I would leave the
law firm and that was my escape from practicing law. When I was on sabbatical,
Debbie (his wife) signed me up for more sculpture classes,
but I wanted to be home writing.
Going forward, how do you see yourself?
Gregg: I'll have to see what comes next. I like stand-up
and have talked to an audience before and I really enjoyed doing that
and getting a few laughs. But I really don't think I want to be a stand-up
comic. I'll see what opportunities come along. For now, I'm working
on the upcoming reading of my play on October 6.
"I Love Lucy: The Untold Story"
Sunday, October 6 - 3:00-4:00 pm
11960 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049
here for details