For the first time in its 104-year history, the New York Friars Club, the comedians’ organization famous for its crass roasts, has named one of the chambers at its storied midtown clubhouse for a woman: Lucille Ball. At a commemorative event on Wednesday, Feb. 6, Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of the late comedienne and entertainer Desi Arnaz (who preceded his wife in death by three years), was surrounded by an intimate gathering of friends and family as she cut the ribbon on the Lucille Ball Room, a bar.
Considering the club’s motto—“Before all things brotherhood”—last week’s dedication, a brainchild of Friar and View co-host Joy Behar, was an indisputable milestone. But according to Ms. Arnaz, a 56-year-old Broadway veteran, her mother was no feminist. “You know what? A lot of people say that [she was a feminist]; they like to make it a little more than it was,” she told the Transom by phone the other day. “She was not an E.R.A. supporter. She didn’t get on the soapbox about anything or anyone. She was about as apolitical as you could possibly get.” Ms. Arnaz went on to say that her mom—the subject of a 1961 Friars roast in which Milton Berle, not wanting to use any four-letter words, called her Lucille Testicle—got a reputation as a women’s libber because after acquiring her husband’s share of their production studio following their divorce, “she didn’t run it into the ground. People are all about exaggerating. A lot of times they make it sound like she worked hard and it was a big deal to her to be the first [woman] to run a studio and she was a major businesswoman. And in reality, the truth of it was, she didn’t really like that end of it at all and couldn’t wait to get out of it. She always told us how much she hated every minute of it.” And Mr. Arnaz? Deflecting the credit to Ms. Ball was his style, said their daughter, “probably to his own detriment.”
Though the recent ceremony was, according to Ms. Arnaz, “dignified and small and elegant,” her most prominent memory of the Friars Club is not so pleasant. During a 1958 roast of her parents, she recalled, comedian Harry Einstein (a.k.a. Parkyakarkus) brought down the house with his opening remarks before returning to his seat on the dais, where he then died of a heart attack.