Though Lucy moved to New York City in her teenage years to pursue acting and modeling, and relocated to Hollywood thereafter, her ties to Jamestown remained strong. So strong, in fact, that after she died in 1989 and was interred in a Los Angeles cemetery, her children exhumed the coffin and relocated their mother to her hometown in 2002. Lucy’s loyalty to her hometown is evident in the history of the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. A dream of Lucy’s, in the 1980s she worked closely with the Arts Council of Chautauqua County to establish a comedy center, and a comedy and comedic film festival that would promote and cultivate the careers of nascent comedians, as well as establish Jamestown as a national comedy destination. According to Journey Gunderson, executive director of the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy, the Center aims “to make Jamestown a Cooperstown of Comedy.”
To expand upon the reach of the annual comedy festival, this month the Center inaugurated its first LucyRace, composed of a 5K, a half-marathon, and a performance by Martin Short. The race was made possible by the collaboration of three major Jamestown institutions: the Chautauqua Striders running group, the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena and, of course, the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy. According to Ben Lindquist, executive director of the Chautauqua Striders, the organizers “knew that the Lucy Desi Center could not host a marathon or half-marathon on their own without the help of the Chautauqua Striders, the premiere running group in the area,” but without a suitable location, the idea was dead on its feet. “So we contacted a third, very prominent nonprofit in the area, the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena, and they jumped on board with us because they’ve got the space, size, location, staff members, and so the three of us have this into a great big weekend event…not only in our community, but people all over the nation,” he says. Before the race, registration for the weekend was at 620 runners from 25 states and Canada. Ms. Gunderson ran the 5K while wearing a replication of Lucy’s iconic blue-and-white polka-dotted dress.
Though the costume component is a fun gimmick that Lucy would no doubt have cherished, Ms. Gunderson expresses her wish that these events will allow “people [to] learn that Lucille Ball was an incredible, amazing woman, beyond her Lucy Ricardo character on “I Love Lucy.” She was the first female head of a Hollywood production studio…[and] gave the green light to some projects including ‘Star Trek.’” In addition to her glass ceiling-shattering career, Ms. Gunderson stresses the legend of Lucy’s loyalty to her hometown, stating, “I also hope that people learn that her vision for the celebration of her legacy in Jamestown was for it to be celebrated in the form of living, breathing contemporary comedy. She understood that there was going to be an element of nostalgia, a museum attraction and an “I Love Lucy” celebration, but her preference was that Jamestown, her hometown, to have an ongoing, omnipresent celebration of the comedic arts.”
With reporting contributed by Sophie Hays.