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Dann Cahn: The TV Pioneer Who Made Us Love 'I Love Lucy'

When we remember the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy, we usually think of all the hilarious jams that Lucy Ricardo ( Lucille Ball) got herself into, and that exasperated look that her husband Ricky (Desi Arnaz) would get. But it wasn't just the stars' comedic virtuosity that made I love Lucy a classic. It was the first show to be filmed in front of a live audience in a Hollywood studio, rather than broadcast live from New York, as other early TV comedies did. But Lucy's most revolutionary innovation was its use of multiple camera angles, which conveyed Ball's frenetic style and humorous nuances in a way that a single viewpoint couldn't.

But to get all that to work technically - and to do it rapidly enough that I Love Lucy could air 35 episodes in a season - was a daunting task. That's where a TV pioneer named Dann Cahn came in. Cahn, who died on Nov. 21 at age 89 in Los Angeles, was the film editor who actually put the episodes together. Here are five fascinating facts about the man and his groundbreaking work.

  1. Cahn, whose father was Philip Cahn, the cofounder of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, actually started out in the business as a child actor in the 1938 Jackie Cooper movie Newsboys' Home, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary.
  2. The first half-hour episode of I Love Lucy actually was shot with four cameras, according to Michael Karol's Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia. But after that, director William Asher and his team decided that three cameras - one for the full scene, a second for medium "over the shoulder" shots, and a third for close-ups - were enough.
  3. Cahn's favorite episode of I Love Lucy reportedly was an October 1956 segment in which Lucy is recruited as an assistant in a magic act (featuring Orson Welles as the magician) at Ricky's nightclub. Cahn, who'd been an assistant editor on Welles' 1948 film Macbeth, relished a chance to work again with the illustrious actor/director.
  4. Cahn spent years searching for a print of  an unreleased 1954 I Love Lucy movie produced by Desi Arnaz, which had been fashioned from three Lucy episodes and 12 minutes of additional footage shot by director Edward Sedgewick. MGM deep-sixed the project, fearing it would compete with another Ball-Arnaz film, The Long, Long Trailer. Eventually, though, Cahn found bits and pieces of the film in a studio vault and painstakingly reassembled it, and it finally was released as part of a Lucy DVD box set in 2007.
  5. In addition to I Love Lucy, Cahn worked on a wide array of other productions, ranging from such classic TV series as The Beverly Hillbillies and The Untouchables to the exploitation auteur Russ Meyer's 1970 flick Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which was written by another notable name in the movie biz - critic Roger Ebert.


From the Archive of American Television, here's a video interview in which Cahn talks about the first completed (fourth aired) episode of I Love Lucy:

Here also is a podcast from the radio show Studio 360, in which Cahn talks about I Love Lucy.

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