One I Love Lucy Scene Had Lucille Ball Fearing For Her Life

Lucille Ball of “I Love Lucy” fame was a groundbreaking comedy genius, paved the way for “Star Trek” to become a cultural phenomenon with her production company, and has been the subject of numerous documentaries and biopics over the years. Some of the most iconic moments in “I Love Lucy” history have been parodied across film and television, and her presence has permeated the culture with such vigor that even younger generations who have yet to watch a single episode of the show are at least tangentially familiar with moments in episodes like “Lucy and the Chocolate Factory” or her hilarious whine. One of Ball’s most influential moments came in the now-classic 1956 episode “Lucy’s Italian Movie,” which features a simulated fight in a vat of grapes (to make wine) with Italian actress, Teresa Tirelli … or was it?

Ball finally confessed the truth during a 1974 interview on “The Dick Cavett Show,” where she talked about how the fight sequence turned into a life-threatening disaster. Given the fact Ball survived the ordeal and is one of the most effortlessly hilarious women to ever live, the studio audience cracks up as she tells the story, which would have sounded like something out of a nightmare had their laughter not been present.

“[Tirelli] was told that there would be a fight, and it was also explained to her that there were times when my legs had to come up in this huge vat of real grapes,” Ball said. “I slipped and when I slipped, I hit her, accidentally. And she took offense. So, she hauled off and let me have it … it took all the wind out of me.” Tirelli didn’t speak English and Ball didn’t speak Italian, so their language barrier also meant there was no way for the actors to effectively clear up the miscommunication.

‘She was choking me’

Teresa Tirelli, Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy

The original fight was supposed to show the two women under the grapes in the vat, with an occasional limb popping up as a visual gag, but Tirelli was genuinely furious and really fought with Ball as the two sunk deeper and deeper into the grapes.

In the wrestling world, we call this “shooting,” which is when a planned, scripted fight divulges into a real-life brawl, usually because the wrestlers’ real-life emotions have taken over. Based on Ball’s interview, it sounds like Tirelli was shootin’ on ol’ Lucy. “She kept me down by the throat,” Ball said. “I had grapes in my nose and in my ears and she was choking me, and I am really beating her to get her off. I was drowning in these grapes. She was killing me.”

To make matters worse, the director of the episode had no idea there was a real altercation happening in front of the camera and thought this was just an instance of comedy brilliance. Once Ball was finally able to get Tirelli off of her, she could signal to the director to stop the take. Even after the director called cut, the fight would pick up once again when he called “action!” Eventually, they got through it, but if you rewatch the scene with this information, the aggression and fear are noticeable on their faces. “She spent so much time beating the hell out of me in the vat, we had to cut half of it,” Ball said. “To drown in a vat of grapes was not the way I had planned to go.”

While Ball didn’t say whether or not she and Tirelli were able to talk it out after filming together, this harrowing bit of grappling in the grapes made for a truly iconic comedy moment.

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