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We love Lucy, but ... Legendary composer Jerry Herman talks to us about the movie "Mame"

By STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

That's how Warner Bros. promoted the 1974 Lucille Ball film adaptation of Jerry Herman's Broadway hit. Not a great way to sell a $12 million musical, it turned out.

As most I Love Lucy fans know, the redhead couldn't sing. Her Mame songs had to be cobbled together note by note, Herman recalls.

''We all thought maybe she should be dubbed,'' he said by phone from his home in Beverly Hills. ``But because it was Lucille Ball, and everybody knew what she sounds like, I knew it would be more honest not to.''

Mame, now on DVD (Warner Home Video, $20), is based on the novel and play Auntie Mame, about a wealthy bohemian whose life is turned upside down when she inherits a young nephew. The DVD is in widescreen format with the film's original mono soundtrack. Warner tried to create a stereo mix but couldn't because of how the soundtrack was pieced together.

The film co-stars Robert Preston and Beatrice Arthur, and is directed by Arthur's then-husband, Gene Saks.

Rosalind Russell played Mame Dennis in the nonmusical stage and screen adaptation of Auntie Mame. Angela Lansbury originated the part when Mame the musical opened on Broadway in 1966.

Herman, who also wrote the songs for Hello, Dolly! and La Cage Aux Folles, says he was badly disappointed with Ball's Mame. He -- and most critics -- wanted Lansbury in the film. ''They were kind of angry that Angela didn't get the role. She was a celebrated movie star before she was a Broadway star,'' he said. ``I was very upset about it. . . . I kept on picturing what Angela would have looked and sang like.''

Lucy_2 It's not that Ball didn't try. But at 62, the role was just too much for her.

''She was in pain. They pulled her hair up by the roots and put wigs on her and carried on,'' Herman said. 'She worked so hard and she wanted so much to be good in it that I became very fond of her. She said, `I'll do anything.' We spent hours together trying to get the notes right. I was disappointed for her more than I was for my own film.''

Actually, when she's not singing, Ball's pretty good in the film, particularly in the second half when the character Mame is a bit closer to the star's actual age.

Herman says his ideal Mame would have been Judy Garland, who wanted to play the part on Broadway but was turned down as a bad risk.

''That would have been my shining moment,'' said Herman, 75. ``That was the greatest talent of our age. . . . But producers were afraid of eight times a week.''

If he could, Herman would remake the movie. ``I'd love to do one perfect Mame. I think the show deserves it. It's the most difficult thing in the world. It's a star vehicle and created as one. I'd use Catherine Zeta-Jones. She'd be sensational. She's a real dancer and a real singer. She's a lady. And Mame needs to be a lady, more than anything else.''


Rosie O'Donnell, Chita Rivera, Jerry Herman and Sharon Gless backstage in January 2007 on opening night of Rivera's "The Dancer's Life" in Miami. Photo by Steve Rothaus.


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