April 27, 1989
Lucille Ball died yesterday. I loved Lucy. Not the shows themselves—I don’t remember much about them. But Lucy the lady. Only met her once: spent an afternoon playing games with her in her hotel bedroom. Word games, since you ask. London, early ’60s. She was a visiting star, in town to make a show at Madame Tussaud’s. I’d been allotted 30 minutes of interview time. I wasn’t looking forward to it—like everyone else those days I’d made the mistake of confusing the on-screen image with the reality. Who wanted to spend half an hour with a hyperactive scatterbrain?
My mistake, of course. Soon after I arrived I spotted an open book of crosswords. Turned out she was a word-puzzle addict. I’d just come across a particularly challenging new word game, a bit like Scrabble except you played it on individual grids and the challenge was to build interlocking frameworks of words from the letters your opponent supplied. She took to it immediately—and since her husband of the day wanted to watch something on TV we went off into the hotel suite bedroom to play a few hands.
About 10 minutes later her husband stuck his head around the door to say he was going out shopping. Ten minutes after that Lucy was chortling with glee as she totted her totals and found she’d beaten me in our first hand. She was so quick on the mental draw she left me reeling. Naturally, we needed a return match. Which I won. And so on.
Two hours later, her husband poked his head round the door. “Is he still here?” he exploded. I was. Worst of all, we hadn’t even started the interview. I still have the score-grids from that game in orange ink in her bold hand. Scatterbrain? No one I have ever played at that game has ever scored higher than Lucy.