Lucille Ball was often described as funny and approachable—but a grimacing, life-size bronze statue of the comedian, erected in her hometown of Celoron, New York, in 2009, looked so unlike the beloved I Love Lucy sitcom star that it earned the nickname “Scary Lucy.” Now, after years of public backlash, CNN reports that a new sculpture modeled in Ball’s likeness was finally unveiled last weekend, on Saturday, August 6.
Celoron Mayor Scott Schrecengost presided over the ceremony, which was fittingly held in the town’s Lucille Ball Memorial Park on the 105th anniversary of Ball’s birthday. Sculptor Carolyn Palmer, who beat out more than 65 sculptors in a national competition to create the upgraded Lucy, accompanied him.
Palmer’s bronze Lucy sculpture weighs 750 pounds. It depicts the curly-haired actress mid-stride, clutching her polka-dotted dress skirt with one hand while holding a purse with the other. The entire project took Palmer around nine months to complete.
"I not only wanted to portray the playful, animated and spontaneous Lucy, but also the glamorous icon,” Palmer, who gained inspiration by watching and re-watching episodes of I Love Lucy, said in a statement quoted by NPR. "I just hope that all the Lucy fans are pleased and that Lucille Ball herself would have enjoyed this image of her."
Palmer’s statue replaces “Scary Lucy,” a work by artist Dave Poulin that portrayed Ball clutching a bottle of the make-believe health tonic Vitameatavegamin that was featured in the 1952 I Love Lucy episode "Lucy Does a TV Commercial." The statue quickly became infamous, and in 2012, fans of Ball even launched an online campaign called "We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue."
Poulin—who received death threats over the work—ended up issuing a public apology in a letter to media outlets including The Hollywood Reporter. "I take full responsibility for 'Scary Lucy,' though by no means was that my intent or did I wish to disparage in any way the memories of the iconic Lucy image," Poulin wrote in the letter. "From the day of its installation, I have shared my disappointment in the final outcome and have always believed it to be by far my most unsettling sculpture, not befitting of Lucy's beauty or my ability as a sculptor."
Poulin volunteered to re-make the sculpture—initially for a hefty price, and later for free. His offer was turned down, and in 2015, Yahoo reports, Mayor Schrecengost formed a committee of Celoron residents to choose a new artist. Palmer—whose past works have included Pope Francis, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Orville and Wilbur Wright, and Thomas Jefferson—was “the best sculptor we could have ended up with,” Schrecengost said in a statement quoted by The Guardian.
The brand-new National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York offered to adopt the old Scary Lucy statue. But since it’s become such a popular tourist attraction, Schrecengost told CNN affiliate WIVB that the frightening statue will remain in Lucille Ball Memorial Park. There, it will stand alongside Palmer’s new work.
"Even though the other statue is called 'Scary Lucy' or 'Ugly Lucy,' whatever the people want to call it, it's still artwork and not all artwork is beautiful,” Schrecengost told WIVB.
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