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Lucy and Desi Talent Search: Hollywood With a Henna Rinse

July 17, 1990

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Hundreds of Lucy and Desi wanna-bes, hoping to play the comedy duo in a television movie, flooded CBS Television City with red hair and broken English as a nationwide casting search began.

The Desi Arnaz warning, ″you gotta lotta splainin’ to do,″ got a workout Monday before a producer and a casting director who smiled cheerfully through some painfully amateurish readings.

One truth seemed evident: The more the performers looked like Lucy and Desi, the worse their acting was.

Some women dyed their hair red for their slim chance to be in ″Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter.″ A few men wore white suits. Most every fake Lucy wore a 1950s-style dress and heels. Several looked just like the zany comedian, while others bore more of a resemblance to Carol Burnett.

One couple danced the rumba while waiting for their names to be called.

″What are my chances? Not great. There are like tons of people here,″ said Randy Aguirre, an engineer who missed a staff meeting to audition for the part of the Cuban band leader.

A woman named Tahoe Castle (″I was born there″) dyed her hair red and drove 300 miles for a stab at the lead role.

″It’s just a rinse so I can wash it right out,″ she said, fingering her tresses. For her shot at stardom, Castle performed a song from the musical ″A Chorus Line″ as Lucy might have interpreted it.

″I feel like I’m really her,″ said Castle, who came from San Martin in Northern California to be one of the first in line. ″I watch all of her old shows.″

Castle also planned a trip to Disneyland as part of her Southern California visit.

The CBS movie will cover the late Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s life from when they met in 1940 while making the movie ″Too Many Girls,″ to 1951, the year television’s ″I Love Lucy″ premiered.

″I’d like to play her, but it’s so hard to fill her shoes,″ said Dianalynn Pfennig, who drove from her makeover salon in San Jose to perform Lucy’s famous drunken sales pitch for the alcohol-laced Vita Meta Vegamin nutritional supplement.

In addition to false eyelashes and the heavy makeup she’d been wearing since 2 a.m., Pfennig brought a stage prop: a bottle of multivitamin liquid extract from which she drank during her two-minute monologue.

″This stuff tastes awful,″ she said after her performance.

Her audition was scarcely the most offbeat.

One Desi gave a stream-of-consciousness monologue, Ricky Ricardo as scripted by Hunter S. Thompson. One actress’ audition consisted entirely of her impression on how Lucy would eat a crumb.

A few Lucy simulations came from as far away as Dallas and El Paso. The first Lucy in line arrived at 3 a.m. after finishing her shift as a waitress at a late-night restaurant.

Tony Rael, who was born in Havana and came to the United States when he was 2, was one of the few the producers wanted to see again. He sang the show’s theme song for his tryout.

″I love Desi Arnaz,″ Rael said. ″He’s a hero to the Hispanic people.″

Producer Larry Thompson said the television movie, due to be broadcast next February, will be a ″loving but honest portrayal″ of the relationship between Lucy and Desi.

He deflected criticism from daughter Lucie Arnaz, who said, ″I believe that the climate is wrong to try and tell my parents’ story accurately no matter who tells it.″

CBS Entertainment President Jeff Sagansky said: ″We’re not going to desecrate all the wonderful things Lucy and Desi did for CBS.″

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