By Dom Cioffi
My father started smoking cigarettes when he was 13 years old. He lived in a time and environment where the activity was perfectly acceptable — almost encouraged — so there was little or no thought of the consequences or long-term effects.
Needless to say, it was a lifelong habit that he struggled to control. He tried to quit or cut back on many occasions, but the cravings always won. Cigarettes, and the prerequisite ashtrays scattered about the house, were simply a part of our life.
And as is expected with a 40-year addiction, eventually it killed him at 55 years old.
Conversely, my mother, who is pushing 90 years old, is the picture of health. She took a different approach and has always tended to her physical well-being by eating well, exercising, and doing her best to stay consistently active. In fact, I can only think of one weakness pertaining to health where my mother has regularly failed: she’s never met a box of chocolates she doesn’t love.
My mother can cuddle up to a box of chocolates and a half hour later have nothing left but wrappers. Inevitably, she’ll complain of a stomachache and reprimand herself for such indulgence, but the next time a box of chocolates lands in front of her, the cycle will continue.
However, I will give her credit for her high standards. She generally refrains from eating cheap confections, reserving her precious calories for the hometown candy store selections or her personal favorite: See’s Nuts & Chews.
In fact, my brothers and I have known for years that if you want to make our mother happy on any holiday or her birthday, just send her a box of See’s chocolates.
For the uninitiated, See’s Candies is a world-renowned manufacturer of chocolates and other confections based in San Francisco, California. The company has over 200 retail outlets across the United States, with many more around the world. Their annual revenue, via their physical storefronts, mail order catalogs, and web properties, is in excess of $400 million dollars.
The story of See’s Candies started on Tremont Island in Ontario, Canada, where Mary See and her husband ran a hotel. It was here that Mary developed many of the recipes for her specialty chocolates, serving them to guests who vacationed on the island.
When her husband died in 1921, Mary moved to Los Angeles, with her son Charles. Soon after arriving, Charles opened his first candy shop, using his mother’s recipes for many of the products. By the mid-1920s, Charles had launched 12 stores, and by the end of the decade (in the midst of the Great Depression), he had 30 candy shops.
See’s Candies operated successfully for many decades and by 1972 had caught the eye of an aggressive investor named Warren Buffet. Buffet loved See’s Candies and knew the brand had strong appeal, so he purchased the business for $25 million dollars. Since then, the company has grown and expanded to its current position as one of the world’s premier chocolatiers.
In 1952, assistants for the “I Love Lucy” show approached a See’s production facility to see if they would allow Lucille Ball and her co-star, Vivian Vance, to film a scene for an upcoming episode. In the episode, the two women would be hired to work on the production line of a chocolate factory, but then struggled to keep up.
The episode would become one of the most popular in the show’s history, with the iconic scene of Lucy and Ethel trying to wrap chocolates on a conveyor belt being considered a comedic classic.
On the surface, the “I Love Lucy” show was light-hearted and fun, with legions of fans around the country tuning in weekly to watch Lucy and her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, portray a happily wedded couple. Behind the scenes, however, there were difficulties and hurdles that no one could imagine.
This week’s feature, “Being the Ricardos,” starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem, examines one week in the production of the “I Love Lucy” show. That may sound boring compared to Lucille Ball’s entire life story, but trust me, the approach is unique, creative, and highly revealing.
This was an incredibly well-made film, which isn’t surprising given that Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing,” “A Few Good Men”) wrote and directed the picture. Sorkin is known for his fast-paced, biting dialogue and that was at the forefront here.
Check this one out if you have a soft spot for the “I Love Lucy” show or you’re simply in the mood for a well-crafted film.
A lovely “B+” for “Being the Ricardos,” available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]