Irene Kampen, whose humorous tale of her struggles as a divorced mother became the basis of TV’s “The Lucy Show,” died Feb. 1 of breast cancer at her home in Oceanside. She was 75.
Kampen’s 10 books closely followed the turns of her own life, but most put a humorous twist on events that could be heartbreaking, such as the death of her mother.
Born in Brooklyn, she attended the U. of Wisconsin, where she edited the campus humor magazine, and graduated with a journalism degree.
She worked as a copy girl at the old New York Journal-American newspaper before marrying artist and illustrator Owen Kampen. They divorced in the 1950s.
In 1961 she turned the experience into “Life Without George.”
“That was her first book,” said Louis Ferioli, her companion of 25 years. It became the basis of comedienne Lucille Ball’s second sitcom.
“It just so happens that Lucille Ball had just gotten divorced from Desi Arnaz and the original ‘I Love Lucy’ on TV, that had to end,” he said. “She was looking for a new TV show about a divorcee. Irene’s book just fit the case.”
“The Lucy Show,” which ran from 1962-68, starred Ball as a widow with two children who shared a Connecticut home with a divorced friend.
Kampen’s later books also followed her life and that of her daughter. “Last Year at Sugarbush” recounted her adventures when she accompanied her daughter and the girl’s then-boyfriend on a skiing trip.
In later years, Kampen was a popular lecturer on cruise ships, recounting her stories to an older audience.
She is survived by a daughter and a sister.