How Lucy Ricardo Gave Birth to ‘Mission: Impossible’

Mission Impossible Lucy Ricardo
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

If it weren’t for Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, Tom Cruise would not be saving the free world in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” which opens July 31.

In 1950 Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz formed Desilu Prods., and the huge success of “I Love Lucy” turned Desilu into a powerhouse that created many more TV series and owned two studio lots. Many successful years later, Variety ran a story on Aug 17, 1966, saying Desilu had firmed a lucrative deal with CBS for a fifth season of “The Lucy Show” and was debuting two one-hour series in the fall: “Star Trek” on NBC and “Mission: Impossible” on CBS.

That’s a pretty good slate for one year.

The series “Mission: Impossible,” under creator-producer-writer Bruce Geller, ran from 1966-73, but it was much slower to transfer to the bigscreen than its stablemate (the first “Star Trek” movie debuted in 1979). The film “Mission: Impossible,” which marked Cruise’s producing debut, bowed in 1996, and not everybody was excited.

In a May 20, 1996, review, Variety’s Greg Evans said, “Aside from the famous title and pulse-thumping theme song, the series rates only a bit higher than ‘Mannix’ ” in terms of inciting nostalgia for a 30-year-old TV series. However, Evans said the film was action-packed and well-made, and he predicted good business. In fact, it surpassed everyone’s expectations, earning a boffo $457 million worldwide.

The fifth in the bigscreen franchise, the new “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” received a positive review from Variety’s Justin Chang, who reminded readers that “the Brad Bird-directed ‘Ghost Protocol’ overcame a slow start to become the series’ highest-grossing entry (nearly $700 million worldwide), suggesting there was still plenty of life in ‘Mission: Impossible’ — and in Tom Cruise’s career…”

Cruise made his film debut in “Endless Love” in 1981 when he was 19. He became a star in the 1983 “Risky Business,” and “Top Gun” was the top-grossing movie of 1986. Two years later, the 1988 “Cocktail” was a personal success of a different sort. The film earned a front-page banner in Daily Variety when it opened to a then-impressive $11.7 million weekend, a Buena Vista record. It wasn’t as big a hit as “Top Gun” but it was significant for the actor’s career, since it confirmed that audiences would go see him in a movie that was simply OK.

Cruise first played Ethan Hunt 19 years ago, which means he is ahead of Hugh Jackman (15 years and counting as Wolverine); Johnny Weissmuller (16 years as Tarzan) and Sigourney Weaver (18 years as Ripley). But he’s far behind Harrison Ford (27 years as Indiana Jones), Arnold Schwarzenegger (31 years as the Terminator), Anthony Daniels (38 years as C-3PO), Sylvester Stallone (39 years as Rocky Balboa) — and Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock over a period of 47 years.

This month La-La Land Records is issuing a six-CD package “Mission: Impossible — the Television Scores” in a limited-edition box set produced by frequent Variety contributor Jon Burlingame. It contains music from the seven years of the TV show, including that “pulse-thumping theme song,” which still works as well as when Lalo Schifrin wrote it 49 years ago.