Is there any truth to the story that a commercial for Adlai Stevenson’s campaign interrupted an episode of “I Love Lucy” and cost him the 1952 election?
This story has appeared in various books and articles, but none has a verifiable citation.
For example, in the book “Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia” author Michael Karol asks the question “Is it possible the Democrats lost an election because of the (viewers) dedication? He writes that a Canadian website states that the Stevenson campaign was bombarded with hate mail when it bought a half hour campaign ad that preempted the popular show (p. 277). Another variation of the story has Stevenson receiving a telegram from a disgruntled Lucy fan that read: “I love Lucy, but I hate you.”
However, no Stevenson biography mentions this incident, nor is there any reportage of it in newspapers at the time. A search within the Adai Stevenson Papers held at Mudd Manuscript Library contains records documenting his 1952 radio and TV commercial purchases. They reveal that Stevenson’s campaign ran four types of ads: 20-second spots, 30 minute spots, five minute condensations, and 15 minute condensations. Presumably the condensations were reduced versions of the 30 minute spots. The evidence of this is found in multiple documents but the most succinct summary is in an undated telegram from Jay Sheridan to G. Rudiak found in Box 244, Folder 8. But the real stake in the heart for this myth is a listing of the campaigns media purchases for Fall 1952. While it shows a number of CBS-TV purchases on Monday nights, none were near the 8 p.m. time slot when “I Love Lucy” aired.
Given the lack of contemporary evidence (all the stories about the telegram date from well past the end of the campaign), and that the nature of the story fits with a common pattern in urban myths (smart guy gets his comeuppance for being ignorant about something commonly understood), we declare: