By Richard Dodd (contributor)
“My Florida Water” – those were the last words ever said by Lucille Ball as she lay in her hospital bed recovering from heart surgery – said just before she died.
No doubt the party girls reading this (you KNOW who you are) are thinking that Florida Water is slang for any cheap clear liquor – the kind that sometimes features the name of the liquor store on the label (“Circus Liquors Vodka”) – but no, no, no: Florida Water is not a coded reference to cheap clear swill. It is a cologne that dates back more than 200 years, considered unisex in its appeal, and long thought subtle enough in its citrus and floral scent to be worn by anyone – without inciting uncontrollable passions in others – as some scents were thought to do at the time: suitable for a Lady or a Gentlemen.
However, as the name suggests, Florida Water is cheap – a long necked bottle can be purchased for $3.99 at that incredible museum on Third (aka Kmart), found in the basement, in the section used for the products often favored by immigrants – and not generally available at other stores.
I found the bottle by wandering the museum one Sunday morning and thought, “What is this?” Only later did I read the Ball quote and make the connection. I returned to that museum this past Sunday to purchase a bottle, along with some Tres Flores Brilliantine; oh yes, as you can see, I am readying myself for the surely to come interview process – and scoff if you must – but the only time in my life I was ever offered the job on the spot was at the regional office of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms in San Francisco when, in the middle of the interview, I was asked by the Director what cologne I was wearing. Yes, I was offered and accepted the job on the spot, and later that same afternoon, that same cologne would help me get a studio apartment off Castro in an old Victorian at 17th and Hartford with a bathroom painted navy blue and a carpeted kitchen.
One of the first homes I searched for when coming to L.A. 12 years ago was Ball’s. I am a huge fan – yes, for her comedy – which is certainly to be celebrated – but also because of some of the things she did off camera. By far the most important to me was her comment to People magazine in 1980 regarding gay rights: “It’s perfectly all right with me. Some of the most gifted people I’ve ever met or read about are homosexual. How can you knock it?”
I remember reading that in 1980 (I must have been in a crib) and what an impact it had on me at the time. I also love the fact that she always gave credit to Desi Arnaz for his business and artistic talents – that he really created the sitcom of today – and that she talked about how one of the real reasons that I Love Lucy worked was the immense talent of Vivian Vance.
Ball had a legendary work ethic – and she demanded the same in others. There is the story of when Joan Crawford was tossed a guest shot on her show – when JC was reduced to doing low-budget horror films – and how Ball caught her drinking vodka on set. Later, when JC came in late for a rehearsal Ball took her aside and told her if it happened again she would be replaced. JC did not come in late again but she did invite everyone but Ball to dinner after the shooting. One of these women was a professional with class and one was not – you decide.
I like to think of Ball – seeing the white light and realizing she is about to meet her maker – thinking enough to wear her signature scent.