by Chris Pina

I went to a Catholic elementary school. That's why I am a comic. And the nuns were the teachers. Like they didn't have enough to do being married to God, they had to teach as well. They resented any playfulness or affection between the boys and girls. Thus the name "nun". Never got nun. Never will get nun. Don't want nun.

One time in the Seventh Grade, after class on school grounds, my best friend and classmate, Desi Arnaz Jr. and I — yes, Desi Arnaz Jr. son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Sr. — were cramming five girls into the back of Desi's family station wagon for an afterschool pool party as a fast-approaching Sister Angela Marie, the principal, blew her sports whistle, angrily summoning for us to return. And what did we do? Two intensely horny 7th Grade boys with chicks smooshed in the back of a station wagon? We waved back, laughing at the nun as we sped off.

Both my mother and Desi's mom — Mrs. Morton — because Lucy was married to Gary Morton — were requested to go to the principal's office on Monday morning to discuss Desi and my inappropriate behavior. My mom likened the experience to being Ethel Mertz as Lucy Ricardo talked them out of trouble. Meanwhile, Desi and I were down the hall in class learning that the Jews killed Christ. As my mom told it, Sister Angela Marie explained that she found our behavior intolerable and lascivious. Then, Mrs. Morton came to our defense and tore into that nun like a commando. "What's so wrong with boys and girls getting together after school?". That was my driver who drove my car to MY home! What are you trying to do to Desi and Chris? Turn them into homosexuals? ". My Mom's eyes widened. Mrs. Morton continued, "Let them have fun with girls. The boys are altar boys - not priests for Christ's sake! Okay, sista? She punctuated "sista" like Queen Latifa in a catfight. Sister Angela Marie turned beet red and apologized. Mrs. Morton saved our asses, but the nuns never forgot the encounter.

Growing up, Mrs. Morton was always in my life. Every school day I'd ride my bike down to Desi's from our home in Benedict Canyon, park it against the garage, loiter around Desi's busy morning kitchen that had two wonderful maids cooking and serving breakfast. It was a Cuban-Irish buffet! Mrs. Morton would come downstairs, see me and say to the housekeeper, "Willie May, feed Chris. He's eying my eggs".

I'd always looked forward to goofing off at Desi's. Swimming, basketball, making Super-8 movies, Dino, Desi and Billy, phony phone calls, girls, listening to the Beatles and Stones and, oh, occasionally doing homework. Mrs. Morton was there, either directing us in our high school drama class or supplying us with breakaway bottles and prop guns for our Batman show for the Cub Scouts. She always encouraged us to express ourselves.

One day, Desi came up with a plan to get girls. We would put up a play version of the film, "Some Like It Hot". The idea was to audition all willing actresses from 8th Grade, award them with supporting roles and then have amazing sex with them. It seemed do-able, but unfortunately, the girls weren't. One girl asked Mrs. Morton about a line in the script, "What does "jingling the bedsprings" mean?" Morton responded with a hefting gesture that explained it for all of us. BUT — who supplied eight scripts of Billy Wilder's actual screenplay. Mrs. Morton. Who helped us cast the actors? Mrs. Morton. Who was butting in on our plan for action? Morton. I didn't get it. The woman would work all day on "Here's Lucy", run Desilu Studios and then find time to putz around with our little play? Mrs. Morton was definitely cramping our style.

The upside was that Mrs. Morton instructed us on how to mount a show and most importantly, she encouraged us to continue acting. It is the reason I'm an actor to this day.

When Desi and I escaped from Catholic school and entered Beverly High, we were asked by his sister, Lucie Arnaz, who was attending Immaculate Heart High School, an ALL GIRLS school — to star in a school musical. We thought, "An all-girl school wants us to audition for a musical!

Wait. Why does this sound familiar? Then it hit us! This was our "Some Like It Hot" idea turned around on us! So, we started rehearsals for "The Boyfriend" a zany musical set in the Roaring 20's. Desi was cast as the romantic lead and I was the dirty old man Lord Brockhurst, the character lead. We rehearsed for weeks, getting very close with our female thespians, partying together any chance we had and experiencing teenage romantic interludes. This musical was my introduction to sex — and comedy — which at that time were performed the same way.

Then it was opening night. My mom, dad and brother arrived, Desi's parents showed, though with different spouses. The auditorium was packed with a lot of goyem. It was electric. The curtain went up! I was suddenly on stage singing, dancing and getting laughs. Big laughs. It was thrilling. I never felt so alive. I wanted to make them laugh more and they did!

The show ended. We took our bows to a gleeful, standing crowd. It hit me like a wave of love. Afterward in the dressing room, my parents were very proud and encouraged me to get into comedy. That confirmed it — my parents believed in me and would support me in my efforts. As I hugged my dad, I glanced up into these grinning eyes. These beautiful, smiling green eyes and this bright shock of red hair that broke the room's light like a bonfire. It was Mrs. Morton.

In her pink pants suit, Mrs. Morton approached me with outstretched arms. I broke with my dad's embrace and rushed to her. We hugged. She gently braced my face, stroked my hair and smiled proudly, like I had never seen, and then she whispered, "Chris, you're a little genius". My mom overheard this and up to her death, always reminded me about that comment — not to mention all of our family and friends.

Now after my mother's passing, I realized why she told everyone what Mrs. Morton had said to me. Because she was proud of me. Listen folks, I'm not a genius. It's just nice that Mrs. Morton was the person who said it to me and that my mother believed it.

As the years passed, Desi and I would go to parties and family functions together at his mom's home. Mrs. Morton and I would play Backgammon for hours, drink booze and talk. I would be playing with her and look up, smashed on coke and rum and coke and see this weathered, inebriated, comic icon and think, "Mrs. Morton is fucked up!"

Later in the 80's, Gary Morton contacted me to write an episode of Mrs. Morton's new sit-com on ABC. It was a sad kind of show. The venerable actress was now in her seventies, reduced to recreating the madcap redhead from days of old. I sold a script which had her character exposing a softer, real and more touching side of her.

Well, apparently she enjoyed my script and she asked me to come down to the set and watch a rehearsal of another episode. I entered the sound stage, serpentining Stage 2, searching for Mrs. Morton. Then I stumbled across her sitting on an apple crate, behind a façade, staring at the floor and awaiting her entrance cue. I remember wondering if Mrs. Morton was up to the task. Did she have it in her any longer? I stood in silence. She lifted her head and readied herself for her entrance. She must've felt my presence because she turned in my direction. At that exact moment, the director's voice came over the intercom and asked for her to enter the scene. She gestured for me to stay. So, I remained there on the Astroturf front lawn of her fake sit-com home waiting for Mrs. Morton. She returned and like that night in the dressing room, she approached me, braced her hands around my face, kissed me and said, "Chris, my sweet, I enjoyed your script, but I just found out they've cancelled my show." Now I realized why she had looked so down.

Mrs. Morton's last hurrah had hurried away. She had been cancelled for her first time in her illustrious television career. My best friend's mom would never perform my script.

But that was okay because I knew I was funny and Mrs. Morton thought so too.