Famous Daughters Arnaz, Abzug Set the Record Straight

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The inaugural Women Making History conference, produced by DeeJae Cox of the LA Women’s Theatre Project, held a lively chat with attorney Liz Abzug and singer-actress Lucie Arnaz. Both are accomplished women in their respective fields, Abzug in law and politics, Arnaz in entertainment, and also happen to be the daughters of two of the most famous women in American history.

In 1970 Bella Abzug, a wife, mother and feminist, was elected to the House of Representatives. In the 1950s, Lucille Ball became the first woman to run a TV studio. Both did so, pointed out moderator Angela Valente Romeo, while raising two children.

But wait! Before the panel went any further, Lucie Arnaz wanted to she set the record straight. This set the tone for an honest, funny and often moving conversation about fame, public scrutiny and living with American icons.

Lucille’s Ball’s position as a studio head was “kind of a mistake,” says Arnaz.

“She hated running a studio. She inherited it from my father after they divorced.”

And the idea that they accomplished so much “while raising two children,” both Lucie and Liz agreed, is an exaggeration.

“She was away,” Arnaz said, adding that her grandmother lived with the family and took care of her and brother Desi. “Both my parents worked. It was a choice they made.”

In contrast, Lucie Arnaz made the choice once she had children to be there for the “piano recital,” she said, instead of jetting “off to London” to work.

Both women acknowledged that their parents made significant contributions to American society and culture. But as the children who grew up with parents “away” much of the time, “That’s the drawback of fame right there,” Lucie said.

Liz Abzug, an attorney, activist and professor at Barnard College/Columbia University, followed in her mother’s footsteps in support of political causes for women and LGBT people. She also spoke to the group independently about her work and her mother’s legacy.

“When my mother was in Congress, a woman could not get a credit card in her own name,” she said. “My students say, ‘what are you talking about?’ ”

Liz Abzug started the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute (BALI), a nonprofit organization that works to give girls and young women the skills to become the leaders of the future. They call themselves “femininjas.” Yet, it’s difficult for them to imagine not having the rights that are afforded women today. Films such as “Suffragette” are giving them an idea of how society has changed in the decades since Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and others fought for equal rights and equal respect for women. Much of Liz Abzug’s work is carrying on the work her mother started.

“She was passionate and compassionate. She had a great sense of humor, she was dynamic and could work across the isle,” Liz Abzug says of her mother. “She always said, ‘you must always stay true to your principals.’”

Liz Abzug’s public affairs and management-consulting firm provides strategic and business planning, public affairs, management and political consulting, marketing, public relations and lobbying.  Her clients include small businesses, corporations, not-for-profit organizations state and local governments, foundations and universities.

Under former N.Y. Gov. Mario Cuomo, Liz was chief lobbyist in Washington DC for all of New York State’s economic development agencies.

Despite those accomplishments, “Everything I do, wherever I speak, I’m always introduced as Bella Abzug’s daughter,” said Liz. “Sometimes you just want to be you.”

“It’s as simple as that?” Lucie Arnaz chimed in, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “And it’s costs me thousands of dollars.”

But Arnaz believes that, despite those thousands of dollars, she now knows why people will say “I Love Lucy,” and mean her mother.

“She’s such an iconic woman and they want to say something to you and that’s the only thing they have in common with you,” says Arnaz, adding with perfect comedic timing: “If I cured cancer, they would say, ‘Lucille Ball’s daughter cures cancer.’ …But it could be worse, I could be Son of Sam’s daughter.”

For more about Liz Abzug see: http://www.abzuginstitute.org/liz-abzug/

For more on Lucie Arnaz see: www.luciearnaz.com.

For about Women in History see: http://www.deejaecox.com/women-making-history—a-work-in-progress.html.

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and produces content via Saving Grace Films.

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