Author and humarist Irene Kampen, whose autobiographical book Life Without George, became the basis of The Lucy Show, died on Feb. 1, 1998. She was 75 years of age and had been a resident of Oceanside for 10 years. The cause of death was breast cancer.
She attended the University of Wisconsin, where she was editor of Octopus, the campus humor magazine. She graduated in 1943 with a degree in journalism and started work as a "copy girl" at the New York Journal American. Shortly thereafter she married a WWII pilot, Owen Kampen; they moved with their young daughter Christine to Levittown in 1948 becoming one of the first occupants of Levitt's new haven for GIs. There she worked as a reporter and gossip columnist for the Levittown Tribune for many years. In 1954 she and her husband built a house in Ridgefield, CT, then a quaint small town filled with homes dating from the Revolutionary War. Almost immediately her 15 year marriage collapsed in divorce and she was forced back to work to support herself and her daughter. To help with the mortgage payments, she took in another recent divorcee and her young son. Exhausted by the grueling commute from Connecticut to her job selling flowers at the New York shop of her father, Jack Trepel, she conceived the idea of writing about her life as a divorced woman raising a teenaged daughter in a small New England town - where, in the 1950s, divorce was not only rare, but very much a social stigma. The book, Life Without George, eventually found its way to the producers of the I Love Lucy television show, the long-running comedy about the marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The timing was right because Lucille Ball had recently divorced Arnaz and the producers were looking for a new sitcom for Lucy and her TV pal Vivian Vance. Because divorce was still controversial in the early 1960s, the show's producers agreed that Lucy could appear as a divorcee, but they insisted that "Ethel" play a widow. The Lucy Show had a highly successful eight-year run, and reruns can still be found on late night television.
Irene Kampen went on to write 10 books, including We That Are Left , The Ziegfield's Girl and the humorous, autobiographically-inspired Europe Without George, Last Year at Sugarbush, Here Comes the Bride, There Goes Mother, Due to Lack of Interest Tomorrow Has Been Canceled, Are Your Carrying Any Gold or Living Relatives?, Nobody Calls at This Hour Just to Say Hello and Fear Without Childbirth. Several of these books wre written during stays as a Fellow of the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH. Many of her short stories and articles appeared in magazines including McCalls, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, Reader's Digest and Good Housekeeping. In alter years, she traveled widely on the lecture circuit, delighting audiences with her humor. She was also a member of the Authors Guild.
Irene Kampen was born in Brooklyn on April 18, 1922 to Mary and Jack Trepel. She was reared in Manhattan Beach and later lived in Great Neck. Her father was founder of Jack Trepel Inc. in Rockefeller Center. He was president of the American Society of Magicians from 1936-1948.
She is survived by her companion of many years, Louis Ferioli; her sister Joyce Miller of Washington, DC; and her daughter Christine Guthrie who is an American Cancer Society Research professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of California, San Francisco; as well as her neice Susan Miller Fuentes of San Luis Obispo, CA and a nephew Thomas Ross Miller of Brooklyn.