A Legion of Lucy's -- Behind the scenes at the casting call for ''Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter''

Short Lucys, tall Lucys, fat Lucys, skinny Lucys, Lucys with red hair, Lucys with brown hair, Lucys with blond hair, Lucys with gray hair — a whole lotta Lucys turned out for CBS’ ”Great Lucy & Desi Search” on July 16, 18, and 20. The network held open auditions in L.A., Miami, and New York looking for unknown talent to star in a TV film about the comic duo’s early years in show biz, Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter, and more than 1,000 Lucy lovers answered the casting calls.

Each auditioner was asked to perform a one-minute sketch from an I Love Lucy episode, and some took the comic challenge very seriously. In Miami, a wanna-be Lucy brought an inflatable kiddie pool and reenacted Lucy’s famous grape-stomping scene. Another, in L.A., wore a giant fruit basket on her head and danced the mambo. By far the most popular sketch in all three cities was Lucy’s Vitameatavegamin routine (”Are you tired, run-down, and listless? Do you poop out at parties?”), performed by about 75 percent of the female auditioners. The handful of Desis, meanwhile, mostly sang ”Babalu.”

”We wanted to cast some fresh faces for the roles,” executive producer Larry Thompson said at the New York auditions. ”We don’t need big names. We already have the two biggest stars in TV history on our marquee: Desi and Lucy Arnaz.” Added casting director Holly Powell: ”We need Lucys and Desis who can do both comedy and drama. That’s pretty hard to find.”

Not according to Peggy Iozzi, a 35-year-old self-described ”liquid engineer” (a.k.a. bartender) from Baltimore. ”I am Lucy,” she insisted after auditioning in New York (with the Vitameatavegamin skit). ”People have been calling me a Lucy for years. I’m a natural for the part.” Another ”natural,” Bronx accountant Colleen Finnegan, brought along her husband. ”She’s always cooking up harebrained schemes,” he said. ”She’s always pouting and whining — she’s exactly like Lucy.”

The parts will be cast this month, Thompson says, with the film (produced over the objections of daughter Lucie Arnaz) slated for broadcast as early as February. ”We’ve got it down to about six possible people.” He smiles. ”I’ll never have to see another Vitameatavegamin sketch as long as I live.”