Babalu! There was something marvelous and naive in the world of “I Love Lucy.” However, not everything in the show was as it seemed. Behind the canned laughter and gags, lied the bitter truth of reality.
Things like success, prejudice, heartache, strife, and triumph were ever so dominant behind the scenes. These are things which can’t be made up for the sake of a script; it’s reality at its finest and completely unedited.
TV’s Golden Era Will Never Be the Same
The days of “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Lone Ranger” are long gone. But there still remains one television show that has maintained its prominence long after TV’s golden age was over, and that’s “I Love Lucy.” The peppy redhead wore her heart on her sleeve and strongly impacted America during her time and many future generations to come.
Her role and influence on television had an effect on a wide number of viewers and set high standards for the entertainment industry that has since hardly come close to comparison. While we all came to know and love her television self, did we know the real Lucille Ball? Lucille wasn’t just gimmicks and cued laughter. But, while she did experience a series of highs and lows, her story has a happy ending, giving America exactly what they wanted and what Lucy wanted to give them.
Babalu! There was something marvelous and naive in the world of "I Love Lucy." However, not everything in the show was as it seemed. Behind the canned laughter and gags, lied the bitter truth of reality.
Things like success, prejudice, heartache, strife, and triumph were ever so dominant behind the scenes. These are things which can't be made up for the sake of a script; it's reality at its finest and completely unedited.
TV's Golden Era Will Never Be the Same
The days of "Leave it to Beaver" and "The Lone Ranger" are long gone. But there still remains one television show that has maintained its prominence long after TV's golden age was over, and that's "I Love Lucy." The peppy redhead wore her heart on her sleeve and strongly impacted America during her time and many future generations to come.
Her role and influence on television had an effect on a wide number of viewers and set high standards for the entertainment industry that has since hardly come close to comparison. While we all came to know and love her television self, did we know the real Lucille Ball? Lucille wasn't just gimmicks and cued laughter. But, while she did experience a series of highs and lows, her story has a happy ending, giving America exactly what they wanted and what Lucy wanted to give them.
She Was Born With a 'Pep in Her Step'
Lucille Ball was born on August 6, 1911, in Jamestown, New York to Henry Durrell Ball and Desiree "Dede" Evelyn Ball. They had two children, Lucille and Frederick. In later years, Lucille had often claimed to be born in Butte, Montana, where her grandparents resided. Her father eventually moved her family to Montana for his work. Lucy came from poor, humble beginnings. Her father was a hard-working electrician for Bell telephone company. In her early years, Lucille saw herself as more of a tomboy figure and didn't care for typical girly and frilly things like ribbons. She was a daddy's girl who loved to roughhouse with her father. Her close relationship with her father fostered her rowdy and mischievous side.
Lucille had a lot of energy as a young girl and her mother often didn't know what to do with her. In order to keep her close by while she was doing laundry, her mother would wrap a leash around her. Although it appeased her mother, Lucille was completely humiliated and would beg her mother to release her when strangers passed by. Lucille was good with crowds before she even turned four!
Her First Performance Was on the Butcher's Counter
Lucille had a huge imagination when she was a child. Coupled with her abundance of energy, she would often stray from home by herself, causing her parents a lot of nerves and fright. In order to attempt to control her daughter, her mother made a deal with the local butcher for Ball to run up and down the street between his shop and their home. It was in his shop that Lucille first made her entertainment debut.
In her autobiography, Ball shares details of her first performance on the butcher's counter. She would exuberantly take to the stage and perform for the customers coming into the shop to buy meat. Lucille loved to dance and twirl for them, but there was one thing she loved doing more than that and that was giving her rendition of a jumping frog. She would stick her tongue out and croak. Her fans couldn't get enough of it and would give her some pennies or a sweet treat. Those lucky customers got a 2 for one- meat and a concert. And to think, that little girl would later be a star!
Her Father Died When She Was Young
In the winter of 1916, when Ball was just five-years-old, and her mother was pregnant with their second child, her father got sick with a bad case of the flu. It had started storming and her father, who worked as a telephone lineman, went out to fix the damaged telephone wires from the storm. He did what was required of him, however, this time it came with a consequence. After he came home from work, her father got into bed with a high fever. However, his fever did not go down and he only got sicker. His illness eventually turned into typhoid. He died shortly after. Ball recalled those days very clearly with a painful heart.
Lucille didn't remember much about the day he died, but she did remember a bird getting trapped in their home. Since the incident, she couldn't stand to look at pictures of birds and even refused to stay in hotel rooms showing birds.
Her Step-father Was Tolerable, But Not Paternal
Time went on and life continued. Following her father's death, her mother returned to New York from Montana and Lucy and her brother were raised by their mother and grandparents. Four years later, when Lucille was 11-years-old, her mother remarried to a Swedish-American man named Edward Peterson. He became Lucille's stepfather. While Ball was happy to introduce a father figure back into her life, her new step-father wasn't as happy with the idea. He seemed to have no intention of becoming a father and insisted that Ball call him Ed. In her autobiography, Lucille talks about her step-father, sharing “Ed was never mean or abusive,” she recalled in her autobiography. “But his presence in the house was shadowy.”
As Lucille grew older, she discovered her passion in life, acting, thanks to her step-father offering her to audition for his organization's choir. After turning 15, she convinced her mother to sign her up in a New York City drama school. Her mother was very supportive of her passions and helped fuel her career. Lucille was lucky to have such an encouraging mother. It was clear from her days performing in the butcher shop, that this girl was meant to be a star. However, stardom definitely did not come easy to her.
She Was Painfully Shy
You would never expect that this boisterous and energetic girl would freeze up on stage. But, that's exactly how Ball felt when she took to the stage. Her outgoing and charming personality didn't seem to shine on the stage in the same way that it did in her daily life. Her mentors at school started to notice and they weren't afraid to share their opinion with the to-be-star. “I was a tongue-tied teenager spellbound by the school’s star pupil, Bette Davis,” shared Ball. The school sent her mother a letter with some very discouraging news.
In the letter that her mother received, the school wrote that Lucy was wasting her time at the school. “Lucy’s wasting her time…and ours. She’s too shy and reticent to put her best foot forward.” Although this dispiriting letter could have shattered Lucille into pieces, even in the face of criticism, she was unwilling to let them ruin her dream of becoming a star.
She Changed Her Name
After Lucille received the tough criticism from her school, she decided to stay in New York and pursue a career as a model. She decided that along with her fresh start, she would need a new name. She changed her name to Diane Belmont, and was ready for her first big assignment. In 1927, she had her picture taken for fashion designer Hattie Carnegie. Lucille was young, she was stunning, and she belonged in front of the camera. That much was clear.
Despite her looks and her career starting to fall into place, all was not well with Ball's health. Towards the end of her teens, she started to suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis. Despite this health barrier, Ball did not let it come in the way of her career. She continued to model and became more confident in herself. She started to feel like she was slowly starting to take over the world. Shortly after, she decided that it was time for a physical change. She said goodbye to her natural chestnut colored brown hair and became a blonde.
Trying to Make it on Broadway
Just because Lucille was consumed with modeling, she did not give up on her acting career and tried to manage both of them together. She thought that she could maybe make it on Broadway as a chorus girl but Broadway wasn't as enthusiastic about the idea. Once again, it turned out to be a complete failure for Ball, Lucille was fired from four different shows. Ball continued to be told by coaches and other acting teachers that she didn't have what it takes to make it big. How wrong they were.
Although she continued to receive criticism, Lucille was a woman of great strength and determination and still did not let anybody decide for her what her fate would be. From the bottom of her heart, she felt like she was on the right path and this feeling kept her going. Instead of giving up, the criticism she received only motivated her more, and she continued to try until she forced her foot in the proverbial door.
Lucille Was on Hiatus for Two Years
Despite the continuation of people shutting doors in her face, Lucille was certain that she was meant to be a star and understood that the path would not be an easy one. With all her inner strength, the hustle was taking a toll on her body. After she tried her hardest to get modeling gigs with department stores and perfume ads, she decided that it was time for a much-needed break.
While Lucille wasn't feeling her best, she was motivated to get back up on her feet. After two years, she went back to New York. However, this time, she decided it was time to stop hiding behind the Diane Belmont mask. She once again re-branded herself, however this time, she went back to the one and only Lucille Ball. She experienced her first taste of success in the limelight and she had no intentions of quitting.
Chesterfield Cigarettes Opened the Doors of Opportunity
After returning from her hiatus, she decided to take up modeling again. She posed for some pictures and then, in 1932, she was offered the opportunity to become a cigarette girl for Chesterfield Cigarette's national advertising posters. Following the gig, she was finally presented with an opportunity that would change the course of her entire life and make her a star. She was offered her first role.
Though the role was small, it was the first one she landed. The year was 1933 and she was cast as a Goldwyn Girl in “Roman Scandals.” Finally! She had gotten the break she had been waiting for her whole life. She later landed a role as an extra in a Ritz Brother’s film “The Three Musketeers.” With stars in her eyes, she proved all the people wrong who had initially doubted her.
Lucille Ball Would Be Known as the “Queen of B Movies”
It seemed like things were starting to look up for Lucille, and by 1937, she was acting alongside Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers in "Stage Door." During the 1930s and 1940s, Ball played multiple parts in 72 movies. From her beginning days of struggles to 72 movies! However, the movies that she was playing in weren't big blockbuster films. For this reason, she was nicknamed the “Queen of the B movies.”
Lucille wouldn't stay the Queen of B Movies for long. When she acted in the movie "Too Many Girls" in 1940, she met Cuban singer Desi Arnaz on set. The singer played the bongos and created music that made Ball want to dance her heart out to. Ball was instantly attracted to Desi's charisma and confidence. It wasn't long before she began to develop feelings for her costar.
Ball was not the type of woman to fawn over men. In the case of Arnaz, he was the exact opposite of who she usually dated. She usually went after older men, but Arnaz was much younger than her. At the time they met, he was 23 and she was 28. After meeting, they began to get closer, and soon enough became inseparable. Over time, Ball’s personality began to change for Arnaz.
If Arnaz wanted anything, Ball would jump at the opportunity to do it for him. If they were ever sitting on a couch and Arnaz needed more room, Ball would make room for him to feel more comfortable. Their friends found it to be strange because Ball was usually a very independent and strong woman.
Arnaz Was a Lady-killer
With her new rose-colored glasses, it was evident that Ball was developing strong feelings for her co-star. They had a very passionate relationship and couldn't keep their hands off each other. Arnaz loved that Ball was an independent woman who was both smart and funny. It was nearly impossible not to fall in love with her. Although Arnaz was drafted into the Army in 1942, a knee injury ended up classifying him for limited service. So, he stayed in Los Angeles and organized and performed USO shows for wounded GIs being brought back from the Pacific.
He was born in Santiago de Cuba. After the revolution started in the 1930s, he moved to Miami where he started his career in music. When they first met, Arnaz felt like he had met his match. However, despite their strong passion and fondness of one another, their relationship still did have its challenges.
They Got Married Six Months Later
Ball and Arnaz had a strong and special bond, it was clear. But, their friends did think that they were a pretty random match. Her friends were absolutely shocked when Lucille and Arnaz decided to get married only six months after they started dating. Their shared desired to work in the entertainment industry had many friends in their close-knit circles believing that the two wouldn't last.
Many people estimated that the two would stay together for no more than a year. However, despite others' hesitations about their relationship, the two would stay together for almost twenty years. During their years together, they experienced some very high highs and grim lows.
She Was Acting, He Was Performing
Their marriage was anything but easy. Ball was at the peak of her career. While she wasn't yet at the place where she was being swarmed by fans and paparazzi, she was making a name for herself in Hollywood. While she was busy taking Hollywood by storm, Arnaz was busy traveling around the country, attaining fame for himself through his music.
Arnaz was seldom home. He could often be found playing with his band until two or three in the morning. While he and Ball were starting to create a life together, Arnaz started to develop the habit of drinking and flirting with other women. The strong connection that Ball once felt for her husband was starting to dissipate and her feelings of loneliness were becoming more present.
She Took a Big Risk
While Arnaz was busy touring the country, Ball threw herself into the world of radio. She got a spot as a lead in the radio show "My Favorite Husband," an audio program for CBS radio. She originally starred alongside Lee Bowman. The two played the characters of Liza and George Cugat. Thanks to positive reviews, CBS decided to turn the show into a series. Bowman wasn't able to commit to the series, so Richard Denning replaced him. The series was based on the novels 'Mr. and Mrs. Cugat: The Record of a Happy Marriage' and 'Outside Eden', which were written by Isabel Scott Rorick.
It was discovered that Lucille performed much better when she was in front of an audience. She would deliver her iconic facial expressions which would have the audience falling off the edge of their seats in laughter. The team at CBS was very impressed with her performance and saw its potential. They suggested making a live version of the show which would depict the ups and downs of a married couple. Ball agreed to it, under one condition.
She Insisted Desi Be Her Husband on the Show
She would proceed with their idea only under the condition that Arnaz would play the role of her television husband. CBS balked at the idea and didn't know how to respond. Who would tune in to watch an interracial couple- an all-American red-headed woman with a Cuban? This was the early 50s and discrimination against the Latino-American community was high. They couldn't see how a Cuban singer with an accent would appeal to an audience. However, Ball was unwilling to budge and back down.
Lucille thought that if Arnaz was to star with her on the show, he would come to settle down in Hollywood and leave behind his life on the road. She had grown tired of "meeting in the Sepulveda tunnel.” She was hoping that by acting together on the show, he would be in close proximity and it would also be a boost to his career. In order to convince the TV network that her husband would be a good fit, she went on an “I Love Lucy” vaudeville act.
They Were Too Good to Pass Up
The boys at CBS were unable to overlook the high ranking of the "I Love Lucy" Vaudeville. Thanks to the rave reviews, the network gave in and agreed to Ball's demands. There was no way they could continue the show without Lucille Ball. She was funny, she was clumsy, and Arnaz was charismatic and good looking. Together, the pair became America's most loved couple.
Ball, along with her beau and the crew at "I Love Lucy", could not gauge how successful the show would be after the first episode. While shooting the episode and seeing the audience crack up in laughter, it was clear that the outcome was going to be a good one. The best part of it all was that Ball was the only one who could give such a performance. This definitely gave her some weight and power in the studio. The show not only made Lucy's career, but it also salvaged her relationship, which was falling apart due to different schedules and Desi's attraction to other women.
Ball Understood the Show's Influence on American Culture
While the show was clearly destined for success, it would not have been possible without the redheaded actress. She was very careful about what she portrayed on the show and aware of the influences of Hollywood on American culture. The show portrayed positive female friendships and the first pregnancy that was ever shown on TV. Ball's uncanny facial expressions and the way in which her body language perfectly depicted her personality is what made the show so epic, funny, and mesmerizing.
Besides Ball's sense of humor, her facial expressions and body language were a significant part of her role. Shooting the show was not all fun and games. Once, a fight even broke out on set with an Italian grape stomper!
Lucille Got into a Fight With an Extra on the Show
Sometimes we all get a little carried away, especially when something rubs us the wrong way. But, what happens when you are strangled on live television? In "Lucy's Italian Movie," the script had Ball stomping grapes with an extra named Teresa Tirelli. Tirelli did not speak English well and needed to use a translator in order to relay the scene. However, something got lost in translation.
Lucille and the extra began to wrestle and it immediately became comedy gold. The success didn't translate in the same way for the actors. For them, it turned into a real grape wrestling match. The wrestling turned so severe that Ball almost drowned in a puddle of grape juice. Ball picked herself up and stuffed a fist full up grapes in Tirelli's face. She was very satisfied with the move and the show becoming a success. Thanks to the high ratings they were seeing, she and Arnaz decided to make a drastic move.
They Created Their Own Network
"I Love Lucy" had become a huge success. With that success, Desi Arnaz decided it was the perfect time to create his own production studio: Desilu. He made Ball vice president and the two took on a new side of the Hollywood industry together. They were blessed with success after success. They even bought the rights to “I Love Lucy” from CBS studios and proceeded to make millions.
Everything was going great for the couple. They welcome their new son, Desi Jr. on the "I Love Lucy" show. They planned for the episode of his "TV birth" to coincide with his real birth and Ball gave birth to their son the same night that the episode was meant to be airing on January 19, 1953. 44 million viewers tuned in to watch Lucy Ricardo welcome little Ricky, while in real life, Lucy was welcoming her real son. The birth made it on to the cover of the first issue of T.V Guide for the week of April 3-9, 1953. Everything was turning out exactly as it should be. They were the all-American family that everyone found themselves relating to, and the kind of family that people aspired to be.
Lucy`s iconic red hair wasn't red
As mentioned earlier, Ball wasn't a natural redhead. She started off as a brunette, later dyed her hair blonde, and then ended up as the iconic redhead in "I Love Lucy." Her hairdresser considered her not so much a redhead as she did an "apricot gold." According to her hairdresser on emmytvlegends.org, she had trouble perfecting the color of Lucy's hair.
While Ball was performing in Vegas, she met a wealthy sheik whom she shared her hair problem with. So, the sheik gave her a lifetime supply of henna. Henna is a dye that is used to make the shade of red that we came to know and love on Lucy. She locked up the formula with a key, but that was far from her biggest problem.
She Thought Having Kids Would Settle Dezi's Bachelor Lifestyle
It was no secret that Arnaz flirted with other women. This was oftentimes the subject of Ball and her husband's arguments. His flirtatious demeanor, as well as his drinking habits, drove Lucille mad. She hoped that having children would put an end to his bachelor-like behavior. For a while, it seemed to be working.
Prior to the show's airing in 1951, Lucille and Arnaz had given birth to their first child: their daughter, Lucy Arnaz. Lucy thought that having children would make her husband snap into reality. For a while he did. But, old habits are hard to break. While he truly did love his children and his wife, soon, things would start to unravel.
It All Seemed So Perfect…on TV
Lucille Ball admitted that she and Arnaz were super happy on set. It was their job to be. They had to show a loving American family whose problems were fixable within half an hour. During these moments, Ball's anger towards her husband relinquished and she was her happiest self. The show was also enjoying being on top of U.S. ratings for most of its run.
But, the couple couldn't fool themselves. As soon as the director called "cut," Lucille and her husband were at each other's throats again. Between Arnaza's alcohol consumption, his alleged infidelity, and the stress of managing Desilu, their relationship started to fall apart. The perfect illusion of marriage was soon to break.
“I Love Lucy” Came to a Bitter End
All good things must come to an end, and unfortunately the end of "I Love Lucy," wasn't a pleasant one. Ball was an avid believer in happy endings. She believed that no matter how bitter reality may be, the audience deserves a happy ending. The final episode of the show aired in 1957.
After the show's ending, the couple tried to run a spin-off show called "The Lucy-Desi Show." Unfortunately, the public didn't buy it and it wasn't nearly as successful as "I Love Lucy." The couple announced their divorce in 1960 and the show culminated. The public was heartbroken to see America's most loved couple separating.
Lucille Had a Dark Period
On March 3, 1960, a day after Desi's 43rd birthday (and one day after the filming of Lucy and Desi's last episode together), Ball filed papers in Santa Monica Superior Court, claiming married life with Desi was "a nightmare" and nothing was as it appeared to be on the show. The months after their divorce became the darkest period in Lucy's life. She and Arnaz were married for nearly twenty years, and she had never expected to become a divorcee. She was heartbroken for disappointing herself, but even more than that, for disappointing the American people and all the fans who adored her. It crushed her that she wasn't able to give people a real-life happy ending.
As time went on, Lucille began to question everything about herself. She thought about her family and her career. She was angry at her ex-husband, however, she never once pointed a finger at him. She would later come to understand his internal battle.
The FBI Were Not Fans of Lucille Ball
Before the couple divorced in 1960, Ball was under serious discretion with the US government. Why? Well, when Ball registered to vote in 1936, she listed her party affiliation as Communist and signed a certificate stating that she is registered as affiliated with the Communist Party. She was called before Congress at “the height of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt.” If you recall, the 1950s were not the best time to be a fan of anything other than democratic (the system, not the party).
But, when Ball appeared before court, she claimed to only have signed up in order to satisfy her socialist grandfather. She didn't convince anybody. They released Ball "believing" her story, but in all fairness, there was no real evidence suggesting that she was an active member of the Communist Party. That didn’t stop the House Un-American Activities Committee. Before the filming of episode 68, Desi told the audience about Lucy and her grandfather. He said, "The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that is not legitimate."
The FBI Continued to Keep Tabs on Her
Once she was released, the FBI continued to check up on her activity. Secret files with “confidential” stamps were sent to J. Edgar Hoover who made it his personal responsibility to follow the Arnaz family. The FBI was even convinced in catering events as a front to hosting Communist meetings.
According to the Washington Post, “In February 1946, Arnaz appeared in a show sponsored by the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, a group the FBI said was a communist front.” If that wasn’t enough, a Hollywood writer claims to have gone to a Communist Party meeting at the couple’s house. Conspiracy, paranoia, or truth? Who knows.
We Can Thank Lucy for Star Trek
" I Love Lucy" may have come to an end, but for Desilu, their power only continued to grow. They continued to reign over Hollywood with his talents. They produced a number of successful TV shows such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “Star Trek.” Yes, you read that correctly, “Star Trek.” For years, Ball had filled the role as not only wife, mother, and entertainer, but also as a partner in Desilu.
In 1962, Ball bought out the Desilu studio and was managing the company, becoming the first woman to do so. Initially, CBS turned down the first “Star Trek” pilot, saying the budget needed to produce it was too high. However, after Ball gave the crew the financial support they needed, the pilot was produced. 'Star Trek' then became one of the biggest media franchises in history, all thanks to Lucille Ball.
She Found Love Again
Although Ball and Arnaz's marriage ended horribly, they were able to put that aside and stay friends. In fact, they realized that they were better off as friends than they were husband and wife. Instead of being discouraged by her first failed marriage, Ball was open to finding love again. In 1961, just one year after her divorce from Arnaz, she found love and friendship in the laughter of comedian Gary Morten.
When Ball sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters, she shared how patient and loving Morton was toward her. She found a trustworthy friend in Morton that she had never experienced before in a man. And what did Morton think of Ball? He found her funny, dynamic, and delicate. Their relationship lasted for over 25 years.
For any of those who believe that funny women can't be taken seriously, then you have clearly never met Lucille Ball. Ball was both a talented comedian and a serious businesswoman. Rumor has it that she was a tough cookie to work for who exhibited control over her environment with grace and style. Being a perfectionist, she was very particular with her work and appreciated the small details.
Her business experience is what led her to become the first-ever woman to run a major television production studio. After being the head of her own production company, in 1967, she decided she had had enough, and sold Desilu to Western-Gulf for $17 million dollars (what is now $128). So you think she would take the $17 million and retire. But you should know by now that Lucille Ball was a woman of vibrancy, energy, and talent, with a huge passion for her work. She was ready to take on her next big project.
Life After “I Love Lucy”
After "The Lucy-Desi" show came to an end, Lucille thought that perhaps it was her time to throw in the towel and retire. But, doing so was much easier said than done. Instead, she continued acting and came up with a new idea- to bring her children into the Hollywood spotlight. The Lucy days were far from over. She would appear once again on television in "Here’s Lucy” alongside her children.
Ball was a strict believer in nepotism; it's not about what you do, but who you know. She had friends in all the right places. As her children got older, they too were able to venture off and do their own things. Now Ball had felt like she reached success. It was time for her to settle down and allow her children the stage.
She Was a True Workaholic
When Lucille first retired, she enjoyed the time off. She didn't see herself working past the "I Love Lucy" show and originally thought she'd be done with Hollywood long before "Here's Lucy." But, the iconic actress just couldn't quit. It's hard when you get used to doing something for so long and no longer being able to do it, especially when you are as passionate as Lucille Ball was.
But, a veteran actress like herself understood when it was time to call it quits, time to take a bow and be thankful for her long and successful career. Lucy knew that her time had come to hang up her hat and coat. Although she was still America's most respected television icon, she knew that it was her time to step away and make room for the up and coming actors of the next generation. She last appeared publicly at the Academy Awards, pictured above, in 1989.
Always a legend
Ultimately, Ball found comfort in the consistency of retirement. Her husband, George Morton, was at her beckoning call when she needed something or was feeling down. She had the support and love of her children and her grandchildren. There was nothing more that she truly needed. Plus, she had amazing memories of the years in which she graced our television. On February 8, 1960, Ball was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for her contributions to motion pictures, and the other for television.
Lucille Ball forever changed television. It's hard to imagine what television would be like today without having been influenced by her. What Ball did is not repeatable. She especially paved the way for female comedians and actresses, but also for women in business and production. She is a leading example of what it means to believe in yourself and chase your dreams. She passed away in 1989 at the age of 77. She left behind a legacy of comedy and her humorous and joyful persona lives on. The effervescent redhead made everyone in America laugh for years. But she was more than just a funny woman. She was a television pioneer whose artistic and business decisions shaped pop culture.
She Was 12 Years Old on Her First Audition
By now, it’s obvious that Lucille Ball was an incredible woman, with a natural talent that came from an early age. In fact, she was only 12 years old when she auditioned for her first role.
It was a role in a chorus line for a small stage production, and her stepfather was the one who encouraged her. Obviously, she got the part, and this was to become the first role of her wildly successful show business career.
The First Woman to Run a Big Hollywood Studio
Lucille Ball wasn’t just the first woman to ever run a major Hollywood studio, she was the first to buy out her shares for $2.5 million, making her the first woman to ever be CEO of a massive production company. The first studio she ever ran was one she formed with her husband in 1950, named Desilu (a mix of both their names), and then she bought out her shares after they divorced 10 years later.
Desilu is the one who brought Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables, Star Trek, and of course, I Love Lucy to the small screen. And to top it all off, Lucille sold those shares some years later to Paramount Studios, for the tune of $17 million. Her last major venture was in 1967 when she founded Lucille Ball Productions.
She Defied Ageism and Set a New Precedent
Lucille Ball turned 40 before I Love Lucy even went on the air! That was unheard of in a time when no big Hollywood actress, or any actress, for that matter, was even considered for a part if she was over 35 years old.
Ball defied ageist film moguls and set a new precedent for women, making the world understand that talent is ageless.
Lucy Loved Gardening and Painting
Lucille loved plants and tended carefully to her beautiful, lush garden in her Hollywood home.
Gardening wasn't the only hobby she had. She also took up painting, and according to sources close to her, she used to sit for hours on end in her garden in front of her canvas.
She Was a Physical Slapstick Comedy Pioneer
Lucille’s incredible talent as a comedian came from the simple fact that she was the only woman at the time willing to get a little dirty in the name of good comedy. For the sake of good physical comedy, she didn’t mind getting messed up. Ball herself said that it took her years of acting and playing many roles in different films to finally understand that it was comedy she loved, and her tough character and openness to do different things for laughs. And this is what placed her as one of history’s most iconic comedians.
In an interview with People magazine in 1980, she said, “I guess after about six months out here in the ’30s I realized there was a place for me. Eddie Cantor and Sam Goldwyn found that a lot of the really beautiful girls didn't want to do some of the things I did—put on mud packs and scream and run around and fall into pools. I said ‘I'd love to do the scene with the crocodile.’ He didn't have teeth, but he could sure gum you to death. I didn't mind getting messed up. That's how I got into physical comedy.”
Lucille Ball Was Very Particular
Lucille had her quirks, she wasn’t your typical woman. For example, when she started auditioning for Broadway, she used to go by the name 'Diane Belmont'.
The name came from a racetrack in New York called Belmont Racetrack, which she loved dearly.
She Wanted to Keep a Little Magic in the World
During the I Love Lucy episode with Superman, she strictly forebode George Reeve’s (who played Superman at the time) name to appear in the end credits, because she wanted children who were watching to believe Superman was real.
We guess it was her own way of trying to keep a little magic in the world, at least for those who still didn't know any better.
13 Nominations and 4 Emmy Awards
Lucille Ball was a four-time Emmy Award winner. She won Best Actress three times and once for Best Comedienne.
She received 13 nominations during her career and won four Emmy Awards: one for Best Comedienne in 1953, Best Actress in 1956 and Best Actress in a Leading Roll in a Comedy Series in 1967 and 1968.
The Show Was More Important Than a Paycheck
I Love Lucy was so important to Lucille and Desi that they were always trying to find new ways to make it better. They decided they wanted the show to be produced and filmed with better materials (e.g. more expensive celluloid film, etc.)
When they talked to producers about receiving a higher budget for this, the producers refused. So, Lucille and Desi decided to take a cut from their own salaries to make it happen. Afterward, she made a deal to ensure she and Desi had ownership rights to whatever was produced.
Lucille Ball and the Salem Witchcraft Trials
According to a report on NPR (National Public Radio), the adorable Lucille was apparently a descendant from the witches connected to the trials. The Salem Witch Trials were a sequence of trials and prosecution of people that were charged with doing witchcraft, from 1692 to 1963. The trials took place in Salem, Massachusetts, and out of the more than 200 people accused, 19 of them were convicted and hanged.
The report claimed that many American icons were related to the witches, including Clara Barton, Walt Disney, and, effectively, Lucille Ball.
The First Woman Without a Husband on TV
Back in the 1950s, it was unheard of for a woman to be acting on TV on her own. She usually played the part of a wife and a mother, or at least had a male co-star. That is, of course, until Lucille Ball.
Lucille Ball was one of the first women to act on her own in a series. Just her, no husband, no man, not even as a co-star. She could pull off the show all by herself.
Ball and Desi Lied About Their Ages
Back in the 1950s, it was not common, and even frowned upon, for a woman to be older than her husband.
Lucille was actually six years older than Arnaz, but after they got married, they decided the smartest thing to do was to lie to the press about it, to avoid any issues or controversies. So, they officially listed their birth dates as 1914.
A Real-Life Pregnancy Got More Viewers Than A Presidential Inauguration
Lucille was one of the first women to ever portray a real-life pregnancy on TV, and it was a sensation both on-screen and in real life. Actually, Lucille gave birth only 12 hours before her onscreen counterpart gave birth on the TV show!
The episode raked in a record-breaking audience of 44 million viewers, surpassing even Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration into the presidency, which brought 29 million.
CBS Network Didn't Allow the Word 'Pregnant'
Even though she not only said she was pregnant but wrote it into the show and brought a record-breaking number of viewers with it, but she did all this in a time where the network didn’t even allow her or the rest of the cast to say the word ‘pregnant’ on TV. Why? CBS considered the word to be too vulgar.
Not so shocking, since we are talking about a time where sex was extremely taboo, especially when it came to women.
Lucy’s Mother Was There for Every Recording
For those who were regular watchers of the show, the memory of someone yelling in awe every time Lucy got into one of her conundrums might come up.
That person yelling was Lucy’s mother, Desiree Ball, or DeDe Ball, as she was affectionately called. DeDe was there for the recording of every single 'I Love Lucy' episode.
The Lucille Ball Statue in New York
There was a life-size statue of Lucille Ball in Celoron, a village in the southwest corner of the state of New York. But it was called “Scary Lucy” by fans that, rightly so, thought the statue not only didn’t resemble Ball at all, but actually looked oddly creepy.
The issue was so discussed, that a Facebook page was even created advocating the removal or replacement of the statue. Even the mayor said he was on board. So, in 2016, a new sculptor made a new statue, that actually looks a lot like the beloved Lucy.
Her Daughter Almost Played Rizzo in 'Grease'
When ‘Grease’ came out in 1978, it became an instant cult classic, and the tough tomboy leader of the Pink ladies gang, Betty Rizzo, was forever etched in our mind as a symbol of feminine power and attitude. The person to immortalize this role was Stockard Channing, but it was almost Lucie Arnaz, Ball’s daughter, who snatched the honor.
Lucie was being considered for the part, but Lucille decided her daughter was too good to audition and she proceeded to call the movie’s producers to tell them just that. Apparently, Lucille’s charm didn’t work with the gentlemen, because they immediately decided on Channing.
Lucille Ball Was a Pencil Hoarder
We mentioned earlier that when Ball was growing up, she and her family were so poor they couldn't even afford to buy a pencil for school. Well, that poverty affected her all her life, and had something to do with the fact that she collected pencils as an adult.
Lucille would take pencils from her offices at the studio, and even filled an entire closet with pencil packages. When asked about it once, she apparently said, “If when you were a little boy you didn’t have a pencil in school, the way I didn’t, you would understand.”
Lucille's Fracture Was Written Into the Show
Ball had a skiing accident right before the 5th season of 'I Love Lucy' started, so she decided she would write it into the story. As it went, Lucy was in a cast for most of the season.
The sad part was that her trademark physical slapstick comedy was never quite the same. Regardless, crowds continued to adore her.