Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Legends: Lucille Ball

I love Lucy!

Tell me someone who doesn’t. In my book, perhaps the funniest woman I ever saw on TV or otherwise. She paved the way for women in comedy. Without her, there is no Mary Tyler Moore show, no “I Dream Of Jeanie” (Barbara Eden) or “Bewiitched”. (Elizabeth Montgomery). And certainly without those shows, I doubt there would have been a “Roseanne”. (Roseanne Barr)

Yes, it was Lucy who paved the way for women to be taken seriously in the field of comedy. She was a one woman show all to herself. She also proved that women can have it all, beauty, talent, intelligence, savvy and still be hilarious.

Lucille Désirée Ball was born a Leo (Like me) on August 6th, 1911 and passed away on April 26th, 1989. She was an American comedian of film, television, stage and a radio actress, model, film and television executive, and star of the sitcoms “I Love Lucy”, “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour“, “The Lucy Show” and “Life With Lucy”. One of the most popular and influential stars in the United States during her lifetime, with one of Hollywood's longest careers, especially on television, Ball began acting in the 1930s, becoming both a radio actress and B-movie star in the 1940s, and then a television star during the 1950s. She was still making films in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1962, Ball became the first woman to run a major television studio, Desilu, which produced many successful and popular television series.

Ball was nominated for an Emmy Award thirteen times, and won four times. In 1977 Ball was among the first recipients of the Women in Film Crystal Award. She was the recipient of the Golden Globe Cecil B. Demille Award in 1979, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986, and the Governors Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1989.

In 1929, Ball landed work as a model and later began her performing career on Broadway using the stage name Diane Belmont. She appeared in many small movie roles in the 1930s as a contract player for RKO Radio Pictures. Ball was labeled as the “Queen of the Bs” (referring to her many roles in B-films). In 1951, Ball was pivotal in the creation of the television series “I Love Lucy“. The show co-starred her then-husband, Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo, Vivian Vance as Ethel Mertz and William Frawley as Fred Mertz. The Mertzes were the Ricardos' landlords and friends. The show ended in 1957 after 180 episodes. Then some minor adjustments were made to the program's format: the time of the show was lengthened from 30 minutes to 60 minutes (the first show lasted 75 minutes), some new characters were added, the storyline was altered, and the show was renamed “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour”, which ran for three seasons (1957–1960) and 13 episodes. Ball went on to star in two more successful television series: “The Lucy Show”, which ran on CBS from 1962 to 1968 (156 Episodes), and “Here’s Lucy” from 1968 to 1974 (144 episodes). Her last attempt at a television series was a 1986 show called “Life With Lucy” which failed after 8 episodes aired, although 13 were produced.

Ball met and eloped with Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz in 1940. On July 17, 1951, at almost 40 years old, Ball gave birth to their first child, Lucie Désirée Arnaz. A year and a half later, Ball gave birth to their second child, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV, known as Desi Arnaz, Jr. Ball and Arnaz divorced on May 4, 1960. On April 26, 1989, Ball died of a dissecting aortic aneurysm at age 77. At the time of her death, she had been married to her second husband and business partner, standup comedian Gary Morton, for more than 27 years.

Ball was born to Henry Durrell Ball and Desiree “DeDe” Evelyn Hunt in Jamestown, New York. Although Lucy was born in Jamestown, New York, she sometimes claimed that she was born in Butte, Montana. Shortly before her father's death, her family moved to Anaconda, Montana at age 3 where her father passed away, and then to Wyandotte, Michigan. Her family was Baptist; her father was of Scottish descent, and his mother was Mary Ball. Her mother was of French, Irish, and English descent.

Her father, a telephone lineman for Bell Telephone Company was frequently transferred because of his occupation, and within three years of her birth, Lucille had moved many times, from Jamestown to Anaconda, and then to Trenton. While DeDe Ball was pregnant with her second child, Frederick, Henry Ball contracted typhoid fever and died in February 1915. Ball recalled little from the day her father died, only fleeting memories of a picture falling and a bird getting trapped in the house. From that day forward, she suffered from ornithophobia. (an abnormal and irrational fear of birds.)

After her father died, Ball and her brother Fred Henry Ball were raised by her mother and grandparents in Celoron, New York, a summer resort village on Lake Chautauqua just west of Jamestown. Her grandfather, Fred Hunt, was an eccentric who also enjoyed the theater. He frequently took the family to Vaudeville shows and encouraged young Lucy to take part in both her own and school plays. Four years after the death of her father, Ball’s mother DeDe remarried. While her step-father, Edward Peterson, and mother went to look for work in another city, Ball was left in the care of her step-father’s parents. Ball’s new guardians were a puritanical Swedish couple who were so opposed to frivolity that they banished all mirrors from the house except for one over the bathroom sink. When the young Ball was caught admiring herself in it she was severely chastised for being vain. This period of time affected Ball so deeply that in later life she claimed that it lasted seven or eight years, but in reality, it was probably less than one. One good thing did come out of DeDe's new marriage: Edward was a Shriner. When his organization needed female entertainers for the chorus line of their next show, he encouraged his twelve-year-old stepdaughter to audition. While Ball was onstage she began to realize that if one was seeking praise and recognition this was a brilliant way to receive it. Her appetite for recognition had thus been awakened at an early age. In 1927 her family suffered misfortune when their house and furnishings were taken away in a legal judgement after a neighborhood boy was accidentally shot and paralyzed by someone target-shooting in their yard, under Ball's grandfather's supervision. The family then moved into a small apartment in Jamestown.

In 1925 Ball, then only 14, started dating Johnny DeVita, a 23-year-old local hood. DeDe was unhappy with the relationship, but was unable to influence her daughter to end the relationship. She expected the romance to burn out in a few weeks but that didn't happen. After about a year, DeDe tried to separate them by using Lucille's desire to be in show business. Despite the family's meager finances, she arranged for Lucille to go to the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City where Bette Davis was a fellow student. Ball later said about that time in her life, “All I learned in drama school was how to be frightened.” Ball was determined to prove her teachers wrong, and returned to New York City in 1928. Among her other jobs she landed work as a fashion model for Hattie Carnegie. Her career was thriving when she became ill, either with rheumatic fever, rheumatoid arthritis or some other unknown illness and was unable to work for two years. She moved back to New York City in 1932 to resume her pursuit of a career as an actress, and supported herself by again working for Carnegie and as the Chesterfield cigarette girl. As Diane Belmont she started getting some chorus work on Broadway but the work wasn't lasting. Ball was hired - but then quickly fired - by theatre impresario Earl Carroll from his Vanities, by Florenz Ziegfeld from a touring company of Rio Rita, and was let go from the Shubert Brothers production of “Stepping Stones”.

After an un-credited stint as one of the Goldwyn Girls in “Roman Scandals” (1933) she permanently moved to Hollywood to appear in films. She appeared in many small movie roles in the 1930s as a contract player for RKO Radio Pictures, including a two-reel comedy short with the Three Stooges and a movie with the Marx Brothers. She can also be seen as one of the featured models in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film “Roberta” (1935) and briefly as the flower girl in “Top Hat” (1935), as well as a brief supporting role at the beginning of “Follow The Fleet” (1936), another Astaire-Rogers film. Ginger Rogers was a distant maternal cousin of Ball's. She and Rogers played aspiring actresses in the hit film “Stage Door” (1937) co-starring Katherine Hepburn. She would appear in many other movies for the next few years, but she never achieved major stardom from her appearances in those films.

In 1940, Ball met Cuban born bandleader Desi Arnaz while filming the Rodgers and Hart stage hit “Too Many Girls”. When they met again on the second day, the two connected immediately and eloped the same year. Although Arnaz was drafted into the Army in 1942, he ended up being classified for limited service due to a knee injury. As a result, Arnaz stayed in Los Angeles, organizing and performing USO shows for wounded GIs being brought back from the Pacific. Ball originally filed for divorce from Desi in 1944, even going so far as obtaining an interlocutory decree, however she soon reconciled with Arnaz and stopped the proceedings. Even though the couple was only six years apart in age, many apparently believed that it was less socially acceptable for an older woman to marry a younger man, and hence split the difference in their ages, both claiming a 1914 birth date until this was disproved some years later.

When Ball registered to vote in 1936, she listed her party affiliation as Communist. (She was registered as a Communist in 1938 as well.) In order to sponsor the Communist Party’s 1936 candidate for the California State Assembly’s 57th District, Ball signed a certificate stating “I am registered as affiliated with the Communist Party.” The same year, she was appointed to the State Central Committee of the Communist Party of California, according to records of the California Secretary of State. In 1937, Hollywood writer Reba Vale, a self-identified former Communist, attended a Communist Party new members' class at Ball's home, according to Vale's testimony before the United States House of Representative’s Special Committee on un-American activities, on July 22, 1940. Two years later, Vale reaffirmed this testimony in a sworn deposition.

After the run of her many TV shows ended, Lucille appeared sparingly in several other films and TV comedy shows between 1960 and up to the mid eighties which includes “The Lucy Show” and “Here’s Lucy”.

On April 18, 1989, Ball was at her home in Beverly Hills when she complained of chest pains. An ambulance was called and she was rushed to the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She was diagnosed with dissecting aortic aneurysm and underwent heart surgery for nearly eight hours, receiving an aorta from a 27 year old male donor. The surgery was successful, and Ball began recovering very quickly, even walking around her room with little assistance. On April 26, shortly after dawn, Ball awoke with severe back pains. Her aorta had ruptured in a second location and Ball quickly lost consciousness. All attempts to revive her proved unsuccessful, and she died at approximately 05:47 PDT. She was 77 years old. Her ashes were initially interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, but in 2002 her children moved her remains to the family plot at Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown, New York, where Ball's parents, brother, and grandparents are buried.

Ball received many prestigious awards throughout her career including some received posthumously such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush on July 6, 1989, and The Women's International Center's Living Legacy Award. There is a Lucille Ball - Desi Arnaz Center museum in Lucy's hometown of Jamestown, New York. The Little Theater was renamed the Lucille Ball Little Theater in her honor. Ball was among Time magazine's 100 Most Important People of the Century. On August 6, 2001, which would have been her ninetieth birthday, the United States Postal Service honored her with a commemorative postage stamp as part of its Legends of Hollywood series. Ball appeared on the cover of TV Guide more than any other person; she appeared on thirty-nine covers, including the very first cover in 1953, with her baby son Desi Arnaz, Jr. TV Guide voted Lucille Ball as the Greatest TV Star of All Time and later it commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of “I love Lucy” with eight collector covers celebrating memorable scenes from the show, and in another instance they named “I Love Lucy” the second best television program in American history, behind “Seinfeld”. Because of her liberated mindset and approval of the women's movement, Ball was inducted into the National Woman’s Hall of Fame.

She was awarded the “Legacy Of Laughter” award at the fifth Annual TV Lands Award in 2007, “I Love Lucy” was named the Greatest TV Series by Hall of Fame Magazine, and TV Guide voted her the greatest TV star of all time In November of that year, Lucille Ball was chosen as the second out of the 50 Greatest TV Icons, behind Johnny Carson. In a poll done by the public, however, they chose her as the greatest icon.

On August 6, 2011, which would have been her hundredth birthday, Google honored Ball with an interactive doodle on their homepage. This doodle displayed six classic moments from the “I Love Lucy” sitcom. On the same day a total of 915 Ball look-alikes converged on Jamestown, New York to celebrate the birthday and set a new world record for such a gathering.

On February 8, 1960, she was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one at 6436 Hollywood Boulevard for contributions to motion pictures, and one at 6100 Hollywood Boulevard for television.

I still love Lucy!

Source: Wikipedia

This work is released under CC 3.0 BY-SA - Creative Commons


  1. The third picture down is of Rita Hayworth, not Lucille Ball!!

    1. It is? ..... OMG! It is! .... Holy crap! How did that happen? ... I feel a little ..... yeah, you know, anyhow, thanks for that heads up. I don't know how I missed that, but I did. My apologies to both Rita and Lucille. (And to all of you) I'll try and do better.

      Just goes to show I'm human after all. We all makes mistakes.

      Thanks again.


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