I love Lucy, do you? August 6, 2011 was Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday.
In honor of one of my favorite comedian/actresses, I will be writing a two-part series. Part one is about Lucy’s life and career. Part two will be about why I love Lucy.
Lucille Desiree Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) who also went by the name Montana and Diane Belmont for a brief period in her early drama school years; was born in Jamestown, New York to Henry Durrell Ball and his wife Desiree (DeDe) Evelyn (Hunt)Ball. Lucy had one sibling, a younger brother, Fredrick Henry Ball (July 17, 1915 – February 5, 2007) Fred would later become Desi’s band road manager in the 1940’s-50’s and sit on the Board of Director’s for Desilu Productions until Desi fires him.
Henry Ball commonly known as Had, by family, was an electrician in New York and telephone lineman with the Michigan Bell Company in Michigan. Henry died in February 1915 at the age of 28 to Typhoid Fever. Desiree Evelyn Hunt Ball or DeDe as she was known; was a former concert pianist. Desiree died July 20, 1977 at 84 years old. They married August 31, 1910.
After Henry’s death, Desiree who was pregnant with Fred at the time, moved back to New York and eventually got married to her second husband, Ed Peterson. They moved to Detroit leaving Lucy and her brother in New York. Lucy moved in with her step-father’s strict parents while her brother moved in with their mother, Desiree’s parents.
When Lucy turned 11 her mother moved back to New York having divorced Ed. At the age of 15, Lucy enrolled in John Murray Dramatic School but, she was too shy and nervous to do well. The school claimed Lucy was wasting her time and theirs as she was nothing like their star pupil, Ruth Elizabeth “Bette” Davis (April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989).
In 1927, Lucy started working as a model for fashion designer Hattie Carnegie, and then Chesterfield cigarettes after she overcame a bout of debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.
In the early 1930s, Lucy dyed her brown hair blonde and moved to Hollywood.
She appeared in 72 movies before meeting Cuban bandleader Desiderio Alberto Arnaz (March 2, 1917- December 2, 1986) best known as Desi Arnaz, in Dance, Girl, Dance. They appeared in one more movie, Too Many Girls, together and six months later on November 30, 1940 they were wed.
In 1942 MGM urged Lucy to dye her hair to the signature red color she became known for. Lucy’s career had slowed down to a crawl and Desi prompted her to try Broadcasting. When CBS refused to contract Desi in a sitcom alongside Lucy she walked away from a deal and the couple took their act on the road, it became so successful CBS took notice and gave them a contract for a sitcom.
Desilu Productions was born in 1950 when Lucy and Desi were doing their vaudeville act on the road. They continued using it because they wanted to use film instead of kinescope, which was cheaper than film. To make CBS happy, Lucy and Desi agreed to take a pay cut to use film and keep all the ownership rights.
October 15, 1951 I Love Lucy debuted co-starring Vivian Roberta Jones known as Vivian Vance (July 26, 1909 – August 17, 1979) and William Clement Frawley (February 26, 1887 – March 6, 1966) and ended May 6, 1957. When the original series ended, the show continued for three more seasons with 13 one-hour specials, running from 1957 to 1960, known first as The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show and later in reruns as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. To this day I Love Lucy rerun marathons can be found on television, this weekend in particular on Hallmark channel.
One of the most memorable TV episodes ever, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” touched on pregnancy, when Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky on January 19, 1953, the same day Lucy delivered her son Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV (Desi Arnaz Jr.) by caesarean section. Desi Arnaz Jr. would later grow up to play his father in the movie The Mambo Kings. (1992) The couple’s first child, Lucie Desiree Arnaz, had arrived two years before Desi Jr. on July 17, 1951; she would later go on to follow in her mother’s footsteps becoming an actress, singer, and dancer.
Lucy was not only a great comedian she was a pioneer for many comedians and actresses such as Mary Tyler Moore, Penny Marshall, Cybill Shepard, and even Robin Williams. Her show also brought subjects such as childbirth to the TV screen, something not before seen. Desilu Productions became the sole property of Lucy after her and Desi’s divorce on May 4, 1960 when she bought out Desi’s share for $3 million, making her the first woman to own a major television production company. Desilu Productions brought many hit television programs after the finale of I Love Lucy; Our Miss Brooks, Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Untouchables, Star Trek, and Mission Impossible.
Lucy sold Desilu Productions in 1967 for $17 million to Gulf-Western, it is now owned by CBS. Lucy filmed The Lucy Show in 1962 and Here’s Lucy in 1968. In 1971 she became the first woman to receive the International Radio and Television Society’s Gold Medal. She also had won 4 Emmys out of the thirteen times she was nominated, was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and gained recognition for her life’s work from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Lucy set aside her comedic genius and played a homeless woman in a made-for-television movie, Stone Pillow in 1985. In 1986 Lucy filmed a CBS show, Life with Lucy which earned $2.3 million in its 8 episode lifespan. Three years later in 1989 Lucy died from a ruptured aorta following open-heart surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.