Lucille Ball (1911 – 1989)
Lucille Desiree Ball was born in Jamestown, New York on August 6, 1911. As a teenager Lucy left home for New York City with dreams of becoming an actress. But, with acting jobs scarce, she settled got becoming a model and later an Earl Carroll showgirl.
In New York, after returning to Jamestown for two years because of illness, Lucy was spotted by an agent for Samuel Goldwyn… The year was 1933, Lucy had been chosen as a Goldwyn girl and left for Hollywood to appear in her first movie (“Roman Scandals” with Eddie Cantor).
Lucy appeared in a score of Goldwyn films
including “Kid Millions” in 1934, she soon moved on to Columbia and RKO Studios. She had bit roles in many movies including “Top Hat” and in 1936 appeared in the comedy short “So & Sew”.
Radio and more movies followed, including “Stage Door” in 1937, Lucy considered it her big break. She co-starred with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. The next year, Lucy appeared in the Marx Brothers farce, “Room Service”. While filming “Room Service” Lucy tested unsuccessfully for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind”.
As 1940 rolled in, a newcomer was signed to RKO Studios that would eventually change Lucy’s life around. Desi Arnaz, a Cuban conga player and singer, had just joined the cast of Lucy’s latest film, “Too Many Girls”. One night when the cast went out dancing at a club, Desi asked Lucy to join him. It was love at first sight.
After a whirlwind courtship, Lucy, 29, wed Desi, 23, in a civil ceremony on November 30, 1940. The newlyweds lived apart most of the time, with Desi touring with his band, and Lucy starring in movies. Finally, during the war, in 1942, they appeared together in a Vaudeville style stage revue in New York. The show that would later inspire “I Love Lucy”.
In early 1943, with Desi now in the army, and Lucy just recently signed with MGM, she appeared on Armed Forces Radio with Mel Blanc among others.
Lucy became a redhead for the Technicolor cameras at MGM… it became her permanent trademark.
In 1944, after scoring big with her first few MGM movies, Lucy appeared in “Ziegfeld Follies,” it was released in 1946.
It was also in 1944, that Lucy had filed for divorce. Constantly apart because of their careers, combined with consistent rumors of Desi’s womanizing, caused the decision. However, the night before the court date, Desi met Lucy and worked things out, Lucy dropped the suit, and for future fans as well as the Arnazes, the best was yet to come!
In 1945, she appeared in a small role as herself in “Abbott & Costello in Hollywood”. In 1947 while continuing in movies, Lucy began a successful radio comedy with Richard Denning called “My Favorite Husband”.
On June 19, 1949, the marriage going strong, Lucy and Desi married again in a Catholic ceremony. The same year saw the release of “Fancy Pants,” her second film co-starred with Bob Hope.
By 1950, TV was getting more and more popular. CBS wanted to transfer “My Favorite Husband” to television. Lucy wanted Desi to co-star, but the network refused, saying “The public won’t go for an All-American girl like Lucy married to a Latin.” Lucy set out to prove them wrong. She started by successfully touring with Desi in theaters all over the country. The couple also appeared together on TV for the first time ever, on “The Ed Wynn Show”.
By 1951, a pilot had been shot starring the couple as man and wife. Two days after receiving it CBS got Philip Morris Co. to act as sponsor and “I Love Lucy” was born. “I Love Lucy” won 5 Emmy Awards with over 20 nominations during its original run.
Lucy had given birth to a daughter, Lucie, in 1951. On January 19, 1953, she had Desi Jr. Born to her the same day little Ricky was on TV! “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” was the most watched show in TV history at the time.
Early 1956 found the release of another movie starring Lucy & Desi (following “The Long, Long Trailer” in 1954), “Forever Darling”.
At the end of the 1957 season, “I Love Lucy” stopped production. Lucy and Desi tired of a weekly series, and were getting more involved with other productions through their company Desilu. In fact, by 1958, Desilu had bought RKO Studios and now owned the very lot where they once worked.
The “I Love Lucy” cast continued now in occasional “Lucy-Desi Comedy Hours” as part of “Desilu Playhouse,” a weekly anthology series. Thirteen of them were produced by 1960. However, the intense friction grew between the couple. By now, with personal problems and business pressures plaguing the couple, Lucy files for divorce, this time for keeps. The divorce was filed after the final show wrapped.
Following divorce proceedings, Lucy decided to continue her career. She filmed “Facts of Life” with Bob Hope, and then by late 1960, did “Wildcat” on Broadway. While in New York, Lucy was introduced to nightclub comedian Gary Morton. The two fell in love and were married on November 19, 1961. She then appeared in a segment of the “Victor Borge Comedy Theater” with Gale Gordon. The segment was directed by Desi Arnaz.
In 1962, she came back with Vivian Vance in a new TV series on CBS, “The Lucy Show”. By the mid-60s she was continuing the series as well as finding time for numerous guest appearances. By 1968 the show became “Here’s Lucy” and her children Lucie and Desi Jr. were regular cast members.
In 1974, Lucy starred in her last movie, “Mame”. With her weekly series now ended, Lucy had logged 23 years on TV.
From 1974 through 1985, Lucy kept herself busy with occasional guest appearances and TV specials. After appearing in the TV movie “Stone Pillow” in 1985, Lucy made her return to a weekly sitcom in 1986. The show co-starred Gale Gordon. However, with surprisingly low ratings, “Life with Lucy” had only run several weeks before being pulled from the network schedule.
Lucy had been honored dozens of time through the years. She was the first woman inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, an honoree of the Museum of Broadcasting and an Emmy Award winner.
In March 1989, Lucy appeared on the annual Academy Awards telecast to a standing ovation. It turned out to be her last public performance. Lucy passed away the next month after undergoing heart surgery at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. She was 77 years young.
After her death the sign next to CBS Studios at Television City in California read: “They needed a laugh in Heaven. Goodbye Lucy”.
Aside from numerous guest spots and TV specials, Lucy appeared in over 80 movies, 180 “I Love Lucy”‘s, 13 “Lucy-Desi Hours”, 156 “Lucy Show”‘s and 144 “Here’s Lucy”‘s in a career that spanned over 50 years