The Legendary History of Lucille Ball
Lucille Ball was one of America's most beloved comedians. She started as a singer, model, and film star and became one of America's top comedic actresses in the 1950s. Lucille is most known for her shows, I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here's Lucy. She starred in many films, Broadway shows and co-hosted a radio show. Lucille was also a businesswoman and continuously broke barriers for women in the entertainment industry.
1911, Lucille Ball Born
Lucille Desiree Ball was born on August 6, 1911, in New York to Henry and Desiree Ball. They often moved due to her father being transferred for work, but when Lucille was only three years old, her father died from typhoid fever.
Her grandparents took care of her and her brother, and they believed that nothing in this life was to be enjoyed, only endured. They were also very strict and frequently gave unreasonable punishments. Lucy stated that it was during this time that she learned to live in her imagination.
Lucille's Father Died
Henry Durrell Ball, Lucille Ball's father, was a telephone lineman. His job caused the family to move often due to him being transferred for work. He married Lucille's mother on August 31, 1910, and died in 1915, when he was twenty-seven, from Typhoid Fever.
Lucille was only three years old, and her mother, Desiree, was pregnant with their son Fred. Lucille stated the only memory she has of that day is a bird getting trapped in the house, which caused her to suffer from ornithophobia. (fear of birds)
Lucille's Family Together Again
Lucille's mother went back to New York to look for work and married Edward Peterson. Lucille and her brother were cared for by grandparents. When her mother became a part of Lucy and Fred's lives again, her grandfather bought them a place in the country to be a family.
He also took Lucille to the vaudeville on Saturday nights, and that is how she knew that she wanted to make people laugh. She would stage plays at home for her family, and in high school, she staged the production of Charley's Aunt. The play was successful, which encouraged her to get into as many musical and dramatic offerings as possible.
New York City Drama School
Lucy quit high school and moved to New York City, where she enrolled at the John Murray Anderson-Robert Milton Dramatics School, where Bette Davis was a fellow student. It was there that Ball's instructors felt she would not be successful in the entertainment business and said that to her several times.
"All I learned in drama school was how to be frightened." ---- Lucille Ball. Lucy was determined to prove them wrong and soon began working as a model and later as a successful actress, comedian, and businesswoman.
Model for Hattie Carnegie
Lucille Ball landed her first modeling job in a small wholesale coat store, and she went by the name Diane Belmont. She soon became a model at Hattie Carnegie's internationally famous dress shop, where she found herself in a community of rich society women and glamorous movie stars.
She learned to look and move with elegance and grace; she decided to bleach her hair blonde like Joan Bennett's and began to stockpile information that would help her later with her career.
In 1927, Lucille Ball started referring to herself as Diane Belmont when she started modeling. She stated that she had always loved the name Diane and that one day she drove past the Belmont race track and thought the two names seemed to fit together.
When Lucy's acting career took off, she went back to going by her real name Lucille Ball. Lucy began working as a model in 1932, but she had decided to move to Hollywood in 1933.
At the age of seventeen, Lucy had rheumatic fever that left her unable to work for two years and left her paralyzed from the waist down. It took her weeks to teach herself to walk again. Rheumatic fever is caused by strep throat and causes the body to attack its own tissues and causes inflammation throughout the body.
She also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis throughout her career. She often experienced severe flare-ups and joint pain. She didn't speak of her illness very often, but she was a supporter of the Arthritis Foundation.
Lucille Moves To Hollywood
Lucille moved to Hollywood in 1933 and purchased a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home. She moved into the home with her mother, brother, and grandfather. They lived there for several years until Lucy got an apartment and allowed her family to stay in the house.
Her grandfather was a Communist and often used the home to host meetings for the party. Lucy, herself, registered as a Communist to please her grandfather, which later led to being questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
1933, Goldwyn Girls
Samuel Goldwyn's musical stock company, The Goldwyn Girls, were female dancers, and there were several famous actresses, dancers, and models whose careers included being a Goldwyn Girl. Lucy was cast as a Goldwyn Girl in the film Roman Scandals, which was the start of her Hollywood career.
After getting her big break with becoming a Goldwyn Girl, she was only out of work for twenty-four hours the rest of her life. It was also during that time that she met Barbara Pepper, and the two became lifelong friends.
1933, "Roman Scandals"
Roman Scandals is a musical film directed by Frank Tuttle in 1933. The elaborate dance numbers are performed by the Goldwyn Girls, which included Lucille Ball. The film was one of the most popular films of the year, and this was Lucille Ball's first appearance in films.
She played the part of a slave girl as part of the Goldwyn Girls and appeared in Roman Scandals and Kid Millions as a Goldwyn Girl as well. Also appearing as one of the Goldwyn Girls was actress, Paulette Goddard.
1934, "Three Little Pigskins"
Lucille played the character, Daisy Simms, in the film Three Little Pigskins. The film was a short subject film and starred the American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. The film was one of Lucy's earliest credited appearances, where she played a supporting role as one of the female recruiters.
She stated later in an interview that the only thing she learned from The Three Stooges was how to duck, but she still got wet. Columbia Pictures released the film in 1934.
1935, "The Three Muskateers"
The Three Muskateers was released in 1935 and was the first English talking picture version of the 1844 novel The Three Musketeers. Lucille Ball is listed under the cast list as an uncredited extra. The film concentrates on the episode of the Queen's purloined necklace and ends with Constance alive.
Lucy had appeared in the film, but as a minor role; during this time, Lucy appeared in many films as a minor role. It wasn't until later that she started starring in television shows and films.
1937, "Stage Door"
Stage Door was filmed in 1937 and told the story of several would-be actresses living together in a boarding house in New York City. Lucy plays the character of Judy Canfield. The film doesn't have much to do with the play, except some of the character's names.
It received excellent reviews and was nominated for Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Writing in a Screenplay. It has been said that Stage Door is one of Lucille's best and most prominent early films.
1938, "Room Service"
Room Service is a comedy film from 1938 and was based on the 1937 "Room Service" play. Lucille Ball plays the character Christine Marlowe, and it was the only film The Marx Brothers made at RKO. The film failed at the box office and resulted in a loss of $330,000.
Lucy and Harpo Marx became friends while filming the movie and later connected again on I Love Lucy. Lucy would later buy the studio that made the film Room Service and renamed it Desilu Studios.
1940, "Too Many Girls"
Too Many Girls is a musical comedy released in 1940 by RKO Pictures. This film has been credited with bringing Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz together because they met on the set and were married less than two months after the film was released.
Lucy plays the character Connie Casey, a celebrity heiress who wants to go to Pottawatomie College near her beau. Her father sends guards to protect her without her knowledge, and Connie falls in love with one of her bodyguards. Desi and Lucy fell in love during the filming of this movie.
1940, "Dance, Girl, Dance"
Dance, Girl, Dance is a comedic drama film that follows two dancers that strive to hold onto their own integrity while still fighting for their place in the spotlight and the love of a wealthy young man. The film was given the reputation as a feminist film.
Lucille plays Bubbles/Tiger Lily White, a cynical blonde chorine. The film was a critical and commercial failure, and even though Lucy isn't the star, she's the one you remember in a performance.
Lucille and Desi Get Married
Lucille and Desi met in 1940 on the set of Too Many Girls and married later that year. Their marriage was tumultuous, and Ball filed for divorce in 1944 due to Arnaz's infidelities and heavy drinking. They eventually reconciled and looked for projects they could work on together, which became the I Love Lucy show.
In 1951, the couple welcomed a daughter, Lucie Arnaz, and in 1953, they welcomed a son, Desi Arnaz Jr. Their marriage continued to be troubled, and they divorced in 1960.
1942, "The Big Street"
The Big Street is a drama film that stars Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, and it is based on the short story "Little Pinks." Lucille plays Gloria Lyons, a cold-hearted singer who becomes disabled after her boyfriend knocks her down a flight of stairs.
Filming did not go smoothly for Lucy as she wasn't offered much guidance; however, Lucy considered the film her favorite, and others felt it was one of the best roles of her big-screen career. She gave her role a subtle dimension of sympathetic appeal.
1948, Radio Comedy "My Favorite Husband"
My Favorite Husband was a radio program that starred Lucille Ball and eventually evolved into the groundbreaking television sitcom I Love Lucy. The radio show was based on Mr. and Mrs. Cugat, the Record of a Happy Marriage.
It was initially broadcast as a one-time special on July 5, 1948, where Lucille and Lee Bowman played Liz and George Cugat. Because of the special's success, the show debuted later that month but with Richard Denning playing George. There were a total of 124 episodes that aired between 1948 and 1951.
1951, "I Love Lucy"
I Love Lucy is a sitcom that aired from 1951 to 1957 on CBS. There were a total of 180 half-hour episodes over six seasons. It starred Lucille Ball, her then-husband Desi Arnaz, William Frawley, and Vivian Vance. The storyline followed a young middle-class housewife in New York City who concocted plans with her friends Ethel and Fred to appear next to her husband, or she tried numerous schemes to be a part of show business.
It became the most-watched show in the U.S., won five Emmy Awards, and received several nominations. The series ended in 1957, but it is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history.
Lucille Ball suffered multiple miscarriages before finally giving birth to her daughter. She had her first miscarriage in 1942, second miscarriage in 1949, and third miscarriage in 1950. In 1951, she finally had a baby girl and later gave birth to a boy.
When Lucille was at the height of her fame, miscarriage was not a subject that was openly discussed. Sadly, she was essentially forced to keep it to herself. Friends stated that the miscarriages were very difficult for Lucille because she felt pressured to have children because she believed it would help keep her marriage together.
1951, Lucie Desiree Arnaz
Lucie Desiree Arnaz was born on July 17, 1951, to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. She was born and raised in Los Angeles and had one brother, Desi Arnaz Jr. She was president of the board of directors of the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center from 2002 to 2007.
She promoted the Lucille Ball Festival of New Comedy and continues to honor both Lucille and Desi. She followed her parents' footsteps and is an actress, singer, dancer, and producer. She also gave Lucille and Desi three grandchildren.
1953, Desi Arnaz Jr.
Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV, known as Desi Arnaz Jr., is an actor and musician, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's son. Desi's birth was one of the most publicized in television history because Lucille's pregnancy was part of her storyline on I Love Lucy.
The same day Lucille gave birth to Desi Jr., her character also gave birth to a little boy. He was featured on the cover of the very first issue of TV Guide. Desi Jr. gave Lucille and Desi two grandchildren.
1956, "Forever, Darling"
Forever, Darling is a fantasy romantic comedy film and stars both Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Lucille stars as Susan Vega, a wife who tries to save her struggling marriage to a chemical engineer with her guardian angel's help.
The film was produced during the hiatus of I Love Lucy in 1956. Lucille and Desi promoted the movie on a cross-country train tour, and the film received mixed critical reception. The film made $2.29 million at the box office.
1957, Desilu Productions
Desilu Productions was a television production company founded by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. The company is best known for shows like I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Mission: Impossible, and Star Trek. It was the second-largest independent television production company in the U.S.
The company was formed using the combined names of Desi and Lucille. Lucille's contribution was more on the artistic side, and Desi was the businessman. The company bought the RKO Pictures facilities in 1957 in Hollywood, and the studio's initial film was Forever, Darling.
1957, "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour"
The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour consists of thirteen black and white one-hour specials that aired between 1957 and 1960. It was the successor to the comedy I Love Lucy, and both programs featured the same cast members.
The show was produced by Desilu and was mostly filmed at the Los Angeles studios. During the Comedy Hour, the episodes focused on Lucy's interaction with the celebrity guest stars, and Ricky was not a major part of the episodes.
Friendship With Carol Burnett
Lucille and Carol met in 1959 and stayed friends for thirty years. The two met at the Screen Actors Guild Awards when they were backstage, and they chatted in Carol's dressing room for thirty minutes. Lucille called Carol 'kid' because she was twenty-two years older than her.
A few years later, Carol was asked to do an hour-long special and asked Lucille to make an appearance. The two became very close friends and appeared on each other's shows. Carol looked up to Lucille for guidance.
1960, Divorce From Desi
In 1960, Lucille and Desi called it quits after twenty years of marriage. Lucille stated it wasn't an easy decision because she felt she was disappointing millions of people by getting a divorce. When they were divorced, Lucie was nine years old, and Desi was seven years old. They moved on quickly, and Lucille remarried just one year later.
"They were fighting all the time. Their divorce was horrible, and then there was alcoholism. I had preferred those things had never been there. We didn't have any abuse, but we did go through some pretty hard stuff, and that's why my parents didn't stay together." ----- Lucie Arnaz.
1960, "The Facts of Life"
The Facts of Life is a romantic comedy released in 1960. The film was a black and white film produced by Norman Panama and directed by Melvin Frank. The film stars Bob Hope and Lucille Ball as married people who have an affair.
Lucille Ball was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy, and the film was nominated for five Academy Awards and received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. Lucille and Bob Hope starred in several films together from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Broadway Musical "Wildcat"
The original Wildcat opened on Broadway in 1960 and starred Lucille Ball in her only Broadway show. Initially, the character of Wildy was going to be a woman in her late 20s, but they changed that when Lucille showed interest in playing the part and financing the project.
Lucille realized that the audience came to see her Lucy Ricardo personality, so she began mugging and ab-libbing, and she was drawing the crowds. Lucy fell ill, and the show closed for a week to allow her to recover. Due to Lucille's health, the show was closed for another nine weeks, but May 24 was her last performance, and the show closed permanently.
1961, Lucille Marries Gary Molton
Lucille Ball and Gary Molton were married in November 1961 and the couple was married for twenty-eight years until Lucille's death. Lucille said it was so different the second time because, with her first husband, it was love at first sight, but it wasn't a good marriage, with the infidelity and alcohol abuse.
With Molton, it took time; she said she liked him before she loved him, he adored her, and they had a great marriage. The two met when out to dinner with her agent, but she had no interest at that time for romance. He eventually won her over.
1962, Solo Launch of "The Lucy Show"
The Lucy Show is a sitcom that aired from 1962 to 1968 and was a follow-up to I Love Lucy. Lucille won two Emmy Awards as Oustanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for the final two seasons. On October 1, 1962, the show premiered and was never meant to go beyond a single season.
The original storyline was Lucy Carmichael was a widow with two children, sharing her home with divorced friend Vivian Bagley and her son. There were six seasons of The Lucy Show and 156 episodes.
1963, First Woman to Run A Major T.V. Production
When Lucille Ball divorced Desi Arnaz, Arnaz decided to sell his ownership of Desilu Productions to Lucille. She became the first woman to own a major production studio, and she continued her successful career in film, television, and theatre.
Her work behind the scenes at Desilu Productions transformed the way studios created and produced movies and television shows. She worked with several women throughout her life to impart her invaluable knowledge to the next generation.
1968, "Here's Lucy"
Here's Lucy is a sitcom starring Lucille Ball and her longtime comedy partner Gale Gordon. The show also included her real-life children and was on CBS from 1968 to 1974. It was Lucille's third sitcom, and she stated that she did not want to star in a show that she no longer owned, and she didn't want to star in a show unless her children agreed to co-star.
Here's Lucy was filmed in front of a live audience and had six seasons with 144 episodes. Lucille did not want to continue for the sixth season, but Fred Silverman convinced her to.
1968, "Yours, Mine, And Ours"
Yours, Mine and Ours is a family comedy film released in 1968. Lucille plays Helen Brandmeier North Beardsley, and the storyline is how she starts dating Frank, who has ten children, and she has eight and how they become a blended family.
Lucille and Henry Fonda took turns providing voice-over narration throughout. The film received lukewarm critical reviews, but it was a massive commercial success at the box office. Lucille was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. She also won the Golden Laurel award for Best Female Performance in a Comedy.
1971, International Radio and Television Society's Gold Medal
In 1971, Lucille became the first woman to be given the International Radio and Television Society's Gold Medal. Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, and Jim Neighbors entertained at the ceremony held for Lucille at the Waldorf Astoria.
The gold medal was in honor of all the work Lucille did in the television and radio industry. Other honorees of this award are Mariska Hargitay, Molly Sims, Frank McCourt, Oprah Winfrey, Debra Norville, and Dr. Phil.
Mame is a technicolor musical film based on the Broadway musical of the same name. This was Lucille Ball's final theatrical film performance. Lucille plays Mame Dennis, a woman that becomes the guardian of her deceased brother's son. Filming was scheduled to begin in early 1972 but had to be postponed because Lucille broke her leg in a skiing accident.
The film was a box office failure, and many of the reviews for Lucille were brutal; however, she did receive a Golden Globe nomination. Lucille was disheartened and swore she would never appear on the big screen again.
1977, "Three's Company"
Lucille's guest appeared as herself as the host and narrator of Three's Company, an hour-long special. The special and episodes were aired to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Three's Company. Lucy was a huge fan of John Ritter and Three's Company and was pleased to host a "Best Of" series in 1982.
It was a two-part special where she introduces memorable clips of the show's funniest and most touching moments of the first six seasons.
1977, "Lucy Calls the President"
Lucille Ball plays Lucy Whittaker in Lucy Calls The President. Her character, Lucy Whittaker, calls President Jimmy Carter during his weekly radio show and brings up a topic of local Indiana civic importance. He tells her he will visit her to discuss the matter.
The meeting turned into dinner at her house, and everyone she knows wants to come. This special was a Lucy Show reunion because it featured most of the regulars and was her final appearance with Vivian Vance.
1977, Interview with Barbara Walters
The Interview of a Lifetime: Lucille Ball was aired on December 6, 1977. The interview between Barbara Walters and Lucille Ball started in Lucille's Roxbury Drive Mansion living room in Beverly Hills, California. She began by telling Walters that they have 85,000 feet of home movies and that her children are closer now than they were as children.
They discussed her two marriages and her divorce from Desi as the interview moved outdoors to the patio. Barbara Walters and Lucille Ball discussed everything from family to movies.
1979, Assistant Professor at California State University, Northridge
Lucille Ball took on the role of assistant professor at California State University, Northridge. She taught "Television and Film Aesthetics" to classrooms full of eager to learn students.
"I try to teach them the art of taking care of themselves in every way, so someone else doesn't have to. All they hear about is rejection. I try not to talk about rejection. I teach how to do the best for you, don't be a patsy, a pushover, and to take that step ahead every day." ----- Lucille Ball
1984, Television Hall of Fame
Lucille was the 12th inductee into the Official National Comedy Hall of Fame. She was an actress, comedian, model, film studio executive, and producer. She was nominated for her work in her self-produced sitcoms I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy, and Life with Lucy.
She was nominated for thirteen Primetime Emmy Awards, winning four times, and in 1977, she was one of the first recipients of the Women in Film Crystal Award.
1985, "Stone Pillow"
Stone Pillow is a drama film that was made for television and starred Lucille Ball as an older homeless woman with very few resources and even fewer options. Lucille Ball played Florabelle, who makes it known that she doesn't want company or help.
She takes care of herself on the streets and has her cart that contains all of her belongings. Eventually, she begins to trust Carrie and accepts the help. The film was broadcast in 1985 on CBS and received mixed reviews.
1986, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors
Lucille Ball was honored for her contributions to television and entertainment. She was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986. Guests that came to honor Lucille were Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Gary Morton, Walter Matthau, Robert Stack, Beatrice Arthur, Pam Dawber, and Valerie Harper.
The honor began at the black-tie dinner in the Benjamin Franklin Dining Room, then a reception in the East Room of the White House, and performances at the Kennedy Center where guests dined on a post-performance meal and danced to the music.
1986, "Life With Lucy"
Life with Lucy is a sitcom starring Lucille Ball that only aired for one season in 1986. It was Lucille's last stab at continuing with the sitcoms, but this one was a failure in the ratings and poorly received by the critics and viewers.
Lucille played a widowed grandmother that lived with her in-laws, her daughter and son-in-law, and her young grandchildren. Thirteen episodes were filmed, but only eight aired, and this was the only Lucille sitcom that Vance didn't appear in. Life with Lucy was named the 26th worst TV series of all time.
Lucille Ball has won many awards throughout her career and has been nominated for many more. She won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in A Comedy Series for The Lucy Show in 1953, 1967, and 1968. She won the Primetime Emmy Award for Best Actress for I Love Lucy in 1956 and the Golden Globe Award for Television Achievement in 1956.
She won the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1979, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986, the TCA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989. Lastly, she was honored with the TV Land Legacy of Laughter Award in 2007.
1989, Lucille Ball Passes
Lucille complained of severe chest pain on April 18, 1989, and was brought to the hospital, where she was told she had a dissecting aortic aneurysm. She underwent surgery for seven hours to repair her aorta and she was released a few days later.
She was told she had to move her bedroom downstairs, which broke her heart because she didn't want to be treated like an invalid. The following day, her aorta ruptured again, she went into full cardiac arrest and was rushed to the hospital, where she later died.
Funeral and Burial
Lucille Ball's husband and her two children held an intimate private farewell. It was just the three of them, and that is the way Lucy wanted it; she didn't want what happened at Marilyn Monroe's funeral to happen at hers. Lucie Arnaz announced that instead of a memorial service, there would be three Roman Catholic Masses celebrating her mother's memory at churches in Santa Monica, California, New York, and Chicago.
Lucille's remains were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills but were later moved to the family plot at Lakeview Cemetery in Jamestown.
Autobiography: "Love, Lucy"
Love, Lucy is the only autobiography written by Lucille Ball herself. She was at the prime of her success when she sat down to record the story of her life. She wrote about her family, intimate memories of her children and friends.
She wrote about wonderful backstage anecdotes, the empire they founded, and the dissolution of her marriage. She also wrote about her enduring marriage to Gary Morton. This is the lost manuscript that her fans and loved ones treasure dearly.