I'd rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not. - Lucille Ball
The Early Years
Born on August 6th 1911 in Jamestown New York. Lucy felt the call of the stage early in her life and by the time she was 15 had already decided on acting as a career. At the tender age of 15 she decided to drop out of high school and enroll in acting school. (See the Did You Know? portion of this node for details) With the encouragement of her mother, she attended the John Murray Anderson Drama School in New York City. In order to supplement her income, she also worked as a model under the name of Diane Belmont. It was in this position that she was chosen to be the Chesterfield Cigarette Girl in 1933. (My how times have changed!). This provided her with some national exposure and it wasn’t long before she caught the eye of Hollywood
The Hollywood Years
Success did not come over night. She had to prove her talents by auditioning for bit parts in some low budget features. Eventually her efforts paid off and she wound up appearing in over 60 movies with such established stars such as Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Bob Hope (who was later to become a life long friend).
The “Lucy Years”
In my humble opinion, no account of Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy would be complete without mentioning Desi Arnaz. (Once again I refer you to Did You Know?) They met on the set of a musical, fell in love and were soon married. It wasn’t all roses though, Lucy actually filed for divorce in 1944. They managed to patch together their relationship and decided that the best way for them to stay together was to work on a joint project
Ponder this. It’s early in the 1950’s and you’re an executive at CBS. Your approached by a couple who have an idea for a TV show. The idea consists of a wacky redhead who’s exploits constantly get her in trouble. To top if off, she’s married to a Cuban band leader . What would you say?
Well, CBS decided that America just wasn’t ready for such a couple and sent them and their idea packing. Discouraged but undaunted the y formed “Desilu” productions and took their act on the road as part of a vaudeville team. I don’t think anybody anticipated how much the public loved the act. Still, CBS balked at the idea and Lucy and Desi put up their own money in order to film the pilot episode. The rest, shall we say, is history. I Love Lucy premiered in October of 1951 and almost overnight became the most popular show in TV. CBS, realizing the mistake they made, picked up the show picked up the show before the first 30 minute episode was over. All in all, I Love Lucyran for six years and spanned 179 episodes. It ranked first in the Neilsen Ratings during its first four years and never fell below third place.
Twenty years of marriage took it toll on Lucy and Desi and they wound up divorcing in 1960. Desi turned to booze and rarely made public appearances. Lucy, ever the shrewd businesswoman, borrowed three million dollars and bought out Desi’s half of Desilu. At the time, Desilu had the distinction of being the world’s largest production company and by purchasing the company, Lucy established yet another in a series of “firsts”. (See Did You Know?)
It only took a couple of years for Lucy’s fans to make their wishes known. She responded by re-introducing “Lucy” to the American public on “The Lucy Show”. The show featured her real life kids Lucie, and Desi Jr as well as former co star Vivian Vance (Ethel Mertz from I Love Lucy)and ran for six years. She gave the “Lucy” character another go when she once again revived the character for “Here’s Lucy” which ran until 1974
Not content with just appearing on TV, Lucy decided to expand her horizons and tackled both the Broadway stage and films. In 1961 she made her Broadway debut in a play called Wildcat and won rave revues for her performance. She also made a film called “Yours, Mine, and Ours” that paired her with Henry Fonda that received critical acclaim.
As we approach the late 70's and early 80s Lucy roles and presence on TV has diminished. She usually spotted as a "guest star". However, in 1985, she portrayed a New York homeless woman in a made for TV movie called "Stone Pillow." The following year, at the age of 75, she resurrected the “Lucy” character for the ill fated "Life with Lucy,". It aired for only two months before being cancelled.
For the most part, until her death on April 26, 1989 Lucy chose to remain out of the limelight. Her last public appearance was at the Academy Awards of the same year. On April 26, 1989, a week after undergoing open heart surgery, Lucille Ball left this world. She left behind quite a legacy At its prime, I Love Lucy was in syndication in over 80 countries and was probably one of the most popular television shows in history.
Now, to steal a line from ESPN and Sportscenter, its time for the much anticipated Did You Know portion of this node.
- That she had rheumatoid arthritis as a kid and was once told she would never be able to walk?
- That she was thrown out of acting school because she had "no talent whatsoever"?
- Got her start in the Ziegfeld Follies?
- Met future husband and co-star Desi Arnaz while filming a movie together and wound up eloping?
- That she and Ricky (Luuuccy, I'm home) Ricardo were the first "interracial" couple on television?
- Was the first woman to be portrayed as pregnant on television?
- Was the first woman to own her own film studio?
- Graced the cover of the first TV Guide in 1953
- Her production company, Desilu, produced the TV shows Star Trek and Mission Impossible?
- That she gave birth to "little Ricky" on air (a first) and the episode was watched by a then record 44 million viewers?
- That she was implicated and subsequently blacklisted for time during the Red Scare because of her communist leanings?
Many thanks to user anthropod
for help and guidance in this node....