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Lucille Ball was a comedian, film executive, and actress from the United States, best-known for her roles in I Love Lucy with her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz. The birth of her son, Desi Arnaz, Jr., was emulated in their TV show with the birth of Ricky Ricardo, Jr., the same day the episode aired. She was nominated for thirteen Emmy Awards and won four.

Childhood

Lucille Désirée Ball was born on August 6, 1911, in Jamestown, New York, to parents Henry Durrell Ball and Désirée (DeDe) Evelyn Hunt. Her father worked as a Bell Telephone Company lineman and moved the family frequently, including from New York to Anaconda, Montana, to Trenton, New Jersey. In February 1915, Henry Ball died of typhoid fever while DeDe was pregnant with Lucille’s brother, Frederick. DeDe moved back to her parent’s house at a Lake Chautauqua summer resort in Celoron, New York and gave birth on July 17.[1]

In 1919, DeDe Ball remarried to Edward Peterson. They newlyweds searched for employment in another city and left Lucy and Fred in the care of her stepfather’s grandparents, Swedish puritans, who condemned Lucille for vanity.[2] Peterson worked with The Shriners. They put on a chorus line show when Ball was age 12 and Peterson urged her to audition. In 1927, the family lost the house in a legal judgment when a neighbor’s child was paralyzed after being shot by a rogue bullet from the Peterson’s backyard. They moved back to Jamestown, New York.[3]

Early Career and Hollywood

Despite a poor experience at the Dramatic Arts school, Lucille Ball stayed determined and persevered to become one of the most famous U.S. actresses of the 20th century.

Lucille Ball, age 14, began dating a local troublemaker Johnny Devita, age 23, in 1925, and DeDe did not approve. She enrolled Lucille into New York City’s John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts to distract her. Ball struggled in her classes, but began work as a Hattie Carnegie fashion model in 1928. She contracted rheumatoid arthritis and was forced to stop for 2 years. She moved back to NYC in 1932 and worked as the Chesterfield cigarette girl for Carnegie and did some brief Broadway chorus work.[4]

Ball moved to Hollywood permanently after an uncredited performance in the 1933 movie, Roman Scandals. She joined RKO Radio Pictures as a contract player and appeared in small roles with famous actors, including the famed Three Stooges in 1934, the Marx Brothers in 1938, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 1935/1936, and with Katharine Hepburn in 1937. She starred in several more movies with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer through the 1940s. She never achieved much fame from them and became known as the “Queen of the B’s,” for her frequent appearance in B-movies.[5]

I Love Lucy

Lucille Ball took on the role of Liz Cugat (later called Cooper) in the CBS Radio program, My Favorite Husband, in 1948 to great acclaim. CBS decided to adapt it for television and Lucille Ball insisted on working with her husband, Desi Arnaz, a Cuban musician and bandleader.

Lucille Ball starred in several films and series after ''I Love Lucy'', but never to the same fame she achieved with that show.

CBS did not like the pilot made by Desilu Productions, the couple’s personal company, and so the pair took it on the road as a vaudeville act. CBS saw their success and turned I Love Lucy into a television show which skyrocketed Ball into fame and helped her and Desi Arnaz try to save their strained marriage.[6]

Ball became the first female television star to head a production company, Desilu. Broadcasting from L.A. became a timing issue and their sponsor, Phillip Morris, pressured them to move to New York and take a pay cut. The couple agreed to the pay cut only with the promise that Desilu retained the rights to I Love Lucy. CBS purchased the rights to the show in 1957 for $1 million. This allowed Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to purchase RKO Studios. It sold to Paramount Pictures in 1967 for $17 million.[7]

Marriage, Family, and Divorce

Lucille Ball met Desi Arnaz in 1940 while filming Too Many Girls. They eloped the same year. The Army drafted Arnaz in 1942, but due to a knee injury, he stayed in L.A. and organized USO shows for wounded soldiers. They almost divorced in 1944, but reconciled. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz produced the first of two children, Lucie Désirée, on July 17, 1951. I Love Lucy continued to be a hit while Lucille was pregnant with her second child, Desi Arnaz, Jr.

Ball and Arnaz wrote her pregnancy into the show, but CBS insisted that a pregnant woman could not appear on television nor could they say they word “pregnant” on air. They received approval from a few religious figures and they wrote in Ricky Ricardo, Jr., into the show. On January 19, 1953, the episode aired with Lucy and Ricardo welcoming Ricky Ricardo, Jr., on the same day Desi Aranz, Jr. was born.

A day after her 43rd birthday, Lucille Ball filed for divorce with the Santa Monica Superior Court. The couple divorced officially on May 4, 1960, but remained friends for the rest of their lives. She continued to run Desilu Studios and starred in other productions, including Wildcat, a Broadway musical with Paula Stewart and Keith Andes.[8]

Death and Legacy of Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball suffered chest pains on April 18, 1989, in her Beverly Hill home and was rushed to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center emergency room. Physicians diagnosed her with a dissecting aortic aneurysm and she went under surgery immediately. The surgery lasted almost eight hours and Ball received a new aorta from a male motorcycle victim, age 27. The replacement seemed a success with Ball able to move again quickly.

On April 26, 1989, Lucille Ball work up with tremendous back pain and blacked out. Physicians attempted to revive her, but it did not work, and Ball died that same morning. She suffered an abdominal aortic rupture, and it did not relate to the previous week’s surgery.[9] After her death, Lucille Ball was cremated and her ashes placed in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery located in Los Angeles, California. The children of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz moved their mother’s remains to the Lake View Cemetery family plot in Jamestown, New York, for Ball to rest with her brother, parents, and grandparents.[10]

Lucille Ball received 13 Emmy nominations and won four times. In 1979, she received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award. In 1986, she won the Kennedy Center Honors’ Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1989, she also won the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Governor’s Award.[11]

References

Bibliography

Harris, W. G. (1991). Lucy & Desi: The Legendary Love Story of Television’s Most Famous Couple. New York: Simon & Schuster.


Higham, C. (1986). Lucy: The Life of Lucille Ball. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Kanfer, S. (2003). Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


Footnotes

  1. Kanfer, 2003
  2. Harris, 1991
  3. Kanfer, 2003
  4. Kanfer, 2003
  5. Higham, 1986
  6. Higham, 1986
  7. Harris, 1991
  8. Higham, 1986
  9. Barnes, B. (1989, April 27). Lucille Ball, Pioneer of Television Comedy, Dies at 77. The Washington Post.[1]
  10. Find A Grave. (2001, January 1). Lucille Ball (1911 - 1989). Find A Grave Memorial.[2]
  11. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. (2016). Lucille Ball. Hollywood Walk of Fame.[3]

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