‘I Love Lucy’, a show that has been airing for decades is one of the famous sitcoms in history. A fan once said about the show that, “Every minute of the day, somewhere, someone is watching I Love Lucy.” The show was quite successful because of the protagonist Lucille Ball and her character Lucille Esmeralda “Lucy” McGillicuddy Ricardo. Interestingly she was also married to her on-screen husband Ricky Ricardo. Even though there are a few things that are similar between the on-screen Lucy and the real one but Lucille was not so clumsy as portrays her on-screen character to be.
Lucille Ball was an underdog and fought her way to get to the top. And so, now’s the time to talk about the Real Lucy!
Lucille DĂsirĂe Ball was born on August 6th, 1911 at 69 Stewart Avenue, Jamestown, New York. Her father was Henry Durrell Ball, a lineman for Bell Telephone Company and her mother’s name was DĂsirĂe “DeDe” Evelyn Ball.
The family moved around quite a bit due to Henry’s job, he was the person responsible for laying down some of the first phone lines in America. They lived everywhere from Jamestown where Lucy was born to Trenton in New Jersey To Anaconda in Montana. Little did they know that their fate was about to change and their life was going to be so different!
The Traumatic Situation
In 1915, Lucy’s life changed forever. Her mother became pregnant for the second time, while this good news was only a matter of time before the tragedy struck. Her father, Henry Ball fell ill due to typhoid fever and suddenly passed away leaving little Lucy and her pregnant mother DeDe to fend for themselves.
DeDe took her child and moved in with her parents and the duo moved back to New York. Life after this was never the same for Lucy after she started living with her maternal grandparents, the family’s hardships had just begun.
The Blissful Village
Lucy moved back in with her grandparents with her mother DeDe and her new-born brother Fred Henry. The family moved to Celeron in New York. Celeron was situated on the banks of Lake Chautauqua and it was one of the best summer resort destinations in the United States at that time. The village had a water slide, a roller coaster a Ballroom and a bandstand.
Additionally, it also had a stage where vaudeville concerts and theatrical shows regularly premiered. While these were some of the best days of Lucy’s childhood, they did not last forever.
DeDe remarried after four years of Henry’s passing with a man named Edward Peterson. Since their financial situations were tough, both of them had to go to different cities to work. During this time, the children were meant to stay with Edward’s parents. It was not at all a pleasant experience for Fred and Lucy.
The children’s paternal grandparents were very religious, it extended to a point where the house did not have any mirrors except for a tiny one in the bathroom. Lucille was once admiring herself in the mirror but she was reprimanded severely. It was one of the most traumatic time in her life.
Lucy’s First Performance
Despite her grandparents being orthodox, it turned out that Edward believed otherwise. He was a Shriner a member of a masonic fraternal order. Once, when his organization needed members for a show they were organizing, he encouraged Lucy, who was 12 years old back then, to try out for the audition.
Lucille did as she was told and got accepted. There, when she was on the stage for the Shriner’s show, in front of so many people she realized she was meant to do this. She had found her calling!
Getting Formally Trained
When Lucy was 15, her mother, despite her financial hardship, tried to arrange for her to move to New York City, where she was to enroll in John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts. It was the first time Lucy got to study the craft professionally and it was also where she met another legendary star, Bette Davis.
However, everything was not rosy at the drama school, Lucille’s teachers did not believe that she had the talent to make it as an actor and did not shy away from reminding her of this at every step. She recalled in an interview that “All I learned in drama school was how to be frightened.”
Saying Good-Bye To Her School
Lucille decided that she could not tolerate studying at John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts and eventually left. However, she returned two years later, fueled with energy and ready to offer whatever talent she had. To support herself, young Lucy worked as a full-time model for the legendary fashion entrepreneur, Hattie Carnegie.
She said that “Hattie taught me how to slouch properly in a $1,000 hand-sewn sequin dress and how to wear a $40,000 sable coat as casually as a rabbit.” The fashion designer also advised her to dye her hair blonde and change her look. At 17, Lucy took this guidance seriously and worked on her craft.
Learning How To Walk- Literally!
Just when Lucille had started out on her own in New York and dedicated herself to her craft. She was confronted with a huge obstacle. Right, when the young Lucy had gotten the hang of things, started auditioning, modeling and looking out for herself, things took a different turn and she fell sick with rheumatic fever.
The disease affected her so badly that for the next two years, she had to leave everything else and focus on her health. She had to re-learn how to walk.
Back With A Bang
After her two year sabbatical, she returned to New York, now 21 years of age, determined to make it as on Broadway and become a performer. To support herself financially, she turned into an in-house model for Carnegie yet again.
For a while, it seemed like everything was going fine and according to the plan. She was hired for two theater productions, those were by Earl Carroll for his Vanities show, and then by Florenz Ziegfeld, for Rio Rita. However, she was fired from both of them at once. Then, Lucille decided that something had to be done and a change was necessary.
Going To Hollywood
In the year 1933, Lucille decided that she would go for an alternative career path and try her luck in Hollywood. She was initially hired as a contract player with RKO Radio Pictures. From then on Ball started performing in small roles with films such as Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers and in features such with actors like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Katherine Hepburn.
Despite being an actress in Hollywood, Lucille did not forget her love for Broadway. However, little did she know that somewhere, here dream was awaiting and coming in search of her too.
In 1936, Lucille landed the role of Julie Tucker in a new play written by Bartlett Cormack: Hey Diddle Diddle.
The playa a comedy â€“ was set in a Hollywood duplex apartment, and Lucille played “one of three roommates coping with neurotic directors, confused executives, and grasping stars, who interfere with the girls’ ability to get ahead,” a role she was uniquely qualified for.
The play’s first shows were resounding successes, and Lucille believed that with it, she would finally be able to fulfill her dream of acting on Broadway â€“ but, as within the play itself, the play’s production eventually fell through â€“ a few short weeks before its first, coveted Broadway showing.
Lucille finally made it to Broadway in 1936. She was given the role Julie Tucker in a play that was written by Bartlett Cormack: Hey Diddle Diddle. The play was set in a Hollywood apartment and Lucille was to play “one of three roommates coping with neurotic directors, confused executives, and grasping stars, who interfere with the girls’ ability to get ahead,” a role Lucy was perfect for.
However, in the days of the actual show coming closer, the production fell through even before its first-ever show. Lucy was again far away from her dream.
Meeting The Love Of Her Life
When Lucy was 29 years old, in the year 1940, she played the female lead in a film called Too Many Girls. This was a movie musical and was not very successful at the box office. However, it was where she met Desi Arnaz, an actor who played one of the four bodyguards in her movie.
The connection between the two was instant and they eloped in the same year. Little the duo or the rest of the entertainment industry know that this pair was about to change the face of the industry. By this time, Lucy was in her thirties and had struggled long enough in the industry, but somehow failed to achieve stardom.
The Title “Queen of the B’s”
Since Lucy began to work in small productions, she was given a pet name in Hollywood, she was called the “Queen of the B’s.” It was because of her work in B grade movies.
Lucille was not stable at this point, she was getting work, but none of them were roles that were extraordinary. Her relationship with Desi too had started to crumble. Lucy realized at this point that something had to be done if she wanted to save her marriage and her job. She is new that she and Desi would have to spend time together instead of staying apart for so long.
Finally, in 1948, she got a golden opportunity.
When “My Favorite Husband” Happened
Lucille finally found the chance she was looking with the CBS Radio program My Favorite Husband, where she was to play the Wacky wife Liz Cooper. When this show turned out to be successful, she was asked to develop a television version of it by CBS.
Lucy agreed but on one condition that her husband would play the role of her reel husband for the show. Together, Desi and she found the Desilu production company to generate revenue and produce the pilot episode.
The couple was proud of it and showed the episode to CBS. The management, however, thought that the audience would not buy that a Cuban businessman was married to a Red-Head American and they rejected the offer.
Traveling On The Road
The couple disagreed with CBS but they could not force them to sign them up. They believed that the show great potential and we’re looking for ways to prove it. Then the duo decided to take the characters and play them on the road and stage a vaudeville act. Lucy portrayed a wacky housewife, whose only job was to get into her husband’s show.
The tour was a massive success and after seeing the initial audience reactions, CBS decided to produce I Love Lucy.
The Show “I Love Lucy”
The couple decided to produce I Love Lucy and by this time, their relationship was really strained. Their crazy schedules kept them apart for days and things were getting heated up between them. However, since both of them had immense love and respect for each other, they kept going.
The show was everything for them. It meant a lot to them even if it was not the case with the media and the television network groups.
A New Problem
During the 40s and the 50s, most sitcoms were filmed and broadcasted outside of New York. This was done since the cheap technology to broadcast was not developed yet, hence there was a massive difference between the shows that were shot live and taped. Additionally, where West Coast audiences could stay up for East Coast shows, by the time it was an evening in California, East Coast audiences were fast asleep.
Also, Lucy did not want to move to New York to produce the show – you ask why? It was because Lucy was pregnant for the first time at the age of 39.
The Shooting Of The Film
To overcome the problem of quality that would arise while recording the show, Desi and Lucy decided to do something that was never done before. They decided to shoot on a multi-camera, live-audience sitcom on film. This meant that they would have to spend far more on each episode that they could hope for.
Since it was also more than what the studios were willing to pay, the couple decided to take a pay cut in order to finance their own show. But they also wanted something in return…
The Rights To The Film
Lucille and Desi were smart and demanded the ownership rights to the film as they were paying for the film from their pocket. The network did not think much about this then and granted them 80% ownership rights over the reels. Little did they know that this would turn out to be a huge financial gain to them in the coming future.
The couple Lucy and Desi also contributed to something called ‘the rerun’, without actually knowing about it.
Reaching For The Stars
The big decisions of their productions had arrived To work with camera operators, the studio Lucy and Desi shot in, it had to meet some film standards. Lucy and Deci decided that they did not want to get big studios involved and instead chose to repurpose their production company into a TV production studio.
Their innovation saved them a lot of money and slowly their studio, Desilu grow bigger. By the 60s, Lucy was heading the studios all by herself ad was involved in most of the operations Interestingly, the original Star Trek, Mission Impossible and The Untouchables were also shot in the same studio.
Lucille’s daughter Lucie DĂsirĂe Arnaz was born on the 17th of July 1951, just a few months before the premiere of the first season of I Love Lucy. Just before Lucille turned 40 she gave birth and her pregnancy was the only reason that she wanted to stay in California, a decision that changed the face of cinema altogether. The family was overjoyed to welcome their baby girl.
During the filming of I Love Lucy, Lucy’s pregnancy was entirely hidden.
The Change In The Storyline
1952 saw Lucy pregnant with her second child. While her first pregnancy was easily concealed in the first season, her second was quite a worry. Desi and Lucy wanted to incorporate their second pregnancy in the show but that was not acceptable by CBS.
The reason for this was quite simple, while it is easy to talk about pregnancy and show pregnant women on screen today, the story was quite different back then. Back in the 50s, it was a taboo to even speak of the word “pregnant.”
Lucy was “EXPECTING”
CBS and Desi and Lucy consulted with several religious figures before they went ahead with allowing them to use pregnancy in their show before they were permitted to do so. However, the rule was that they could not use the word “pregnant” in the show, it was replaced with “expecting.”
Lucy and Arnaz decided to continue the story with it. What also made the whole scene funny was how Ricky, often deliberately mispronounced the word as “‘spectin’,” which garnered a lot of laughs. Additionally, he wasn’t Lucy’s pregnancy that was synced with the characters!
The Little One
January 19, 1953, was a big moment for Desi and Lucy, the world watched as their son Ricky was born. The same Lucille gave birth to their son Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV, a.k.a Desi Arnaz, Jr. in LA. Interestingly, both the sons were named after their fathers, which was, of course, Desi Arnaz. On-screen Richard Keith played the role of the couple’s son.
Even though things seemed to be perfect on screen, it was not the case in the couple’s real life. Their relationship was getting strained and things were falling apart.
The Breaking Of The Marriage
In the late 50s Desilu started to grow, the company was playing a major role in the Hollywood television scene. While Lucy and Desi started the company in the hopes that it would save the marriage, the situation was, in reality, was getting out of hand. What was meant for the couple to come closer was ironically breaking them apart.
The only thing that kept them together was the fact that they had to do a show together.
March 2, 1960, was an important day for Lucy and Desi. They both had just finished the filming of the last episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and Lucy had just celebrated her 43rd birthday. The next day also plays an important role, it was the day Lucy finally decided to end her marriage, she filed the papers on May 4th and the both of them decided to part ways for good.
The couple stayed together for 20 years and contributed a lot to the television industry. However, they decided to bid goodbyes and go their separate ways.
Lucy bought out Desi’s share in Desulu when she ended her marriage with him. The two, however, remained close and maintained friendship since then. They also brought up their children lovingly and often checked upon each other from time to time.
After her divorce, Lucy set out on her personal journey, something she had wanted to do ever since she set foot in the show business. She was finally going to fulfill her dream.
A year after Lucy separated from her husband, she starred in Broadway musical Wildcat along with Keith Andes and Paula Stewart. It was a story about Wildcat “Wildy” Jackson who was a rugged independent woman who had come to Centavo City with the hopes of finding oil.
It was, unfortunately, the only musical that Lucy ever starred in. This was because she fell ill and the show’s run ended early, however, at the age of 49, she finally fulfilled her dream and performed in a leading broadway!
The Second Chapter
Lucy performed in Wildcats and fulfilled her lifelong dream of being a part of Broadway. However, the show gave her more than just her dream, it gave her a friend in her co-star Paula Stewart who was friends with her for 30 years. Paula was more than her friend, she introduced her to Gary Morton a Borscht Belt comic.
Lucy began a relationship with Morton 13 years her junior. She also got him involved in the television business and gave him bits and parts of her sitcom. She also married Morton who remained her husband until her death.
Selling Off Desilu
By the 1960s Lucy’s company was the biggest production house in Hollywood. She had produced films like Star Trek, the Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. Thanks to Lucy’s active management the company was resounding success. But when Lucille finally felt like it was time to move on, she sold Desilu to Paramount Studios for $17 million a price that would today translate to $128 million.
This helped her clear her schedule and focus on acting.
In the 60s she was healthy a healthy woman in her fifties and was showing no signs of giving up. She went on to play Lucy in several sitcoms, musicals, and movies but this time as a single woman. In the year 1959, her life turned around once more and she met one of the most important people in her life.
Lucy had absolutely no idea about what was going to happen, but she was ready for it!
Miss Carol Burnett
In the year 1959, Lucy met Carol Burnett, she was invited by the latter to guest star on her CBS-TV special, Carol +2. This was a highly commercial and successful show. Burnett soon returned the favor by appearing Lucille’s The Lucy Show. They instantly hit it off when they met and remained friends for the next thirty years.
They also often spoke about collaborating with each other on projects but one of the biggest gestures of their friendship to this date remains Lucille’s custom of sending flowers to Burnett each year on her birthday.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame
Lucy was awarded The Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. She was awarded two stars for her contribution to the Television industry. The first one was at 6436 Hollywood Boulevard and was awarded for her contribution to motion pictures, and the second, at 6100 Hollywood Boulevard which was given to her for her contribution to television.
It was an honor for her and it finally placed her where she belonged, among the Hollywood stars.
The Teaching Angle
Lucille was never afraid to try something new in her life. She always wanted to reinvent herself so she took up a new role as the assistant professor at California State University, Northridge where she taught “Television and Film Aesthetics” to students who were amazed to see her.
She said to the Los Angeles Times, “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.”
In her show, I Love Lucy, she was used to playing a domestic role. However, after her split with Desi, she played Lucy as a single mother but in her new venture, she also included her children Lucie and Desi Jr.
Her kids started with her between 1968 and 1974. Though it was a regular job for Lucy, it was an opportunity of a lifetime for her children when decided to include them in her show.
Lucy’s contribution to cinema was incredible, for the excellent works she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986. It is one of the highest honors an American artist can receive.
While taking her award she said, “It really is a highlight of my career and means so much to me.” At this time she has shot yet another sitcom that starred Lucy, it was about a widow living with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.
As she aged, her body started to become a little weak. She complained about chest pains and was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. There she was diagnosed with a heart condition and required an immediate operation. The surgery was performed for about 8 hours and Lucy went into recovery.
She recovered soon and even walked around the room with very little help.
Just a week after the operation, Lucy woke up with severe back pains and quickly lost consciousness. She passed away on the dawn of April 26, 1989, at the age of 77, at 5:47 a.m.
That day also happened to be the birthday of her best friend Carol Burnett. She had already sent flowers beforehand and they reached Carol, just when her friend died. Her body was initially cremated in Forest Lawn â€“ Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles but in 2002 her kids moved it to the Hunt family plot at Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown, New York, where her grandparents were buried.
Lucy has left her mark on the world and she continues to be appreciated for her hard work even today. In 1996, on July 6, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush. She also went on to receive the Women’s International Center’s Living Legacy Award. After that, in 2001 the United States Postal Service honored her with a commemorative postage stamp.
At her hometown in Jamestown, New York, a museum was built and named Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum and Center, it was opened in 1996. Currently, it serves as a major tourist destination.
One Of A Kind
Lucy’s contribution to the world cinema and television is still prevalent today. She invented the modern sitcom and designed what is called the “family show” and actually made people come together to watch it. She made everyone fall in the love with the character of Lucy without giving her an annoying personality.
Her talent, management skills, and acting skills were unmatched and shall live forever in the hearts of her admirers.