Lucille Ball Biography
in full Lucille Désirée Ball
( 1911 – 1989 )
Television comedienne and film actress.
Born on August 6, 1911, in Jamestown, New York, to Henry Durrell
Ball and his wife Desiree. The oldest of the couple's two children
(a brother Fred, was born in 1915), Lucille's childhood was a bit
of a hardscrabble affair, one shaped by tragedy and a lack of money.
Ball's father Henry, or Had as he was known to his family, was
an electrician and not long after his daughter's birth he relocated
the family to Montana for work. Then it was off to Michigan, where
Had took a job as a telephone lineman with the Michigan Bell Company.
Life came undone in February 1915 when Had was struck with typhoid
fever and died. For Ball, just three years old at the time, her
father's death not only set in motion a series of difficult childhood
hurdles, but also served as the young girl's first real significant
"I do remember everything that happened," she said. "Hanging
out the window, begging to play with the kids next door who had
measles the doctor coming, my mother weeping. I remember a bird
that flew in the window, a picture that fell off the wall."
Desiree, still reeling from her husband's unexpected death and
still pregnant with Fred, packed up and returned to Jamestown,
New York, where she eventually found work in a factory and a new
husband, Ed Peterson. Peterson, though, wasn't a fan of kids, especially
young ones, and with Desiree's blessing, he moved her to Detroit
without his wife's young son or daughter. Fred moved in with Desiree's
parents while Lucille was forced to make a new home with Ed's folks.
For Ball that meant contending with Peterson's stern mother who
didn't have much money to lavish on her step-granddaughter. The
family, Lucille would later recall, lacked enough money even for
Finally, at age 11, Lucille reunited with her mother when Desiree
and Ed returned to Jamestown. Even then, Ball had an itching to
do something big and when she was 15, she convinced her mother
allow her to enroll in a New York City drama school. But despite
her longing to make it on the stage, Ball was too nervous to draw
"I was a tongue-tied teenager spellbound by the school's
star pupil, Bette Davis," said Ball. The school finally wrote
her mother. "Lucy's wasting her time and ours. She's to shy
and reticent to put her best foot forward."
She remained in New York City, however, and by 1927 Ball, who
had started calling herself Montana and later Diane Belmont found
work as a model, first for fashion designer Hattie Carnegie, and
then, after overcoming a debilitating bout of rheumatoid arthritis,
the early 1930s, Ball, who had dyed her chestnut hair blonde,
moved to Hollywood to seek out more acting opportunities.
soon followed, including a stint as one of the 12 "Goldwyn
Girls" to promote the 1933 Eddie Cantor flick, Roman Candles.
She landed as an extra in the Ritz Brothers film, The Three Muskateers,
and then in 1937, earned a sizeable part in Stage Door, starring
Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers.
All told, Ball would appear in 72 movies during her long career,
including a string of second-tier films in the 1940s that garnished
her the unofficial title, "The Queen of Be Movies." One
of the earliest ones, a movie called Dance, Girl, Dance, introduced
her to a handsome Cuban bandleader named Desi Arnaz. The two appeared
together in Ball's next film, Too Many Girls, and before the year
was out, the pair fell madly in love and married.
For the careful, career minded Ball, who had periodically been
romantically linked to a series of older men, the Arnaz partnership
turned heads. Fiery, young (he was just 23 when they met), with
a bit of a ladies man reputation, Arnaz presented his new wife
with something completely different. Friends and colleagues guessed
the romance between the apparently mismatched entertainiers wouldn't
last a year.
But Ball seemed drawn to Arnaz's spark, and while her husband's
attention sometimes did stray romantically from the marriage, the
truth is during their 20 years together, Arnaz greatly supported
Ball's career hopes.
Still, as the late 1940s rolled around, Ball, who had dyed her
hair red in 1942 at MGM's urging, was looking at a stagnant stage
life, unable to break into the kinds of starring roles she'd always
dreamed about. As a result, Arnaz pushed his wife to try broadcasting
and it wasn't long before Ball landed a lead part in the radio
comedy, My Favorite Husband. The program caught the attention of
CBS executives who wanted her to recreate something like it on
the small screen. Ball, though, insisted it include her real life
husband, something the network clearly wasn't interested in seeing
happen. So, Lucille walked away, and with Desi put together an
I Love Lucy-like vaudeville act and took it on the road. Success
soon greeted the pair. So did a contract from CBS.
From the get-go Ball and Arnaz knew exactly what they wanted.
Their demands included the opportunity to create their new program
in Hollywood rather than New York, where most TV was still being
shot. But the biggest hurdle centered on the couple's preference
to shoot on film rather than theless expensive kinescope. When
CBS told them it would cost too much, Lucille and Desi agreed to
take a paycut. In return they would retain full ownership rights
to the program and run it under their newly formed production company,
On October 15, 1951 I Love Lucy made its debut and to the television
viewing audience across the country it was immediately apparent
this was a sitcom like no other. Bombastic and daring, the show,
which co-starred Vivian Vance and William Fawley as Lucy and Desi's
two best friends, set the stage for a generation of family-related
sitcoms to come. The program included story lines that dealt with
marital issues, women in the workplace, and suburban living.
And in perhaps one of the most memorable TV episodes ever, I Love
Lucy touched on the theme of pregnancy, when Lucy gave birth to
Little Ricky on January 19, 1953, the same day the real-life Lucy
delivered her son Desi Jr. by caesarean. (The couple's first child,
Lucie, had arrived two years before.)
As the title of the show indicated, Luce, of course, was the star.
While she could at times downplay her hard work, Ball was a perfectionist.
Contrary to perception, rarely was anything ad-libbed. It was routine
for the actress to spend hours rehearsing her antics and facial
expressions. And her groundbreaking work in the area of comedy
paved the way for future stars such as Mary Tyler Moore, Penny
Marshall, Cybill Shepard, even Robin Williams.
Her genius did not go unrecognized. During its six-year run, I
Love Lucy's success was unmatched. For four of its seasons, the
sitcom was the number one show in the country. In 1953 the programmed
captured an unheard of 67.3 audience share, which included a 71.1
rating for the episode that featured Little Ricky's birth, a turnout
that surpassed the television viewing for President Eisenhower's
While the show ended in 1957, Desilu Productions continued on,
producing more television hits like Our Miss Brooks, Make Room
for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Untouchables, Star Trek,
and Mission Impossible.
In 1960 Lucille and Desi divorced. Two years later, Lucille, now
remarried to comedian Gary Morton, bought out her former husband
and took over Desilu Productions, making her the first woman to
run a major television production studio. She eventually sold the
company to Gulf-Western in 1967 for $17 milllion.
acting work followed, including a pair of sitcoms, The Lucy Show
(1962Äì8) and Here's Lucy (1968Äì73).
Both achieved a modest level of success, but neither captured the
magic that had defined her earlier program with Arnaz. It didn't
matter, though. Even if she had never done another piece of acting
again, Lucille Ball's impact on the world of comedy and the television
industry in general was widely recognized..
In 1971 she became the first woman to receive the International
Radio and Television Society's Gold Medal. In addition there were
four Emmys, induction into the Television Hall of Fame and recognition
for her life's work from the Kennedy Center for the Performing
In 1985, Lucille Ball strayed from her comedic background to take
on a dramatic role as a homeless woman in the made-for-TV movie,
Stone Pillow. While hardly a smash hit, Ball earned some praise
for her performance. Most critics, though, wanted to see a return
to comedy and in 1986 she debuted a new CBS sitcom, Life with Lucy.
The program earned its star $2.3 million but not much of an audience.
After just eight episode it was cancelled.
It was to be Ball's last real television role. Three years later,
on April 26, 1989, she died from a ruptured aorta following open-heart
surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
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