Friday, 6 July 2012

More than a mousy redhead: The magic of Lucille Ball

There once was a girl named Ruth Elizabeth Davis, who everyone called Bette. That's right, with an "e". Bette soon found out she had an eye-catching talent for the theater, and so her mother enrolled her on the prestigious John Murray Anderson Dramatic School, in New York. While she was there, she met a pretty girl, a few years younger than her, who wanted to be an actress just as badly as she did. However, the pretty girl was soon expelled from the acting school. "She is too shy," they'd say "she'll never make it as an actress."

The pretty girl was Lucille Désirée Ball. The pretty girl was nothing short of the biggest TV comedienne of all time.

Her red flaming hair (she was born a brunette!), big blue eyes, expressive features and sweet smile have now become classics and easily recognizable by anyone with the minimum knowledge of old school television. Lucy, as she was known, starred in various shows, the most famous of which being I Love Lucy, hilarious sitcom that, spanning for six seasons, won 4 primetime Emmys and was nominated for an additional 24 television prizes only in the USA. But poor Lucy had to struggle quite a bit to have her talent recognized by mainstream media in her day.
Lucy and Desi Arnaz
First, that incident in Bette Davis' acting school. I'd like to be a fly on the wall of that school when the teachers who said she would never make it found out what an amazing actress she had become. In Hollywood, Lucy was all but unlucky. A small part in the Ginger-Fred masterpiece Top Hat (1935) earned her the absurd amount of 50 dollars a week. She would meet Ginger again, this time in a bigger part on Stage Door (1937). The two co-starred 4-time Oscar Winner Katharine Hepburn.
Despite the extensive number of films roles, Lucy was never considered a silver screen star. It seemed like her talent went by unrecognized by Hollywood, and she kept on searching for a decent outlet for her abilities. Her famous quote: " I don't know anything about luck. I've never banked on it, and I'm afraid of people who do. Luck to me is something else: hard work and realizing what is opportunity and what isn't. "
It was Hollywood, however, that introduced her to Desi Arnaz. Half-cuban, this Latin lover took Lucy's heart by storm. Soon after they met, the pair eloped. Their marriage lasted for 20 years and ended in divorce. Nevertheless, many, including Lucy herself, stated that Arnaz was the love of the mousy redhead's life. Even after the divorce, the twosome remained very close up until Arnaz's death. Rumor has it that when Arnaz was very ill and in his last days, he got a visit from Lucy. After talking for a few hours, the redhead said "I'm sorry Desi, it's time for me to go home." A weak, sick Desi uttered in response: "But you are home, Lucy."
The beautiful couple starred together in the legendary TV sitcom "I Love Lucy", that premiered in 1951. The show was a smashing hit, dominating the American weekly charts for most of its run. Lucille Ball was finally the star she deserved to be. The success of I Love Lucy was thanks, in no small part, to Lucille's extraordinary natural comedic talent. Her facial expressions are priceless, the way she delivers her lines is endearingly unique and her beautiful-and-cutesy appearance shaped her into the perfect sitcom star. The success of her TV program allowed her to become the first woman ever to run a production company. Alongside Arnaz, she founded Desilu productions. With I Love Lucy, Desilu pioneered many filmmaking techniques still widely used today. Also legendary, the sitcom "Friends" adapted Desilu's habit of filming in front of a live audience and incorporating their laughs onto the episodes. During and after I Love Lucy, Lucille and Desi also starred in secondary programs, such as The Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour. However, a couple of months after the filming of the latter's last episode, the two were sadly divorced. She married Gary Morton the following year with whom she remained until her death. She mothered two children: Lucie and Desi Jr.
Lucille was also well-known for never having one bad thing to say about a fellow star. She spoke very fondly of Desi Arnaz all her life. She called Julie Andrews "one of the best British comediennes", she affirmed vehemently that Audrey Hepburn could hold her own in "my type of comedy" and she admitted to wishing she had Liza Minelli's talent. She called Vivien Vance "sensational", she said she loved Maureen O'Hara more than almost everybody she knew, and spelled Bob Hope as "C-L-A-S-S". Always smiling, always lovely, always nice, there seemed to not be a single soul who disliked Lucy.
Lucy experienced great success on Broadway as well, but nothing compared to her talent for the television. The world was saddened by her loss in 1989, from an aortic aneurysm, at 77 years old. Lucille may have lost her life rather prematurely, but one thing is for sure: Lucy, her Lucy, will never be forgotten. Beautiful, hilarious, brilliant.
The shy pretty girl made it big.

"I'm not funny. What I am is brave."
(Lucille Ball, 1911-1989)


  1. Where have I been all this time that I missed your blog? It's amazing! I'll be coming here regularly!

    E é bom ver mais fãs de cinema clássico no Brasil!

    1. Yaay!! Thank you so much and welcome to Best of the Past! Hope to see you here often :)

      Realmente é bom saber que o cinema antigo é apreciado em nosso pais! Beijao! Cela

  2. Amazing blog! I love it!


    1. Thank you so much, Chelsea! I'll be sure to check out yours!

  3. I really loved this post! Lucille Ball is my favorite actress, ever since I started watching Old Hollywood five years ago. You hit everything on the nail, it's all quite accurate and you mentioned a bunch of things I love about her. :) Especially Lucy and Desi, their story is so heart wrenching!

    (Oh, and also, about Lucy and Desi, if the "you are home" bit wasn't sad enough, have you heard the other story? It was two days before Desi passed away, and Lucy called him on the phone. Their daughter put the phone up to his ear, and according to her, Lucy said the same thing over and over: "I love you". He told her he loved her too, and she was really the last person he spoke to. That day would've been their 46th wedding anniversary. And after Lucy died, her second husband said, "She's happy now, she's with Desi.")

    1. OH MY GOD! Rianna, you're killing me! That "phone" story is so beautiful! And I agree with her second husband. Heaven must be a darn happy place right now with these two up there! I'm so glad they're finally happy, together and at rest!
      To be quite honest with you, I only recently found out about Lucille Ball but of course I fell in love with her instantly! What a terrific actress and a terrific woman! Never a bad word to say, so compellingly talented and plus, what nobody really mentions: SO BEAUTIFUL! I'd kill for that hair and those eyes!

  4. Great writing!;) My mom looked a lot like Lucy and acted like her too!:) I'm writing a book about my childhood now and speak often of their similarities ;D. <3 Thanks again for sharing ur insight!;) Happy New Year!;D