We Love Lucy: The Life of Lucille Ball

“You cannot teach someone comedy; either they have it, or they don’t.” - Lucille Ball

On August 6th, 1911, Lucille Désirée Ball was brought into the world by Henry Durrell Ball and Désirée “DeDe” Evelyn Ball. Due to her father’s job as a lineman for Bell Telephone Company, the family moved frequently, including Jamestown, NY, and Trenton, NJ. Because of this it is uncertain of Lucille’s birthplace, but she sometimes claimed to have been born in Butte, Montana. 

Tragedy struck young Lucille- at the age of 3, her father died from typhoid fever. Peculiarly, Lucille doesn’t recall much about the event except there being a bird trapped in the house, which later lead to her fear of birds. At the time of his death, DeDe was pregnant with Lucille’s younger brother.

Following her father’s death, DeDe moved her family to Celoron, NY, where the children were raised by Dede and parents. Four years later, DeDe married Edward Peterson. Peterson was a Shriner (a member of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, a charitable organization) and, when his group needed female members for a chorus line in their next show, encouraged Lucille to audition. She was 12 years old at the time. It was at this point that Lucille realized she loved to perform. 

Lucille had a rough start in the entertainment business. At age 15 she was enrolled in the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in NYC. Here, she was frequently told she would not make it in the field and would never be successful. Lucille later stated, “all I learned in drama school was how to be frightened.” In an effort to prove them wrong, Lucille headed back to NYC. Here, she became known as “Queen of the B’s,” a somewhat cheeky title due to her frequent roles in B-movies. 

In 1948, Lucille was cast as eccentric wife Liz Cooper in the CBS Radio audio program My Favorite Husband. The show was faced with resounding success and later a television spinoff I Love Lucy. At first, CBS decided to can the show- one, because they were unimpressed with its pilot, and two, they felt the public would be turned off at the redhead and her real-life Cuban husband Desi Arnaz as the starring couple.After hitting the road with a vaudeville act, which was greeted by high success, CBS added I Love Lucy to their lineup. 

The show proved a gateway into the entertainment business for Lucille, where she achieved many “firsts” including:

  • Becoming the first woman to head a TV production company

  • Pioneered modern TV production methods, such as the use of a live studio audience and the use of multiple cameras 

I Love Lucy ran from October 15th, 1951-May 6th, 1957, followed by spin-offs The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957-1960), and The Lucy Show (1962-1968), although both of these were not as prolific as the original. 

On May 4th, 1960, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced, although they remained friends until his death in 1986. The couple had two children- Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV (born January 19th, 1953), and Lucie Désirée Arnaz (born July 17th, 1951). 

On April 18th, 1989, Lucille began to complain of chest pains, which led to her diagnosis of a dissecting aortic aneurysm, and eventual 8 hour transplant surgery. Although she recovered fine, she suffered a second aneurysm in her abdominal aorta, which lead to her death at the age of 77. 

Lucille Ball was recognized for her hard work both during her life and after her death, accepting and receiving many awards, such as:

  • Two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1960)

  • The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush (1989)

  • The Women’s International Center’s ‘Living Legacy Award”  

  • Listed among Time magazine’s “100 Most Important People of the Century

  • Induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame (2001)

  • The ‘Legacy of Laughter’ award at the fifth annual TV Land Awards (2007)

And many more

Lucille Ball was an incredible actress, comedian, model and entertainment studio executive and producer. She will be dearly missed by many, and her legacy is one that will live on for many generations. 

Some Lucille Ball facts:

  • In 1928, Lucille began working for Hattie Carnegie as an in-house model, where she was demanded to dye her brunette locks blonde

  • Lucille was afflicted with rheumatic fever and was unable to work for two years 

  • The I Love Lucy episode “Lucy Does the Tango” features one of the longest recorded audience laughs in history, and the longest recorded laugh on the show.  

  • At this time, it was deemed vulgar to say the word “pregnant” on television. To work around this, the show used the word “expecting” and other implications to hint at Lucille Ball’s pregnancy.

  • The fictional child of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, “little Ricky,” was born on the same day that Lucille Ball actually gave birth to her second child, Desi Jr.

  • The I Love Lucy episode “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” in which Lucille gives birth, received higher ratings than the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower the following day. 

  • She never graduated high school, and actually dropped out at 15 years old, taking modeling jobs under the name “Diane Belmont.” 

  • Lucille got her big break at age 40, her birthday only a month before I Love Lucy aired

  • Lucille and Desi were the first interracial couple on TV

  • Desi wore lifts in his shoes to appear taller then Lucille when she wore heels

  • Lucille helped finance Star Trek’s second pilot, much to the dismay of her studio board

Rachael Doukas