Lucille Ball was born in the small town of Celoron, a suburb
of Jamestown, New York to Henry Durrell Ball and Desiree "DeDe"
Eve Hunt. Her family was Baptist; her father was related to
George Washington and her mother was of French, Irish and
Her father was a telephone lineman for the Bell Company, while her mother was often described as a lively and energetic young woman. Her father's job required frequent transfers, and within three years after her birth, Lucille had moved from Jamestown to Anaconda, Montana, and then to Wyandotte, Michigan. While DeDe Ball was pregnant with her second child, Frederick, Henry Ball contracted typhoid fever and died in February 1915.
After her father died, Ball and her brother Fred were raised by her working mother and grandparents. Her grandfather, Fred Hunt, was an eccentric socialist who enjoyed the theater. He frequently took the family to vaudeville shows and encouraged young Lucy to take part in both her own and school plays. At the age of 15, Lucy dropped out of high school. In 1925, after a romance with a local bad boy (Johnny DeVito), Ball decided to enroll in the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts with her mother's approval. There, the shy girl was outshone by another pupil — Bette Davis.
Lucille Ball went home a few weeks later when drama coaches told her that she "had no future at all as a performer". Two years later, she witnessed the accidental shooting of a friend of her brother's, Warner Erikson, who found himself in the path of a .22 caliber rifle shot, severing his spinal cord. Her grandfather was sued and prosecuted, and lost the family home.
She moved back to New York City in 1930 to become an actress and had some success as a fashion model for designer Hattie Carnegie and as the Chesterfield girl. She began her performing career on Broadway using the stage name "Dianne Belmont" and was hired - but then quickly fired - by theatre impresario Earl Carroll from his Earl Carroll's Vanities.
Lucille Ball was let go again from the Shubert brothers production of Stepping Stones. After an uncredited walk-on role in Thru a Keyhole (1933) she moved to Hollywood to appear in films. She appeared in many small movie roles in the 1930s as a contract player for RKO (including movies with the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges), where she met her lifelong friend, Ginger Rogers. She was signed to MGM in the 1940s, but never achieved great success in films.
Lucille Ball was known in many Hollywood circles as "Queen of the Bs" (a title previously held by Fay Wray) starring in a number of B-movies, such as 1939's Five Came Back. Macdonald Carey was designated as her "King".
In 1940, Ball met Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz while filming
the film version of the Rodgers and Hart stage hit Too Many
Girls. The two hit it off immediately and eloped the same year,
garnering much press attention. When Arnaz was drafted to the
United States Army in 1942, he was unfaithful to Ball. Arnaz
ended up being classified for limited service due to a knee
injury. As a result, Arnaz stayed in Los Angeles, organizing and
performing USO shows for wounded GIs being brought back from the
Pacific. Ball filed for a divorce in 1944. However, shortly
after Ball obtained an interlocutory decree, she got together
with Arnaz again.A major obstacle in Ball's life was marrying a
cuban. They'd be the first inter-racial TV couple. They went on
tour together to prove the american public would accept them
In 1948, Ball was cast as Liz Cugat (later "Cooper"), a wacky wife, in My Favorite Husband, a radio program for CBS. The program was successful, and CBS asked her to develop it for television. She agreed, but insisted on working with Arnaz. This show eventually became I Love Lucy. CBS was initially not impressed with the pilot episode produced by the couple's Desilu Productions company, so the couple toured the road in a vaudeville act with Lucy as the zany housewife wanting to get in Arnaz's show. The tour was a smash, and CBS put the show on their lineup.
In 1953, she was subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities because she had registered to vote in the Communist party in 1936 at her socialist grandfather's insistence (per FBI FOIA-released documents) Declassified FBI File.
In response to these accusations, Arnaz quipped: "The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that's not legitimate." Ball survived this encounter with the HUAC, and named no names.
The I Love Lucy show was not only a star vehicle for Lucille Ball, but a way for her to try to salvage her marriage to Desi Arnaz, which had become badly strained, in part by the fact that each had a hectic performing schedule which often kept them apart.
Along the way, she created a television dynasty and reached several "firsts". Ball was the first woman to be head of a production company: Desilu, the company that she and Arnaz formed. (After buying out her ex-husband's share of the studio, Ball functioned as a very active studio head.)
Desilu and "I Love Lucy" pioneered a number of methods still in use in television production today. When the show premiered, most shows were captured by Kinescope, and the picture was inferior to film. The decision was made to film the series, a decision driven by the performers' desire to stay in Los Angeles.
Sponsor Philip Morris didn't want to show kinescopes to the major markets on the east coast, so Desilu agreed to take a pay cut to finance filming. In return, CBS relinquished the show rights back to Desilu after broadcast, not realizing they were giving away a valuable and durable asset. Desilu made many millions of dollars on ILL rebroadcasts through syndication, and became a textbook example of how a show can be profitable in second-run syndication.
Desilu also hired legendary Czech cameraman Karl Freund as their director of photography. Freund had worked for F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, shot part of Metropolis, had directed a number of Hollywood films himself, and knew his business. Freund introduced the three-camera setup, which became the standard way of filming situation comedies.
Shooting long shots, medium shots, and close-ups on a comedy in front of a live audience demanded discipline, technique, and close choreography. Among other non-standard techniques used in filming the show, cans of paint (in shades ranging from white to medium gray) were kept on set to "paint out" inappropriate shadows and disguise lighting flaws.
Desilu produced several other shows, most notably the sitcom "Mothers-In-Law".
Lucille Ball's instincts with business were often astonishingly sharp, and her love for Arnaz was passionate, but her relationships with her children were strained. Lucie Arnaz, her daughter, spoke of her mother's "controlling" nature. She had a few very good friends in the business - Ginger Rogers, Mary Wickes and Vivian Vance. All were childless (Wickes never married). Vance said, following her first meeting with Ball, "I'm going to learn to love that bitch."
On July 17, 1951, just one month shy of her 40th birthday and after several miscarriages, Ball gave birth to her first child, Lucie Desiree Arnaz. A year and a half later, Ball gave birth to her second child, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV. When Desi, Jr. was born, I Love Lucy was a solid ratings hit, and Ball and Arnaz wrote the pregnancy into the show (indeed, Ball gave birth in real life at the same time that her Lucy Ricardo character gave birth). There were several challenges from CBS, insisting that a pregnant woman could not be shown on television, nor could the word "pregnant" be spoken on-air.
After approval from several religious figures the network allowed the pregnancy storyline, but insisted that the word "expecting" be used instead of "pregnant". (Arnaz garnered laughs when he deliberately mispronounced it as "'spectin'.) The birth made the first cover of TV Guide the same year.
By the end of the 1950s, Desilu had become a large company, and Arnaz's drinking further compounded matters. On May 4, 1960, a few weeks after filming the final episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, the couple divorced. One of television's greatest marriages had come to an end. However, until his death in 1986, Arnaz would remain friends with Ball. Indeed, both Arnaz and Ball spoke lovingly of each other after the breakup.
Lucille Ball & Gary MortonThe following year, Ball married comedian Gary Morton, a Borscht Belt stand-up comic thirteen years her junior. Morton told interviewers at the time that he had never seen Ball on television, since he was always performing at primetime. Ball immediately installed Morton in her production company, teaching him the television business and eventually promoting him to producer. Morton also played occasional bit parts on Ball's various series.
Following I Love Lucy, Ball appeared in the Broadway musical Wildcat, which was a wildly successful sell-out that ended up losing money and closing early when Ball became too ill to continue in the show. She made a few more movies (including Yours, Mine and Ours, and the musical Mame), and two more successful sitcoms: The Lucy Show (1962-1968), which costarred Vance and Gale Gordon, and Here's Lucy (1968-1974), which also featured Gordon, as well as appearances real life children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. During the mid-1980s, she attempted to resurrect her television career.
While a 1985 dramatic made-for-TV film about an elderly homeless woman, Stone Pillow was well received, her 1986 sitcom Life With Lucy (which also costarred Gale Gordon), was a critical and commercial flop, and was canceled less than two months into its run by producer Aaron Spelling.
The failure of her series was said to have sent Ball into a serious depression, and other than a few miscellaneous awards show appearances -- the last one of which took place several weeks before her death at the Oscar telecast wherein she was presented by Bob Hope to a cheering audience -- she was absent from the public eye for the last several years of her life.
Lucille Ball died on April 26, 1989, of a ruptured aorta at the age of 77 and was cremated. Her remains were initially interred in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, but were later moved by her children, Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Lucie Arnaz to the Lake View Cemetery, in Jamestown, New York.
This Lucille Ball Biography Page is Copyright Biography World © 2004 - 2010