The Life and Story Of TV Star: Lucille Ball

by Julia Hall

Born in Jamestown, New York on August 6, 1911, Lucille Ball pioneered the sitcom and new forms of television production with her long running "I Love Lucy" show and the formation of Desilu Productions with husband Desi Arnaz. Ball was born to parents of little means and by the time she was three, her father had died. Her mother married again and shortly after, she and her brother Fred were sent to live with her stepfather's strict parents. Something in her experiences as a child created a desire in Ball to succeed, because by the time she was 15, her mother sent her to drama school in New York City.

First Breakthroughs in TV and Media

After dropping out of acting school in New York in 1927 because she could not overcome her shyness, Ball became a model under the name of Diane Belmont for well-known fashion designer, Hattie Carnegie shortly thereafter. She went on to also model for cigarette ads, but never lost her desire for acting. Still enamored with acting and not to be dissuaded from following her dreams, Ball moved to Hollywood to look for acting jobs in the early 1930s.

Born with chestnut hair, Ball dyed it blonde to try to get acting jobs, but later dyed it red. She got a job as a Goldwyn Girl in Eddie Cantor's 1933 flick, "Roman Scandles" and soon after nabbed a role as an extra in the movie, "The Three Musketeers." Her big break came when she landed a larger role in the movie "Stage Door," starring Ginger Rogers and Katherine Hepburn. She got a contract with RKO and acted in several movies, garnering the title as the "Queen of the B-Movies," following in Fay Wray's footsteps for the title and starring in many films between the 1930s and through the 1940s. During the filming of "Dance, Girl, Dance," she met Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz. Both actors played in Ball's very next film, "Too Many Girls," in 1940, where they fell in love and married in November of that year.

Biggest Claim to Fame: I Love Lucy and Desilu

Her move to television came after a stint in radio in the comedic "My Favorite Husband" in 1948 as the empty-headed wife of a banker. In 1950, CBS offered Ball a chance to turn the radio comedy into a television series. After haggling with the CBS brass, Ball convinced the television executives to let Desi star as her husband. Ball and Arnaz were a powerful team, knowing exactly what they wanted out of their television show. They convinced executives to film in Los Angeles, instead of New York, where most television shows were filmed at the time.

The couple also wanted to have the show shot on film, rather than using kinescope, which was less expensive and mostly used for television. Both stars agreed to take a cut in pay to get their demands met as long they had full ownership and the rights to the show under their new production company, Desilu Productions. "I Love Lucy" first aired October 15, 1951 wowing the viewing public from its first show. Also starring Vivian Vance as Ethel and William Hawley as husband Fred Mertz, "I Love Lucy," ran for six years.

Other Life Milestones

Arnaz was the love of Ball's life, but by 1960, she "couldn't take it anymore," and Desi Arnaz's continuously wandering eye resulted in the couple's divorce. In 1962, Ball bought out Desi's share in Desilu Productions and became the first woman to run a successful television production studio.

Even though "I Love Lucy" ended in 1957, Desilu Productions continued, bringing such well-known television programs such as "Make Room for Daddy," "Our Miss Brooks," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Untouchables," "Mission Impossible" and "Star Trek," to television fame.

Later Career and Death

After a stint on Broadway in the musical "Wildcat," Ball starred in two more movies and then began production on a new sitcom, "The Lucy Show," starring Vivian Vance and Gale Gordon, which lasted from 1962 through 1968. She began a new show, "Here's Lucy," which also starred Gordon and her children, Desi Jr. and Lucie Arnaz that aired from 1968 to 1974. Ball received the International Radio and Television Society's Gold Medal in 1971 and went on to receive many awards after her death. Her last public appearance, four weeks prior to her death was at the 1989 Academy Awards with fellow presenter Bob Hope.

Ball died in 1989 from complications that arose after open-heart surgery in Los Angeles. Ball had complained of chest pains and it was discovered that she had an aortic aneurysm, corrected through surgery, only to have another one take her life a few days later while recovering from surgery.

To find out more about the history of Lucille Ball and early television, please click on any of the following links:



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