Lucille Ball

[Zim’s Note: Today, August 6, 2011, marks the 100 birthday of Lucille Ball. I have decided to do a short overview of her life, I Love Lucy and various achievements.]

On August 6, 1911, Lucille Desiree Ball was born in Jamestown, New York. She moved to New York City at 15 years of age and initially struggled to fulfill her acting dreams. She spent nearly 20 years in motion pictures before she landed the role that made her a household name.

I Love Lucy Years

Lucy and her best friend Ethel (played by Vivian Vance). Photo Credit: The Morton Report

Ball is known best for her enormously popular television program, I Love Lucy, a role that led her to be called “the first woman of television.” I Love Lucy first premiered on October 15, 1951. It was the first television series that filmed live in front of a studio audience. The show originally ran for six years, from 1951 to 1957, earning Ball two Emmys. I Love Lucy aired in 100 countries and is still broadcasted through syndication. Slapstick routines and elastic expressions cemented I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball into popular culture.

Some of Hollywood leading actors made appearances on I Love Lucy. They included Orson Welles, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Rock Hudson and George Reeves.

The show was so popular that the episode “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” which aired January 19, 1953, set a viewer rating record of 71.1. More viewers watched that episode of Lucy giving birth, than did those who watched President Eisenhower’s inauguration.

Additionally, Lucille Ball was so popular that she successfully fought the Communist witch-hunts that took down many celebrities at that time. During the 1930s, her voting registration listed her as a supporter of the Communist Party. She stated during a September 1953 meeting with Walter Winchell, an investigator with the House Un-American Activities Committee, that she only listed her affiliation with the party out of respect for her grandfather who was a socialist. Ball voted for Eisenhower, but it was reported that she was so upset with the whole ordeal and she never voted again.

Actress Lucille Ball and husband, Desi Arnaz seated in directors chairs at press conference in Los Angeles, Calif., 1953 (Source)

Lucille Ball and husband, Desi Arnaz seated in directors chairs at press conference in Los Angeles on September 13, 1953. (Source)

Desilu Studios & Lucille Ball Production

Beyond acting, Ball along with her husband Desi Arnaz co-owned and controlled one of the most successful television production studios in history. The production company was Desilu Studios and Ball served as Vice-President. The studio produced 1950s and 1960s television hit such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mission Impossible and Star Trek.

Lucy and Desi Arnaz divorced in May 1960 (after nineteen and a half years of marriage). Two years later, Ball bought out Arnaz’s shares of Desilu Studios and became the first woman to head a major television production studio.

Ball sold Desilu Studios in the mid-1960s to Gulf and Western for about $17 million. She then created Lucille Ball Productions.

Awards & Honors

Some of the awards and honors bestowed on Lucille Ball include the following:

  • Ball was the first woman inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame in 1984.
  • She received a Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: Lifetime Achievement Citation in 1986.
  • Throughout her television career, she earned five Emmy awards.
  • The Hollywood Foreign Press Association honored Ball with the Cecil B. De Mille Award in 1978.
  • In 1989, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously.
Actress Lucille Ball before her final public appearance, with husband Gary Morton at left. Photo taken at the 61st Academy Awards on March 28, 1989.

Actress Lucille Ball making her final public appearance (four weeks before her death) with husband Gary Morton at left. Photo taken at the 61st Academy Awards on March 29, 1989. Photo Credit: Alan Light

Lucille Ball passed away on April 26, 1989 at the Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from cardiac arrest associated with a dissecting aortic aneurysm. She left behind two children from her marriage to Desi Arnaz. As for Ball’s legacy, Nina Leibman summed it up best for Ball’s biography for the Museum of Broadcast Communications,

For all her impact upon the very nature of television production, Ball is most vividly recalled as a series of black and white images. To remember Lucille Ball is to recall a profusion of universal images of magical mayhem–a losing battle with a candy conveyor belt, a flaming nose, a slippery vat of grapes–images which, contrary to most American situation comedy, transcend nationalities and generations, in an absolute paradigm of side-splitting laughter.

Lucille Ball on “What’s My Line?” (1954)

Further Reading
The Museum of Broadcast Communications website
The Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Center website
William A. Henry III, “Lucille Ball: 1911-1989: A Zany Redheaded Everywoman,” Time Magazine, May 8, 1989. Found online here.

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