Lucille Désirée Ball (August 6, 1911 - April 26, 1989) was an American comedienne, actress, model, and film and television executive. She appeared on stage, screen and radio, but is primarily known as one of the most popular and influential television stars of all time.
Along with her late brother Fred, Lucille spent most of her childhood in or near Jamestown, New York. She became involved in show business by performing as a chorus girl in a Shriners show at age 12. After attending drama school she found work as a fashion model and actress in New York City. In the 1930s she moved to Hollywood and began appearing in small movie roles. Eventually she moved up to starring in B-movies, so many in fact that she came to be known as "Queen of the B's." Among her better known films are Stage Door, Dance, Girl, Dance, and Five Came Back. She also worked in the theater and in radio.
In 1940 she met and eloped with bandleader Desi Arnaz. 1948 saw her cast in a successful radio program called My Favorite Husband which CBS soon decided to develop for television. She insisted that Arnaz be cast as her husband on the show and, after a vaudeville tour to prove that the pairing worked, CBS agreed. I Love Lucy ensued. It was followed by two more successful sitcoms which extended her television career through 1974. During this time she continued to appear occasionally in movies and on Broadway. She also co-founded Desilu Studios with Desi. An attempt at a television come-back in the 1980s - Life with Lucy - failed.
She did, however, take the time to mentor an up-and-coming young actress who went on to achieve success in her own right.
Her children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., are actors and singers in their own right.
At present, with the exception of Here's Lucy, CBS owns the rights to all series starring Ball, having acquired the rights to I Love Lucy (and by extension, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour) when it purchased Desilu's pre-1960 library in 1960, and inherited the rights to The Lucy Show and Life with Lucy from Paramount (who had inherited the former from Desilu, and the latter from Spelling Entertainment and its distribution arm, Worldvision Enterprises). Paramount has released the entirety of the CBS-owned series on DVD.
Lucille Ball and her works provide examples of:
- Benevolent Boss: As head of Desilu, while on set and in the office/boardroom she was tough as nails, off-set she was said to have treated every one of her employees, no matter how small the job, like a member of the family.
- The Cast Show Off: Any chance she would get to show off her extensive background as a dancer, she would take it. Within her many sitcoms she could be seen waltzing with Van Johnson, doing the Charleston with Ginger Rogers, Tap Dancing with John Bubbles, Modding with her son, and of course performing alongside Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley.
- Dye Hard: Although she was initially a brunette, Ball dyed her hair blonde while an in-house model in 1928. She began dyeing her hair red for her role in Du Barry Was a Lady, after a request from MGM, and it remained that way for the rest of her life.
- Funny Character, Boring Actor: While Lucy Ricardo was a kind and kooky woman, Lucille Ball was a consummate professional who could perform comedy brilliantly, but wasn't "funny" in real life.
- I Am Not Spock: In the second half of her life she never really broke away from the "Lucy" character she portrayed on I Love Lucy and her subsequent series, but there's considerable evidence this was at least partly self-inflicted. She generally avoided making appearances out of character during the run of I Love Lucy (her ad with Desi promoting the 1954 March of Dimes campaign was a very rare exception) and, after she stopped appearing in regular series television with the end of Here's Lucy in 1974, studiously avoided making any other TV appearances unless she was playing "Lucy" again (as in the one-off special Lucy Meets the President and the short-lived misfire Life with Lucy). Throughout it all, the fact that the character "Lucy" and Lucille Ball had the same name certainly didn't help in separating the character and the actor. The one time she attempted to break away from the "Lucy" character was the 1985 TV movie Stone Pillow, where she played a homeless bag lady living on the streets of New York. She approached the producers of Cheers, a show she admired, with an eye for playing the mother of Diane Chambers, but backed out at the last minute because she felt audiences wouldn't accept her playing anyone other than "Lucy". Once Life with Lucy failed she seemed to realize that she wasn't bound to that character and was to play the lead in Wicked Stepmother after Bette Davis quit... only for her failing health to prevent it.
- Oddly, when she was actually playing the "Lucy" character she was more willing to branch out, starring in Yours, Mine, and Ours in 1968 and Mame in 1974.
- Written-In Infirmity: Her second pregnancy.