Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Monthly Muse - Lucille Ball
Lucille Desiree Ball was born on 6th August 1911 in Celoron, near Jamestown, New York, in the far western part of the state. She later sometimes claimed she had been born in Butte, Montana.
Her father, a telephone lineman for Bell Telephone Company, was frequently transferred because of his occupation. Within three years of her birth, Lucille had moved with her parents from Jamestown to Anaconda, and then to Trenton.While DeDe Ball was pregnant with her second child, Frederick, Henry Ball contracted typhoid fever and died in February 1915. After her father died, her mother returned to New York and her parents. Ball and her brother, Fred Henry Ball (July 17, 1915 – February 5, 2007), were raised by their mother and maternal grandparents in Celoron, New York.
Lucy loved Celoron Park, one of the best amusement areas in the United States at that time. Her grandfather, Fred Hunt, was an eccentric who also 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.
Four years after the death of her father, Ball’s mother DeDe remarried, to Edward Peterson. While her mother and stepfather looked for work in another city, Ball and her brother were cared for by her stepfather’s parents. Ball’s new guardians were a puritanical Swedish couple who banished all mirrors from the house except for one over the bathroom sink. When the young Ball was caught admiring herself in it, she was severely chastised for being vain. This period of time affected Ball so deeply that in later life she claimed that it lasted seven or eight years.
Peterson was a Shriner. When his organization needed female entertainers for the chorus line of their next show, he encouraged his twelve-year-old stepdaughter to audition. While Ball was onstage, she realized performing was a great way to gain praise and recognition. Her appetite for recognition had thus been awakened at an early age.
In 1927 her family suffered misfortune. Their house and furnishings were lost to settle a financial legal judgment, after a neighborhood boy was accidentally shot and paralyzed by someone target shooting in their yard under Ball's grandfather's supervision. The family moved into a small apartment in Jamestown
In 1925 Ball, then only 14, started dating Johnny DeVita, a 23-year-old local hood. DeDe was unhappy with the relationship, but was unable to influence her daughter to end it. She expected the romance to burn out in a few weeks, but that did not happen. After about a year, DeDe tried to separate them by using Lucille's desire to be in show business. Despite the family's meager finances, she arranged for Lucille to go to the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City, where Bette Davis was a fellow student. Ball later said about that time in her life, "All I learned in drama school was how to be frightened."
Ball was determined to prove her teachers wrong and returned to New York City in 1928. Among her other jobs, she landed work as a fashion model for Hattie Carnegie. Her career was thriving when she became ill, either with rheumatic fever, rheumatoid arthritis, or some other unknown illness, and was unable to work for two years. She moved back to New York City in 1932 to resume her pursuit of a career as an actress and supported herself by again working for Carnegie and as the Chesterfield cigarette girl. Using the name Diane (sometimes spelled Dianne) Belmont, she started getting some chorus work on Broadway but the work was not lasting. Ball was hired – but then quickly fired – by theatre impresario Earl Carroll, from his Vanities, and by Florenz Ziegfeld, from a touring company of Rio Rita. She was let go from the Shubert brothers production of Stepping Stones.
After an uncredited stint as a Goldwyn Girl in Roman Scandals (1933), starring Eddie Cantor and Gloria Stuart, Ball moved permanently to Hollywood to appear in films. She appeared in many small movie roles in the 1930s as a contract player for RKO Radio Pictures, including a two-reel comedy short with the Three Stooges (Three Little Pigskins, 1934) and a movie with the Marx Brothers (Room Service, 1938). She can also be seen as one of the featured models in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Roberta (1935), briefly as the flower girl in Top Hat (1935), as well as in a brief supporting role at the beginning of Follow the Fleet (1936), another Astaire-Rogers film. Ginger Rogers was a distant maternal cousin of Ball's. She and Rogers played aspiring actresses in the film Stage Door (1937), co-starring Katharine Hepburn.
In 1936 she also landed the role she hoped would lead her to Broadway, in the Bartlett Cormack play Hey Diddle Diddle, a comedy set in a duplex apartment in Hollywood. The play premiered in Princeton, New Jersey, on January 21, 1937 with Ball playing the part of Julie Tucker, "one of three roommates coping with neurotic directors, confused executives, and grasping stars who interfere with the girls' ability to get ahead." The play received good reviews, but there were problems, chiefly with its star, Conway Tearle, who was in poor health. Cormack wanted to replace him, but the producer, Anne Nichols, said the fault lay with the character and insisted that the part needed to be reshaped and rewritten. The two were unable to agree on a solution. The play was scheduled to open on Broadway at the Vanderbilt Theatre, but closed after one week in Washington, D.C. when Tearle suddenly became gravely ill.
Ball was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s, but she never achieved major stardom from her appearance in the studio's films. She was known in many Hollywood circles as "Queen of the B's" – a title previously held by Fay Wray – starring in a number of B-movies, such as Five Came Back (1939). Like many budding actresses Ball picked up radio work to earn side income as well as gain exposure. In 1937 she appeared regularly on The Phil Baker Show.
When that completed its run in 1938, Ball joined the cast of The Wonder Show starring Jack Haley (best remembered as the Tin man in The Wizard of Oz, 1939). It was here that she began her fifty-year professional relationship with Gale Gordon, who served as show announcer. The Wonder Show lasted one season, with the final episode airing on April 7, 1939. MGM producer Arthur Freed purchased the Broadway hit musical play DuBarry Was a Lady (1943) especially for Ann Sothern, but when Sothern turned down the part the choice role was awarded to Ball, who in real life was Sothern's best friend. In 1946 Ball starred in Lover Come Back and, in 1948, made an uncredited appearance as Sally Elliot in The Fuller Brush Man.
In 1948, Ball was cast as Liz Cugat (later "Cooper"), a wacky wife, in My Favorite Husband, a radio program for CBS Radio. The program was successful, and CBS asked her to develop it for television. She agreed, but insisted on working with her real-life husband, Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz. CBS executives were reluctant, thinking the public would not accept an All-American redhead and a Cuban as a couple. 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 great success, and CBS put I Love Lucy into their lineup. 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 both having hectic performing schedules which often kept them apart.
Along the way, she created a television dynasty and reached several "firsts." Ball was the first woman in television to be head of a production company: Desilu, the company that she and Arnaz formed. After their divorce, Ball bought out Arnaz's share of the studio, and she proceeded to function as a very active studio head. Desilu and I Love Lucy pioneered a number of methods still in use in television production today such as filming before a live studio audience with a number of cameras, and distinct sets adjacent to each other. During this time Ball taught a thirty-two week comedy workshop at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. Ball was quoted as saying, "You cannot teach someone comedy; either they have it or they don't."
Ball and Arnaz wanted to remain in their Los Angeles home, but the time zone logistics made that broadcast norm impossible. Prime time in L.A. was too late at night on the East Coast to air a major network series, meaning the majority of the TV audience would be seeing not only the inferior picture of kinescopes but seeing them at least a day later.
Sponsor Philip Morris did not want to show day-old kinescopes to the major markets on the East Coast, yet neither did they want to pay for the extra cost that filming, processing, and editing would require, pressuring Ball and Arnaz to relocate to New York City. Ball and Arnaz offered to take a pay cut to finance filming, on the condition that their company, Desilu, would retain the rights to that film once it was aired. CBS relinquished the show rights back to Desilu after initial broadcast, not realizing they were giving away a valuable and durable asset.
I Love Lucy dominated the weekly TV ratings in the United States for most of its run. (There was an attempt to adapt the show for radio; the cast and writers adapted the memorable "Breaking the Lease" episode — in which the Ricardos and Mertzes fall out over an argument, the Ricardos threaten to move, but they're stuck in a firm lease — for a radio audition disc that never aired but has survived.) A scene in which Lucy and Ricky are practicing the tango, in the episode "Lucy Does The Tango", evoked the longest recorded studio audience laugh in the history of the show; so long that the sound editor had to cut that particular part of the soundtrack in half. During the show's production breaks they starred together in two feature films: The Long, Long Trailer (1954) and Forever, Darling (1956). Desilu produced several other popular shows, such as The Untouchables, Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible. Desilu was eventually sold and merged into Paramount Pictures in 1967.
The 1960 Broadway musical Wildcat ended its run early when Ball became too ill to continue in the show. The show was the source of the song she made famous, "Hey, Look Me Over," which she performed with Paula Stewart on The Ed Sullivan Show. She made a few more movies including Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968), and the musical Mame (1974), and two more successful long-running sitcoms for CBS: The Lucy Show (1962–68), which costarred Vivian Vance and Gale Gordon, and Here's Lucy (1968–74), which also featured Gordon, as well as Lucy's real life children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. She appeared on the Dick Cavett show in 1974 and spoke of her history and life with Arnaz. She revealed how she felt about other actors and actresses as well as her love for Arnaz. Ball revealed in this interview that the strangest thing to ever happen to her was after she had some dental work completed and having lead fillings put in her teeth, she started hearing radio stations in her head. She explained that going home one night from the studio, as she passed one area, she heard what she thought was morse code or a "tapping". She stated that "as I backed up it got stronger. The next morning, I reported it to the authorities and upon investigation, they found a Japanese radio transmitter that had been buried and was actively transmitting codes back to the Japanese."
Ball was originally considered by Frank Sinatra for the role of Mrs. Iselin in the Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Director/producer John Frankenheimer, however, had worked with Angela Lansbury in a mother role in All Fall Down and insisted on having her for the part.
During the mid-1980s, Ball attempted to resurrect her television career. In 1982 she hosted a two-part Three's Company retrospective, showing clips from the show's first five seasons, summarizing memorable plotlines, and commenting on her love of the show. A 1985 dramatic made-for-TV film about an elderly homeless woman, Stone Pillow, received mixed reviews. Her 1986 sitcom comeback Life With Lucy, costarring her longtime foil Gale Gordon and co-produced by Ball, Gary Morton, and prolific producer/former actor Aaron Spelling was canceled less than two months into its run by ABC. In February 1988, Ball was named the Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year.
In May 1988 Ball was hospitalized after suffering a mild heart attack. Her last public appearance, just one month before her death, was at the 1989 Academy Awards telecast in which she and fellow presenter, Bob Hope, were given a standing ovation.
On April 18, 1989, Ball was at her home in Beverly Hills when she complained of chest pains. An ambulance was called and she was rushed to the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She was diagnosed with dissecting aortic aneurysm and underwent heart surgery for nearly eight hours, receiving an aorta from a 27-year-old man who had died in a motorcycle accident. The surgery appeared to have been successful, and Ball began recovering very quickly, even walking around her room with little assistance. She received a flurry of get-well wishes from Hollywood, and across the street from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Hard Rock Café erected a sign reading "Hard Rock Loves Lucy". However, shortly after dawn on April 26, Ball awoke with severe back pains and soon lost consciousness. All attempts to revive her proved unsuccessful, and she died at approximately 05:47 PDT. Doctors determined that the 77-year-old comedian had succumbed to a second aortic rupture, this time in the abdominal area, and that it was unrelated to her surgery the previous week.
Her body was cremated and the ashes were initially interred in Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. However, in 2002, her children moved her remains to the family plot at Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown, New York, where Ball's parents, brother, and grandparents are interred.
On February 8, 1960, Ball was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one at 6436 Hollywood Boulevard for contributions to motion pictures, and one at 6100 Hollywood Boulevard for television.
Ball received many prestigious awards throughout her career including some posthumously such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush on July 6, 1989, and The Women's International Center's 'Living Legacy Award'.
There is a Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center museum in Lucy's hometown of Jamestown, New York. The Little Theatre was renamed the Lucille Ball Little Theatre in her honor. Ball was among Time magazine's "100 Most Important People of the Century."
On August 6, 2001, which would have been her 90th birthday, the United States Postal Service honored her with a commemorative postage stamp as part of its Legends of Hollywood series.
Ball appeared on the cover of TV Guide more than any other person; she appeared on thirty-nine covers, including the very first cover in 1953 with her baby son, Desi Arnaz, Jr. TV Guide voted Lucille Ball as the 'Greatest TV Star of All Time' and it later commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of I Love Lucy with eight collector covers celebrating memorable scenes from the show. In another instance it named I Love Lucy the second-best television program in American history, after Seinfeld.
Because of her liberated mindset and approval of the Women's Movement, Ball was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2001.
The Friars Club named a room in its New York clubhouse for Lucille Ball.
She was awarded the 'Legacy of Laughter' award at the fifth Annual TV Land Awards in 2007.
I Love Lucy was named the 'Greatest TV Series' by Hall of Fame Magazine.
In November 2007, Lucille Ball was chosen as the second out of the '50 Greatest TV Icons', after Johnny Carson. In a poll done by the public, however, they chose her as the greatest icon.
On August 6, 2011, which would have been her 100th birthday, Google honored Ball with an interactive doodle on their homepage. This doodle displayed six classic moments from I Love Lucy. On the same day a total of 915 Ball look-alikes converged on Jamestown, New York to celebrate the birthday and set a new world record for such a gathering.
• I'm not funny. What I am is brave.
• Ability is of little account without opportunity.
• The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.
• If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.
• Luck? I don't know anything about luck. I've never banked on it, and I'm afraid of people who do. Luck to me is something else: Hard work -- and realizing what is opportunity and what isn't.
• One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.
• I think knowing what you cannot do is more important than knowing what you can do. In fact, that's good taste.
• I would rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not.
• In life, all good things come hard, but wisdom is the hardest to come by.
• I have an everyday religion that works for me. Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.
• It's a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.
• Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
• Heaven, no. I was shy for several years in my early days in Hollywood until I figured out that no one really gave a damn if I was shy or not, and I got over my shyness.
• A man who correctly guesses a woman's age may be smart, but he's not very bright.