Lucille Ball, a frustrated movie star (once dubbed Technicolor Tessie for her trademark red tresses and bright blue eyes), took the infant medium of television in her arms and cooed, "Come to Momma."
Once a Hattie Carnegie model (Lucy never lost her innate glamour and clotheshorsiness, no matter how many pies and how much seltzer she took to the kisser) and Chesterfield (cigarette ad) Girl, Lucy trekked from New York to Hollywood to become a Goldwyn Girl, then moved over to RKO studio, where whe was groomed for stardom in such important films as "Stage Door" (1937), starring Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn.
Rogers remained a friend; indeed, Lucy was coached by Ginger's formidable mother, Lela. Decades later, Lucy and Ginger danced together on an episode of "Here's Lucy."
As for Kate Hepburn-- well, Lucy did a withering impression of her.
As for Lucy's own mother-- Dede (Desiree) Ball-- she was her biggest fan, attending every filming of
"I Love Lucy." She often can be heard laughing loudest in the audience. (In spite of the lyrics to the Weird Al Yankovic takeoff, "Ricky," the laughter was never "canned.")
Although Ball was dropped by RKO during extreme cost-cutting measures, she was picked up immediately by M-G-M in 1942, courtesy of friend and producer Pandro S. Berman. However, after starring Lucy in "Best Foot Forward" and "Dubarry Was a Lady" (both 1943), the studio seemed to forget about her, never promoting her with first-tier roles.
Still, Lucy cut her comedy teeth in loan-out pictures and such M-G-M "A" productions as the 1946 "Easy to Wed," with Esther Williams and Ball's friend Van Johnson (who later guest-starred on
"I Love Lucy"). Ball also starred on the 1949 radio comedy series "My Favorite Husband," scripted by the writing team that would join her on "I Love Lucy."
The TV show was intended to keep her husband, Desi Arnaz, close at hand. It's impossible to calculate the extent to which Lucy influenced 20th-century popular culture. All Baby Boomers grew up with "I Love Lucy" and the series "The Lucy Show" and "Here's Lucy," which aired in prime-time from 1962 to 1974. In the days of pre-cable TV, it was not unusual to view Lucy twice a day, in morning and afternoon reruns.
Her impact continues: On a recent visit to a third-grade classroom, I noticed that one student listed
"I Love Lucy" as his favorite program.
Here's Lucy in two notable books:
"Love, Lucy" by Lucille Ball
Putnam, 286 pp., $24.95
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Lucy shelved this memoir, dictated to Betty Hannah Hoffman (who also conducted some interviews for the work), around 1964.
She was concerned that too many of the principals (notably, ex-husband Desi Arnaz) might be hurt. Also, she figured, rightly, that she had a lot of living left to do, and that it was too early (at age 53) to be summing up her life's adventures for public consumption.
The typescript went shelved, then boxed, and forgotten, until it was rediscovered and published following Lucy's death. Her children-- Lucie and Desi Jr.-- believe it's the best account of their Mother. Who's to argue? This is definitely the starting point on your reading-up-on-Lucy journey.
"I Loved Lucy" by Lee Tannen
St. Martin's, 320 pp., $20
Reviewed by David Marshall James
This glimpse into the latter-years life of Lucy was penned by a young cousin of Lucy's second husband, comedian/producer Gary Morton (he served as "warm up" man for Lucy's TV audiences, as well as producer of "The Lucy Show" and "Here's Lucy").
The book is also endorsed in an introduction by Lucie Arnaz.
Tannen, one of Ball's fabled backgammon partners, takes the reader inside Lucy's longtime residence on North Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, which included a library containing bound copies of the scripts for every episode of "I Love Lucy."
Who knew that Lucy loved grilled-cheese sandwiches, baked beans with frankfurters, and fruited Jell-O salads topped with Kraft mayonnaise?
The details, small and large, of this insider's memoir create quite a draw, especially because many "outsider-authored" biographies reduce the later years of Lucy's life to one or two chapters.
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