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Lucille Ball And 'I Love Lucy:' Creating The Art Of The Sitcom

Entertainment | September 15, 2018

Lucille Ball looks worriedly at the knives that surround her head on an episode of 'I Love Lucy' entitled 'Lucy Tells the Truth,' 1953. The episode was originally broadcast on November 9, 1953. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

During her six seasons on I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball was without fail the funniest thing on TV, both pioneering the format of the situation comedy and providing a role model for generations of comedy stars. She mentored Carol Burnett, and inspired many young female viewers who grew up to be Saturday Night Live standouts, including Gilda Radner and Julia Louis Dreyfus. Ball was a master of comedic timing and especially physical comedy -- whether the scene called for her to stuff her face with chocolates or wrestle a rival in a grape-stomping tub, she never hesitated to make herself look ridiculous for the sake of entertainment. This anything-that-works approach resulted in some of the greatest scenes in TV sitcom history. TV Guide named her the "greatest TV star of all time."

Lucille Ball Really Could Sing

American actress Lucille Ball (1911 - 1989) appears on radio program 'The Phil Baker Show', 1938. (Photo by Gene Lester/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Contrary to the discouragements from her I Love Lucy TV husband Ricky Ricardo (who was also her real-life husband) she really could sing as well as act. In fact, after first starting out as a model in 1929, she went on to perform on Broadway and later, she was a chorus girl on radio programs.

Lucille Ball Was A Model Before Becoming A TV Actress

Throughout her career, there was a question about her hair color. The media and producers always filmed her on the sitcoms she played in as either a gorgeous redhead or a blonde bombshell; but in truth she was a brunette. It was when she was in New York City, in 1928, that she was ordered to change her hair color to blonde for the modeling job she acquired.

A 'Hoodlum' Boyfriend Hastened Her Entry Into Show Business

To some extent, we have Johnny DeVita to thank for the Lucille Ball phenomenon. Ball dated him for over a year in Jamestown, though her disapproving mother felt DeVita was a "hoodlum." In a desperate move to separate the young lovers, Ball's mother scraped together the funds to send her daughter to the John Murray Anderson School For Dramatic Arts in New York City. 

Ball's experience there wasn't great (but at least she was away from Johnny) -- her instructors felt she didn't have a future in entertainment, and told her so. She took the discouragement as a dare, and was motivazted to stick it out in the big city and prove them wrong. Although she had some success as a model and chorus girl in the late 1920s and early '30s, she wasn't knocking it out of the park. Hollywood called, and in 1933 she moved to Los Angeles, where she spent the mid-1930s in small roles for RKO Pictures.

When Lucy Met Desi

In 1940, Lucille met the Cuban band leader who would be her husband, both on screen and off screen. They met on the set of the musical Too Many Girls, in which Ball had the starring role and Arnaz had a small part. Right away, the sparks flew and they wasted no time, eloping that same year. 

The Adventures Of Lucy And Ethel

On I Love Lucy, we, as the fans, saw Lucy and Ricky as a happy couple despite ups and downs they went through, which were mostly due to some scheme Lucy and Ethel would get mixed up in. Those schemes are what made the show so entertaining to watch as Lucy was always trying to figure a way out of the mess she had gotten herself into.

Lucy harbored dreams of showbiz or professional success, but always managed to blow her opportunities, flaming out hilariously, often taking Ethel along with her. The show often reached its crescendo as Lucy continued to try to save her latest venture even though it was past the point of no return. You could never accuse Lucy of giving up on her dreams easily -- no, the problem was usually that she never knew when she was beat.

Lucy Was Spectin

Lucile Ball with her husband, Desi Arnaz, celebrating their 12th anniversary in Palm Springs.

Just before she turned 40, Ball and Arnaz's first child was born, Lucie Desiree Arnaz. A year and half later, their second child was born, Desi Arnaz Jr. Despite original demands by CBS that a pregnant woman could not be aired on television, they finally relented and allowed it, with the exception they not use the word “pregnancy” but instead had to use the word “expecting.” With Ricky’s deliberate mispronunciation of the word, it came out as “spectin” which spurred on some laughter from the audience. Because she was having a Cesarean section, they were able to schedule the delivery on the very same date, January 19, 1953, that the show would be airing the birth of "Little Ricky."

Divorce And Career After 'I Love Lucy'

Sadly, though, after 20 years of “wedded bliss,” Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960, just two months before the last episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Lucille Ball later revealed that their real-life relationship was nothing like the loving (if eventful) one depicted on the show. 

After the divorce, Ball went to star in other shows. Two of her other shows that were long-running series also became big hits. The Lucy Show, with Vivian Vance and Gale Gordon, ran from 1962 until 1968; and Here’s Lucy, also with Gale Gordon and both her children, ran from 1968 until 1974. At the age of 77, she passed away from an abdominal aortic aneurysm that ruptured, but she left a legacy that will survive as long as people watch comedy on TV. She created the kind of entertainment and fun that has inspired the generations who followed her.

Tags: I Love Lucy | Lucille Ball | What Did She Do?...

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Terry Claypoole


Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.