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Lucille Ball College Essay


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Here is an essay I wrote on Lucille Ball for college last term:

 

LUCILLE BALL & “LUCY”: LIBERATION THROUGH COMEDY

 

 

Known to billions worldwide simply as “Lucy”, the scatterbrained character she played variations of on four different television shows spanning the 1950s through the 1980s, the Lucille Ball behind the camera “had one focus: hard work” (Bloom & Vlastnik, 170). She channeled her hard work into comedy, and created a comic persona that is as much loved today as it was 60 years ago. Paradoxically, “as a sixty-foot image on the screen, the actress was only a journeywoman performer; as a sixteen-inch TV image, she turned into a superstar” (Kanfer, Preface, x). With the help of husband Desi Arnaz, Ball changed the face of broadcast television and pioneered the role of women in the entertainment industry. Her real-life accolades and triumphs aside, the actions of her TV characters, however zany and humorous, speak to the desire some women felt for liberation from the patriarchal society of postwar America. Her most famous incarnation, Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy, was particularly in tune with this idea, constantly struggling to break into husband Ricky’s nightclub act and form her own career in show business. Media critic Gerard Jones argues that “Lucy Ricardo was less a feminist than an argument for why women needed feminists. What she had was just an insane desire to be noticed. Lucy demonstrated how much energy, how much ambition was being wasted by the early fifties ethos that women should be in the kitchen” (Finding Lucy, CBS). An analysis of her most memorable comedic scene, plus the underlying themes and lasting popularity of I Love Lucy and her subsequent sitcoms, will reveal what made Lucille Ball both a cultural icon and a truly unique performer who continues to entertain us to this day.

 

Although television is where Lucille Ball struck gold, it was hardly her first attempt to find her acting identity. Indeed, she cycled through movies, theatre and radio before taking the small screen by storm in 1951. As biographer Kathleen Brady notes, “Television was her medium, and really nothing else was. It took television, which required all her talents, her wonderful expressions, her physical gifts, to really bring her to flower” (Finding Lucy). Before the advent of television, however, Ball tried her hardest to hone her skills in the movies, appearing in sixty-five films by 1948. Earning the unofficial title “Queen of the B Pictures”, Lucille played everything from chorus girl to romantic heroine, cycling through four major movie studios throughout the 1930s and 40s. Her best film appearances were those that showcased her comedic ability, such as The Fuller Brush Girl and Miss Grant Takes Richmond, but it was not enough to make her a major movie star. In those days, “the gospel according to Goldwyn was clear: funny women don’t sell tickets, beautiful women do” (Finding Lucy). Lucille had the good fortune to be both funny and beautiful, but the stringent rules of the Hollywood studio system did not make many allowances for such duplicity: glamour girls were supposed to be beautiful, not funny. As Lucille’s good friend and occasional guest star Carol Burnett put it, “She didn’t have that opportunity [to be funny]. They didn’t give it to her, so she went out and got it” (Finding Lucy). With the strong success of her CBS radio comedy My Favorite Husband from 1948 to 1951, plus the burgeoning medium of television, Lucille saw a golden opportunity not only get to work with her husband, Desi Arnaz, but also to take her comedic training to another level.

 

Lucille’s radio program was her first opportunity to hone her comedic timing in front of a live studio audience. Her longtime writer Madelyn Pugh Davis says that “Lucy learned to play to the audience; she was used to doing movies, so it was kind of a new experience for her to say the gag and look out at the audience”. Kathleen Brady elaborated by stating “she came alive before a live audience, and developed the expressions that she used on I Love Lucy while doing her radio show” (Finding Lucy). Sensing a hit for television, CBS wanted Lucille and her co-star, Richard Denning, to take the program to the small screen, but Lucy would only do so if her real favourite husband, Desi, could do the show with her instead. Ball explained that she was anxious to work with Arnaz, as he was constantly on the road with his band, and working together would allow them to stay together. The resulting deliberations became legendary, with CBS insisting that the public would not buy an all-American girl being married to a Cuban bandleader. Eventually the Arnazes won out because, as Robert Osbourne succinctly put it, CBS “needed her more than they didn’t want Desi” (Finding Lucy).

 

Already, Lucille was showing more determination and grit than most women in Hollywood, and her insisting that Desi do the show with her was one of the smartest moves she could have made. As stated by Lucille’s brother, Fred Ball, “Lucille would never have succeeded the way that she did without Desi…He put this thing together technically, financially, emotionally…he’s the guy that made it work” (Finding Lucy). Indeed, it was “The Bongo Player” who developed the three camera method of shooting in front of a live audience, knowing that Lucille needed an audience to perform to. The Arnazes soon proved to CBS how wrong they had been. With the ideal casting of Vivian Vance and William Frawley as the Ricardo’s neighbours and landlords, the Mertzes, the archetypical sitcom was underway. With each week of filming, the I Love Lucy team “invented from whole cloth the wheel of situation comedy…it was a format so successful it is still in use today” (Finding Lucy). More importantly, with each week of filming, Lucille Ball continued to nurture and perfect her comedic ability, unknowingly cementing her legacy on the entertainment world.

 

Lucille Ball was the first female comedianne to live up to the glory of her male predecessors. As Media Studies Professor Lori Landay notes, “There weren’t a lot of female role models for someone like Lucille Ball. She had to look to the male comics”(Finding Lucy), particularly the Marx Brothers, Red Skelton, Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton. It had been Keaton who had given her a great deal of comedic training, and taught her the importance of props. Kathleen Brady states that it was Keaton who taught Ball “ to take comedy seriously…that her props were her tools. She really had to treat them as treasures” (Finding Lucy). If that is so, then no prop was a greater treasure to Lucille than the Vitametavegamin bottle that appeared in I Love Lucy episode no. 30, Lucy Does a TV Commercial. In that particular episode, the brilliance of Ball’s ability plus the main crux of the series were never more well articulated.

 

The premise was simple: Lucy learns that Ricky is going to be hosting a television show, and becomes eager to get into the act. Ricky answers her with a resounding “no!” Determined to be involved, she quietly lets go of the girl Ricky hired to do the sponsor’s commercial and takes the job herself, not knowing that the product in question is a high-alcohol health tonic, Vitamegavegamin. After rehearsing the commercial several times, Lucy is soon too drunk to stand up straight but carries on pitching the product, and inadvertently bungles Ricky’s big evening. This episode has consistently been ranked the number one I Love Lucy episode for years, and is declared such in the 2001 50th anniversary special aired on CBS. Author Geoffrey Mark Fidelman speaks for most Lucy fans by saying that this “is the penultimate Lucille Ball performance…[she] is perfect; there is not a wasted gesture or inflection. With each line and movement, she keeps topping herself in a never-ending crescendo of comedy” (The Lucy Book, pp. 46). Ball herself later commented on the episode‘s popularity: “I think that Vitametavegamin bit is the best thing I ever did. And one of the hardest. God, I was nervous! It really gratifies me to know the audience loves it so much, generation after generation” (46). What makes the scene so enduring is Lucy’s honesty: she is not messing up because she is inefficient or stupid, but because she gets drunk rehearsing the commercial too many times. Each time the director asked her to drink, she did. The audience laughs not at her, but with her, as Lucy Ricardo is having just as much fun selling the tonic as the audience is watching her! When she interrupts Ricky during his solo, she is very tanked but still innocent and charming, and Ricky carrying her offstage while she screams out her lines is a brilliant coda. As Ricky would later tell Lucy four years later in the episode Return Home from Europe, “Being married to you isn’t easy, but it sure is a lot of fun”. The sentiment applies to Vitametavegamin as well as almost every episode of I Love Lucy.

 

The obvious love and affection between Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, not to mention Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, remains one of I Love Lucy’s most appealing aspects. By the mid-1950s, the couple had become so popular they even played variations of Lucy and Ricky on the big screen twice, in MGM’s The Long, Long Trailer and Forever, Darling. On another level, however, the series also set the standard for female friendship for every sitcom to come. The interplay between Lucille Ball and co-star Vivian Vance had a chemistry and ease that is nearly impossible to duplicate. Although the two actresses may not have seen eye to eye at first (“You don’t look like a landlady”, Lucille reportedly quipped. “I want a dumpy, fat woman in a chenille bathrobe and furry slippers with curlers in her hair” (Castellucio & Walker, 152) ), Lucille and Vivian eventually formed a sisterly bond and professional relationship that translated to the small screen beautifully. Writer Madelyn Pugh Davis recalls: “Vivian was a perfect foil for Lucy, they played together beautifully. They had a real friendship, and it made it so much funnier. They would get mad at each other or something, then they’d feel terrible and cry and make up” (Finding Lucy). Vance’s Ethel Mertz was the older, more disenchanted of the two women, and was often happy to join in Lucy’s scheming in search of a vicarious thrill. Over the course of 180 episodes (plus the 13 hour long specials aired between 1958-1960), Lucy and Ethel constantly frustrated their husbands by challenging their domesticity, and would continue to tread new ground in their later series, but it was Lucy acting as instigator who pushed the most cultural buttons.

 

Lori Landay feels that Lucille Ball and her writers found occasions “for laughter and pleasure by creating comedy out of the constraints of the postwar feminine mystique” (Kanfer, 315). The character of Ricky Ricardo is fully aware of his wife’s burning desires, and of her scatterbrained antics that often prevent her from succeeding, which may be his primary reason for trying to keep her at home: for her safety and others. This could be a clever mask for keeping the illusion of the husband’s power over his wife, but then again, the Lucy character would undoubtedly not be as inclined to act out against Ricky if he let her have her way more often. Even though “Lucy Ricardo was conniving, sneaky, and downright criminal at times, she was still an innocent at heart, usually wanting nothing more than a new dress, an opportunity to perform in her husband’s nightclub act, or a chance to pick a grapefruit from Richard Widmark’s tree” (Bloom & Vlastnik, 170). There is also, as Lori Landay points out, the ironic paradox of art being at odds with life:

 

"How seriously can we take Ricky’s injunctions that his wife can’t be on television when Ball and Arnaz are a husband and wife on television? On one level, the show does what on another level it says shouldn’t happen. This contradiction illustrates the gap between the social experience of the women who were working in the public sphere and the ideology that attempted to contain them within domesticity. The series itself is a kind of trick that encourages the audience to participate in the attractive image of the stars’ happy marriage, a fiction representative of postwar behaviour and attitudes that obscures asymmetry in the sex-gender system" (Kanfer, 315).

 

In this sense, I Love Lucy illustrates through humour that times were changing, by acknowledging the domestic ideology and deliberately going against it practically every week (it is also interesting to note that I Love Lucy director William Asher later helmed another groundbreaking sitcom with feminist undertones, Bewitched). Biographer Stefan Kanfer notes that “onscreen [Lucy] protested that her status was nothing to quo about, but that was only so that she could do her Sisyphus routine, making a grand effort - and then falling back to the starting point to begin again next week” (317). However, even if Lucy Ricardo never found a permanent escape from domesticity, during the nine years I Love Lucy was on the air she met more celebrities and experienced more exciting and daring situations than most people do in a lifetime. In the end, it was not her domestic confinement that mattered, it was her willingness to try anything that was the spirit of Lucy Ricardo; indeed, the same could be said for Lucille Ball.

 

In 1960, the Ball/Arnaz marriage finally ended, as did I Love Lucy. Even though they had started the show to keep their marriage together, the pressures of doing their own show and running their own studio ultimately drove them apart. Two years later, Ball once again was breaking new ground on network television, this time carrying on without Desi. She started another sitcom with co-star Vivian Vance, The Lucy Show, and succeeded Desi Arnaz as President of Desilu Productions, the first female studio head since Mary Pickford. In order to differentiate the new series from the old one, both Ball and Vance‘s characters were renamed and made single. As Ball told Look Magazine, “We have to be [single], with so many of our old shows around we’d look like bigamists” (The Lucy Show: Collector’s Edition, Linear Notes). Ball played the widowed Lucy Carmichael raising her two children, sharing a house with divorced friend Vivian Bagley and her son. Not only were two single women depicted living together in the same home, but Vivian Bagley was television’s first divorced female character. Once again, Ball was pushing the boundaries for women in entertainment.

 

Gerard Jones feels that Lucy “was wise to keep Vivian Vance around. In some ways, that relationship gets almost deeper in the second show with the absence of Ricky and Fred. You really see a years long female friendship with mutual understanding that you almost never see on TV” (Finding Lucy). Even though Vance left the series in 1965 to spend more time at home with her new husband, she continued to make frequent guest appearances on The Lucy Show and the subsequent Here’s Lucy, so that by the time of their last joint appearance together in 1977‘s Lucy Calls the President, she and Lucy had “completed a circle of friendship that stretched over 25 years and almost 300 television shows” (Finding Lucy).

 

After Vance’s departure, Lucy never again had a full-time female co-star out of loyalty to Vance, and relied mostly on famous guest stars to fill in the blanks, actors who only appeared on television because of Lucille. Her only remaining constant was character actor Gale Gordon, playing pompous, grouchy Mr. Mooney on The Lucy Show and pompous, grouchy Uncle Harry on Here’s Lucy. Ball, fiercely loyal to those she admired, adored Gordon, and their interplay as hot-headed boss vs. ditzy secretary is one of television’s most memorable friendly feuds. These later episodes often addressed the different views the characters held about money, as Mooney controlled Lucy’s trust fund while Uncle Harry paid her salary. This gave the Lucy character, like Lucy Ricardo, an undeniable dependence on a male superior. Lucy Carmichael (The Lucy Show) and Lucy Carter (Here‘s Lucy), however, had one thing Lucy Ricardo did not: a steady job. Although the character remained as scatterbrained as ever, Lucy’s shows did keep up with the times, and her character was now a single working woman, setting the scene for the upcoming That Girl and Mary Tyler Moore shows. By the end of Here’s Lucy in 1974, “Lucille Ball…existed in two time periods, in black-and-white and color, with Desi and without him - television’s first schizoid super-star” (Kanfer, 268). From 1951 to 1974, Lucille reigned as the First Lady of Television, a record she still holds.

 

All good things must eventually end, and while Lucy’s reruns could go on forever, Ball herself could not. She tried once more in 1986’s Life With Lucy at the age of 75. As Emily Daniels, wife of Life With Lucy director Marc Daniels recalls: “On the final series she was a grandmother, but she still had to behave the way she had when she was Lucy in the first year, and it just didn’t go…I just knew it was an omen of what was coming…which was the end of her career” (Finding Lucy). Physical comedy is difficult enough for young women, let alone those more than three-score and ten. Robert Osbourne shrewdly addressed the situation: “All she wanted to do was work as an actress, and all the public would ever buy her in was Lucy. And then it came that they wouldn’t buy her as Lucy, and then that was the tragedy of her life” (Finding Lucy). Although the public could no longer buy the present Lucy as “Lucy”, the “Lucy” still seen in reruns was as popular as ever. In 1989, shortly after Lucille‘s death, her legacy grew even stronger, and most amazingly of all, “each year she has grown in significance and popularity”, suffering no decline in reputation (Kanfer, Preface, ix). The apotheosis had begun, sealing Lucille’s unique fate on the impact of entertainment.

 

Lucille Ball’s career spanned every form of mass entertainment of her time, yet it was not in trusted, reliable mediums that she made her mark; it was in the brand new medium of television that she made her biggest impact, she and Desi Arnaz revolutionizing an entirely new way for audiences to look at commercial entertainment. Countless before and after her have come and gone, yet Lucy remains constant. Stefan Kanfer argues her longevity is due not just to her comedy, but being black-and-white: “There is something incompatible about humor and colour; the palette calls attention to itself, instead of to the jokes” (318). Lucille’s hair may have been flaming red, and was indeed visible to audiences on her later programs, but audiences do not need to see the colour of her hair to see the fiery spark present in Lucille Ball. Lucy Ricardo makes herself accessible to all because “her ability to create possibility where others would only recognize restraint, and her untiring optimism that this time her scheme will succeed, above all, keep [her]…alive and at the centre of our popular culture.” Feminist or not, Lucy speaks to the sense of adventure in all of us, the idea that if we take chances no matter what obstacles may be in our way, we just might have a chance to be in the show.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Bloom, Ken, and Frank Vlastnik. "I Love Lucy." Sitcoms: the 101 Greatest TV Comedies of All Time. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007. Print.

 

Castelluccio, Frank, and Alvin Walker. The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: the Life Story of Vivian Vance. Manchester, CT: Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, 1998. Print.

 

Daniels, Marc, dir. "Lucy Does a TV Commercial." I Love Lucy. CBS. 5 May 1952. Television.

 

Fidelman, Geoffrey Mark. The Lucy Book: a Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television. Los Angeles: Renaissance, 1999. Print.

 

Finding Lucy. Dir. Pamela Mason Wagner. CBS Paramount, 2001. Videocassette.

 

The Funny World of Lucy Volumes 1 & 2. Prod. Paul Harris and Sandy Oliveri. Goodtimes Home Video, 1993. DVD.

 

Kanfer, Stefan. Ball of Fire: the Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball.

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Print.

 

The Lucy Show: Collector's Edition. Dir. Jack Donohue. Perf. Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Gale Gordon. Columbia House, 1997. Videocassette.

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Thats a really good essay! I did a biography of Lucy for college two semesters ago, which was my first college semester....

 

 

 

Lucille Ball

Her face has been seen by more people, more often then the face of any human being who lived. She was in seventy-two movies, over five hundred episodes of her own television series, nominated for thirty-two awards and won fifteen of them. Born Lucille Desiree Ball, daughter of Henry and Desiree Ball, on August 6,1911 at 5pm in Jamestown, New York. She had one brother, Fred, who was four years younger than she. Lucy’s father died before she turned four and with her mother working many jobs to earn a living, she and her brother lived with their grandparents (Ball,1996). She was always taking care of her little brother and cousin as a teenager and wanted to get out into the world. She entered a bathing beauty contest the summer after her sophomore year of high school and was told by the photographer, “It’s very difficult to get a satisfactory picture of Miss. Ball because the lady is just not photogenic.” (Ball, 1996). She went to a dramatic school and was soon expelled because she “didn’t have any talent” and was always being compared to her classmate, Bette Davis. Lucy was discouraged by this, but wasn’t going to give up. She was hired as a model for Hattie Carnegie’s and was discovered and chosen to be a Goldwyn Girl and to appear in her first picture, “Roman Scandals” in 1933 (Brady, 2001).

Lucy started modeling in 1929 for a small coat shop on Seventh Avenue in New York City. She went by the name Diane Belmont, which she got from the Belmont racetrack on Long Island. She soon moved on to a more well known dress shop called Hattie Carnegie’s and almost overnight she was among the rich society and celebrities. Lucy learned to move with grace and elegance by watching other women and analyzing what they wore and how they moved. She decided to bleach her hair after seeing Joan Bennett, a frequent customer at Hattie’s, who had platinum blonde hair. Lucy started to meet all the rich bachelors in town and got many proposals, but only being eighteen she refused them all (Brady, 2001)

With the stress of modeling, Lucy got very little sleep and wasn’t eating right and came down with pneumonia. She needed money for her medical expenses and went right to Hattie’s to make more money. While standing in a fitting room getting ready for a shoot, Lucy felt excruciating pains in both legs and went to the hospital to find she had rheumatoid arthritis. After treatments, she returned to Jamestown discouraged but while she was recovering, she was offered the job to play Aggie Lynch in the melodrama “Within The Law” for the Jamestown Players. She was seen as a true professional and re-encouraged, Lucy returned to New York City with her best friend, Marion Strong (Kanfer, 2003).

Lucy went right back to modeling and was hired by a first class clothing house, Jacksons, on Seventh Avenue. To earn extra money, she posed at night and on weekends for commercial illustrators. Ratterman, an artist, did an oil painting of Lucy wearing a borrowed chiffon dress and sold the painting to Chesterfield cigarettes. Overnight Lucy was on billboards all over the city. She became the new Chesterfield girl, and with this break, a theatrical agent, Sylvia Hahlo, noticed her. Sylvia told Lucy Sam Goldwyn needed poster girls for his new movie “Roman Scandals” and had all the girls picked out, but had one drop out. Lucy was beyond excited, “Who do I see? Where do I go?” Within three days, Lucy was on her way to Hollywood to be in her first movie (Ball, 1996).

“Roman Scandals” was one of the United Artists biggest musicals of 1933 and being one of the Goldwyn Girls, Lucy was hired to play many small parts in movies. The parts were so small sometimes she didn’t even know what the movie was about or who was in it. After appearing in small parts of a few movies, Lucy was offered a contract with Columbia and she jumped at the opportunity. All the other young actresses didn’t want roles that were slapstick or involved any physical comedy, but Lucy went right for it. “When Eddie Cantor walked down the line to give each Goldwyn Girl the once-over, I made a special effort. I remembered a trick I’d seen Dorothy Gish do at Belmont racetrack. I tore up some small pieces of red crepe paper, wet them with my tongue and stuck them all over my bare arms and chest and face. When Mr. Cantor got to me his jaw dropped, his big eyes popped, and then he roared with laughter.” (Ball, 1996).

She got her first big role in 1935 with RKO in the movie “Roberta”. While filming the movie Lucy met Lela Rogers, mother of Ginger Rogers. She taught Lucy how to act and look like a star and how to treat agents and bosses. Lela got Lucy her first speaking role in “Top Hat”. Her next movie was “Follow the Fleet” then she got a second lead role in “The Girl from Paris”. Lucy always clowned around on set and Edward Sedgwick, a famous comedy director, told Lucy she could become one of the greatest comedians. Sedgwick taught her comedy techniques and how to handle props (Kanfer, 2003).

During Lucy’s final tour with Lela in 1937, she got a role in “Stage Door”. After the movie came out, a Hollywood producer’s wife said, “Who was that funny, tall girl in Stage Door?”(Ball, 1996). It was her first standout part and lead her to her next big movie, “Having a Wonderful Time” and became a huge hit at Radio City. That was when Lucy was first mentioned in the New York movie reviews. She became known as “Queen of B movies” and was cast in the Annabel series, “The Affairs of Annabel” and “Annabel Takes a Tour”. In 1939 Lucy was offered a small drama role in “Five Came Back” and was soon known for “A” movies and moving towards stardom.

Back in Hollywood, she co-starred in “Dance Girl Dance” and during the filming at a preproduction lunch for the cast of “Too Many Girls”, Lucy and Desi met. Lucy had said, “It was not love at first sight, it took five minutes.” (Ball, 1996). They were married in 1940 by Justice of the Peace at a Country Club in Greenwich, Connecticut and then returned to Hollywood (Kanfer, 2003). Desi recalled, “During that first year of our marriage, every time Lucy and I fought, I packed my clothes and moved to a Hollywood hotel. Once there, I unpacked, had my clothes pressed, made up with Lucy, repacked, went home and had to get my clothes pressed all over again!” (Ball, 1996).

Lucy appeared in “The Big Street”, her final role with RKO. Life Magazine commented, “Lucille Ball’s performance is superb-the girl can really act.” (Ball, 1996). She then moved to MGM where she changed her hair color from red to the well known “Tango Red” haired Lucy because of the technicolor films. They also changed her hair style of long and loose to “lacquered” which followed her for the rest of her life. Lucy’s first film with MGM was “Du Barry Was a Lady” followed by “Best Foot Forward”. She was then loaned out to 20th Century Fox and stared in “The Dark Corner”. Lucy soon left MGM and landed a contract with Columbia Pictures. She starred with Bob Hope in “Sorrowful Jones” and “Fancy Pants” While she was filming these movies, she began wondering if she wanted to be playing these roles and was thinking about radio. The movie industry wasn’t doing well. Movie theaters were being closed and more families stayed home to listen to the radio and watch television (Brady, 2001).

In 1950 CBS offered Lucy a radio show based on the book Mr. and Mrs. Cugat. She would take the offer only if her husband, Desi, could costar. CBS turned her down because they thought Desi was not the type to play a typical American husband. “But he is my husband, and I think it helps make a domestic comedy more believable when the audience knows the couple are actually married.” (Ball, 1996). So Lucy was teamed with Richard Denning in “My Favorite Husband”. She loved radio and found it a good way to make extra money. She was on the movie set during the day and taping the radio show at night. “My Favorite Husband” was recorded in front of a live audience and Lucy was hitting performance levels that she hadn’t in her other films. She was perfect in front of an audience. In 1953 she said, “I am a real ham. I love an audience. I work better with an audience. I am dead, in fact, without one.” (Lucille Ball Quotes).

With the success of the radio show, CBS started talking about making it into a television show. Lucy saw this as an opportunity to put her marriage with Desi and work together. She refused to do the show without Desi which CBS didn’t like. They thought it wasn’t believable to have an American house wife married to a Cuban. “Nobody could picture us as a couple.” (Ball, 1996). To get CBS to agree, Lucy and Desi created a partnership called Desilu Productions. In 1951 they made the pilot for I Love Lucy. NBC was interested in the couple and thought they made a good pair. CBS accepted and okayed the new television sitcom with Lucy and Desi.

On October 15, 1951, I Love Lucy aired for the first time on CBS and became an instant hit. Desilu made millions from the show and was the first to use three cameras to shoot a television show. They got the title of the show when Desi said, “She tries so hard...She can’t dance and she can’t sing...she’s earnest and pathetic...oh I love that Lucy!” (Ball, 1996). I Love Lucy was number one for almost the entire time it was on the air. The longest recorded laugh in history was from the episode “Lucy Does The Tango”. It was so long that the producers had to cut out half the laugh from the soundtrack and the actors had to ad-lib to make up for the time that was lost. During the production of “I Love Lucy”, together, Lucy and Desi stared in “The Long Long Trailer” and “Forever Darling”.

After six seasons of “I Love Lucy”, Lucy and Desi were still having marriage problems. They thought having the television series would help keep them together. During and even before “I Love Lucy”, with all the work they were doing they couldn’t spend much time together. “Desi and I communicated more by long distance than in person.” (Ball,1996). They decided to end the half hour “I Love Lucy” and created the “Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour”. It was the same idea as the half hour show, only they traveled more and went to places like Alaska and Japan. After filming the final episode of the hour long show in 1960, Lucy and Desi filed for divorce. They only hired one lawyer and it wasn’t an angry divorce, they just couldn’t be married to each other any longer. In 1971, Lucy was looking back on her marriage and said “I hate failure and that divorce was a number one failure in my eyes. Neither Desi or I have been the same since, physically or mentally.” (Lucille Ball Quotes).

Produced by Desi Arnaz for Desilu Productions, “The Lucy Show” started its rehearsals July 12, 1962. Lucy was reluctant to start a new show without Desi and had him produce the first few episodes. Lucy had Vivian Vance co-star. Vivian played Ethel Mertz in “I Love Lucy” and as Lucy said, “Viv and I were extraordinarily compatible. We fell in love with the first rehearsal”(Ball, 1996). Lucy and Vivian were best friends on and off screen. They had their troubles but while Lucy was going through her divorce, Vivian was also going through one. That really brought them closer together. In 1960, Lucy met Gary Morton in New York City, a few months before the opening of her play, “Wildcat”. They were married November 19, 1961, at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York. Gary was 13 years younger than Lucy but they remained marred until the day Lucy died. When Vivian was offered the role in “The Lucy Show” her only exception was she was to be called Viv and not Ethel. She hated when fans came up to her and called her Ethel Mertz. She had once said, “When I die, there will be people who send flowers to Ethel Mertz.” (Castelluccio, 1998).

Vivian hated being married to such an older man, Fred Mertz played by Bill Frawley, on “I Love Lucy”. Bill was twenty-two yeas older than she. Vivian and Bill absolutely despised each other from the day they met. The day Vivian found out Bill had died in 1966 she said, “Champagne for everyone!” Needless to say, Bill Frawley was not in the cast of “The Lucy Show”. Lucy played Lucy Carmichael, a widow with a son and daughter and Vivian played, Vivian Bagley, divorced with one son. Vivian retired after the third season to spend more time with her fourth husband John Dodds, and was written out of the show along with their children. Vivian Vance made a few appearances on “The Lucy Show” but was no longer a regular (Castelluccio, 1998). The show went on for four more years until the top ten rated show ended in 1967. Lucy changed the format of the show and created Here’s Lucy.

“Here’s Lucy” co-stared Lucy’s real children, Lucie and Desi Jr. It premiered on September 23, 1968. As Lucille Cater she was a single mother working for her Uncle Harry, Gale Gordon, who played her employer in “The Lucy Show” as well. Vivian Vance made appearances on this show as well. The Show ended in 1974 and Lucy didn’t want to retire from show business. She stared in the musical “Mame” in 1974, her final big screen performance. She went on doing Lucille Ball Specials on television and made an attempt at a new series “Life With Lucy” but was ended after eight episodes in 1986 due to bad ratings and getting worse each week.

Lucy and Vivian remained best friends until Vivian died, August 17, 1979. Vivian’s last television appearance was on a special “Lucy Calls the President” in 1977. During rehearsals one day, her face was twitching uncontrollably and Lucy was getting nervous, “Goddammit Viv, stop making that face!” She was rushed to the hospital and found she had bone cancer and suffered from a stroke that made her partially paralyzed. Her face was half paralyzed but Vivian insisted on finishing shooting the television special. Lucy changed the script around so Vivian would only have to show the good side of her face that wasn’t paralyzed. The day before Vivian died, Lucy went to visit her. She and Vivian remembered all their times together, good and bad. When Lucy left, she cried the entire way home knowing she would never see her best friend again. For the remaining ten years of Lucy’s life, she was heartbroken over Vivian’s death. If she was mentioned in an interview, Lucy would always tear up talking about her (Castelluccio, 1998).

On Tuesday, April 18,1989 Lucy started getting chest pains and her husband Gary, called an ambulance and she was rushed to the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She underwent bypass surgery for eight hours and received an aorta from a twenty-seven year old male victim of a motorcycle crash. By Wednesday, after fourteen hours of surgery, Lucy woke up and the first thing she said to Gary was, “How’s the dog doing?” Hollywood went crazy with get well wishes and across the street from the hospital, Hard Rock Cafe made a sign for Lucy to see from her window that said “Hard Rock Loves Lucy”. Everything was going fine, until suddenly without warning the aorta burst. On Wednesday, April 26, 1989, at 6AM Lucille Ball died at the age of seventy-seven (Kanfer, 2003).

It has been twenty-one years since Lucy died, but she is just as famous and well known today as she was in her day. She was loved by so many people. Sammy Davis Jr. made a speech to Lucy at the All Star party in her honor, “God wanted the world to laugh and he invented you Lucy, many are called but you were chosen.” One of Lucy’s best friends Carol Burnett was asked to describe her feelings about Lucille Ball, “If i could be anybody in the world i would like to be half the women she is.” She will always be loved and have a special place in our hearts.

 

 

Works Cited

Ball, Lucille. Love, Lucy. New York: Putnam, 1996. Print.

Brady, Kathleen. Lucille: the Life of Lucille Ball. New York: Hyperion, 1994. Print.

Castelluccio, Frank, and Alvin Walker. The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: the Life Story of Vivian Vance. Manchester, CT: Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, 1998. Print.

Kanfer, Stefan. Ball of Fire: the Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Print.

"Lucille Ball Trivia and Quotes on TV.com." TV.com - Free Full Episodes & Clips, Show Info and TV Listings Guide. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://www.tv.com/lucille-ball/person/10038/trivia.html>.

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I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one to use Lucy in college! She's gotten me a couple of A's myself! Mine weren't essays though; one was a power point. In the other I gave a speech as if I was presenting Lucy with a reward...the perks of being a theater major :)

 

 

I was a theatre major too!! Wrote mine for a class analyzing "stars and stardom"!

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I was a theatre major too!! Wrote mine for a class analyzing "stars and stardom"!

 

 

I'm just now seeing this! That's awesome! I don't really meet many theater majors; especially not any with a huge affection for Lucy! I mean everyone likes her (that's a given), they just don't seem to care as much as I do.

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Thats a really good essay! I did a biography of Lucy for college two semesters ago, which was my first college semester....

 

 

 

Lucille Ball

Her face has been seen by more people, more often then the face of any human being who lived. She was in seventy-two movies, over five hundred episodes of her own television series, nominated for thirty-two awards and won fifteen of them. Born Lucille Desiree Ball, daughter of Henry and Desiree Ball, on August 6,1911 at 5pm in Jamestown, New York. She had one brother, Fred, who was four years younger than she. Lucy’s father died before she turned four and with her mother working many jobs to earn a living, she and her brother lived with their grandparents (Ball,1996). She was always taking care of her little brother and cousin as a teenager and wanted to get out into the world. She entered a bathing beauty contest the summer after her sophomore year of high school and was told by the photographer, “It’s very difficult to get a satisfactory picture of Miss. Ball because the lady is just not photogenic.” (Ball, 1996). She went to a dramatic school and was soon expelled because she “didn’t have any talent” and was always being compared to her classmate, Bette Davis. Lucy was discouraged by this, but wasn’t going to give up. She was hired as a model for Hattie Carnegie’s and was discovered and chosen to be a Goldwyn Girl and to appear in her first picture, “Roman Scandals” in 1933 (Brady, 2001).

Lucy started modeling in 1929 for a small coat shop on Seventh Avenue in New York City. She went by the name Diane Belmont, which she got from the Belmont racetrack on Long Island. She soon moved on to a more well known dress shop called Hattie Carnegie’s and almost overnight she was among the rich society and celebrities. Lucy learned to move with grace and elegance by watching other women and analyzing what they wore and how they moved. She decided to bleach her hair after seeing Joan Bennett, a frequent customer at Hattie’s, who had platinum blonde hair. Lucy started to meet all the rich bachelors in town and got many proposals, but only being eighteen she refused them all (Brady, 2001)

With the stress of modeling, Lucy got very little sleep and wasn’t eating right and came down with pneumonia. She needed money for her medical expenses and went right to Hattie’s to make more money. While standing in a fitting room getting ready for a shoot, Lucy felt excruciating pains in both legs and went to the hospital to find she had rheumatoid arthritis. After treatments, she returned to Jamestown discouraged but while she was recovering, she was offered the job to play Aggie Lynch in the melodrama “Within The Law” for the Jamestown Players. She was seen as a true professional and re-encouraged, Lucy returned to New York City with her best friend, Marion Strong (Kanfer, 2003).

Lucy went right back to modeling and was hired by a first class clothing house, Jacksons, on Seventh Avenue. To earn extra money, she posed at night and on weekends for commercial illustrators. Ratterman, an artist, did an oil painting of Lucy wearing a borrowed chiffon dress and sold the painting to Chesterfield cigarettes. Overnight Lucy was on billboards all over the city. She became the new Chesterfield girl, and with this break, a theatrical agent, Sylvia Hahlo, noticed her. Sylvia told Lucy Sam Goldwyn needed poster girls for his new movie “Roman Scandals” and had all the girls picked out, but had one drop out. Lucy was beyond excited, “Who do I see? Where do I go?” Within three days, Lucy was on her way to Hollywood to be in her first movie (Ball, 1996).

“Roman Scandals” was one of the United Artists biggest musicals of 1933 and being one of the Goldwyn Girls, Lucy was hired to play many small parts in movies. The parts were so small sometimes she didn’t even know what the movie was about or who was in it. After appearing in small parts of a few movies, Lucy was offered a contract with Columbia and she jumped at the opportunity. All the other young actresses didn’t want roles that were slapstick or involved any physical comedy, but Lucy went right for it. “When Eddie Cantor walked down the line to give each Goldwyn Girl the once-over, I made a special effort. I remembered a trick I’d seen Dorothy Gish do at Belmont racetrack. I tore up some small pieces of red crepe paper, wet them with my tongue and stuck them all over my bare arms and chest and face. When Mr. Cantor got to me his jaw dropped, his big eyes popped, and then he roared with laughter.” (Ball, 1996).

She got her first big role in 1935 with RKO in the movie “Roberta”. While filming the movie Lucy met Lela Rogers, mother of Ginger Rogers. She taught Lucy how to act and look like a star and how to treat agents and bosses. Lela got Lucy her first speaking role in “Top Hat”. Her next movie was “Follow the Fleet” then she got a second lead role in “The Girl from Paris”. Lucy always clowned around on set and Edward Sedgwick, a famous comedy director, told Lucy she could become one of the greatest comedians. Sedgwick taught her comedy techniques and how to handle props (Kanfer, 2003).

During Lucy’s final tour with Lela in 1937, she got a role in “Stage Door”. After the movie came out, a Hollywood producer’s wife said, “Who was that funny, tall girl in Stage Door?”(Ball, 1996). It was her first standout part and lead her to her next big movie, “Having a Wonderful Time” and became a huge hit at Radio City. That was when Lucy was first mentioned in the New York movie reviews. She became known as “Queen of B movies” and was cast in the Annabel series, “The Affairs of Annabel” and “Annabel Takes a Tour”. In 1939 Lucy was offered a small drama role in “Five Came Back” and was soon known for “A” movies and moving towards stardom.

Back in Hollywood, she co-starred in “Dance Girl Dance” and during the filming at a preproduction lunch for the cast of “Too Many Girls”, Lucy and Desi met. Lucy had said, “It was not love at first sight, it took five minutes.” (Ball, 1996). They were married in 1940 by Justice of the Peace at a Country Club in Greenwich, Connecticut and then returned to Hollywood (Kanfer, 2003). Desi recalled, “During that first year of our marriage, every time Lucy and I fought, I packed my clothes and moved to a Hollywood hotel. Once there, I unpacked, had my clothes pressed, made up with Lucy, repacked, went home and had to get my clothes pressed all over again!” (Ball, 1996).

Lucy appeared in “The Big Street”, her final role with RKO. Life Magazine commented, “Lucille Ball’s performance is superb-the girl can really act.” (Ball, 1996). She then moved to MGM where she changed her hair color from red to the well known “Tango Red” haired Lucy because of the technicolor films. They also changed her hair style of long and loose to “lacquered” which followed her for the rest of her life. Lucy’s first film with MGM was “Du Barry Was a Lady” followed by “Best Foot Forward”. She was then loaned out to 20th Century Fox and stared in “The Dark Corner”. Lucy soon left MGM and landed a contract with Columbia Pictures. She starred with Bob Hope in “Sorrowful Jones” and “Fancy Pants” While she was filming these movies, she began wondering if she wanted to be playing these roles and was thinking about radio. The movie industry wasn’t doing well. Movie theaters were being closed and more families stayed home to listen to the radio and watch television (Brady, 2001).

In 1950 CBS offered Lucy a radio show based on the book Mr. and Mrs. Cugat. She would take the offer only if her husband, Desi, could costar. CBS turned her down because they thought Desi was not the type to play a typical American husband. “But he is my husband, and I think it helps make a domestic comedy more believable when the audience knows the couple are actually married.” (Ball, 1996). So Lucy was teamed with Richard Denning in “My Favorite Husband”. She loved radio and found it a good way to make extra money. She was on the movie set during the day and taping the radio show at night. “My Favorite Husband” was recorded in front of a live audience and Lucy was hitting performance levels that she hadn’t in her other films. She was perfect in front of an audience. In 1953 she said, “I am a real ham. I love an audience. I work better with an audience. I am dead, in fact, without one.” (Lucille Ball Quotes).

With the success of the radio show, CBS started talking about making it into a television show. Lucy saw this as an opportunity to put her marriage with Desi and work together. She refused to do the show without Desi which CBS didn’t like. They thought it wasn’t believable to have an American house wife married to a Cuban. “Nobody could picture us as a couple.” (Ball, 1996). To get CBS to agree, Lucy and Desi created a partnership called Desilu Productions. In 1951 they made the pilot for I Love Lucy. NBC was interested in the couple and thought they made a good pair. CBS accepted and okayed the new television sitcom with Lucy and Desi.

On October 15, 1951, I Love Lucy aired for the first time on CBS and became an instant hit. Desilu made millions from the show and was the first to use three cameras to shoot a television show. They got the title of the show when Desi said, “She tries so hard...She can’t dance and she can’t sing...she’s earnest and pathetic...oh I love that Lucy!” (Ball, 1996). I Love Lucy was number one for almost the entire time it was on the air. The longest recorded laugh in history was from the episode “Lucy Does The Tango”. It was so long that the producers had to cut out half the laugh from the soundtrack and the actors had to ad-lib to make up for the time that was lost. During the production of “I Love Lucy”, together, Lucy and Desi stared in “The Long Long Trailer” and “Forever Darling”.

After six seasons of “I Love Lucy”, Lucy and Desi were still having marriage problems. They thought having the television series would help keep them together. During and even before “I Love Lucy”, with all the work they were doing they couldn’t spend much time together. “Desi and I communicated more by long distance than in person.” (Ball,1996). They decided to end the half hour “I Love Lucy” and created the “Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour”. It was the same idea as the half hour show, only they traveled more and went to places like Alaska and Japan. After filming the final episode of the hour long show in 1960, Lucy and Desi filed for divorce. They only hired one lawyer and it wasn’t an angry divorce, they just couldn’t be married to each other any longer. In 1971, Lucy was looking back on her marriage and said “I hate failure and that divorce was a number one failure in my eyes. Neither Desi or I have been the same since, physically or mentally.” (Lucille Ball Quotes).

Produced by Desi Arnaz for Desilu Productions, “The Lucy Show” started its rehearsals July 12, 1962. Lucy was reluctant to start a new show without Desi and had him produce the first few episodes. Lucy had Vivian Vance co-star. Vivian played Ethel Mertz in “I Love Lucy” and as Lucy said, “Viv and I were extraordinarily compatible. We fell in love with the first rehearsal”(Ball, 1996). Lucy and Vivian were best friends on and off screen. They had their troubles but while Lucy was going through her divorce, Vivian was also going through one. That really brought them closer together. In 1960, Lucy met Gary Morton in New York City, a few months before the opening of her play, “Wildcat”. They were married November 19, 1961, at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York. Gary was 13 years younger than Lucy but they remained marred until the day Lucy died. When Vivian was offered the role in “The Lucy Show” her only exception was she was to be called Viv and not Ethel. She hated when fans came up to her and called her Ethel Mertz. She had once said, “When I die, there will be people who send flowers to Ethel Mertz.” (Castelluccio, 1998).

Vivian hated being married to such an older man, Fred Mertz played by Bill Frawley, on “I Love Lucy”. Bill was twenty-two yeas older than she. Vivian and Bill absolutely despised each other from the day they met. The day Vivian found out Bill had died in 1966 she said, “Champagne for everyone!” Needless to say, Bill Frawley was not in the cast of “The Lucy Show”. Lucy played Lucy Carmichael, a widow with a son and daughter and Vivian played, Vivian Bagley, divorced with one son. Vivian retired after the third season to spend more time with her fourth husband John Dodds, and was written out of the show along with their children. Vivian Vance made a few appearances on “The Lucy Show” but was no longer a regular (Castelluccio, 1998). The show went on for four more years until the top ten rated show ended in 1967. Lucy changed the format of the show and created Here’s Lucy.

“Here’s Lucy” co-stared Lucy’s real children, Lucie and Desi Jr. It premiered on September 23, 1968. As Lucille Cater she was a single mother working for her Uncle Harry, Gale Gordon, who played her employer in “The Lucy Show” as well. Vivian Vance made appearances on this show as well. The Show ended in 1974 and Lucy didn’t want to retire from show business. She stared in the musical “Mame” in 1974, her final big screen performance. She went on doing Lucille Ball Specials on television and made an attempt at a new series “Life With Lucy” but was ended after eight episodes in 1986 due to bad ratings and getting worse each week.

Lucy and Vivian remained best friends until Vivian died, August 17, 1979. Vivian’s last television appearance was on a special “Lucy Calls the President” in 1977. During rehearsals one day, her face was twitching uncontrollably and Lucy was getting nervous, “Goddammit Viv, stop making that face!” She was rushed to the hospital and found she had bone cancer and suffered from a stroke that made her partially paralyzed. Her face was half paralyzed but Vivian insisted on finishing shooting the television special. Lucy changed the script around so Vivian would only have to show the good side of her face that wasn’t paralyzed. The day before Vivian died, Lucy went to visit her. She and Vivian remembered all their times together, good and bad. When Lucy left, she cried the entire way home knowing she would never see her best friend again. For the remaining ten years of Lucy’s life, she was heartbroken over Vivian’s death. If she was mentioned in an interview, Lucy would always tear up talking about her (Castelluccio, 1998).

On Tuesday, April 18,1989 Lucy started getting chest pains and her husband Gary, called an ambulance and she was rushed to the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She underwent bypass surgery for eight hours and received an aorta from a twenty-seven year old male victim of a motorcycle crash. By Wednesday, after fourteen hours of surgery, Lucy woke up and the first thing she said to Gary was, “How’s the dog doing?” Hollywood went crazy with get well wishes and across the street from the hospital, Hard Rock Cafe made a sign for Lucy to see from her window that said “Hard Rock Loves Lucy”. Everything was going fine, until suddenly without warning the aorta burst. On Wednesday, April 26, 1989, at 6AM Lucille Ball died at the age of seventy-seven (Kanfer, 2003).

It has been twenty-one years since Lucy died, but she is just as famous and well known today as she was in her day. She was loved by so many people. Sammy Davis Jr. made a speech to Lucy at the All Star party in her honor, “God wanted the world to laugh and he invented you Lucy, many are called but you were chosen.” One of Lucy’s best friends Carol Burnett was asked to describe her feelings about Lucille Ball, “If i could be anybody in the world i would like to be half the women she is.” She will always be loved and have a special place in our hearts.

 

 

Works Cited

Ball, Lucille. Love, Lucy. New York: Putnam, 1996. Print.

Brady, Kathleen. Lucille: the Life of Lucille Ball. New York: Hyperion, 1994. Print.

Castelluccio, Frank, and Alvin Walker. The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: the Life Story of Vivian Vance. Manchester, CT: Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, 1998. Print.

Kanfer, Stefan. Ball of Fire: the Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Print.

"Lucille Ball Trivia and Quotes on TV.com." TV.com - Free Full Episodes & Clips, Show Info and TV Listings Guide. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. <http://www.tv.com/lucille-ball/person/10038/trivia.html>.

WOW, THAT WAS GREAT!

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Here is an essay I wrote on Lucille Ball for college last term:

 

LUCILLE BALL & “LUCY”: LIBERATION THROUGH COMEDY

 

 

Known to billions worldwide simply as “Lucy”, the scatterbrained character she played variations of on four different television shows spanning the 1950s through the 1980s, the Lucille Ball behind the camera “had one focus: hard work” (Bloom & Vlastnik, 170). She channeled her hard work into comedy, and created a comic persona that is as much loved today as it was 60 years ago. Paradoxically, “as a sixty-foot image on the screen, the actress was only a journeywoman performer; as a sixteen-inch TV image, she turned into a superstar” (Kanfer, Preface, x). With the help of husband Desi Arnaz, Ball changed the face of broadcast television and pioneered the role of women in the entertainment industry. Her real-life accolades and triumphs aside, the actions of her TV characters, however zany and humorous, speak to the desire some women felt for liberation from the patriarchal society of postwar America. Her most famous incarnation, Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy, was particularly in tune with this idea, constantly struggling to break into husband Ricky’s nightclub act and form her own career in show business. Media critic Gerard Jones argues that “Lucy Ricardo was less a feminist than an argument for why women needed feminists. What she had was just an insane desire to be noticed. Lucy demonstrated how much energy, how much ambition was being wasted by the early fifties ethos that women should be in the kitchen” (Finding Lucy, CBS). An analysis of her most memorable comedic scene, plus the underlying themes and lasting popularity of I Love Lucy and her subsequent sitcoms, will reveal what made Lucille Ball both a cultural icon and a truly unique performer who continues to entertain us to this day.

 

Although television is where Lucille Ball struck gold, it was hardly her first attempt to find her acting identity. Indeed, she cycled through movies, theatre and radio before taking the small screen by storm in 1951. As biographer Kathleen Brady notes, “Television was her medium, and really nothing else was. It took television, which required all her talents, her wonderful expressions, her physical gifts, to really bring her to flower” (Finding Lucy). Before the advent of television, however, Ball tried her hardest to hone her skills in the movies, appearing in sixty-five films by 1948. Earning the unofficial title “Queen of the B Pictures”, Lucille played everything from chorus girl to romantic heroine, cycling through four major movie studios throughout the 1930s and 40s. Her best film appearances were those that showcased her comedic ability, such as The Fuller Brush Girl and Miss Grant Takes Richmond, but it was not enough to make her a major movie star. In those days, “the gospel according to Goldwyn was clear: funny women don’t sell tickets, beautiful women do” (Finding Lucy). Lucille had the good fortune to be both funny and beautiful, but the stringent rules of the Hollywood studio system did not make many allowances for such duplicity: glamour girls were supposed to be beautiful, not funny. As Lucille’s good friend and occasional guest star Carol Burnett put it, “She didn’t have that opportunity [to be funny]. They didn’t give it to her, so she went out and got it” (Finding Lucy). With the strong success of her CBS radio comedy My Favorite Husband from 1948 to 1951, plus the burgeoning medium of television, Lucille saw a golden opportunity not only get to work with her husband, Desi Arnaz, but also to take her comedic training to another level.

 

Lucille’s radio program was her first opportunity to hone her comedic timing in front of a live studio audience. Her longtime writer Madelyn Pugh Davis says that “Lucy learned to play to the audience; she was used to doing movies, so it was kind of a new experience for her to say the gag and look out at the audience”. Kathleen Brady elaborated by stating “she came alive before a live audience, and developed the expressions that she used on I Love Lucy while doing her radio show” (Finding Lucy). Sensing a hit for television, CBS wanted Lucille and her co-star, Richard Denning, to take the program to the small screen, but Lucy would only do so if her real favourite husband, Desi, could do the show with her instead. Ball explained that she was anxious to work with Arnaz, as he was constantly on the road with his band, and working together would allow them to stay together. The resulting deliberations became legendary, with CBS insisting that the public would not buy an all-American girl being married to a Cuban bandleader. Eventually the Arnazes won out because, as Robert Osbourne succinctly put it, CBS “needed her more than they didn’t want Desi” (Finding Lucy).

 

Already, Lucille was showing more determination and grit than most women in Hollywood, and her insisting that Desi do the show with her was one of the smartest moves she could have made. As stated by Lucille’s brother, Fred Ball, “Lucille would never have succeeded the way that she did without Desi…He put this thing together technically, financially, emotionally…he’s the guy that made it work” (Finding Lucy). Indeed, it was “The Bongo Player” who developed the three camera method of shooting in front of a live audience, knowing that Lucille needed an audience to perform to. The Arnazes soon proved to CBS how wrong they had been. With the ideal casting of Vivian Vance and William Frawley as the Ricardo’s neighbours and landlords, the Mertzes, the archetypical sitcom was underway. With each week of filming, the I Love Lucy team “invented from whole cloth the wheel of situation comedy…it was a format so successful it is still in use today” (Finding Lucy). More importantly, with each week of filming, Lucille Ball continued to nurture and perfect her comedic ability, unknowingly cementing her legacy on the entertainment world.

 

Lucille Ball was the first female comedianne to live up to the glory of her male predecessors. As Media Studies Professor Lori Landay notes, “There weren’t a lot of female role models for someone like Lucille Ball. She had to look to the male comics”(Finding Lucy), particularly the Marx Brothers, Red Skelton, Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton. It had been Keaton who had given her a great deal of comedic training, and taught her the importance of props. Kathleen Brady states that it was Keaton who taught Ball “ to take comedy seriously…that her props were her tools. She really had to treat them as treasures” (Finding Lucy). If that is so, then no prop was a greater treasure to Lucille than the Vitametavegamin bottle that appeared in I Love Lucy episode no. 30, Lucy Does a TV Commercial. In that particular episode, the brilliance of Ball’s ability plus the main crux of the series were never more well articulated.

 

The premise was simple: Lucy learns that Ricky is going to be hosting a television show, and becomes eager to get into the act. Ricky answers her with a resounding “no!” Determined to be involved, she quietly lets go of the girl Ricky hired to do the sponsor’s commercial and takes the job herself, not knowing that the product in question is a high-alcohol health tonic, Vitamegavegamin. After rehearsing the commercial several times, Lucy is soon too drunk to stand up straight but carries on pitching the product, and inadvertently bungles Ricky’s big evening. This episode has consistently been ranked the number one I Love Lucy episode for years, and is declared such in the 2001 50th anniversary special aired on CBS. Author Geoffrey Mark Fidelman speaks for most Lucy fans by saying that this “is the penultimate Lucille Ball performance…[she] is perfect; there is not a wasted gesture or inflection. With each line and movement, she keeps topping herself in a never-ending crescendo of comedy” (The Lucy Book, pp. 46). Ball herself later commented on the episode‘s popularity: “I think that Vitametavegamin bit is the best thing I ever did. And one of the hardest. God, I was nervous! It really gratifies me to know the audience loves it so much, generation after generation” (46). What makes the scene so enduring is Lucy’s honesty: she is not messing up because she is inefficient or stupid, but because she gets drunk rehearsing the commercial too many times. Each time the director asked her to drink, she did. The audience laughs not at her, but with her, as Lucy Ricardo is having just as much fun selling the tonic as the audience is watching her! When she interrupts Ricky during his solo, she is very tanked but still innocent and charming, and Ricky carrying her offstage while she screams out her lines is a brilliant coda. As Ricky would later tell Lucy four years later in the episode Return Home from Europe, “Being married to you isn’t easy, but it sure is a lot of fun”. The sentiment applies to Vitametavegamin as well as almost every episode of I Love Lucy.

 

The obvious love and affection between Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, not to mention Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, remains one of I Love Lucy’s most appealing aspects. By the mid-1950s, the couple had become so popular they even played variations of Lucy and Ricky on the big screen twice, in MGM’s The Long, Long Trailer and Forever, Darling. On another level, however, the series also set the standard for female friendship for every sitcom to come. The interplay between Lucille Ball and co-star Vivian Vance had a chemistry and ease that is nearly impossible to duplicate. Although the two actresses may not have seen eye to eye at first (“You don’t look like a landlady”, Lucille reportedly quipped. “I want a dumpy, fat woman in a chenille bathrobe and furry slippers with curlers in her hair” (Castellucio & Walker, 152) ), Lucille and Vivian eventually formed a sisterly bond and professional relationship that translated to the small screen beautifully. Writer Madelyn Pugh Davis recalls: “Vivian was a perfect foil for Lucy, they played together beautifully. They had a real friendship, and it made it so much funnier. They would get mad at each other or something, then they’d feel terrible and cry and make up” (Finding Lucy). Vance’s Ethel Mertz was the older, more disenchanted of the two women, and was often happy to join in Lucy’s scheming in search of a vicarious thrill. Over the course of 180 episodes (plus the 13 hour long specials aired between 1958-1960), Lucy and Ethel constantly frustrated their husbands by challenging their domesticity, and would continue to tread new ground in their later series, but it was Lucy acting as instigator who pushed the most cultural buttons.

 

Lori Landay feels that Lucille Ball and her writers found occasions “for laughter and pleasure by creating comedy out of the constraints of the postwar feminine mystique” (Kanfer, 315). The character of Ricky Ricardo is fully aware of his wife’s burning desires, and of her scatterbrained antics that often prevent her from succeeding, which may be his primary reason for trying to keep her at home: for her safety and others. This could be a clever mask for keeping the illusion of the husband’s power over his wife, but then again, the Lucy character would undoubtedly not be as inclined to act out against Ricky if he let her have her way more often. Even though “Lucy Ricardo was conniving, sneaky, and downright criminal at times, she was still an innocent at heart, usually wanting nothing more than a new dress, an opportunity to perform in her husband’s nightclub act, or a chance to pick a grapefruit from Richard Widmark’s tree” (Bloom & Vlastnik, 170). There is also, as Lori Landay points out, the ironic paradox of art being at odds with life:

 

"How seriously can we take Ricky’s injunctions that his wife can’t be on television when Ball and Arnaz are a husband and wife on television? On one level, the show does what on another level it says shouldn’t happen. This contradiction illustrates the gap between the social experience of the women who were working in the public sphere and the ideology that attempted to contain them within domesticity. The series itself is a kind of trick that encourages the audience to participate in the attractive image of the stars’ happy marriage, a fiction representative of postwar behaviour and attitudes that obscures asymmetry in the sex-gender system" (Kanfer, 315).

 

In this sense, I Love Lucy illustrates through humour that times were changing, by acknowledging the domestic ideology and deliberately going against it practically every week (it is also interesting to note that I Love Lucy director William Asher later helmed another groundbreaking sitcom with feminist undertones, Bewitched). Biographer Stefan Kanfer notes that “onscreen [Lucy] protested that her status was nothing to quo about, but that was only so that she could do her Sisyphus routine, making a grand effort - and then falling back to the starting point to begin again next week” (317). However, even if Lucy Ricardo never found a permanent escape from domesticity, during the nine years I Love Lucy was on the air she met more celebrities and experienced more exciting and daring situations than most people do in a lifetime. In the end, it was not her domestic confinement that mattered, it was her willingness to try anything that was the spirit of Lucy Ricardo; indeed, the same could be said for Lucille Ball.

 

In 1960, the Ball/Arnaz marriage finally ended, as did I Love Lucy. Even though they had started the show to keep their marriage together, the pressures of doing their own show and running their own studio ultimately drove them apart. Two years later, Ball once again was breaking new ground on network television, this time carrying on without Desi. She started another sitcom with co-star Vivian Vance, The Lucy Show, and succeeded Desi Arnaz as President of Desilu Productions, the first female studio head since Mary Pickford. In order to differentiate the new series from the old one, both Ball and Vance‘s characters were renamed and made single. As Ball told Look Magazine, “We have to be [single], with so many of our old shows around we’d look like bigamists” (The Lucy Show: Collector’s Edition, Linear Notes). Ball played the widowed Lucy Carmichael raising her two children, sharing a house with divorced friend Vivian Bagley and her son. Not only were two single women depicted living together in the same home, but Vivian Bagley was television’s first divorced female character. Once again, Ball was pushing the boundaries for women in entertainment.

 

Gerard Jones feels that Lucy “was wise to keep Vivian Vance around. In some ways, that relationship gets almost deeper in the second show with the absence of Ricky and Fred. You really see a years long female friendship with mutual understanding that you almost never see on TV” (Finding Lucy). Even though Vance left the series in 1965 to spend more time at home with her new husband, she continued to make frequent guest appearances on The Lucy Show and the subsequent Here’s Lucy, so that by the time of their last joint appearance together in 1977‘s Lucy Calls the President, she and Lucy had “completed a circle of friendship that stretched over 25 years and almost 300 television shows” (Finding Lucy).

 

After Vance’s departure, Lucy never again had a full-time female co-star out of loyalty to Vance, and relied mostly on famous guest stars to fill in the blanks, actors who only appeared on television because of Lucille. Her only remaining constant was character actor Gale Gordon, playing pompous, grouchy Mr. Mooney on The Lucy Show and pompous, grouchy Uncle Harry on Here’s Lucy. Ball, fiercely loyal to those she admired, adored Gordon, and their interplay as hot-headed boss vs. ditzy secretary is one of television’s most memorable friendly feuds. These later episodes often addressed the different views the characters held about money, as Mooney controlled Lucy’s trust fund while Uncle Harry paid her salary. This gave the Lucy character, like Lucy Ricardo, an undeniable dependence on a male superior. Lucy Carmichael (The Lucy Show) and Lucy Carter (Here‘s Lucy), however, had one thing Lucy Ricardo did not: a steady job. Although the character remained as scatterbrained as ever, Lucy’s shows did keep up with the times, and her character was now a single working woman, setting the scene for the upcoming That Girl and Mary Tyler Moore shows. By the end of Here’s Lucy in 1974, “Lucille Ball…existed in two time periods, in black-and-white and color, with Desi and without him - television’s first schizoid super-star” (Kanfer, 268). From 1951 to 1974, Lucille reigned as the First Lady of Television, a record she still holds.

 

All good things must eventually end, and while Lucy’s reruns could go on forever, Ball herself could not. She tried once more in 1986’s Life With Lucy at the age of 75. As Emily Daniels, wife of Life With Lucy director Marc Daniels recalls: “On the final series she was a grandmother, but she still had to behave the way she had when she was Lucy in the first year, and it just didn’t go…I just knew it was an omen of what was coming…which was the end of her career” (Finding Lucy). Physical comedy is difficult enough for young women, let alone those more than three-score and ten. Robert Osbourne shrewdly addressed the situation: “All she wanted to do was work as an actress, and all the public would ever buy her in was Lucy. And then it came that they wouldn’t buy her as Lucy, and then that was the tragedy of her life” (Finding Lucy). Although the public could no longer buy the present Lucy as “Lucy”, the “Lucy” still seen in reruns was as popular as ever. In 1989, shortly after Lucille‘s death, her legacy grew even stronger, and most amazingly of all, “each year she has grown in significance and popularity”, suffering no decline in reputation (Kanfer, Preface, ix). The apotheosis had begun, sealing Lucille’s unique fate on the impact of entertainment.

 

Lucille Ball’s career spanned every form of mass entertainment of her time, yet it was not in trusted, reliable mediums that she made her mark; it was in the brand new medium of television that she made her biggest impact, she and Desi Arnaz revolutionizing an entirely new way for audiences to look at commercial entertainment. Countless before and after her have come and gone, yet Lucy remains constant. Stefan Kanfer argues her longevity is due not just to her comedy, but being black-and-white: “There is something incompatible about humor and colour; the palette calls attention to itself, instead of to the jokes” (318). Lucille’s hair may have been flaming red, and was indeed visible to audiences on her later programs, but audiences do not need to see the colour of her hair to see the fiery spark present in Lucille Ball. Lucy Ricardo makes herself accessible to all because “her ability to create possibility where others would only recognize restraint, and her untiring optimism that this time her scheme will succeed, above all, keep [her]…alive and at the centre of our popular culture.” Feminist or not, Lucy speaks to the sense of adventure in all of us, the idea that if we take chances no matter what obstacles may be in our way, we just might have a chance to be in the show.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Bloom, Ken, and Frank Vlastnik. "I Love Lucy." Sitcoms: the 101 Greatest TV Comedies of All Time. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007. Print.

 

Castelluccio, Frank, and Alvin Walker. The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: the Life Story of Vivian Vance. Manchester, CT: Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, 1998. Print.

 

Daniels, Marc, dir. "Lucy Does a TV Commercial." I Love Lucy. CBS. 5 May 1952. Television.

 

Fidelman, Geoffrey Mark. The Lucy Book: a Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television. Los Angeles: Renaissance, 1999. Print.

 

Finding Lucy. Dir. Pamela Mason Wagner. CBS Paramount, 2001. Videocassette.

 

The Funny World of Lucy Volumes 1 & 2. Prod. Paul Harris and Sandy Oliveri. Goodtimes Home Video, 1993. DVD.

 

Kanfer, Stefan. Ball of Fire: the Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball.

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Print.

 

The Lucy Show: Collector's Edition. Dir. Jack Donohue. Perf. Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Gale Gordon. Columbia House, 1997. Videocassette.

JUST EXCELLENT!

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