Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lucille Ball's 100th Birthday!

Even though Lucille Ball died in 1989 I couldn't let August 6th go by without paying tribute to the legend with flaming red hair.

Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY in 1911. In the late 1920's her mother sent her to the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City where she was classmates with Bette Davis. But she was sent home just a few weeks later and told she had no future as a performer because she was too shy. Pure idiocy on their part! She moved back to New York to prove she could make something of herself but only seemed to get some modeling jobs. She moved to Hollywood after being fired by numerous theater companies. In Hollywood she was signed to RKO Radio Pictures. She had mostly small roles and many background appearances in Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire films like Top Hat (1935) and Roberta(1935). She and Ginger Rogers were distant maternal cousins. Lucille got some notice with small roles in films like Follow the Fleet (1936), which was another Astaire and Rogers film, and Stage Door (1937). She was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940's but never gained the fame she desired from those films. In 1940 she met her future husband Desi Arnaz on the set of the film Too Many Girls.

In 1950 the couple formed their own production company Desilu Productions which was home to shows like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Mission Impossible, Star Trek, and many more. Lucille was the first woman to head a production company, Desilu, and Desilu Productions was the first company to film in front of live studio audiences as well as use adjacent sets. In 1951 the first episode of I Love Lucy aired and the bar had been set. No show on TV could capture audiences quite like Lucy's slapstick goofiness, Desi's babbling in Spanish, or Fred and Ethel Mertzes sarcasm. Instead of being Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on the show they were Ricky and Lucy Ricardo and their lovable neighbors the Mertzes were played by Vivian Vance (who would later costar on The Lucy Show) and William Frawley. For it's first four seasons the show was the most watched show in America and won five Emmy Awards throughout it's run. It lasted for six seasons ending in 1957. Most people would have to agree whether they liked the show or not that it defined a generation and changed comedy forever.

After she and Desi Arnaz divorced in 1960 she began her next series The Lucy Show which aired from 1962-1968 and Here's Lucy (1968-1974). She also starred in films like Yours Mine and Ours (1968) with Henry Fonda and Mame (1974). For just about her entire adult life she worked herself to the bone and became an icon in entertainment as well as for women advancing themselves. If there had never been an I Love Lucy there might never have been a Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) or Julia (1968-1971) for that matter. She showed me that being funny can make anybody around you comfortable. She also made the world realize that female comedians were about to become as mainstream as Bob Hope or Jerry Lewis. She didn't care if the world wasn't used to funny women or pregnant women on television. Ready or not she did her thing and people started to loosen up and open their minds.

        Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers on the set of Follow the Fleet (1936)

                              Gene Kelly and Lucille in Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)

                                   Lucille Ball and Bob Hope in Fancy Pants (1950)

                                 Lucy and Desi Arnaz on the set of I Love Lucy

                                   The Ricardos and The Mertzes in I Love Lucy

   Lucy and Desi on the set of the famous "Grape Stomp" episode of I Love Lucy.

                                                      Lucy and Harp Marx

           Lucy, Desi , and their two children Desi Jr. and Lucie

                     Lucy and Vivian Vance on the set of The Lucy Show

                      Lucy and Desi outside of Desilu Studios in California

                               Still looking divine in middle life

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