Lucille Ball, of course, is known for her iconic role as Lucy on the much-loved TV show I Love Lucy. But aside from her acting, Ball was also a child prodigy and an accomplished studio executive. At a young age, Lucille followed her gut instinct and chose to act, breaking into the local theaters before her big move to Hollywood.
The Star of the Show
After I Love Lucy became a hit, Lucy and Desi opened their first production company, called Desilu, which would eventually release films such as Mission Impossible. In addition to her professional, entertainment-related accomplishments, Lucille Ball was also a devoted and talented gardener.
Desi Arnaz was an immigrant, and he migrated with his family to the United States after fleeing Cuba. They lived in Miami, eventually settling near Tampa, where Desi Arnaz went on to attend school and learn English.
He initially got involved in show business in order to support himself, and then went to Hollywood, where he would meet his wife Lucille Ball. Arnaz even spent time in the military, after being drafted. Due to a knee injury, he spent most of that time working at a USO in California. After the military, he turned to music, forming his first orchestra.
Stick to the Script
Lucille Ball was a perfectionist. I Love Lucy, known for Ball’s goofy antics and clever quips, was a huge success due to its humor. Although Ball was a seasoned actress and comedian, the show was meticulously written, with no ad-libbing. Lucille read from cue cards during every episode, as did most of the cast.
Desi Arnaz, though difficult to understand sometimes, was so good at memorization, he rarely needed to utilize the cards. The show was also filmed in order of scenes, from beginning to end, so episodes were recorded quickly. Ball confirmed this, stating that they never had to ad-lib because “it was there.”
Larry and Lucy?
When the show was first developed, writers toyed with the idea of renaming Desi to be named Larry instead. While they thought this name flowed better, the intentional alliteration was too much for them. They decided that Lucille would be Lucy, and Desi would just be Ricky, rather than having a cutesy way of naming the couple.
The show went on without a hitch, and Lucy and Ricky became household names. And funnily enough, when Lucy and Desi started a family, they named their daughter Lucy, and their son, Desi, Jr. They loved their names just as much as the American public did, it would seem.
Lucy and Desi
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were Hollywood celebrities, and at the beginning of I Love Lucy, writers hoped that the show could reflect their exciting lives in real life. However, Ball and Arnaz agreed that their audience wouldn’t relate or empathize with the Hollywood Lucy and Desi, so they decided to make their characters working class.
Because of this, the pair opted for real life situations and exaggerated ones, such as Lucy’s eccentric wine-making scene and Ricky’s frequent outbursts. It turned out that the couple was right, as I Love Lucy became one of the most iconic and beloved sitcoms of all time.
Lucille Ball wasn’t always a redhead, though she’s known for it now. When Lucy still came to Hollywood, she had her natural brown hair. Hoping to make it big in California, Lucy dyed her hair a pretty blonde color. She didn’t trade it in for red until she needed to for a film and then she stuck with the vibrant shade.
It differentiated her as an actress, similar to how Debra Messing, star of Will and Grace, decided to stand out. Messing, often compared to Ball, also wasn’t a natural redhead and dyed her hair on the recommendation of her agent.
Fred and Ethel
The famous cranky couple, Fred and Ethel, did not get along at all. There was a significant age gap between the two, over twenty years, so the duo already had their differences. William Frawley, who played their landlord, Fred, actually struggled with alcoholism in real life. You can sometimes see his hands shaking in up-close scenes.
Frawley’s alcoholism, doubled with the fact that Vivian Vance resented their age difference resulted in a lot of friction in their onscreen relationship. However, this helped the pair play off each other quite well. The two were supposed to have the essence of an old married couple, and their disdain of the other contributed to the authenticity of that.
Lucille Ball made history as the first actual pregnant woman shown on television. Ever. Crazy, right? Instead of hiding the pregnancy, as many television shows have done and continue to do, it was written into the script.
In real life, Ball was pregnant with their second child, Desi Jr., but on the show, it was Ricky and Lucy’s first baby. The episodes that depicted Lucy as pregnant had to be worded very carefully, as not to offend a ’50s television audience. The episode where Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky was one of the most popular, with about 44 million viewers.
I Heart Lucy
The opening credits for I Love Lucy is one of the most iconic parts of the show and this part of the show was actually inspired by a gift that Desi Arnaz gave to Lucy. For her 29th birthday, Desi gave Lucy his first gift to her, a diamond heart-shaped watch. The heart shape inspired the credits.
Lucy was apparently a fan of diamonds, as Desi later got her a 40 karat diamond ring. This ring was stolen during a trip to New York. We can assume if that had happened before the opening credits were created, they may not have decided to go this route. However, even though this is a bit of a sad story, it makes for some interesting behind-the-scenes info nonetheless.
I Love Lucy made a lot of history, including showcasing a multi-racial marriage. Even though this show first aired only a few decades ago, it was a very different world. A multi-racial marriage was something that would cause someone to do a double take in the street.
Because of this, at first, the network didn’t think this would resonate with viewers as Desi was “a foreigner.” When the series aired, however, the writers took full advantage of Arnaz’s ethnicity, often writing outlandish scenes and over the top reactions to his wife’s loveable antics. His trademark lines, including “Luuuuuuuuuucy!” are still quoted.
A Difficult Love
They may have played it off on screen, but Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had a difficult marriage. Arnaz was a womanizer and he did like to party, which (for obvious reasons) got in the way of his relationship with Ball.
The day after the series ended, Ball filed for a divorce. She remarried, and so did Arnaz, but his was short lived. At the end of his life, Arnaz said that Ball was the love of his life. The day before he passed away of lung cancer, Ball spoke to him, as they still had a very close relationship.
New York, New York
Desi was quite an innovator when it came to how the show was filmed. Although most shows were filmed in New York at the time, Desi and Lucy did not have any desire to relocate to The Big Apple. Instead, they insisted that they remain in Los Angeles.
In order to sway the network, Arnaz suggested that they use three cameras to film the show, which had never been done before. He enlisted the assistance of cinematographer Karl Freund, who helped Desi construct a set. Arnaz also negotiated that Desilu Productions take ownership over the show, in exchange for lower salaries for him and Ball.
Age Is Just a Number
While William Frawley by far, was the oldest cast member, Lucille Ball did not make it big until after her 40th Birthday. This also made Ball so beloved by fans of all ages, as she was a seasoned actress and a full-grown, ambitious woman. Often, the most popular stars are young.
Ball was confident in her own skin and did not place some strange value on “anti-aging” like so many people do. Ball, not obsessed with her looks, was extremely intelligent and used her goofiness to her advantage. Desi Arnaz was four years younger than Lucille Ball, and Vivian Vance, who apparently lied about her age, was actually a few years older than she advertised.
Lucy and Ethel
Lucille and Vivian, who played Lucy and Ethel, seemed chummy on screen, and in real life, they were very close friends. Desi Arnaz actually hired Vivian Vance before consulting Lucy, as they were in a bind to fill her role.
Luckily, the two women hit of off immediately and became life long friends on and off the show. After I Love Lucy wrapped, the two went on to start together on the series The Lucy Show. The only pair on screen that didn’t get along in real life were Fred (William Frawley) and Vance, who thought she was too young to play his wife.
A Role Model
One of the reasons Lucille Ball was and still is so beloved was her uncanny ability to master physical comedy, something not a skill that a lot of female actresses embraced during those times. In fact, this type of comedy is something that is still dominated by men in the industry, although that is changing slowly but surely.
Ball is still known for some of her best on-screen stunts, such as the knife-throwing, the stomping of the grapes into wine, and shoving candies into her mouth along with Vivian Vance. Her silly, lighthearted nature made her an immediate role model to young girls and women the same.
Of Such Great Heights
Desi Arnaz often reported that his height was 5’11”; however, it is now known that he was actually only 5’9”. In order to seem taller next to his statuesque wife, Arnaz wore lifts in his shoes. He also had a lift in the sofa, to give him the appearance of a taller man.
Though it probably wouldn’t have mattered to viewers, who already looked beyond his race (taboo at the time), Arnaz was a prideful man who didn’t want to be perceived as short. He feared that the difference in height would make him seem less masculine and weaker, next to the energetic Lucille.
I’ve Got You, Babe
Although Lucy and Desi didn’t last forever, the two shared a very special bond that brought them through the duration of I Love Lucy. They constantly stood up for each other, with Lucy once refusing to write in a plotline where Ricky Ricardo cheated on his taxes.
The two also agreed to take pay cuts to help the show. When the two eventually split, they didn’t hire a lawyer to litigate and even were civil to each other’s new spouses. They even amicably split up their production studio, Desilu Productions, without any drama. Lucy took over as CEO in 1962.
Like we mentioned earlier, Ball was a comedic legend, mostly for her outlandish physical stunts and scenes. She once laughed along with Harpo Marx, and kept up with him, when he guest-starred on the program. In her famous grape-stomping scene, she got so into it, she actually almost injured herself.
Many have been injured from drinking wine, but it is slightly less common to get injured from making it. The woman she was working with accidentally held Lucy down for too long, making it difficult for Ball to breathe. Regardless of what the scene called for, Ball was always professional, confident and prepared.
During more awkward and difficult scenes, such as the Vitameatavegamin commercial, or the famous chocolates in the mouth stuffing scene, Ball still pulled them off seamlessly. In fact, she prided herself with perfect delivery, doing uncomfortable scenes more than once in order to get them right.
Lucille Ball even played drunk convincingly, as can be seen in the fake commercial for the medicine; it was unbeknownst to the character Lucy that it had a high alcohol content. Again, she did some wonderful physical comedy in this episode that showcased her ability to make people laugh in a way that was uncommon for women at that time.
A Timeless Classic
I Love Lucy, while beloved during its time, has continued to enchant old fans and new audiences alike. Lucy ran for six seasons, always maintaining the #1 spot in the Nielsen ratings. Beyond shows such as Seinfeld, television has never seen such an instant hit, that still inspires Halloween costumes, skits, specials, and the collecting of Lucy memorabilia.
It is definitely more than safe to say that even though the show is decades old, and the cast is long gone, that the allure of I Love Lucy is here to stay. It broke through many molds, was the first in so many respects, and most importantly, it was just plain funny.
The Resemblance Is… Uncanny
Lucy’s hometown of Celoron, New York, is understandably proud of her. And as many towns do for celebrity citizens, they honored her with a statue in her likeness. The statue, created by artist Dave Poulin, depicts Lucy in her famous “Vitameatavegamin” performance. It sat on display beginning in 2009.
There’s just one problem. The statue was called “scary” and “nightmarish” by many people…. and it really was, even earning the nickname “Scary Lucy.” On August 6, 2016, which would have been Ball’s 105th birthday, a new statue was unveiled. The new one is a much closer resemblance.