A Tribute to Lucille Ball
Lucille Ball was unquestionably the biggest female television star of her time. At one point, an unprecedented two-thirds of the TV sets in America were regularly tuned to I Love Lucy on Monday nights. But she had a long movie career even before that happened, appearing in about 75 films from 1929 to 1949, mostly in bit or supporting parts. She was a Ziegfeld Girl and a Goldwyn Girl, and yet she rose from the crowd of leggy starlets to become the first woman to own a film studio.
She was born Lucille Desiree Ball in Jamestown, New York, on August 6, 1911. Like many other stars, she had a rough childhood, but was determined to be somebody. She attended the same New York drama school as Bette Davis, but didn’t stick. Modeling led her to be a Goldwyn Girl in 1933. She made her film debut that same year in Roman Scandals, and became a contract player at RKO, working her way up from bit parts to B picture starring roles, and even supporting roles in good films such as Stage Door with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers in 1937. She met Desi while making Too Many Girls in 1940, marrying him in November of that same year. After appearing in several MGM films like Best Foot Forward and Du Barry Was a Lady, both in 1943, she took the job that would lead to her biggest triumph, playing a banker’s wife in the radio show My Favorite Husband in 1948. When CBS decided to make a TV series out of it in 1950, she got them to cast Desi as her husband. The two of them got the creative rights to the show, and the rest is history.
It’s impossible to underestimate Lucille Ball’s importance to the new communications medium. Because of her background in Hollywood, she was able to attract both on-screen and off-screen talent to her show, including Karl Freund, the cinematographer for Metropolis (1926) and Oscar-winner for The Good Earth (1937). Freund was partly responsible for their use of film on the show, as well as the 3-camera technique later used in films by Hitchcock. On the other side of the camera, Lucy was able to convince Hollywood actors and actresses to appear on her program, in spite of the movies’ hostility toward television, making it easier for other stars to make the transition.
Lucy returned to film after her successes on TV, but didn’t have the same impact. But even in spite of films like Mame, her fans continued to love her, judging by all the Web sites dedicated to her that you’ll find on Part II of this article. I hope you enjoy it.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find Her Movies
Part IV: Books, Photos, Art, and Posters