She was named Lucille Désirée Ball at birth, used the stage name Diane Belmont, married an Arnaz and a Morton but the only name we really need? Lucy. To talk about her life from its roots in upstate New York to her legacy as an American icon–we’re going to need a couple episodes.
Lucille was born on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, NY to Henry and Désirée Ball who quickly moved her to Montana and then Michigan where Henry found work. But by age five her father had died and her mother took her back to Jamestown right before her little brother, Fred was born. She had a bit of a bounce-around childhood: some of the time she lived with her maternal grandparents, some with her step-grandparents and some of it in a big multi-generational house with her mom, step-dad, brother, aunt, cousin and grandfather.
Lucille started her long climb to stardom with teenage years as a bobbed-wild girl, a quick, failed trip to a New York City drama school and attempts at live theater and chorus lines. She finally found her people (and steady work) as a dress model for Hattie Carnegie in New York City.
A high profile job as a cigarette ad model led to her first step on the ladder of success in Hollywood! Her six- week contract as a showgirl morphed to six months then a year. While she always considered the Jamestown area ” home” she was able to move her family to the sunshine of California.
Of course we go into a lot more detail in the show- her Adventures in Hair Color, her successful steps forward and her crushing steps backward, her family dynamics, people who gave her a boost up the ladder, and little bits of trivia along the way. Lucille’s was no overnight stardom story–she worked HARD and SMART for years and took as many jobs as she could, learning and honing her comedic and acting skills along the way.
Speaking of not paying one’s dues…although Lucille had dated (for networking or fun…who are we to judge? But we do talk about it) nothing prepared her for the whirlwind and electric romance with a young, new-to-show-business Cuban musician with a flashy smile and big personality named Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III–“Desi” for short. “Lucy” was his nickname for Lucille and passion, in all it’s incarnations, ruled their relationship. In no time they had eloped and settled into married life.
And separated life.
And almost divorced life.
And, many times, reconciliation life.
Lucille’s career went up, then down…until a stint on a very popular radio show led to a chance at a CBS TV show for her. But she wanted to work with Desi (heck, she wanted to know where Desi was all the time.) CBS said America wouldn’t believe an interracial couple were really married (uh, duh? They had been married for almost 10 years. America can’t be that dumb.) (Don’t answer that.)
The two came up with a strategy to prove that America would not only believe they were a couple (the easy part) but they would adore and be highly entertained by them (the trickier part.) While they were creating that environment across the country in live shows, they were also trying to create a family. And, because this is how life works out, Lucille gave birth shortly after they filmed the pilot for I Love Lucy, to their first child, Lucie Désirée Arnaz (creative with the names, right?)
Movie career- check!
Marriage and family-check!
Launch herself into history? Come back for Part Two and we’ll talk about all that.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
Most of the media recommendations will be on the shownotes for Part Two, but we thought you might enjoy these that are relevant to Part One:
The ranch house with the coveted orange and avocado trees is no more…but this post on the San Fernando Valley blog has a very thorough search for it and a TON of pictures that you’re going to want to see.
And here is the original pilot, it didn’t air but sold the show to Phillip Morris and proved that–oh. shock.– they are believable as a married couple and funny as all heck.
And Lucille singing and dancing just after she met Desi, in Dance, Girl,Dance
And the fight scene we talked about! See you again in Part, Two!