August 6, 1911– Lucille Ball:
“The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”
Thought of as a dizzy sitcom redhead with big showbiz aspirations, Lucille Ball was, in fact, an industry powerhouse, a television pioneer, a Gay Icon, a Feminist Icon and not really a redhead. She was noted for her impeccable comic timing, deft pantomime abilities and an endearing talent for making the outrageous believable.
While filming the musical Too Many Girls (1940), Ball met and fell madly in love with a young Cuban actor/musician named Desi Arnaz. Despite different backgrounds, personalities, lifestyles, religions and ages (he was six years younger), the couple had a passionate romance and they eloped in 1940.
Lucy soon switched to MGM, where she got better roles in films in a series of musicals, but she never seemed to move from actor to movie star.
“I never cared about the movies because they cast me wrong.”
In 1948, because the money was too good to pass-up, she took a starring role in the radio comedy My Favorite Husband, where she played the scatterbrained wife of a Midwestern banker.
In 1950, CBS offered to turn it into a television series, but Ball insisted that they also hire her husband. CBS executives objected, saying that the public would never accept the team of an American redhead and a Cuban bandleader with a heavy accent. To prove them wrong, Ball and Arnaz went on a nationwide vaudeville tour with a 20-minute act. They produced a 30-minute pilot with their own money. CBS brass were won over. They even convinced the network to sign over the rights and creative control of the series to them, and work began on the most popular and universally beloved sitcom of all time.
I Love Lucy premiered on October 15, 1951, and within a few months millions of Americans tuned in every Monday evening to watch the zany antics of the Ricardos and their best friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz, played to perfection by William Frawley and Vivian Vance.
It was one of the first shows to be filmed rather than performed live, making it possible to get a high-quality print of each episode for rebroadcast, compared with the poor-quality kinescopes of the era. This change eventually led to a general shift of television production from New York City to Hollywood. I Love Lucy was also one the first shows to be filmed before an audience. Ball and her Cuban husband pioneered the three-camera technique of filming sitcoms (the standard for decades), and the concept of syndicating television programs. As head of Desilu Studios, Ball became the first woman to own her own film studio.
In the episode Lucy Goes To The Hospital, Lucy Ricardo gives birth to her son, Little Ricky, after a predictably nutty sequence of events. Twelve hours before the broadcast, Ball gave birth to Desi Arnaz, Jr, although the episode had been filmed two months earlier. It was an unprecedented pairing of a fictional pregnancy with the real-life pregnancy of an actor; real-time pregnancy had never been depicted on American television. When the episode premiered on January 19, 1953, 72% of all American homes with television sets tuned in. It received higher ratings than the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower the next day. The script had to be reviewed by a rabbi, a minister, and a priest to make sure it would not be offensive. The sex of the baby was kept secret until the episode aired. When Ball actually had a boy as Lucy did in the script, headlines proclaimed: “Lucy sticks to script: a boy it is!”
I Love Lucy was the Number One show in the nation, but the couple sought a less demanding schedule and ended the series in 1957 after 179 episodes. For three more years they produced hour long, high-budget, around-the-world specials titled The Luci-Desi Comedy Hour. Their collaboration ended with their divorce in 1960.
Two years after the divorce, Ball revived the character of “Lucy”, playing a widow in The Lucy Show until 1968, then did Here’s Lucy from 1968 to 1974. In these two series, Ball was joined by her two children Lucie Arnaz and Desi Jr, Vance and Gale Gordon, who succeeded Desi Arnaz as her main foil. Ball always sought superior writers, followed their advice, and paid close attention to production details.
Ball was not just one of the great comic actors of television, and powerhouse in the biz, she was also a supporter of Gay Rights. In an especially candid interview for People in 1980, an era when LGBTQ characters were not often depicted on television, she was asked how she felt about the burgeoning Gay Rights Movement, Ball answered:
“It’s perfectly all right with me. Some of the most gifted people I’ve ever met or read about are homosexual. How can you knock it?”
It was reported that she was surprised and delighted to find out that a gay bar in West Hollywood played I Love Lucy episodes on video monitors.
Dick Cavett is a television personality, actor and talk show host known for his conversational style and in-depth conversations with notables from the worlds of entertainment, politics, publishing and sports. He appeared regularly on television for five consecutive decades, from the 1960s through the 2000s. Cavett has been nominated for at least 10 Emmy Awards and has won three.
The Dick Cavett Show was the title of several of his talk shows on various television networks. From 1969 to 1975 it was aired on ABC late night. Lucille Ball appeared on an episode on March 9, 1971 along with her daughter Lucie Arnaz and another famous redhead Carol Burnett. Ball would also appear on his first CBS variety show, also titled The Dick Cavett Show in 1975.
On the 1971 show, Cavett introduced Ball by noting that I Love Lucy can be seen four times a day in New York City, plus her current series Here’s Lucy (1968 -1974) is on Monday nights on CBS. He adds that she has also done 76 motion pictures.
Discussing Roman Scandals (1933), Ball says she still has the g-string, but not the wig that she wore. Cavett adds that the near nudity was arousing to him as a young boy. I don’t know how I feel about young Cavett having a boner for Ball.
Ball told him that she was fond of gambling game on https://www.cambridgeshiremencap.co.uk/, but she said the thrill was gone once she had real money. Ball and Cavett bonded over their Scottish / English heritage.
Ball recalled that as a young model she pretended to be from Butte, Montana, instead of her hometown Jamestown, New York, just to sound more interesting, but she said that she now loves Jamestown.
Cavett (of Jamestown): “Is there a plaque there someplace?”
Ball: “No, a plot. They have a hulluva cemetery.”
Curiously, after she left this world in 1987, Ball was first buried at Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills. In 2002, she was moved to the family plot in Jamestown. Today the upstate New York town is defined by being Ball’s birthplace, with numerous plaques, murals, and that horrible statue.
After a commercial break, Ball recounted, with some little embellishments, the plot of one of her favorite episodes of I Love Lucy: Lucy’s Italian Movie. She talked about casting the “stocky” Italian women to play Lucy Ricardo’s fellow grape-stompers. According to Lucy, the women spoke no English and had to be directed via a translator, and that the other woman in the vat was a real grape-stomper from Napa Valley when she was actually Teresa Tirelli D’Amico, an opera singer.
Ball: (about her grape-stomping partner): “She was half a ton!” She told of how the fight with Tirelli in the vat got out of hand and she was held under so long she thought she might drown. Ball:
To drown in a vat of grapes was not the way I had planned to go.
Cavett asked Ball about her son Desi Arnaz Jr.’s “somewhat Playboy existence”. She says that it does worry her, but he is learning fast. Her son had an affair with Liza Minnelli (she was seven years older) that was fodder for tabloid gossip due to their age difference. Ball:
Yes, it bothers me. But I, too, love Liza. I miss Liza more than he does. But you can’t domesticate Liza.
Finally, Ball told the strange but true story of how she helped the USA win World War II with the help of her dental fillings. Driving home from the studio late at night she heard Morse Code tapped out emanating from the lead fillings in her mouth. Next day she reported the location she heard the sounds to the FBI and they discovered an underground Japanese radio station.