Biography of Lucille Ball who remains one of the most loved comedians of all time. A millionaire at the time of her death, Lucy was also the first woman to ever run a multimillion dollar corporation.
Lucille Ball was born August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, New York. Setting her mind on becoming an actress early, she left high school at age 15, and with her mother's blessing, enrolled in John Murray Anderson Drama School in New York City. Though she auditioned repeatedly, Ball was told she had no talent, and was never accepted to the school. With no experience behind her and very few acting roles for women available, Ball took a job as a model, using the name Diane Belmont. Moderately successful, Ball became an Earl Carrol showgirl and began modeling for popular fashion designer, Hattie Carnegie. Carnegie chose Ball to be the Chesterfield Cigarette Girl in 1933. The position won her national exposure for the first time, and caught the attention of Hollywood. Lucille Ball's first role was an appearance in Eddie Cantor's musical, "Roman Scandals" in 1933.
Ball continued to audition for movies, and caught bit parts in low budget feature films like, "Blood Money" in 1933 and "Kid Millions" the following year. The success of her first roles would lead to bigger and better parts. Ball would appear in over 60 films by the late 1940s, including feature films starring Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Bob Hope.
After performing in the musical "Too Many Girls," in 1940 with popular Cuban band leader, Desi Arnaz, Ball fell in love with her co-star, and married him later that year. Band and career schedules clashed often, and the newlyweds often found themselves on opposite sides of the country. Lucy filed for divorce in 1944, but managed to patch things up just one day before the divorce was to be finalized.
The young couple decided that the only way to make their marriage work was if they worked together on a project. Ball and Arnaz pitched an idea to CBS that would involve the unlikely marriage of a wild red head to a Cuban band leader. At first, CBS officials balked at the idea, claiming that the American public would never accept such a couple. So, the husband and wife team formed their own production company called "Desilu," and hit the road, taking their show idea and turning it into a popular and highly praised vaudeville act. When CBS still refused to consider the show, the Ball and Arnaz used their own money to film the pilot episode of the show. "I Love Lucy" premiered in October of 1951, and instantly became the most popular television show in America. CBS picked it up before the show's thirty minute episode was over.
"I Love Lucy" ran successfully for 6 years. The first four years on the air, "I Love Lucy" was number one in the Neilsen Ratings. During its entire history, the show never fell below number three. "I Love Lucy" won more than 200 awards, 5 Emmys and the respect and admiration of the country.
In January of 1953, the "I Love Lucy" introduced an eyebrow raising episode in which Lucy gave birth on the air to "Little Ricky." Pregnant with her real life first son, Desi Jr. at the time, a record 44 million viewers tuned in to watch the live birth.
Ball and Arnaz's coupling had been labeled tumultuous in the late 1950s, and after 179 episodes of the "I Love Lucy Show," they decided to call it quits to save their marriage. While they said goodbye to the old show, they began taping another, named "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour." The 60-minute show didn't need the time and attention of their previous works, and Arnaz and Ball once again seemed happy and in love. Arnaz spent less time in the recording studio with his band, and more at home, working with"Desilu." By the end of the 1950s, Desilu became a powerful, respected corporation, producing such hit TV shows as "Star Trek" and "Mission Impossible."
After 20 years of marriage, Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960. While Arnaz turned to alcohol and was rarely seen in public again, Ball took out a loan for $3 million and bought her ex-husbands half of Desilu. At the time, Desilu was the world's largest production facility and Lucy's take-over made her the first woman in history to hold such a position.
In 1962, encouraged by fans, Ball reintroduced Lucy to TV, as she starred in "The Lucy Show." It would run successfully for 6 years, and feature her real life children, Lucie and Desi Jr., and former co-star, Vivian Vance. When "The Lucy Show" went off the air, Ball wasted no time in reformatting the show and starring in yet another series based on the same character. "Here's Lucy," was instantly picked up by the networks and ran on prime time through 1974. It was during this same time when Ball spread her wings and began performing outside the lines of comedy. She won rave reviews for her appearance on Broadway in 1961s, "Wildcat." On the heels of that success, Ball teamed with Bob Hope for two feature films and co-starred with Henry Fonda in the critically acclaimed, "Yours, Mine and Ours."
Though she played a ditzy, wild hearted redhead, in real life, Ball was nothing of the kind. In 1967, she sold Desilu Productions for $17 million, netting some $10 million.
Ball remarried in 1968, taking Gary Morton as her second husband. Morton, a former comedian, worked with Ball to help create "Lucille Ball Productions."
In the late 70s and early 80s, Ball made only sporadic appearances on TV, usually as the guest star. In 1985, she portrayed a New York homeless woman in the TV film, "Stone Pillow." The following year, at the age of 75, she debuted "Life with Lucy," a half hour comedy series. It aired for only two months before being cancelled.
Lucille Ball spent much of the rest of her life out of the spotlight. Her last public appearance was at the 1989 Academy Awards.
One week after undergoing open heart surgery, on April 26, 1989, Lucille Ball suffered a ruptured aorta and died. She was 77 years old. Ball is survived by two children. Desi Arnaz died of cancer in 1986. Today, "I Love Lucy" is syndicated in more than 80 countries and remains one of the most popular TV shows of all time.