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Lucille Désirée Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) was an American actress, comedian, model, film-studio executive, and producer. She was best known as the star of the self-produced sitcoms I Love Lucy, The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy, and Life with Lucy.
Ball's career began in 1929 when she landed work as a model. Shortly thereafter, she began her performing career on Broadway using the stage names Diane Belmont and Dianne Belmont. She later appeared in several minor film roles in the 1930s and 1940s as a contract player for RKO Radio Pictures, being cast as a chorus girl or in similar roles. During this time, she met Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz, and the two eloped in November 1940. In the 1950s, Ball ventured into television. In 1951, Arnaz and she created the sitcom I Love Lucy, a series that became one of the most beloved programs in television history. The same year, Ball gave birth to their first child, Lucie Arnaz, followed by Desi Arnaz, Jr. in 1953. Ball and Arnaz divorced in May 1960, and she married comedian Gary Morton in 1961.
In 1962, Ball became the first woman to run a major television studio, Desilu Productions, which produced many popular television series, including Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. Ball did not back away from acting completely, appearing in film and television roles for the rest of her career until her death in April 1989 from an abdominal aortic dissection at the age of 77.
Ball was nominated for 13 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning four times. In 1977, Ball was among the first recipients of the Women in Film Crystal Award.She was the recipient of the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1979, inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1984, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986, and the Governors Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1989,.
Born in Jamestown, New York, Lucille Ball was the daughter of Henry Durrell Ball (1887 – 1915) and Désirée "DeDe" Evelyn (née Hunt; 1892—1977). Her family lived in Wyandotte, Michigan for a time. When she was three and a half, her father died from typhoid fever at age 27. Her family and she then moved to Celoron to live with her grandparents. She sometimes later claimed that she had been born in Butte, Montana where her grandparents had lived. 
A number of magazines reported inaccurately that she had decided that Montana was a more romantic place to be born than New York and repeated a fantasy of a "western childhood". In fact, her father had moved the family to Anaconda, Montana, where they lived briefly - among other places, for work. Her family was Baptist, and her ancestry was mostly English, and included small amounts ofScottish, French, and Irish.
Some of her genealogy leads to the earliest settlers in the colonies, including Elder John Crandall of Westerly, Rhode Island, and Edmund Rice, an early emigrant from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Her father, a lineman for Bell Telephone Company, was frequently transferred because of his occupation. Within three years of her birth, Lucille had moved with her parents from Jamestown to Anaconda, Montana, and later to Trenton. While DeDe Ball was pregnant with her second child, Frederick, Henry Ball contracted typhoid fever and died in February 1915. Ball recalled little from the day her father died, but remembered a bird getting trapped in the house. From that day forward, she suffered from ornithophobia.
After her father died, her mother returned to New York. Ball and her brother, Fred Henry Ball (1915 – 2007), were raised by their mother and maternal grandparents in Celoron, New York, a summer resort village on Lake Chautauqua, just 2.5 miles west of downtown Jamestown. Lucy loved Celoron Park, one of the best amusement areas in the United States at that time. Its boardwalk had a ramp to the lake that served as a children's slide, the Pier Ballroom, a roller-coaster, a bandstand, and a stage where vaudeville concerts and regular theatrical shows were presented which made Celoron Park an entertainment destination.
Four years after Henry Ball's death, DeDe Ball married Edward Peterson. While her mother and stepfather looked for work in another city, Lucy's stepfather’s parents cared for her brother and her. Ball’s new guardians were a puritanical Swedish couple who banished all mirrors from the house except for one over the bathroom sink. When the young Ball was caught admiring herself in it, she was severely chastised for being vain. This period of time affected Ball so deeply that, in later life, she claimed that it lasted seven or eight years. Peterson was a Shriner.
When his organization needed female entertainers for the chorus line of their next show, he encouraged his 12-year-old stepdaughter to audition. While Ball was onstage, she realized performing was a great way to gain praise and recognition. Her appetite for recognition had thus been awakened at an early age. In 1927, her family suffered misfortune. Their house and furnishings were lost to settle a financial legal judgment after a neighborhood boy was accidentally shot and paralyzed by someone target shooting in their yard under Ball's grandfather's supervision. The family subsequently moved into a small apartment in Jamestown.
In 1925, Ball, then only 14, started dating Johnny DeVita, a 23-year-old local hoodlum. DeDe was unhappy with the relationship, but was unable to influence her daughter to end it. She expected the romance to burn out in a few weeks, but that did not happen. After about a year, DeDe tried to separate them by using Lucille's desire to be in show business. Despite the family's meager finances, she arranged for Lucille to go to the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City, where Bette Davis was a fellow student. Ball later said about that time in her life, "All I learned in drama school was how to be frightened." Ball's instructors felt that she would not be successful in the entertainment business, and were not afraid to say this in front of her, a criticism which Ball did not enjoy hearing.
Ball was determined to prove her teachers wrong and returned to New York City in 1928. Among her other jobs, she landed work as a fashion model for Hattie Carnegie. Her career was thriving when she became ill, with rheumatoid arthritis, and was unable to work for two years. She moved back to New York City in 1932 to resume her pursuit of a career as an actress and supported herself by again working for Carnegie and as the Chesterfield cigarette girl. Using the name Diane (sometimes spelled Dianne) Belmont, she started getting some chorus work on Broadway, but the work was not lasting. Ball was hired – but then quickly fired – by theatre impresario Earl Carroll, from his Vanities, and by Florenz Ziegfeld, from a touring company of Rio Rita.
After an uncredited stint as a Goldwyn Girl in Roman Scandals (1933), starring Eddie Cantor and Gloria Stuart, Ball moved permanently to Hollywood to appear in films. She appeared in many small movie roles in the 1930s as a contract player for RKO Radio Pictures, including a two-reel comedy short with the Three Stooges (Three Little Pigskins, 1934) and a movie with the Marx Brothers (Room Service, 1938). She can also be seen as one of the featured models in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Roberta (1935), briefly as the flower girl in Top Hat (1935), and in a brief supporting role at the beginning of Follow the Fleet (1936), another Astaire-Rogers film. Ginger Rogers was a distant maternal cousin of Ball's. Rogers and she played aspiring actresses in the film Stage Door (1937), co-starring Katharine Hepburn.
In 1936, she landed the role she hoped would lead her to Broadway, in the Bartlett Cormack play Hey Diddle Diddle, a comedy set in a duplex apartment in Hollywood. The play premiered in Princeton, New Jersey, on January 21, 1937, with Ball playing the part of Julie Tucker, "one of three roommates coping with neurotic directors, confused executives, and grasping stars who interfere with the girls' ability to get ahead". The play received good reviews, but problems existed, chiefly with its star, Conway Tearle, who was in poor health. Cormack wanted to replace him, but the producer, Anne Nichols, said the fault lay with the character and insisted that the part needed to be reshaped and rewritten. The two were unable to agree on a solution. The play was scheduled to open on Broadway at theVanderbilt Theatre, but closed after one week in Washington, DC, when Tearle suddenly became gravely ill.
Ball signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s, but never achieved major stardom from her appearance in the studio's films. She was known in many Hollywood circles as "Queen of the B's" – a title previously held by Fay Wray – starring in a number of B-movies, such as Five Came Back (1939). Like many budding actresses, Ball picked up radio work to earn side income, as well as gain exposure. In 1937, she appeared regularly on The Phil Baker Show. She once considered and auditioned for the role of Scarlett O'Hara for Gone with the Wind (1939), but Vivien Leigh got the part, winning an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role.
When that completed its run in 1938, Ball joined the cast of The Wonder Show starring Jack Haley (best remembered as the Tin Woodman in The Wizard of Oz, 1939). Here she began her 50-year professional relationship with Gale Gordon, who served as show announcer. The Wonder Show lasted one season, with the final episode airing on April 7, 1939. MGM producer Arthur Freed purchased the Broadway hit musical play DuBarry Was a Lady (1943) especially for Ann Sothern, but when Sothern turned down the part, the choice role was awarded to Ball, who in real life was Sothern's best friend. In 1946, Ball starred in Lover Come Back.
In 1948, Ball was cast as Liz Cugat (later "Cooper"), a wacky wife, in My Favorite Husband, a radio program for CBS Radio. The program was successful, and CBS asked her to develop it for television. She agreed, but insisted on working with her real-life husband, Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz. CBS executives were reluctant, thinking the public would not accept an All-American redhead and a Cuban as a couple. CBS was initially not impressed with the pilot episode produced by the couple's Desilu Productions company, so the couple toured the road in a vaudeville act with Lucy as the zany housewife wanting to get in Arnaz's show. The tour was a great success, and CBS put I Love Lucy into their lineup. The I Love Lucy show was not only a star vehicle for Lucille Ball, but also a way for her to try to salvage her marriage to Arnaz, which had become badly strained, in part because both had hectic performing schedules which often kept them apart.
Along the way, she created a television dynasty and reached several "firsts". Ball was the first woman in television to be head of a production company: Desilu, the company that Arnaz and she formed. After their divorce, Ball bought out Arnaz's share of the studio, and she proceeded to function as a very active studio head. Desilu and I Love Lucy pioneered a number of methods still in use in television production today such as filming before a live studio audience with a number of cameras, and distinct setsadjacent to each other. During this time, Ball taught a 32-week comedy workshop at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. Ball was quoted as saying, "You cannot teach someone comedy; either they have it or they don't."
Ball and Arnaz wanted to remain in their Los Angeles home, but the time zone logistics made that broadcast norm impossible. Prime time in L.A. was too late at night on theEast Coast to air a major network series, meaning the majority of the TV audience would be seeing not only the inferior picture of kinescopes, but seeing them at least a day later.
Sponsor Philip Morris did not want to show day-old kinescopes to the major markets on the East Coast, yet neither did they want to pay for the extra cost that filming, processing, and editing would require, pressuring Ball and Arnaz to relocate to New York City. Ball and Arnaz offered to take a pay cut to finance filming, on the condition that their company, Desilu, would retain the rights to that film once it was aired. CBS relinquished the show rights to Desilu after initial broadcast, not realizing they were giving away a valuable and durable asset. In 1957, CBS bought the rights back for $1,000,000, which provided Ball and Arnaz the down payment for the purchase of the former RKO Pictures studios, which became Desilu Studios.
I Love Lucy dominated the ratings in the United States for most of its run. (An attempt was made to adapt the show for radio; the cast and writers adapted the memorable "Breaking the Lease" episode – in which the Ricardos and Mertzes fall out over an argument, the Ricardos threaten to move, but they are stuck in a firm lease – for a radio audition disc that never aired, but has survived.) A scene in which Lucy and Ricky practice the tango, in the episode "Lucy Does The Tango", evoked the longest recorded studio audience laugh in the history of the show; it was so long, the sound editor had to cut that particular part of the soundtrack in half. During the show's production breaks, Lucy and Desi starred together in two feature films: The Long, Long Trailer (1954) and Forever, Darling (1956). Desilu produced several other popular shows, such as The Untouchables, Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible. Desilu was eventually sold for $17,000,000 and merged into Paramount Pictures in 1967.
The 1960 Broadway musical Wildcat ended its run early when Ball became too ill to continue in the show. The show was the source of the song she made famous, "Hey, Look Me Over", which she performed with Paula Stewart on The Ed Sullivan Show. She made a few more movies including Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968), and the musical Mame (1974), and two more successful long-running sitcoms for CBS: The Lucy Show (1962–68), which costarred Vivian Vance and Gale Gordon, and Here's Lucy (1968–74), which also featured Gordon, as well as Lucy's real-life children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. She appeared on the Dick Cavett show in 1974 and spoke of her history and life with Arnaz. She revealed how she felt about other actors and actresses, as well as her love for Arnaz.
Ball's close friends in the business included perennial co-star Vivian Vance and film stars Judy Garland, Ann Sothern, and Ginger Rogers, and comedic television performers Mary Wickes and Mary Jane Croft; all except Garland appeared at least once on her various series. Former Broadway co-stars Andes and Stewart also appeared at least once on her later sitcoms. Ball mentored actress and singerCarole Cook, and befriended Barbara Eden, when Eden appeared on an episode of I Love Lucy. In 1966, Ball became a friend and mentor to Carol Burnett. After having guested on Burnett's highly successful CBS-TV special Carol + 2 and having the younger performer reciprocate by appearing on The Lucy Show, Ball reportedly offered Burnett her own sitcom called Here's Agnes, to be produced by Desilu Productions. Burnett declined the offer, not wanting to commit herself to a weekly series. The two remained close friends until Ball's death in 1989. Ball sent flowers every year on Burnett's birthday. When Burnett awoke on the day of her 56th birthday in 1989, she discovered via the morning news that Lucille Ball had died. Later that afternoon, flowers arrived at Burnett's house with a note reading, "Happy Birthday, Kid. Love, Lucy."
Ball was originally considered by Frank Sinatra for the role of Mrs. Iselin in the Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Director/producer John Frankenheimer, however, had worked with Angela Lansbury in a mother role in All Fall Down and insisted on having her for the part.
During the mid-1980s, Ball attempted to resurrect her television career. In 1982, she hosted a two-part Three's Company retrospective, showing clips from the show's first five seasons, summarizing memorable plotlines, and commenting on her love of the show. A 1985 dramatic made-for-TV film about an elderly homeless woman, Stone Pillow, received mixed reviews. Her 1986 sitcom comeback Life With Lucy, costarring her longtime foil Gale Gordon and co-produced by Ball, Gary Morton, and prolific producer/former actor Aaron Spelling was cancelled less than two months into its run by ABC. In February 1988, Ball was named the Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year.
In May 1988, Ball was hospitalized after suffering a mild heart attack. Her last public appearance, just one month before her death, was at the 1989 Academy Awardstelecast in which she and fellow presenter Bob Hope were given a standing ovation.