The Talented Lucille Ball Part One
Lucille Désirée Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) was an American actress, comedienne, 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 in 1944
Lucille Désirée Ball
August 6, 1911
Jamestown, New York, U.S.
April 26, 1989 (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Abdominal aortic dissection
Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown, New York
* Lucille Ball Morton
* Lucille Ball Arnaz
* Diane Belmont
* Lucy Ball
* Lucy Arnaz
* Lucy Morton
Actress, comedian, model, film studio executive, TV producer
* Desi Arnaz (m. 1940; div. 1960)
* Gary Morton (m. 1961)
Desi Arnaz Jr.
Fred Ball (brother)
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, she and Arnaz 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 Désirée 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. She and her family 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 of Scottish, 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 the supervision of Ball’s grandfather. The family subsequently moved into a small apartment in Jamestown.
Teenage years and early career
In 1925, Ball, then only 14, started dating Johnny DeVita, a 21-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.