Lucille Ball is one of entertainment’s most enduring icons. She has been visible for nearly 80 years, and I would venture to say that there are very few people alive today who have not known and loved Lucy for the better part of their entire lives.
I myself discovered Lucille Ball when I was in early elementary school. My best friend and I became obsessed with “I Love Lucy” around the 2nd grade, and we subsequently watched every episode of the series, then moved on to the “Lucy/Desi Comedy Hour” and “The Lucy Show.” We just couldn’t get enough of her. And I think we weren’t alone in this–my dad also seemed to know a good deal about Lucille Ball as a person (he was the one who taught me, at the age of 7, that she had been a starlet and a model, and that at one point had gone by the name Dianne Belmont), so it was evident that he was in love with Lucy, too. She just had a certain something that resonated with people. And I don’t think it was just her comedic genius–there was something about HER that attracted people to her.
Since its series finale in 1957, “I Love Lucy” has proven to be a mainstay in syndication, and has essentially never gone off the air. 54 years after the show ended, it is shown in dozens of languages across the world and continues to get stellar ratings (in fact, the Hallmark Channel is so confident in the ratings of “I Love Lucy” that they are hosting an entire weekend-long marathon of the show in honor of Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday today). Can you imagine a show today still playing in 50 + years, broadcast in different languages all over the world? I can’t think of ANY modern show that will stand the test of time like “I Love Lucy” has.
Since this is a classic film blog, I would like to talk a little bit about Lucille Ball’s early film roles. Alas, they have been somewhat obscured by her absolutely blinding success with “I Love Lucy,” enough that whenever I see a film with Lucille Ball on the big screen, I hear mutterings from the audience “Is that Lucille Ball???” People are surprised that she had any career at all before “I Love Lucy,” and I think it’s a shame, because some of those early roles are very noteworthy and she could have had a monumental success in films had “I Love Lucy” not come along–in my opinion, she would probably have remained a character actress, because of that Eve Arden-esque wit and backtalk at which she was so clever. She did, however, have some good starring success in her early years with Dance, Girl, Dance, the film she made in 1940 with Maureen O’Hara, Du Barry Was a Lady in 1943, and in a number of other quality films at MGM.
Dancing “The Jitterbug Bite” in Dance, Girl, Dance.
She also had a good deal of success in radio, which is not surprising given that unique voice we all know so well. The character of Lucy Ricardo was, in fact, inspired by Lucy’s character on a radio program called “My Favorite Husband,” done in 1948 with Richard Denning.
It’s interesting to note that her voice essentially never changed, from her first moment on the screen straight through the 1960’s. It was then that the smoking caught up to her and gave her the distinctive smoker’s voice that became a trademark of Lucy’s later career. The uniqueness of her voice is something that people don’t often comment on, yet I would imagine that if people closed their eyes and watched an early Lucille Ball film, even if they didn’t know she was in it, they would be able to identify her instantly.
This interview, done in 1973, shows her not only as a lovely human being, but also her immense intelligence. She responds to each question carefully and thoroughly, and knows exactly what she is saying and why she is saying it. The thoroughness, perfectionism and business-savvy qualities in Lucille Ball are legendary. It is said that on the set of “I Love Lucy,” if she found a scene to not be funny, she she would often tell the director so, and proceed to argue with him until she got her way. She knew what was funny and what was not, and she was not about to sacrifice the show to an unfunny scene. Obviously, Lucy’s way always got huge laughs.
The famous scene from the episode “Lucy Does the Tango.” This scene contains the longest studio laugh in the history of the show, and one of the longest in the history of television.
Lucille Ball’s legacy has been strong for many decades, and it shows no sign of stopping now. With the huge amounts of “I Love Lucy” memorabilia being sold at high prices, with the show frequently on in syndication, the plethora of Lucy impersonators and the millions of fans devoted to her, I think we’re going to have Lucy for a long, long time to come.
Thank you to the people over at True Classics for hosting this wonderful blogathon.