Many biographers have suggested that the grief associated with the death of her father drove her into playacting. No one knows if this is true or not. Ball's recollection of her early childhood were for the most part happy. Ball and her brother lived with her grandparents. Her grandfather enjoyed the theater. He frequently took the family to local vaudeville shows and encouraged Lucy to take part in both her own and school plays.
At the age of fifteen lucy dropped out of high school and with her mother's approval enrolled in the John Murray Anderson School of the theater in New York City. Among her fellow students was Bette Davis. At this stage in her life John Murray told her she was wasting her money. Nervous and shy in a large city, Ball lasted only six weeks at the school and returned to Celeron.
Ball would later return to New York and despite a bout with potentially crippling rheumatoid arthritis worked as a model with dress designer Hattie Carnegie. Her only significant success came when she was choosen by Liggett and Myers to promote cigarettes as the "Chesterfield Girl." Ball's entrance into the film industry came about fortuitously, when she accidentally ran into Sylvia Hahlo, a local theatrical agent, while walking up Broadway one day. She was then informed of an opportunity to appear in the new Eddie Cantor film, Roman Scandals (1933), produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Ball auditioned and was hired as one of the twelve "Goldwin Girls." It was a small part--that of a slave girl--and it would be many years after her work in B-pictures before she would achieve celebrity status, but Lucille Ball had found Hollywood.
During Lucille Ball's first year in Hollywood she progressed from bit parts to featured roles, though rarely in major films. Indeed over time Ball became known as the Queen of the B's. Despite her talent it was quite possible that Ball might never have progressed beyond that level had she not met Cuban vocalist and bandleader Desi Arnaz. They met in Holywood on the set of RKO Studios during the filming of Too Many Girls (1949) that Ball and Arnaz met. They were married on November 30,1940.
The Ball-Arnaz marriage was tempestuous to say the least. The two were from vastly different cultures and backgrounds. Unlike her television personality, Ball was conservative in nature and uncomfortable when not among friends. Arnaz had a more outgoing personality, with a fondness for both liquor and women. The early years of their marriage were marked by long periods of separation as their careers progressed in different directions. By the late 1940s, Ball had become established as a bona fide star.
In 1948 Columbia Broadcasting Systems (CBS) decided to produce a situation comedy on radio called My Favorite Husband. The premise of the show was that the housewife would be a scatterbrained clumsy type who constantly would find herself in trouble. Ball was signed for the part and immediately established herself in the role. The series ran until March 1951. By that time Ball and Arnaz had made the jump into television.
In 1950 the couple formed Desilu Productions, parent company for their studios. One of the most significant changes was that their decision to use 35mm film enabled the preservation of the earliest shows for posterity. William Frawley and Vivian Vance were added to the cast and the first filming of the I Love Lucy series took place on September 8, 1951. I Love Lucy ran from October 15, 1951, the first show, to September 24, 1961. The original first-run episodes lasted for six years with primetime reruns and numerous specials aired through 1961. Sadly the marriage between Ball and Arnaz barely survived the end of the series. The day after the final show was filmed in March of 1960, Ball filed for divorce. Despite the end of their marriage Ball and Arnaz never lost their love and respect for each other.
When I Love Lucy premiered during the 1951-1952 television season only fifteen million television sets were to be found in American homes. Three years latter that number had doubled. In that time Lucille Ball had become established as the most popular female comedienne on television and the most popular female practitioner of physical comedy in the first half century of prime time television. Ball was not herself an inherantly funny person. She looked at acting as a serious profession and worked at physical comedy. Yet Ball had an inherent ability to observe situations and by exaggeration of normal behavior could present a routine which struck an observer with comedic overtones. It was a rare performer who could do so. While at the same time retaining the situation as one which was within the realm of possibility.
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Fall Semester 1998. Last modified: 17 December 1998