Doubtless the most loved TV comedienne of all time, Lucille Ball became an American icon with her characterization of the scatterbrained sitcom wife, Lucy Ricardo, on I Love Lucy. With her real-life husband Desi Arnaz playing her perpetually suffering straightman hubby, bandleader Ricky Ricardo, Lucy wormed her way into everyone’s mind and affections with her wacky, screwball wit and outrageous antics.
During the show’s six years in originals, she kept audiences tuned in to see if she would ever get her break in Ricky’s Tropicana Club act. Lucy was quite simply there to be adored, and most anyone can spout off the plot of his/her favorite Lucy shenanigan. It’s hard to believe that this institution of humor, American-style, was initially discouraged from following an acting career because of her crippling shyness.
Ball had been left fatherless at four, and perhaps the sadness of that tragic happenstance can be credited with her strong work ethic and determination to succeed. Not to be turned away from her dream, Ball commenced her entertainment career as a chorus girl and model, and by 1933, she had become one of producer Sam Goldwyn’s “Goldwyn Girls” in Eddie Cantor musicals. Lucy subsequently toiled doggedly in a series of bit assignments in films for Columbia Pictures and R.K.O. Radio until she finally earned featured billing and eventually B-picture stardom.
Ball never really broke out of that tier of movie success, and by the late forties, “Technicolor Tessie,” as she was called for her vibrant red hair and ready smile, faced a slow decline into obscurity. By virtue of her successful and long-running CBS radio show, My Favorite Husband (1947-1951), she was offered the chance to develop and star in her own television show. Combining her business acumen and creativity with that of Desi, she created I Love Lucy out of the idiosyncracies native to her person.
From 1951 to 1957, no other program could boast its popularity, and Ball became nothing less than a megastar. Her always tempestuous marriage to the philandering Arnaz had eroded beyond repair by 1960, and their divorce in that year marked the end of the show’s chokehold on the ratings, if not on the affections of the TV-watching public. Ball would go on to buy out Desi’s interest in their production company, Desilu, and create two more popular, long-running solo spin-offs, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy, the latter of which exited the air in 1974. Though subsequent efforts to re-enter TV production and another attempt to resuscitate “Lucy” failed for the most part, Lucille Ball never stopped being our First Lady of Television.
I regret the passing of the studio system.I was very appreciative of it because I had no talent. – Lucille Ball