100 years ago today, on Sunday, August 6, 1911 one of TV’s most gifted comic actresses was born in Jamestown, New York; Lucille Ball.
Although Lucille Ball would find success as a model and then as an actress on film, stage and radio, it was her work in TV that made her an American treasure and icon.
She turned to TV when CBS asked her to develop her radio hit “My Favorite Husband” for the new medium. She agreed with one stipulation; that her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, star alongside her. But CBS executives didn’t think America would accept Ball with a Cuban husband, so Lucy & Desi toured the country with a vaudeville act. The success of that tour led to CBS picking up “I Love Lucy.”
America had a love affair with “I Love Lucy” and the sitcom ran for seven seasons and 180 episodes. After some changes the show became “The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour” and ran for 3 more seasons.
Lucy & Desi divorced in 1960 and Lucille Ball returned to sitcoms with “The Lucy Show” in 1962. Vivian Vance returned as Lucy’s “partner in crime” and veteran actor Gale Gordon became the male foil for Lucy’s wacky hijinks. It ran on CBS for six seasons (1962-1968) before giving way to “Here’s Lucy” which also co-starred Gale Gordon and Ball’s children Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. “Here’s Lucy” also ran on CBS for six seasons (1968-1974).
In 1986, at the age of 75, Lucille Ball was lured back to TV for an ABC sitcom called “Life with Lucy.” Unfortunately, even with former co-star Gale Gordon in the cast, the old magic wasn’t there and only eight episodes were broadcast. “Life with Lucy” was Lucille Ball’s only failure on TV but it’s not how she’ll be remembered.
Lucille Ball was a comedic genius who we welcomed her into our homes from 1951 to 1974 (except for two years off). There have been other talented and exceptional comedic actresses on TV but Lucille Ball stands alone as the first and arguably the best.
She also became the first woman to run a Hollywood studio when she bought Desi’s share of Desilu following their divorce.
Today she is also remembered by The Lucy-Desi Center in her hometown of Jamestown, New York which manages two facilities: The Lucy-Desi Museum and The Desilu Playhouse. The center’s premiere event is The Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy, held each August. This year, in honor of Lucy’s 100th birthday, there were performances by Joan Rivers and Paula Poundstone. Lucy Fest continues through Sunday (August 7th).
Lucille Ball died in April 1989 at the age of 77, but she left her mark on several generations, who will always love Lucy.
Happy 100th birthday Lucy.