30 Surprising Facts About Lucille Ball
Lucille Ball impacted the entertainment industry in many incredible ways. Before she became an iconic comedy star, Ball was a struggling student and actress. However, she overcame many obstacles to become a successful entertainer and businesswoman.
Read on to learn 30 surprising facts about Lucille Ball, from her lowest point to becoming the queen of comedy.
Ball’s Teachers Didn’t Believe in Her
If you think school is tough, you should check out what happened to Lucille Ball. In 1926, Ball attended New York’s John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts as a teenager. But she performed poorly. When it came to the moment Ball had to perform in front of her peers, she got too nervous.
Ball’s teachers called her shy and reticent. Hold on; the news gets more painful. Ball’s teachers told her she “had no future at all as a performer.” However, the negative comments didn’t stop Ball. She was determined to prove her doubters wrong.
She Struggled Becoming an Actor
After failing drama school in 1928, Ball looked for acting gigs in New York. But she had to put her plans on hold. Ball fell sick and took two years to recover. What did she catch? The serious illness remains unknown to this day.
Ball’s unknown ailment wasn’t the only bump in the road on the way to stardom. She landed some acting gigs, but the jobs didn’t last long. She was fired from multiple shows, including Rio Rita by Flo Ziegfeld. Ball was even sacked by Broadway Director Earl Carroll and the Shubert brothers.
She Went Through a Name Change
After driving by Belmont Race Track in New York in 1932, Ball became inspired to call herself “Diane Belmont.” She thought the name sounded more glamorous than her real name. Ball used this name while working at various stage productions and when she entered the modeling industry.
While Ball looked for acting jobs, she also worked as a model. Sometimes she modeled dresses and other times she advertised hats. Becoming a Cigarette Girl for Chesterfield Cigarettes was Ball’s most notable modeling job. Billboards, magazine ads and posters flaunted her face across America. Ball also eventually dumped her stage name.
Hollywood Called Her “Queen of the Bs”
Ball’s luck as an actor began to change in the 1930s. She landed her first role as a Goldwyn Girl in Roman Scandals. It was a small role, but the work inspired Ball to move to Hollywood permanently. The fun was only getting started.
She took on many small movie roles, appearing in The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers. Low budget-flicks became her specialty. Hollywood circles started calling her “Queen of the Bs.” She appeared in 72 movies in the 1930s and ’40s.
How Did She Meet the Love of Her Life?
Ball’s career eventually led her to work as a chorus lady in Too Many Girls, where she met Cuban singer Desi Arnaz. Ball immediately fell head over heels for Arnaz, but their first meeting wasn’t love at first sight for Arnaz.
Ball and Arnaz became best friends shortly after meeting for the first time. A few months later, the pair became lovers. Friends of the couple have reported that Ball gave Arnaz anything he wanted. Ball’s friends found her behavior strange because she was a strong and independent person.
She Married a Younger Man and Lied About It
Did you know Ball was six years older than Arnaz? An older woman marrying a younger man was a big deal in the 1940s. It wasn’t socially acceptable. But that didn’t stop Ball and Arnaz. Six months after Ball and Arnaz met, the two eloped.
How did the couple hide their age difference? To avoid controversy, Ball and Arnaz lied about their ages on the marriage certificate. On the day of their wedding, Ball was 29 and Arnaz was 23, but they both claimed to be 26 on their marriage certificate.
Ball Broke Barriers in TV
Ball broke many barriers in the entertainment world. She got her first big break at the age of 40, when most women struggled to land roles in Hollywood. Ball defied the odds after receiving the lead role in I Love Lucy.
Ball helped make I Love Lucy one of the most beloved programs in TV history. However, the task wasn’t easy. Ball struggled to convince the showrunners to cast Arnaz as her husband on the show, fighting the entertainment agency’s racial prejudice.
Ball and Arnaz Became the First Interracial Couple on TV
Ball wanted to cast Arnaz as her TV husband on I Love Lucy, but CBS disagreed with the choice. In fact, CBS hesitated to cast Arnaz on I Love Lucy due to his Cuban heritage and accent. The network believed American audiences wouldn’t accept an interracial couple.
Ball refused to take no for an answer. She fought to have Arnaz on the show, giving CBS an ultimatum: They must cast both of them or neither of them. CBS didn’t want to go forward with the show without Ball. However, Ball still had some convincing to do.
Ball and Arnaz Proved That They Were Meant to Work Together
When Arnaz went on tour with his band in 1950, Ball joined him. She wanted to convince the network that the two were an excellent fit for I Love Lucy. The couple performed comedy skits across the country throughout the summer-long tour.
The audience loved the chemistry between Ball and Arnaz in their skits. The pair gained popularity and proved that they worked well together. As a result, the network gave in and agreed to Ball’s conditions. I Love Lucy even used one of the couple’s skits (Professor) in Episode 6.
Ball’s Pregnancy on TV Became a Notable Moment in History
Not only did I Love Lucy break racial barriers, but it also broke social barriers on TV. Ball found out she was pregnant while filming for Season 2 of I Love Lucy. Featuring a visibly pregnant woman on TV was considered socially unacceptable by some in the 1950s.
However, the writers of I Love Lucy daringly decided to write in Ball’s pregnancy. Although Ball’s onscreen pregnancy wasn’t the first in a TV show (Mary Kay And Johnny beat the show to it in 1948), it broke barriers due to the show’s high viewership, and was a successful story. CBS just didn’t allow Ball to say the word “pregnant” in the show because it was still a “vulgar” word at the time. Instead, Ball used the words “expecting” or “spectin.”
How Committed Was She to Comedy?
Ball took her job as the comedy queen seriously, doing anything for a laugh from the audience. She rehearsed scenes until they came out perfectly. Ball also wasn’t scared of taking risks, including ones that may get her physically hurt. She was definitely a tough and hardworking woman.
In the I Love Lucy episode, Job Switching, Ball thought actress Amanda Milligan had broken her nose while filming. But Ball went on with the scene as if nothing happened. Ball told People, "I didn't mind getting messed up. That's how I got into physical comedy."
Ball Admitted She Got Nervous While Filming
Ball gained strength by admitting her faults to herself and her peers. While filming the episode, Lucy Does a TV Commercial, Ball was nervous and worried about messing up her lines. The script included saying “Vitameatavegamin” many times in the episode.
Ball came up with a plan just in case she forgot her lines. She asked the script supervisor, Maury Thompson, to hold up her lines on a podium in front of Ball like cue cards. Lucy Does a TV Commercial was not Ball’s favorite episode, but it became one of the most popular episodes on the show.
Ethel and Lucy’s Friendship on TV Broke the Status Quo
During the 1950s, most TV shows portrayed women competing against each other. Realistic on-screen women friendships like the ones in popular shows such as Broad City, Friends and Gilmore Girls weren’t seen on television. Vivian Vance (Ethel) and Ball shook the entertainment industry.
In I Love Lucy, Ethel and Lucy had a fun relationship. The pair often went on wild adventures together (from spying to scheming). Lucy and Ethel were best friend goals. In real life, Ball loved Vance too. Ball told People that the two enjoyed working together so much that they “didn't want to go home at night.” Doesn’t their on-screen and real-life friendship warm your heart?
She Tricked ‘I Love Lucy’s’ Cigarette Sponsor
I Love Lucy almost didn’t air because CBS struggled to find a sponsor for the show. In the end, tobacco giant Philip Morris became a sponsor. Philip Morris wanted each episode to feature the name “Philip Morris” whenever possible. They also wanted the cast to smoke their cigarettes in each episode.
However, Ball was originally a Chesterfield cigarette girl. She preferred smoking Chesterfield cigarettes. Ball quickly came up with a scheme to overcome this problem. She asked a stagehand to fill the Philip Morris boxes with Chesterfield cigarettes. When you see Ball smoking on I Love Lucy, she’s actually smoking a Chesterfield cigarette.
Why Did She Take a Paycut For the Show?
Ball and Desi wanted the work close to home in Los Angeles. However, in the 1950s many TV shows were broadcast from New York. CBS and Sponsor Philip Morris opposed the idea. But Ball and Desi insisted and fought to film I Love Lucy in California.
CBS also didn’t want to film the show in Los Angeles because it required more expensive film equipment. To convince CBS, Ball and Desi took a large salary cut. The pair also bought the rights to the show. When I Love Lucy gained popularity, Ball and Arnaz became millionaire TV stars.
Ball’s Children Were A Big Deal
Ball became a mother, after giving birth to her first child, Lucie Arnaz in 1951. Ball’s new baby daughter, Lucie Arnaz, influenced her decision to work close to home in Los Angeles. This ultimately led to Ball gaining full ownership rights to I Love Lucy.
As you already know, Ball’s real pregnancy on I Love Lucy was groundbreaking for the entertainment industry. But did you know at that time, she was pregnant with her second child, Desi Arnaz Jr? The episode Lucy gave birth to little Ricky was aired on the same day that Desi Arnaz Jr was born. Fun fact: More people watched little Ricky’s birth episode than President Eisenhower's inauguration ceremony.
Ball Almost Drowned While Filming a Fight Scene
Ball experienced some wild and unpredictable moments while filming I Love Lucy. In the episode, Lucy’s Italian Movie, Ball almost drowned. The cast member, Teresa Tirelli, set to wrestle with Ball didn’t speak any English. As a result, an interpreter had to give Tirelli directions.
However, the directions got lost in translation. During their fake fight scene, Tirelli shoved Ball’s head into a bowl of grape mush. Ball nearly drowned under the grape mush and juice, but she came out fine in the end. The episode became a fan favorite.
Only Ball Was Allowed to Make Fun of Arnaz’s Accent
Arnaz’s character, Ricky, had trouble with English and pronunciation on I Love Lucy. The writers made an unofficial rule that only Ricky’s wife, Lucy, could make fun of his accent or language problems. The writers found a creative way to make it unacceptable for others to mock Ricky’s accent.
If any characters on the show tried to make a joke about the way Ricky spoke English, the studio audience would purposely become silent. It was only acceptable if Ball made fun of her on-screen husband’s accent. If anyone else tried to do it, it seemed cruel.
Ball’s Marriage Had Some Serious Problems
Ball and Arnaz’s marriage had many happy moments, but it also experienced some dark stages. At the beginning of their marriage, Ball was concerned about Arnaz going on tour with his band. According to Country Living, she was worried about Arnaz being unfaithful.
During the majority of their marriage, Arnaz and Ball were apart due to conflicting work schedules. The pair also often fought over the phone. After 20 years of marriage, Ball filed for divorce in 1960 because of Arnaz's problems with cheating and drinking.
She Became Ill While in A Musical
After I Love Lucy, Ball left Hollywood for New York to star in the Broadway musical, Wildcat. After a few performances, the show received little enthusiasm. The majority of the audience came to see Ball. When Ball became ill, Wildcat took a turn for the worse.
Ball suffered from fatigue and a virus during the show’s run. She even fainted on stage once. When Ball fell sick, Wildcat closed for good (it only ran from 1960 to 1961). However, Ball’s journey to New York wasn’t entirely bad. While she was there, Ball met comedian Gary Morton.
She Found Love Again
After Ball and Arnaz divorced, Ball wanted to find a partner who wasn’t threatened by her success. She also hoped for someone who would take care of her. It didn’t take long for Ball’s wish to come true. Thanks to Wildcat co-star, Paula Stewart, Ball met Gary Morton.
Ball called Morton patient and loving while Morton thought Ball was funny and energetic. The pair tied the knot in 1961. During their marriage, Ball said Morton took great care of her. She claimed that if she had to rate their marriage on a scale of 1 to 10, she’d rate it a 12. The pair stayed married until Ball passed away in 1989.
Ball Was the First Woman to Run a Major Studio in Hollywood
Arnaz was in charge of Desilu Productions, a company founded by the couple, until 1962. Ball bought out Arnaz's shares of Desilu Productions for $2.5 million, becoming the first female CEO of a major production company in 1962. Desilu Productions went on to produce a number of hit TV shows and films, including Mission: Impossible and Star Trek.
While Ball ran the company, she wowed board members. Morton said Ball had an "innate business sense" and great judgment. Ball owned Desilu Productions until she sold it to Gulf & Western Industries for $17 million. In 1967, she launched and became the head of Lucille Ball Productions.
Was Her Hair Really Red?
While Ball was best known for her contributions to comedy, she was also known for her iconic red hair. Was her hair always red? Ball was naturally a brunette, but dyed her hair several times in her career. In 1933, Ball bleached her hair blonde.
Her fiery red hair came along when she became Hollywood’s “Queen of the Bs.” According to the Huffington Post, the production studio, MGM, suggested that Ball dye her hair red. Ball’s stylist called the new color “golden apricot.”
She Didn’t Need a TV Husband
Ball portrayed an unmarried woman on The Lucy Show, becoming one of the first women to lead a show without a male co-star. Ball and Morton co-produced The Lucy Show, which was a follow-up sitcom to I Love Lucy (without Arnaz).
The Lucy Show was an instant success. Fans loved the show so much that it aired for six seasons (from 1962 to 1968). In the show, Ball reunited with her I Love Lucy co-stars, Vance and Gale Gordon. The show received many Primetime Emmy Award nominations and won two.
She Held the Longest Recorded Laugh in US Television History
In one episode of I Love Lucy, Ball performed a dance routine with eggs. Ball hid the eggs in her blouse during the dance, filling her top with scrambled yolks and making a big mess. The live audience couldn’t stop laughing at the comedy sequence.
The audience laughed for 65 seconds at the scene. The show ultimately cut out some of the laughter while editing. During dance rehearsals, Ball didn’t use eggs so that her on-screen reaction would be authentic when the eggs cracked.
She Worked With Her Children
In 1968, Ball launched the series Here's Lucy, featuring Desi Jr. and Lucie Arnaz. After The Lucy Show ended, Ball wanted to star in a show with her children. As a result, a whole new show was written for the family.
Ball was known for creating successful sitcoms, so it was no surprise that Here's Lucy ran for six incredible seasons. Lucie Arnaz went on to appear in Murder, She Wrote, Marcus Welby, M.D., Sons and Daughters and Law & Order. Desi Jr. later appeared in The Streets of San Francisco and The Love Boat.
Did Ball and Arnaz Become Enemies?
After a breakup, it can be hard to remain friends with an ex. But somehow Ball and Arnaz made it work. When Ball and Arnaz became lovers, they were also best friends. After their divorce, they remained good friends. Ball told People that they never got a lawyer for their divorce.
Ball even complimented Arnaz’s second wife, calling her a “very nice girl.” Ball and Arnaz’s friends also noticed their warm relationship after the divorce. One of Ball’s friends, Carol Channing, said, "They spoke so lovingly of each other, you almost forgot they weren't together anymore.”
She Was Connected to the Communist Party
Ball listed her party affiliation as Communist when she registered to vote in 1936 and 1938. As a result, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated Ball’s family in 1952. Ball met with HUAC investigator William A. Wheeler in Hollywood to set the record straight.
Ball gave Wheeler a sealed testimony, stating she only did it to make her socialist grandfather happy. She also mentioned that she never held a Communist meeting in her home. After she gave Wheeler her statement, the investigation and Communist charges were dropped. Ball still maintained her popularity after the incident.
She Won Many Awards
Did you know that some celebrities have more than one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Ball received two stars on the famous sidewalk: One for her work in motion pictures and another for TV. The comedy queen earned both stars in 1960.
In 1977, Ball was one of the first recipients of the Women in Film Crystal Award. The organization, Women in Film Los Angeles, made the award to honor women in communications and media. In 1994, a few actors created The Lucy Award for Innovation in Television to pay tribute to Ball.
She Made Fans Laugh Until the Very End
Ball continued to act and make public appearances until her final years. In 1985, she appeared in the TV film, Stone Pillow, as a bag lady, which ended with a trip to the hospital for dehydration. She last appeared on TV in the 1986 series, Life With Lucy.
In 1989, she made her final public appearance at the 61st Academy Awards ceremony. That same year, Ball passed away. Although she’s gone, Ball has left an unforgettable legacy in the entertainment industry by working hard, never giving up and breaking many barriers.