Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball was born Lucille Desiree Ball on August 6, 1911. After a career in modeling, in which she was the Chesterfield Girl, Lucy came to Hollywood in 1933 as a Goldwyn Girl. She played bit parts in two Eddie Cantor musicals (Roman Scandals and Kid Millions) but quickly decided she didn’t want to be a showgirl. So Lucy got out of her Goldwyn contract and became a contract player with Columbia. However, even after moving to RKO in 1935, Lucy’s career didn’t really start to take off until she appeared in RKO’s big 1938 drama, Stage Door, co-starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. She began getting featured (but not always better) roles in many RKO films. Her big break didn’t really come until four years later, when she starred with Henry Fonda in The Big Street. MGM saw her and signed her up, ready to make her into their next musical-comedy star.

Lucy’s MGM career looked rosy indeed when she was immediately cast in a big, splashy Arthur Freed musical, Du Barry Was a Lady, with Red Skelton. The movie went well, and Lucy was quickly cast in another big musical, Thousands Cheer. This movie also went well, but Freed was busy with the studio’s biggest commodity, Judy Garland, and Lucy fell by the wayside. When she did make films, they were either big, elaborate MGM all-star revues (Thousands Cheer, Ziegfeld Follies), supporting roles in star-based films (Without Love, Abbott and Costello in Hollywood) or bland musicals (Meet the People — her only film in 1944). So, Lucy got out of her MGM contract, and began freelancing until 1948, when she got a role in My Favorite Husband — a CBS radio show about a bank executive (Richard Denning) and his wacky wife (Lucy). In 1950, CBS wanted to move to television as is, but after a long fight, Lucy got them to allow her bongo-playing husband, Desi Arnaz, to co-star. And the rest, as they say, is history (and I Love Lucy).

After that, Lucy became a prolific television comedienne, as well as an off-and-on movie comedienne. She made four successful television series (I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy), and a few successful films (The Long, Long Trailer, Yours, Mine and Ours). Lucy did not return to the movie musical, however, until Mame in 1974. The film was critically panned, but it still took in high grosses. However, the fiasco that was Mame prompted Lucy to quit feature films for the rest of her life. After many more television appearances and one unsuccessful series comeback try (Life with Lucy), Lucille Ball died on April 26, 1989. She was 77.