SATURDAY, AUGUST 6: Before Madonna or Oprah, one woman stood alone as a household name, defined only by the word “Lucy.” One hundred years ago today, Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, New York. Despite the difficult childhood that began at age 3 with her father’s death and ended with a separation from her mother, Ball went on to become an American comedian, a stage and radio actress, the star of several sitcoms and, eventually, the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors. Even the Library of Congress is paying tribute to her famous television show, “I Love Lucy,” with an exhibit that opened two days ago. (The Washington Post has one of many tribute articles, too.) The exhibit commemorates the 60th anniversary of Lucy’s show and names it “An American Legend.”
Ironically, it was under a fake name that Lucy had her beginnings in show business: after some brief work as a model in 1929, Ball began performing on Broadway as Dianne Belmont. After many small movie and radio roles, Ball took on the role that defined her career in the 1951 television show, “I Love Lucy.” (Learn about the sole woman writer for Lucy’s show in a recent New York Times article.)
Lucille Ball starred opposite her then-husband Desi Arnaz on the sitcom that aired 180 episodes. After going on to create a few other, less successful shows to follow “I Love Lucy,” including “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” and “The Lucy Show,” Ball turned to movies. (Wikipedia has details.) Today, Lucille Ball is known for having one of the longest careers in Hollywood and having won four Emmy Awards, a Women in Film Crystal Award, the Golden Globe Award and more. Ball died in 1989 at age 77.
Lucy and Desi: Pioneers in Diversity
This may be hard to believe in the era of Jennifer Lopez, but American media executives were leery of featuring a “mixed” marriage at the center of a new prime-time comedy series. Desi Arnaz already was a successful musician; Lucille Ball had her own successful career. But would Americans welcome into their living rooms a Latino with a heavy accent as the husband of a very Anglo-American leading lady? Lucy and Desi decided to prove their popularity by barnstorming their way across America in 1950 with a musical-comedy revue. Remember Lucy’s famous seal routine? That originally was written for the nationwide tour to demonstrate their grassroots appeal—and was recycled into the TV series.
Lucy marathons to honor her birthday
Hoping to catch an episode of “I Love Lucy?” Tune into the Hallmark Channel or TCM, both of which are airing Lucy marathons today. Learn more at USA Today.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.