|Jamestown theatre named for her|
When she was 14, she started going out with a local hood. Her parents tried to put a stop to that, and when they failed they sent her to New York City to study at the John Murray Anderson School for Dramatic Arts. She was a schoolmate of Bette Davis, but apparently she failed to impress her teachers. She later said, "All I learned in drama school was how to be frightened."
She nevertheless scrounged a few jobs here and there, and found some success as a fashion model. But just as her career was starting to blossom, she fell ill with a mysterious rheumatic-type disease. She went home to convalesce; it was two years before she was finally healthy and energetic enough to return to New York.
She went back to modeling. She took the name Diane Belmont and tried to work in the theater, for the Ziegfeld company and the Shubert brothers, but she was fired as quickly as she was hired.
|As Diane Belmont|
In 1940 while filming one of her B pictures, Too Many Girls, she met her husband, a band leader six years younger than she was. They hit it off immediately and got married the same year. Her husband was drafted into the army, but because of a knee injury was restricted to limited service. He stayed in Los Angeles and performed in USO shows for GIs returning from the Pacific.
In 1942 she appeared opposite Henry Fonda in The Big Street, and the following year she starred in Dubarry Was a Lady, a film for which the natural brunette dyed her hair the flaming red that would become her trademark.
In 1944, she filed for divorce, but she and her husband reconciled. A few years later, she was cast as the wacky wife in a radio comedy. The show was successful, and CBS asked her to develop the show for what was then the next new thing: television. She wanted to cast her real-life husband as her TV husband, but apparently CBS executives were not agreeable. Instead of appearing on TV, she went on the road to perform the act in live shows -- she played the zany housewife with no talent but plenty of ambition, who wanted to sing and act in her husband's shows.
The comedy act became a hit with live audiences -- surely, you've guessed who she is by now -- and so CBS executives changed their minds and put I Love Lucy into their weekly lineup. The show debuted on TV in October 1951. It pioneered several new TV techniques, including performing and producing in front of a live audience. The comedy quickly rose to the top of the ratings where it remained for most of its run, up until 1957.
Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz formed their own production company Desilu. They agreed to take a pay cut to help with the expenses of filming the show; in return they retained the rights to the film after it was aired. In 1951, no one thought about reruns. But I Love Lucy was syndicated to TV stations for years, with the proceeds going not to CBS, but to Desilu.
The hectic schedule further strained the marriage, and in 1960 the couple again filed for divorce. This time it was for good, although Lucy and Desi remained friends for the rest of their lives. They had two children, Lucie in 1951, and Desi, Jr., in 1953. Ball's second pregnancy was written into the show -- but due to the standards of the time, they could not use the word "pregnancy"; it was said that she was "expecting" instead.
After their divorce, Ball bought out her ex-husband's interest in Desilu, and she stepped up as the first woman to head a major Hollywood studio, which produced several movies and TV shows including Star Trek, The Untouchables, Mission Impossible and Ball's own follow-up series The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. (Desilu was later sold to Gulf & Western, which became Paramount, and ironically the rights to the early shows ended up back in the hands of CBS.)
In 1962 Lucille Ball married fellow comedian Gary Morton, who remained her husband until her death in 1989 at age 77.
Lucille Ball has been heralded as one of the most successful stars in Hollywood, with two stars on Hollywood Blvd. -- one for her work in TV and one for motion pictures. She won numerous awards, including four Emmys, and appeared on the cover of TV Guide more than any other person. She was voted the greatest TV icon of all time, and later Time magazine named her one of the hundred most influential people of the 20th century.