It only seems appropriate that for National I Love Lucy Day (Oct. 15, the same day the comedy first premiered in 1951), we should celebrate Lucille Ball. There would be no I Love Lucy without her.
Ball was revolutionary in more ways than one, especially when it came to transforming the entertainment industry for women. As she once said, “I am not funny… What I am is brave.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
She showed that women can be funny. She showed that women can be the lead of their own show and their own lives. She showed that goofiness is attractive. She showed that one woman can do wonders for other women. Ball absolutely deserves all of the recognition.
Obviously, fans of the show know the Lucy Ricardo they’ve seen and continue to watch on the small screen, but do they know the real Lucille Ball? If not, it’s time to get to know her even better.
1. She was the first woman to run a major production company
According to the New York Daily News, after Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced in 1960, she bought out Arnaz’s shares of Desilu for $2.5 million, making her the first female CEO of a major production company. Per the outlet, she later sold her Desilu shares to Paramount Studios for $17 million. Then, in 1967, Ball founded Lucille Ball Productions, according to Turner Classic Movie network.
2. She didn’t win that many awards
Even though she scored 13 Emmy nominations between I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show, she only took home a total of four Emmys. As for the Golden Globes, she was nominated six times, but never for I Love Lucy. Rather, she was recognized for The Facts of Life, The Lucy Show, Yours, Mine and Ours, Here’s Lucy and Mame. In 1979, she was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award.
3. She did win this award
In 1977, with Nancy Malone, Eleanor Perry and Norma Zarky, Ball was one of the first recipients of the Women in Film Crystal Award. According to the official website, Women in Film is all about “promoting equal opportunities for women, encouraging creative projects by women, and expanding and enhancing portrayals of women in all forms of global media.”
4. Her father died from typhoid fever
According to an excerpt from Stefan Kanfer’s 2003 book titled Ball of Fire (via The New York Times), Ball’s father died from typhoid fever in 1915 at only 28 — and it rightfully stayed with her the rest of her life. “Lucille retained only fleeting memories of that day, all of them traumatic,” Kanfer writes. “A picture fell from the wall; a bird flew in the window and became trapped inside the house. From that time forward she suffered from a bird phobia. Even as an adult, she refused to stay in any hotel room that displayed framed pictures of birds or had wallpaper with an avian theme.”
5. Her life completely changed at 16
As revealed in her memoir, Love Lucy (via Huffington Post), in 1927, her grandfather bought her brother, Freddy, a gun for his birthday. While her grandfather was teaching Freddy and his “little girlfriend” Johanna how to use the gun, Ball said, it went off and hit their 8-year-old next door neighbor, Warner Erickson. The bullet severed his spinal cord. The Erickson family filed a lawsuit, and as Ball wrote, “They took our house, the furnishings that [Ball’s mother] DeDe had bought so laboriously on time, week after week, the insurance — everything. My grandfather never worked again. The heart went out of him. It ruined Celoron for us; it destroyed our life together there.”
6. She wasn’t always “Lucille Ball”
Remember how Lucy Ricardo sometimes went by Lucille McGillicuddy (her maiden name)? Well, Ball once used the name Diane Belmont, according to The Los Angeles Times. “I always loved the name Diane and I was driving past the Belmont race track, and the names seemed to fit together,” she said.
7. She’s connected to the Salem Witchcraft Trials
According to NPR, Ball was a descendant of those accused as witches during the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. “A lot of celebrated Americans, it has been determined, were descended from the accused witches, including Walt Disney, Clara Barton and Lucille Ball,” the outlet reports.
8. She defied ageism
When I Love Lucy first began in 1951, Ball was 40. As it unfortunately still is, that was a big deal back in the day, especially since it’s known that a woman over 40 in Hollywood has a harder time finding work compared to younger women and also men.
9. She fought for TV’s first interracial couple
Kathleen Brady, author of Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball, told NPR in February 2014 that CBS didn’t want Arnaz, especially since the network was unsure about his accent and Cuban heritage. “CBS and its sponsor, Philip Morris cigarettes, were adamantly opposed to this,” Brady said. “They said that the American public would not accept Desi as the husband of a red-blooded American girl.” However, Ball defended Arnaz, and according to Brady, she told CBS that they’d have to either cast them both or neither of them.
10. She wasn’t a natural redhead
As revealed by I Love Lucy‘s hairstylist, Irma Kusely, it wasn’t easy finding the right tint of red, either. “A lot of people think of it as red — it’s not red at all,” she said in an interview for EmmyTVLegends.org. “She met a very wealthy sheikh and he had heard about her problem [getting the right coloring]. He said he would send her a lifetime supply of henna, which he did! [We kept it] in my garage, locked away in a safe.”
11. She almost drowned stomping grapes
The I Love Lucy episode, titled “Lucy’s Italian Movie,” is one of the most popular and favorite episodes ever. Well, according to a 2004 letter to the editor at The New York Times, the grape-stomping scene didn’t go as planned. “That was a real-life Italian grape stomper who was Lucy’s vat partner and who almost drowned the real-life Lucille Ball by pushing her down into the grapes and grape juice and fighting with her during the filming of that episode,” reads the letter, signed by Dennis Sprick.
12. Her pregnancy made history
It’s known that I Love Lucy wasn’t allowed to use the word “pregnant” after both Ball and her character got pregnant. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, she also made headlines by becoming the first pregnant woman to play a pregnant woman on TV.
13. She’s basically responsible for Star Trek
It’s hard to imagine television without Star Trek, but that almost became a reality before Ball stepped in, according to Entertainment Weekly. “If it were not for Lucy, there would be no Star Trek today,” former studio executive Ed Holly told Desilu historian Coyne Steven Sanders (via EW).
CBS passed on Star Trek, but Ball apparently overruled the board of directors to make sure the pilot was produced, even after it was taken to NBC. The network ended up rejecting the first pilot. However, the Peacock network ordered a second pilot, with William Shatner as Captain Kirk, and this particular pilot was funded by Lucy, as she once again ignored her board. Star Trek ended up making the 1966 fall TV schedule.
14. She was registered with the Communist Party
As reported by The Los Angeles Times in 1953, Ball was once connected to the Communist Party. Apparently, it was a “short association” in 1936, but her family was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Ball explained her connection by saying the only reason she registered as a Communist was to please her grandfather, Fred Hunt, a Socialist.
15. She never needed a TV husband
Starring in The Lucy Show made Ball one of the first women to play a woman without a husband. She could easily lead a show without any men by her side.
16. She lied about her age after marrying Desi
For those unaware, Ball was six years older than Arnaz, which was reportedly frowned upon back in the day. According to Us Weekly, they decided to handle the situation by lying about their ages. “When Desi Arnaz and Ball (who was almost six years his senior) tied the knot in 1940, it was socially unacceptable for an older woman to marry a younger man,” the outlet reported in August 2011. “To avoid controversy, they both listed 1914 as their birthdate.”
17. She wasn’t afraid to take risks
In a 1980 interview with People, Ball showed just how fearless she was when it came to her career. “I guess after about six months out here in the ’30s I realized there was a place for me,” she said of Hollywood. “Eddie Cantor and Sam Goldwyn found that a lot of the really beautiful girls didn’t want to do some of the things I did — put on mud packs and scream and run around and fall into pools. I said I’d love to do the scene with the crocodile. He didn’t have teeth, but he could sure gum you to death. I didn’t mind getting messed up. That’s how I got into physical comedy.”
We’re all in agreement that Lucille Ball will forever be iconic, right?