Today would have been Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday. She died close to a quarter century ago, but in her 77 years, she changed the face of television.
Lucille Ball is most well-known for the character she played on I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show. But she did more than star in those shows; she had one of the longest-running careers in Hollywood. She was a model, a radio actress, and a movie star (of over 40 films, mostly B movies) before becoming a TV and movie producer and the star of her own shows.
When Ball helped develop I Love Lucy, she brought her then-husband, Desi Arnaz, onboard. The two formed Desilu Productions, which made Ball the first woman in television to be head of a production company.
Desilu pioneered a number of television production methods still in use today. For example, they filmed I Love Lucy before a live studio audience with a three-camera setup, and used distinct sets next to each other. They shot on film, not kinescopes, meaning the quality of their show was never degraded. That’s part of the reason why it’s still in syndication today (well that and its astounding, universal appeal). Fortunately, Desilu negotiated to retain the rights to the film footage of I Love Lucy, meaning that after its initial broadcast, CBS no longer owned the show. As a result, Desilu made millions of dollars on rebroadcasts.
Desilu produced several other shows too. Lucille Ball, with her years of experience in Hollywood, knew how to pick a show that audiences would love. Desilu produced The Untouchables, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Andy Griffith Show, and the first seven seasons of My Three Sons.
Lucille Ball was a pioneer in other ways too. She married a man six years her junior—and an interracial marriage at that. At a time when women married young and had kids young, Ball was almost forty when she had her first child.
Ball and Arnaz wrote the pregnancy into the show. It’s hard to believe now, but at that time there weren’t any pregnant TV characters. At first, CBS refused to show a pregnant woman on television. They finally allowed the pregnancy storyline, but banned the word pregnant. The approved term was expecting.
Lucille Ball is known as a funny woman, but she was also beautiful, smart, and talented. She was an excellent businesswoman and influenced the path of the women in the film industry. This weekend, in her birthplace of Jamestown, NY, Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday is in full swing. My parents are there celebrating. In fact, the pictures in this post are courtesy of them. They’re all taken in Jamestown—except this last one, which I found yesterday in Everett, WA. Proof that all over the country—and the world—people still love Lucy.