11 surprising facts that almost no one knows about Lucille Ball
1. Lucy Became a Monster
As Ball aged, she did become somewhat embittered; in his recently published diaries, Richard Burton—no saint himself—said of her, “She is a monster of staggering charmlessness and monumental lack of humor.” This during the forced and awkward appearance Burton and his wife Elizabeth Taylor made on the 1970s show Here’s Lucy. To be fair, though, she never really recovered after her 1960 divorce from Arnaz, whom she truly loved: “I hate failure and that divorce was a Number One failure in my eyes. It was the worst period of my life. Neither Desi nor I have been the same since, mentally or physically.”
2. Lucy’s Teeth Were Bugged
In 1974, Ball told Dick Cavett a story about hearing a “tapping” noise inside her head after receiving new dental fillings during WWII. As she passed a specific location the sound grew stronger, and seemed to be relaying a message, as in Morse code. She alerted the authorities, who discovered a Japanese radio transmitter hidden in the wilds of Los Angeles; it was sending signals back to the enemy.
3. Lucy Really Disliked Liza
As her children grew older, Ball grew watchful of their friendships and romances; their reputation was tied in with hers. But it seems Desi, Jr., got the brunt of her criticism: Ball put a stop to it when her son was dating Liza Minnelli, saying, “I miss Liza, but you cannot domesticate Liza.” She similarly saw red a few years earlier, when Desi, Jr., was seeing Patty Duke, a disaffection that played itself out in the tabloids.
4. Why Viv Looked Frumpy
Though it has long been rumored that, during the run of I Love Lucy, Vivian Vance was contractually required to remain 20 pounds heavier than Ball, this seems to be an urban myth, spawned by the facts that Vance’s makeup was lighter, she didn’t wear false eyelashes, and her hair was arranged in less sophisticated ways, all making her look frumpier than Ball. In addition, Vance did gain and lose weight over the course of the series, lending credence to the story. And then there was the matter of a joke contract, drawn up by Ball and stating Vance must gain five pounds a week and never receive more laughs than the star. Circulated at a party, this jocular document took on the shape of reality as the decades passed.
5. Was Lucy a Communist?!
Shockingly, there was a moment during the height of her fame when Ball was accused of communism. Almost 20 years earlier, she had signed a registration card saying she “intended to vote the Communist Party ticket,” supposedly at the instigation of her left-leaning grandfather (socialist politics were very big among artists of the ’30s). During a 1953 investigation, Ball claimed that although she did indeed sign the card, she never voted for a Communist and had been a proud Roosevelt supporter. Because of her popularity and fame, the affair blew over; Arnaz told columnist Hedda Hopper, “The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that is not legitimate.”
6. Lucy Liked Her Drinks and Smokes
Though she originally hawked Chesterfield cigarettes, Ball’s actual preference was Philip Morris, which also sponsored I Love Lucy. For libations, she was partial to a glass or two or Early Times whiskey.
7. Lucy and Desi Changed the Way TV Was Produced
Now, of course, I Love Lucy seems like a natural hit, but at the time a few hurdles had to be overcome—chief of which was CBS execs’ idea that American audiences would not accept a redhead married to a Cuban. To prove their chemistry, Arnaz and Ball went on the road, performing their routines for cheering audiences. The other problem was technical: Most sitcoms of the era were broadcast live from New York, and simultaneously filmed on inexpensive kinescope for viewing on the West Coast later that evening. Arnaz and Ball, however, did not want to leave California, and CBS refused to broadcast the show a night later in the East. Filming the show in advance was an option, but expensive. As it turned out, Ball and Arnaz financed the use of film themselves, with the episodes reverting to their ownership after they had been first broadcast on CBS. This ultimately made the pair many millions, as the show immediately went into syndication and has never left the air since.
8. Lucy and Desi Almost Divorced Early
In 1940, Ball met future husband Desi Arnaz on the film set of Rodgers and Hart’s musical Too Many Girls (having been discovered by Hart in Miami Beach, Arnaz was also in the original Broadway production). A romance blazed and they were married within the year. Unfortunately, their conflicting schedules and Desi’s wandering eye made divorce seem likely by 1944. But they held on, and the possibility of transforming My Favorite Husband into I Love Lucy—complete with a Cuban husband—meant they both would be able to remain in California and begin a family.
9. Lucy Was No Overnight Success
After dropping anchor in Hollywood in 1933, Ball appeared briefly in a number of comedies and musicals, but scored a slightly larger role in the 1937 film Stage Door, thanks to her pal and distant relative Ginger Rogers. Throughout the ’40s she attained the title “Queen of the B’s” as she starred in a string of forgettable films. Radio beckoned, and she scored a hit with My Favorite Husband, which CBS decided to retool for television.
10. Lucy Was a Looker
As a young model in the New York City of the Roaring ’20s, Ball gained exposure as a preferred model for chic dressmaker Hattie Carnegie, who appreciated her svelte figure and long legs. She also became the face (and body) of Chesterfield Cigarettes for one season.
11. Lucy Hated Feathers
She was deathly afraid of birds, a condition she had acquired as a three-year-old when a bird became trapped in her house on the very day her father died of typhoid fever.
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"I'm not funny. What I am is brave." So said the eternal queen of comedy, Lucille Ball. In a way, she was right: She surrounded herself with the best writers, co-stars and producers, and through her brilliance, boldness and incredible comic timing, made the outlandish plot situations she found herself in both hysterically funny and-even more important-absolutely believable.
Still, it was a long climb to the top, as she enjoyed, in her words, "a well-paid apprenticeship." For two decades, the girl from Jamestown, New York, worked her way through all aspects of show business, from Shriner shows to modeling to Broadway. In the early '30s she was in the movies, briefly glimpsed in lavish productions starring Eddie Cantor or the Three Stooges. Pluck and determination were her true strengths-along with that exquisite, almost supernatural sense of how to land a joke. It would take until she was 40 for the elements to come together to create I Love Lucy, by which time she had learned plenty about surviving in Hollywood. "Luck? I don't know anything about luck. I've never banked on it and I'm afraid of people who do," she once said. "Luck to me is something else: hard work-and realizing what is opportunity and what isn't." Today, we offer a special 'I Love Lucy' tribute by counting down 11 facts you may not know about Lucille Ball.