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Summary Article: Ball, Lucille (1911–1989)
from Encyclopedia of the Sixties: A Decade of Culture and Counterculture

Born in Jamestown, in upstate New York, Lucille Desiree Ball was an actress, comedian, and television executive, with a career in entertainment that spanned over 50 years, from the 1930s until the mid-1980s. She is often referred to as the “First Lady of Television,” in honor of her influential role in the medium, not only as a performer but as the first woman in television to head a production company: as president and chief executive officer of Desilu Productions, the studio she originally formed in collaboration with her then-husband, Cuban singer and bandleader Desi Arnaz.

Best known for her role as Arnaz's unpredictable wife, Lucy, in the sitcom I Love Lucy (1951–1957), Ball's career prior to the 1960s encompassed modeling, pin-up, stage performances, film, and television, along with her increasingly active role in studio management. Her trademark red hair became part of her persona in 1943, during the filming of Cole Porter's Du Barry Was a Lady, and along with her penchant for slapstick comedy, would remain an integral part of her career. Ball's high-profile marriage to Arnaz, which began in 1940, ended in divorce as the 1960s began, and their television series together also ended its six-year run. The actress went on to star in two long-running spin-off series that kept her in the forefront of American domestic comedy during the 1960s: The Lucy Show (1962–1968) and Here's Lucy (1968–1974). While both series continued to feature Ball in her I Love Lucy persona—as a ditzy, comical, trouble magnet—her characters shifted to allow her to portray independent women, both widowed and employed, enabling the series, and Ball's public image, to keep pace with the rapidly changing cultural context of American life. The two series featured familiar characters from both Ball's real and television lives: I Love Lucy costars Vivian Vance and Gale Gordon, and Ball's children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr.

The 1960s brought other professional and personal changes to Ball's life, including a second marriage, to comedian Gary Morton in 1961, and her first starring role on Broadway. She was featured in the role of Wildy in the short-lived stage musical Wildcat, and propelled the song “Hey, Look Me Over” into the forefront of the decade's popular music. The actress also starred in the films The Facts of Life (1960) and the award-winning Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968) as well as the made-for-television films Mr. and Mrs. (1964) and Lucy in London (1966).

Nominated for over a dozen Emmy awards, Ball won five—four for outstanding performances and one special Governor's Award—including two for the 1960s series The Lucy Show. Additionally, she received nominations for six Golden Globe awards in the 1960s and 1970s, won a Golden Laurel in 1968 for her performance in Yours, Mine and Ours, and went on to receive several lifetime achievement awards, including two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The actress also received a number of posthumous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1989), the Legacy of Laughter award (2007), and induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame. TV Guide voted Ball “The Greatest TV Star of All Time,” and in a poll conducted by cable's TV Land network and Entertainment Weekly magazine, she ranked second among “The 50 Greatest TV Icons.”

  • Brady, Kathleen. Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball. Hyperion New York, 1994.
  • Morella, Joe, and Edward Z. Epstein. Forever Lucy. Lyle Stuart Secaucus, NJ, 1986.
  • Miller, Cynthia J.
    Copyright 2012 by James S. Baugess and Abbe Allen DeBolt

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