Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Long live Lucy!

One Miss Lucille Ball, an able actress and an agile dancer, contributes an exquisite scene as a dancer with soap shoes. This is so beautifully done it's worth the whole price of admission. Miss Ball plays it quite straight, intensifying the emotion of each disaster. She rates, thereby, more conspicuous roles, and more intense promotion. She is a comedienne, which always means a "find." 
—New York Daily Mirror, 1936, That Girl From Paris

"No matter how I get dressed up I always look like a cigarette girl at the Trocadero." Lucille Désirée Ball was typically self-deprecating in comparing herself to beauteous co-stars like Maureen O'Hara. Yet even in her earliest days in Hollywood, she held her own with the so-called "gladiators of glamor" who vied to stand out from the crowd in a gaggle of chorines. Through a combination of dogged determination and versatility, she became a major star in the minor leagues, landing the nickname "Queen of the B Pictures." 
Lucille's comedic genius was glaringly obvious to the public and to critics, if not to the studio bosses, who plopped her more often than not into the movie flavor of the month. Below she performs "‪Jitterbug Bite" and a hula in 1940's Dance Girl Dance‬—the first motion picture in which she received top billing (the photo above is from that as well).

 Some of her most memorable parts were in the drama Lured with suave George Sanders (available on youtube), as a wisecracking Broadway wannabe in Stage Door, and in the MGM spectacular ‪Du Barry Was a Lady with Gene Kelly ("To her red-headed and later bewigged beauty, Miss Ball adds vivaciousness and excellent comedy timing, proving once again that she is a musical-comedy star of the first magnitude."—New York Herald-Tribune.)
In 1939, Ball auditioned for the role of Scarlett O'Hara (in costume, above left) and was a serious contender, along with Lana Turner, Miriam Hopkins, Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine, Katharine Hepburn, and Norma Shearer.

Many of the stars Lucille worked with—including Harpo Marx, William Holden, and Bob Hope—showed up later on I Love Lucy. But it was a bit player in a film called Too Many Girls who turned Lucille from the Queen of the B's to the Queen of tv comedy: a Cuban hearthrob called Desi Arnaz.
The coffee table book Lucy at the Movies lays out the girl from Jamestown, New York's path from Hollywood bit player to madcap mistress of the airwaves, with synopses, photos, background, and reviews of seminal films like Fuller Brush Girl, Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Two Smart People, Look Who's Laughing, and much more.
[Take this I Love Lucy trivia test—I got 6 of 18 wrong.]
[Understandably, Lucy and Carol Burnett were great friends. Don't miss The Carol Burnett Show—Carol's Favorites: Collector's Edition!]


  1. I want to thank all the people who voted for me in the contest. Anonymous had us outnumbered, but we fought the good fight and the best caption won!
    I'm entering into a period of Intensive Comedy Training--one joke a day to be tested on my mother (who once said her funnybone was permanently removed the day she started having children.)
    I promise to be back for Caption Contest #2.
    If there is a Caption Contest #2.
    Watching Lucy is a good start. Got 12 out of 18 right, which is the optimist's way of saying I got the same score as you, JP!

  2. oh hooray--I want to have more many more contests. but i don't know how to get around the problem of "anonymous," because coming forward to claim the prize has to be on the honor system. hmmmmm.

    1. Maybe all entrants could provide a code number that would not be published. Then the winner could identify him/herself using the code. Would that work?

    2. Maybe we could have people e-mail us their entries with their real name and address; then we could pick the three finalists and we would have the info already to announce the winner and send the book.

    3. Well, that would make things less spontaneous, but then the whole Gleaner world would not have to know if The Baron or I (for example) have laid The Mighty Egg.
      Thoughts on this?

  3. When I think of Lucille Ball, I always think of the I Love Lucy version of her, the screwball ball comic who relied on physical comedy and funny faces to garner many laughs, her comic timing are what sitcom stars still strive for,and it has to said her work still hold up well today.

    Looking at photo's of her younger years she was definitely a looker, the photo above of her at the shore, she looks like a sexy "beach angel."

  4. I'm the same way, when it comes to thinking of Lucille Ball. I guess because I grew up watching old reruns of I Love Lucy, I can just remember her wacky facial expressions and plot lines. Those older photos are hard for me to see as the real Lucille, but I guess I'm just shaped by exposure. I would like to see some of her movies prior to I Love Lucy taping, just to see a different side of her.

    That photo of her and Desi Arnaz is absolutely adorable! I wonder what they're mixing that soda with? Milkshake?

  5. I was a little too young truly appreciate Lucille Ball, but I vividly remember an episode of "I Love Lucy" where she has to crush grapes with her feet. For some reason I thought it was hilarious

  6. Comedy and good looks are not expected to come together, and Lucy was unique in being a lovely, physical comedienne who was never snarly, butch, or insulting. She is truly missed.

  7. She was destined to have the comedic breakthrough! What a rare talent. As a side note, I had no idea all those famous actors auditioned for Scarlett O' Hara!! Wow, that would have been a tough decision...

  8. J
    What Marx Brothers movie featured Licy?
    I forget
    The Baron

    1. Hey, Baron. It's "Room Service." Anonymous, at your service.