The book Love, Lucy by Lucille Ball I actually read last summer, on a transcontinental flight from Newark to San Diego. I meant to write about it then, but forgot. Now it’s nearly thirty years since Lucy died, so I guess it’s time.
If you don’t know, Lucy was the star of the most popular situation comedy in the US in the 1950s, I Love Lucy. She had successful programs in the 1960s as well, The Lucy Show/Here’s Lucy.
The existence of the book is a tale of its own. After Lucy died on April 26, 1989, her children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., were tasked with wading through artifacts. Lucie came across a 300-page manuscript written by her mother c. 1964.
Most people, including Lucy’s closest friends, didn’t know about the existence of this work at all. Perhaps she didn’t want to share it because her portrayals would hurt her then-ex-husband Desi Arnaz. But he had died in 1986, so the book was published in 1996 and became a best-seller.
The details were astonishingly precise, starting with her birth on August 6, 1911, in her grandparents’ apartment in Jamestown, NY, in the southwest corner of the state. She had many challenges growing up, including her father dying at age 28 when she was not quite four.
She was raised by an extended family, including her beloved grandfather, who everyone called Daddy. Later, there was an what she thought was a legal injustice borne by Daddy which affected Lucy’s viewpoint throughout his life.
Lucy took almost any job in New York City: showgirl, extra in Broadway and road shows, modeling coats and dresses, posing for illustrators. It was as a “Chesterfield (cigarette) girl” that first got her to Hollywood.
Ginger Rogers’ mother Lela became a stage mom to Lucy and many other aspiring actresses. “Lela was the first person to see me as a clown with glamour.”
Many more tales were shared before she met this Cuban musician and band leader named Desi. They fell hard for each other, and married rather quickly after they met.
Keeping their marriage together, though, was challenging, as they were both on the road separately a lot. I Love Lucy, in part, was born from addressing that need.
If Lucille Ball, or her TV roles are interesting to you, or if you’re just trying how one young woman worked hard to make it in show biz, I highly recommend Love, Lucy.
Ken Levine: The History of Sitcoms podcast.
What’s My Line? game show (1954), Lucille Ball as mystery guest.