A true class act, loved by millions worldwide, Lucille Ball has left her mark on generations to come with her timeless sitcom I Love Lucy. Throughout the show’s six seasons and 180 half-hour episodes, Ball graced audiences with her charm, wit, and talent. Today, 64 years later, viewers continue to enjoy Ball on their television screens as numerous streaming services continue to share her comedic gift!
It comes as no surprise that, aside from her appearance on this classic television show, Lucy lived quite a full and interesting life. Stick around, as “we’ve got some ‘splaining to do” when it comes to the unbelievable life of Lucille Ball.
Lucille Ball was a natural brunette.
Lucille Ball’s signature feature is, without a doubt, her famous red hair color, but what you may not know is that she wasn’t born a true red-head! Ball originally dyed her hair red for a previous role in Du Barry Was a Lady. However, headshots snapped prior to her appearance on the show reveal that Lucy once had brown hair!
The red was toned back a bit for her role on I Love Lucy. “A lot of people think of it as red—it’s not red at all,” explained Irma Kusely, the show’s hairstylist who dyed Lucy’s hair using typical hair dye, eventually switching to henna. “She met a very wealthy sheikh and he had heard about her problem [getting the right coloring], he said he would send her a lifetime supply of henna, which he did! [We kept it] in my garage, locked away in a safe.”
Lucy ended up keeping her trademark hair for over four decades, until 1989.
Lucy followed her acting career to New York City at the young age of 15.
At the age of 12, Lucy’s stepfather encouraged her to audition for a role in a local stage production. After being cast, the rest was history.
When she was only 15 years old, Lucy moved to New York City to attend drama school and focus on furthering her career. Though it may seem unconventional, this young start is common in showbiz. Other successful stars who followed in similar footsteps include Kate Winslet, Jim Carrey, Katy Perry, John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Cameron Diaz, Tom Cruise, and many more.
Lucille Ball was the face of Chesterfield Cigarettes.
Following her move to New York, Lucy’s drama school dreams weren’t progressing the way she had hoped. She decided to turn to modeling where she began work for fashion designer, Hattie Carnegie. This lead to her career as the face of Chesterfield Cigarettes.
Her modeling career was short-lived, and in the early 1930s, Lucy decided it was again time to change her path. She dyed her hair blonde and moved to Hollywood to try to become a star.
Slowly, opportunities arose including a stint as one of the 12 “Goldwyn Girls” to promote the 1933 Eddie Cantor flick Roman Scandals. Then came a role as an extra in the Ritz Brothers film The Three Musketeers, followed by her part in Stage Door, starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, in 1937!
Lucy was the first pregnant actress to play a pregnant woman on TV.
After many guest roles and brief appearances, Lucy finally hit her career stride at 40 years old. Her “big break” was none other than the show we know and love her for today, I Love Lucy!
Believe It or Not!, when I Love Lucy first aired, a pregnant woman had never appeared on television before. In fact, the show also forbade the actors and actresses from even using the word “pregnant” in their lines. Lucy had her first child, Lucie, prior to the show filming, but when she was pregnant with her second baby, Desi Jr., the show writers decided to keep her pregnancy as a part of the story rather than try to work around it. Her baby bump was very clearly visible on set, though writers still had one strict condition—they had to use the term “expecting” rather than “pregnant” (for some unknown reason).
And speaking of motherhood, Lucille’s mom, DeDe, was so proud of her daughter’s success that attended the filming of every single I Love Lucy episode!
Lucy and Ethel had somewhat of a love/hate relationship off the screen.
Vivian Vance played Lucy’s sidekick and best friend, Ethel Mertz, on I Love Lucy. Many believed that since the pair had such great chemistry on screen, they must’ve been close in real life—but this wasn’t exactly the case. While they did support each other’s careers, they remained competitive throughout the run of the show.
Lucille Ball was the first woman to run a major Hollywood studio.
Lucy cofounded Desilu Productions with her husband Desi in 1950. The studio was built on $5,000 of the couple’s own money. Three years later, the company was worth $10 million. First, they bought 2 studios–one next to Paramount Pictures and the other next to Sony. That same year, Desilu sold the I Love Lucy rights to CBS for $4.5 million!
In 1962, Ball bought out Desi’s share of the production company, making her the first female president of a Hollywood production company! Some popular projects from Desilu Productions include The Untouchables, December Bride, Whirlybirds, Our Miss Brooks, and the revolutionary Star Trek.
Lucille Ball and Jack Palance were costars on The Greatest Show on Earth.
Desilu Productions’ The Greatest Show on Earth featured Johnny Slate, played by Jack Palance, and his traveling show, modeled off stories from the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Featured in an episode named “The Lady in Limbo,” was none other than Lucille Ball herself!
Johnny Slate is trying to decide which of his circus acts to send to Russia for a cultural exchange program with the Moscow Circus. Horse trainer Kate Reynolds, played by Lucille Ball, is seeking the opportunity for this coveted spot.
Believe It or Not!, Jack Palance’s circus and sideshow roots didn’t end with Desilu. You may remember him as the host for the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! television series in 1982.
Television set trailers still pay homage to Lucy and Desi’s relationship.
On many film and television sets, you can often find trailers with the doors either labeled with either “Lucy” or “Desi.” Believe It or Not!, the “Lucy” door signifies the ladies’ room, and “Desi” is labeled on the mens’. As the couple left a huge impact on the entertainment industry today, their legacy will clearly live on forever!
By Michela Pantano, contributor for Ripleys.com