I Love Lucy icon Lucille Ball discussed how an early failure affected her later climb to television superstardom. In an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, Ball revealed that she was fired by Florenz Ziegfeld.
“It’s hard to believe, but when I came to this town, all I knew about was trying to get into vaudeville,” Ball said. “And I never even got near an agent. I never got inside a building, an office, anything that had anything to do with vaudeville. But finally, some girls I met that were starving along with me were going to a call at the Ziegfeld Theatre for a third road show of Real Rita’s many, many years ago. I made it–I made the call. Chosen one of… how many? I don’t know, I forgot.”
“I kept that job for five days,” Ball continued. “That was the longest I’d ever kept any job. It was just in rehearsal, of course, and at the end of five days, they just, you know, called us out like ‘that’s it, goodbye.’ They didn’t even know our names.”
Additionally, Ball revealed that she was “terrified.” She had already written home and told her family she was “a Ziegfeld girl.” The actress stood on the street and cried, even when the rest of the actresses left.
The Advice Given to the I Love Lucy Star
After a while passed, Ball encounter Henry Sharp, Ziegfeld’s right-hand man who tried to offer her some advice.
“[Sharp] said ‘what’s the matter,'” Ball explained. “I was sobbing and he said ‘well it’s ridiculous to stand there and cry. There are other jobs.’ He didn’t know that I had never been anywhere near a job before, and he said ‘the thing for you to do is go on about your life. Find another job,’ then he walked away. I followed him for two blocks like an idiot, and I just cried, so he finally said ‘will you go away? Stop following me. You’ll get me arrested.'”
At only 16, this rejection was hard for Ball to take. She found herself drawn towards Fifth Avenue, contemplating whether death would be better than facing her failure.
“I walked toward Fifth Avenue, and a big limousine passed–I hadn’t seen anything that big in my life,” said the I Love Lucy star. “I thought ‘if you going to get hit, get hit by a big one.’ So I tried to throw myself in front of the limousine. Instead of [hitting her], it just stopped, so I picked myself up. That was the end of my suicide attempt.”
“And if that had happened, I’d be talking to an empty chair right now,” quipped Cavett. In response, Ball’s daughter Lucie Arnaz, also a guest on the show, replied “two empty chairs.”