“I Love Lucy” star Lucille Ball was a show business role model to many aspiring young actresses and Hollywood executives. However, Ball herself was not so starry-eyed about the business in her later years. In fact, some say she was downright cynical.
On “I Love Lucy,” Ball’s character was constantly trying to break into show business. She even seemed a bit infatuated with Hollywood. But that was not Ball, said David Fantle, co-author of “Hollywood Heyday,” a book of interviews with Golden Age Hollywood stars.
Fantle told Fox News in 2018 that Ball in fact took a very dim view of the industry in which she became a millionaire.
‘I Love Lucy’ Star Lucille Ball Saw Television Going Downhill
Fantle and his co-author, Tom Johnson, interviewed Ball in September of 1980. The Hollywood legend died in 1989 at age 77.
Fantle said Ball was unhappy with how television shows were going by then. “I Love Lucy” was a distant memory. It was the era of “Magnum, P.I.,” “Knots Landing” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
“She used the term ‘downhill’ and ‘leaving us,’” Fantle told Fox. “She was very cynical about the state of television back then we interviewed her… [Ball] was no-nonsense. She was not funny. Instead, she was all business.”
Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz were the first television millionaires in America. And in 1962, Ball became the first woman to run a major Hollywood production company.
“She was really the first woman superstar to break the glass ceiling in Hollywood as not just as a performer, but as a movie mogul and executive,” Fantle said.
Ball Did Not Enjoy the Business Side of Hollywood
But Ball’s daughter Lucie Arnaz later said that Ball never enjoyed the business aspect of the entertainment business. She enjoyed acting on “I Love Lucy” and in later shows.
“My mother did not have a great business mind, didn’t want one, was not interested in that end of it at all. She wanted to play in the sandbox,” Arnaz told Yahoo! in 2019. “She wanted to go to work and play those characters and have fun and do shows. My father was a great business mind and he ran the studio and she was never happier than when she could rely on that.”
Ball and Desi Arnaz had founded Desilu to make “I Love Lucy.” At the time Ball took over Desilu, the company’s revenue was declining and movie studios were getting into producing their own TV shows, putting added pressure on independent production companies like Desilu. So Ball hired the CBS executive Oskar Katz to help her, according to Entrepreneur.
Katz believed the answer to the production company’s woes was to diversify its offerings beyond “The Lucy Show.” He brought in “Star Trek” and “Mission Impossible,” and by 1967, Desilu was profitable again.
But according to Arnaz, Ball had been happiest in her “I Love Lucy” days, before she bought out Arnaz’s share in Desilu and took over the company. And by the 1980s, television was no longer a sandbox she wanted to play in.