Audiences may remember Lucille Ball for her work on the sitcom “I Love Lucy” in the 1950s. But she had a long career after the sitcom ended.
“I Love Lucy” came to an end in 1957 and its spin-off “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” closed in 1960. Afterward, Ball parted ways with sitcom land for a while and took the Broadway world by storm. Ball starred in her first and only Broadway show of her career – “Wildcat.”
Ball’s and her husband Desi Arnaz’s production company Desilu purchased a 36 percent stake in the show’s profits in exchange for $360,000 of financing. Ball starred as Wildcat Jackson in the production. But Broadway proved to be a different beast than the sitcom world. The play wasn’t as well-received as Ball had hoped. Additionally, the actor battle both chronic fatigue and a viral infection.
Ball realized that audiences wanted to see her Lucy Ricardo character and didn’t care as much for the Wildcat character she was portraying. As a result, Ball began improvising parts of the script as Ricardo instead. But Ball had to step away from the role due to her illness. Audiences quickly demanded refunds, putting pressure on producers to end the show for good.
Ball returned to the stage two weeks later but soon after, she collapsed during a performance. They say the show must go on. But in this case, the show ended two months later for good. “Wildcat” ended up being a short tenure for Ball on Broadway, running just 171 shows.
Lucille Ball After ‘I Love Lucy’
Ball and Arnaz also ended up divorcing in 1960, and Ball became the sole owner of Desilu Productions. As a producer, Ball played a part in hit shows like “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” as well. Eventually, Ball sold the production company and rights to the show seven years later for a tune of $17 million.
In the 1960s, Ball made her return to sitcoms as well. In fact, she starred in two back-to-back sitcoms, hoping to capitalize on the “I Love Lucy” brand. She starred in “The Lucy Show” in 1962 and followed that venture up with “Here’s Lucy” in 1968. Both proved to be moderately successful but didn’t capture the public’s imagination in the same way. Without Arnaz as co-lead, a bit of the magic was gone.
She also made a dramatic turn in 1985’s “Stone Pillow” as a homeless woman. Her last sitcom venture came in 1986 and was a commercial failure for the actor. She starred in “Life With Lucy” and the show ended up canceled after just eight episodes. It ended up being one of Ball’s last performances before her death in 1989.
Ball forever changed TV with “I Love Lucy” but she struggled to capture the same magic later in her career. As they say, lightning rarely strikes twice. But Lucille Ball continues to be remembered and beloved by many.